In 2009, Daddylibrium was a stay-at-home dad moonlighting as a freelance writer. I once mentioned this to a colleague, who said Marie Claire had run an article calling stay-at-home husbands the newest status symbol for working women.
My Midwestern sensibilities told me to smile as I processed this absurd statement. While I was happy the choices we made allowed both of us to have significant time with our then 6 month old son, nothing about our lives felt like a status symbol.
We lived in a modest ranch house in a non-hip neighborhood in Denver. It was stressful being the primary bread winner. We had one car, a 5-year-old Honda Civic in need of an expensive repair, and we were both exhausted. Always. I got up at 4:30 a.m. to feed Eli and get to work by 6 a.m. Christian took over child-care duty during the day, feeding Eli home made baby food of blended peas and pumpkin, changing cloth diapers, wiping hands and faces and cuddling our beautiful but tiring son.
I went to the office, worked hard and tried to quell the voices in my head that made me feel guilty about the milestones I might miss each day.
I was happy to arrive home around 3:30 p.m. each day to care for Eli. This is when Christian would start his second shift as a freelance writer and blogger. This situation worked well for us, but I wouldn’t call it glamorous.
Why the New Normal Rocks
A recent comment from my visiting 13-year-old nephew reminded me of that article. Suddenly, I understood what it meant.
My nephew comes from a traditional family. His father, a partner at a law firm, works 60 to 80 hours a week. His stay-at-home mother manages the house, dinner, grocery shopping, car pool arrangements, conversations about growing up and kisses the occasional boo boo.
During a recent dinner one of our children asked daddy to wipe him. Christian got up, cleaned up our son and returned to the table. I didn’t give it a second thought, but it blew my nephew’s mind. He couldn’t believe that a child would call to his father for those sorts of chores. In his household, daddy only helped with potty issues if mom wasn’t available. He also was impressed that Christian did not balk at the task. It was simply part of the everyday parenting landscape.
In the five-plus years since Christian and I joined Team Parent, we’ve both found roles at which we excel. Christian can get feisty toddlers into the car in mere seconds. He can change their dispositions by swooping them up and putting them on his shoulders. He keeps the boys engaged for hours playing the villian against their superheroes. And my boys both agree that daddy makes great fart sounds with perfect comic timing.
Did I mention school? Christian gets them there on time, clothed, clean and fed, which is an art I have not yet mastered.
When our kids are hurting, either physically or emotionally, there is an equal chance of them wailing for Mom or Dad. It depends on the circumstance and the day, but they certainly see their father as a nurturer.
Modeling the Modern Dad Approach
I recently picked up a friend’s daughters for a play date. As I was installing one of the car seats, I heard our son Eli ask Zuri if she wanted to marry him when they grew up. She said “yes.” Then he said, “Do you want to have kids?” Again, she said “yes,” and added the she wanted to have twins. He followed up by saying, “Good, me too. I want to be a dad when I grow up.” Christian has given our boys a healthy view of masculinity, one that includes the ability to balance work and family.
Christian is no longer technically a stay-at-home dad. A few years into his freelance life, a company reached out to him and asked him to come on board full time. Instead of wrangling over a salary, he negotiated the maximum number of hours he would put in each week (less than 48), and his schedule, which allows him to start his work day late in order to spend mornings with the boys.
As I reflected at the awe my nephew expressed at Christian’s involved parenting style, I thought back to that Marie Claire article. The writer oversimplified the issue. The thing that made these men the subject of envy isn’t their stay at home status. It’s that they take on an equal share, if not more, of the household burden. They nurture their children every bit as competently as mothers.
Having a husband who is a great father means less decisions and concern. There is a certain freedom in not having to worry about your children while at work. When one of our kids starts exhibiting a bad behavior, Christian might be the one to recommend the solution. If not, I have an engaged party to brainstorm with. We might try a parenting strategy together and trade high fives when it works. Or, one of us will console the other when it doesn’t.
Great Dads Are All Around Us
Our culture is changing, and involved, loving fathers are everywhere. I see them at the playground, the grocery store, story hour at the library and the doctors office. Most appear to be doing a damn good job. My child’s class of 20 kids includes three families where the father is the primary daytime caregiver. Plus, most of the two-parent families I know include involved dads – men who can manage the occasional day, weekend or even week sans Mom without breaking a sweat.
My nephew gave me a chance to reflect on the societal good happening as a result of these great dads. And the wonderful things that happen in my home every day because my boys have my husband around.
On behalf of all the tired women who sometimes forget to say it, THANK YOU, MODERN DADS! Thank you for having the courage to dive into this parenting thing, especially to those of you whose fathers were not a nurturing or involved role model. Thank you for all the sippy cups you wash, laundry you fold, bedtime stories you read, special teddy bears and blankets you scour the house to find, rituals you create and behavior problems you google. Thank you for all the conversations you have with your children about how to play nice, treat others well and stand up for themselves.
Most of all, thank you for creating a generation of boys who aspire to be great dads, and a generation of girls that know what a loving and respectful relationship with their dad feels like.