7 Life Lessons From A Stay-At-Home Dad

by Matt Abraham
Alija / iStock

My wife and I moved to China a while back, specifically so her gig in academia would pay well enough for me to be the stay-at-home parent. Now, I thought the job would mostly entail watching Simpsons reruns, with a quiet bundle on my lap, as I gabbed on the phone with my neighbors. But little did I know, and what my wife’s soft, evil laughter should’ve warned me of, is that stay-at-home parenting is surprisingly difficult. But that’s not the only thing I’ve learned in my months of being a stay-at-home dad, I’ve also discovered that…

1. Betty Draper is the real hero of Mad Men.

Raising a kid may be hard, but it’s easier today than it’s ever been. Which is why, since I took over lead parenting, I’ve developed a whole new respect for Betty Draper and women like her. The mothers of the ’50s not only handled the workload at home like me, but while I’m rocking sweatpants and curlers, they were sporting precise hair and what looked like pressed evening wear, in goddamn heels.

But that’s not all: Betty didn’t even have a microwave. Seriously, think about that. If she wanted to cook a roast for dinner, it was four hours of actual cooking, preceded by like 16 hours of defrosting. That’s dinner prep that has to happen 20 hours before mealtime. 20 hours! Ask me what I’m feeding my family in 20 hours. Go ahead. I need a good laugh. I mean who am I, Nostradamus? Honestly, compared to that, Don’s slightly boozy Kodak pitch doesn’t seem so impressive anymore.

2. You shouldn’t accept ‘free baby clothes’ after month eight.

I’m not kidding. When you first announce you’re pregnant, every parent you know will be like, “Congratulations! So when is the due date? We have baby clothes—do you want them?” And you’ll be all, “Of course, please!” And I admit, it’s awesome and saves a ton of cash. But realize this: It’s not baby clothes you’re accepting; it’s a lie.

See, it’s not from kindness that they’re passing on these clothes, but from the selfish need for more space. Because baby clothes are a weird good. They’re only usable for about two weeks before the kid outgrows them. But do they get thrown away or donated to Goodwill? No. Instead, because of sentimental attachment, they get stored for months, even years, until their owner can find an unsuspecting person to dump them off on, guilt-free. Usually with a 6-year-old girl’s princess costume shoved in the middle of the pile, which I’m sure my 7-month-old son will enjoy, so thanks for that, Carol.

Seriously, in my first month of daddying when someone offered me free clothes, I’d say, “Yes, please and thank you!” but now it’s, “Fuck you, Francine. I thought we were friends.” And the funny thing is, even though I totally condemn this practice, I do it too—all the time. Whenever a birth announcement breaks, I run over and say, “Mazel tov! I’ve got a few things for you,” but what I really mean is, “I’ve just found the sucker who’s going to net me two full drawers of free space.”

Spoiler alert: That sucker is you.

3. Nothing will prepare you for the physical labor.

My kid’s now 20 pounds, which means my lower back hasn’t stopped hurting for three months. I was not prepared for the abject exhaustion of raising a kid. And keep in mind, I’ve run marathons and triathlons, did Brazilian jiu jitsu and yoga, and I can say none of it compares to dragging around a child who cries when you put him down, but will also randomly try to leap from your arms to certain death with a powerful suicidal urge every time the clock’s big hand hits a whole number.

I’m not kidding, being a stay-at-home parent is like a 24-four hour kettlebell workout. And I know, there are a bunch of kettlebell trainers out there who’ll be like, “Oh yeah? You’ve never been to one of my classes. It’s one hour of running, lifting, lunging, and thrusting with a 20-pound kettlebell!” And to them I say, “Just one hour? Sounds relaxing.”

4. Even honest people will lie to get out of cleaning poopy diapers.

My wife is wildly ethical. Really. I’ve never seen her stray into a gray area once—except when our kids dumps out. Back in the first few months, his droppings were delightful, mustardy splotches of perfume compared to what’s happening now. And by the way, if the kid’s grandparents ever say, “I know he’s young, but let’s give him some banana,” please know they are betraying you. Because once a kid eats solids, they start crapping like a cross-country trucker filled with equal parts meth, beer, and Carl’s Jr., and your spouse will do anything to get out of changing them. Not that I blame my wife. It’s a smart play. Frankly, if I could get away with a simple, “Sorry, I can’t change him. I’m late for a meeting,” I would, too.

5. The changing table is history’s biggest scam.

I cannot stress this enough: Don’t buy a changing table. We had one. It was great—for three months. Then all of a sudden, our baby rolled over and my wife was like, “He’s amazing! Look at that! Now we can’t use the changing table anymore.” And I was like, “Yeah, he’s pretty… Wait, what?”

See, if the kid can roll, he can roll off the changing table, and that makes it obsolete, which means you now have a piece of furniture that became useless in under three months. I’ve got onesies that lasted longer than that. And when I pointed this out to my wife, she said, “Well it has drawers, so we can use it as a dresser.” Really? Can we? Just because the kitchen has drawers, does that make it a dresser?

Ugh. Anyway, we bought ours at Ikea and I spent more time on construction than utilization. But on the plus-side, I now know that the name “Geunther” is Swedish for “just screwed some Americans out of $500.”

6. Snaps and buttons on onesies are the work of one or more devils.

Holy shit. I don’t know who thought snaps were appropriate for onesies, but they probably put Skittles in cookies on April Fool’s Day ’cause “It’s funny.” 1) No it’s not, and 2) they’re monsters so big that the Nazi party would probably tell them to tone it down. Seriously, only buy onesies with zippers. If any of your friends tell you that the zipper might pinch the baby then they probably work for a snap/button manufacturer. Delete their contact information from your phone. Then punch them in the neck.

7. Despite everything, being a stay-at-home dad (or mom) is the best job in the world.

Yeah, it’s exhausting. And it fills you with mental anguish, and sometimes you want to quit and move to Tibet or maybe Uruguay, anywhere there aren’t children because… Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, it’s still pretty great. I’m one of the few men in history who will see everything happen with their kid: the first crawl, the first steps, the first word, and even the whole first sentence. It really is an amazing gift that has provided me with so much—laughter, love, happiness, and also a few drawers of extra baby clothes that I’d be happy to send to any expecting parents out there (just leave your address in the comments).

Now, I’m sure there are more lessons. It’s just that I can’t seem to remember them, what with all the sleep-depravation, my throbbing back, and diminished… What’s it called? Oh yeah, memory. But I’m eager to recall them and learn even more. Sure, it’ll be difficult, but raising a child ain’t easy, and in a way it’s just on-the-job training.