Stay-at-home dads receive peculiar comments. Why? In the minds of many people, we remain a new concept. Despite a significant increase in men choosing to provide full-time care for their children, we are at odds with mainstream gender role expectations. The comments and questions we encounter range from innocent to insulting. It never fails; at the playground, grocery store or doctor’s office, someone will offer their opinion. To be fair, there are many people, especially women, who praise our efforts, but there are more who question our status.
I want to help my fellow dads by sharing eight things not to say to a stay-at-home dad. This is not an exhaustive list. Actually, it’s only the beginning.
1. “Does your wife wear the pants in your family?”
Choosing to stay at home does not mean I surrender power in my marriage. My wife and I view marriage as a partnership, which means both of us wear the pants. If truth be told, as a stay-at-home dad, I rarely wear pants, unless I am leaving my home. My son and I spend the morning in our underwear. My son probably thinks his father only wears pants after noon. If this means others believe my wife wears the pants in the family, I’m comfortable with that because she literally does.
2. “Did you lose your job?”
So, it’s hard for you to imagine a man choosing to stay at home. You assume I was forced into this situation because I got fired, laid off or proved generally incompetent in the workplace. Allow me to offer you a thought: If you can’t fathom a man choosing to stay at home to care for his children, perhaps you hold a narrow understanding of fatherhood. Bear in mind, masculinity is not determined by employment. Stay-at-home dads are men whether they are employed or not. Please don’t assume we are inadequate employees.
3. “Are you trying to be unconventional?”
No, I’m not attempting to make a statement on gender roles. I am doing, at the moment, what makes sense for my family. While my wife is a great mother, my temperament is better suited to stay at home. I am content with the intense, yet unstructured, life of a stay-at-home parent. From early morning until late afternoon, I patiently endure blocks thrown at my head, yogurt spit on my face, tiny fingers in my belly button and nap-time battles, while resisting the urge to throw my son out the window. I don’t need a medal, but it would be nice if you gave me a badge to wear on my sleeve.
4. “When are you getting a real job?”
Seriously? Have you spent more than 10 minutes with a toddler? Since you asked this question, I’m guessing you haven’t because monitoring a toddler all day long equals pure exhaustion. Parenting small children is the toughest job, and it comes with no salary or benefits. If they choose to skip their nap, prepare for hell.
5. “Do you feel weird allowing your wife to be the breadwinner?”
Listen here: The 1950s called, and they want their gender roles back. If you are threatened by a woman earning more income than you, that is your problem, not mine. Real men do what is in the best interest of their family, not their ego.
6. “Are you babysitting?”
This question makes me want to flick you on the forehead. Please stop asking it. You would never ask a woman my age that question. I’m parenting my child, a responsibility required of every father, whether stay-at-home or not. Babysitting is what 16-year-olds do for gas money. Just no.
7. “Are you Mr. Mom?”
No, I am not Mr. Mom. That title was funny 20 years ago, but now it’s dumb. I am a man, not a woman. As a stay-at-home dad, I don’t need to alter my gender in order to want to care for my children. Stop asking that question.
8. “You must have a lot of free time. Do you watch TV all day?”
I watch an hour of TV most days with my toddler son. At the moment, we are watching season two of True Detective, season four of Game of Thrones and season one of House of Cards. Actually, my television consists of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Curious George and Sesame Street. I can tell you the letter of the day, but that is about it regarding television. During the first year of my child’s life, the only free time I had during the day was nap time, which meant I crashed on the couch to regain my sanity.
Next time someone asks why I am a stay-at-home dad, I’m going give them my friend and fellow stay-at-home dad’s standard answer: “I retired at 35 after winning the lottery.”