“There are a lot of questions about what the mayor is doing. Let’s have Aaron get to the bottom of it.”
This is how many of my days started as an investigative reporter for a TV station in my hometown of Pittsburgh—chasing down leads, talking to sources, holding people accountable. It’s what I’ve done for more than a decade, and truthfully all I really know how to do. But I recently decided to leave it all behind to become a full-time stay-at-home dad to my 1-year-old daughter, Adley.
I knew it would be difficult. Guess what? It’s even more difficult than I imagined. But it’s the best job I’ve ever had. There are nights I go to bed wondering if I’m screwing up my kid. I assume that’s natural, but I’m new at this. Now, I have some confessions to make.
Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad
TV is our acquaintance.
Adley usually wakes us up around 7 a.m. This can be the most challenging time to deal with her. When she’s throwing a tantrum, I try hard to distract her with toys, books, or food. Sometimes a little time in front of the TV does the trick. I turn it on sparingly and only when I feel it’s really needed. Watching shows with lots of singing has a way of settling her. Adley’s first words weren’t “Cocomelon” or “Baby Shark,” so I did my job.
Sometimes, I need help.
I’m not good at asking for help (somewhere, my wife is nodding vigorously). I think of myself as a self-sufficient person. Now that I’m not contributing financially, I want to do everything myself when caring for Adley, like it’s a justification for my new position. I’m learning it’s okay to ask for help. My wife works from home and will take Adley to give me a breather when she has a lunch break. We have family that offers to take her to the park or watch her for an hour so I can have a little time for myself. I know everyone isn’t fortunate to have people nearby to help. But if you are, take advantage of it.
Hair ties are hard.
My hair has never been more than a few inches from my scalp. The amount of time it takes to read this article is more than I’ve thought about hair ties in my entire life. Well, that changed a few months ago when Adley’s hair started getting in her eyes. We like to put her hair in pigtails or a topsy tail, two new phrases in my vocabulary. I’m coordinated, but hair ties the size of my fingernail are a confidence crusher. My wife’s repeated demonstrations have led to marginal improvement. What kind of stay-at-home parent struggles to put their daughter’s hair in a ponytail? This guy.
Cursing is now frowned upon.
In every newsroom I worked in, cursing was not only common at times but was also encouraged. After 12 years, I’m fluent in the unsavory language. A friend suggested starting a swear jar, 25 cents for every violation. Since it would probably be equivalent to a mortgage, I’m looking for a different route. Adley knows about a dozen words and is starting to imitate us. The other day, she dropped a toy and said what sounded like “shit.” She hasn’t said it since, but it’s making me more cautious in choosing my words carefully. It’s a rough habit I hope to break in the not-too-distant future. I’m far from perfect and am learning to accept putting in the effort is a good first step.
I’m tired of explaining myself.
My wife runs a successful social media/marketing company which allowed me to step away from my career to raise our daughter. This has been expected of women for generations (in some cases, it still is). Not for men. I’m regularly asked by family, friends, strangers why I’m staying home to raise Adley.
Why did you leave your career?
You really don’t have anything you are working on?
These are questions I expected, so I don’t get too irritated by them. But the lack of acceptance of what is becoming more and more common still surprises me.
While working, the best part of my day was coming home at 6:30 p.m. and seeing a smile on Adley’s face when I walked through the door. Why wouldn’t I want to extend that? Every day won’t be a picnic, but I’ll never look back at this time of being a stay-at-home dad and wish I was anywhere else.
What the transition from working dad to stay-at-home dad is really like.
The first two weeks, it felt like I had won the lottery. I get to play with my daughter all day AND get a two-hour break when she naps? SIGN ME UP! But after the initial novelty of the change wore off, it started to get discouraging. You are dealing with all the tantrums, all the stinky diapers, and you need to be present all the time. Plus, there’s no leaving work.
Six months ago, if I had a bad day, I could come home to an entirely different world and forget about whatever was bothering me. Those worlds are now one. Routine has eased the transition, and I’m lucky to have a very supportive wife who’s also a fantastic mother. But like all jobs, there are good days and bad days.
Perceptions of stay-at-home dad life.
I run into far more people who support our family’s choice for me to be a SAHD than who react negatively to it. From strangers, the reaction is generally positive. From people closer to me, it’s mixed. No one is outright negative or critical, but the decision is often met with confusion and surprise. That’s particularly the case for people who know me from my previous life. I chose to leave a job that allowed me the opportunity to interview the President of the United States so I could teach my 18-month-old how to play tug-of-war with our 20 lb dog. It’s not easy for everyone to comprehend, but acceptance tends to rise after a bit of explanation.
Mornings are the most challenging part.
Without a doubt, the mornings are the most challenging part. I hear stories from friends of their children sleeping 12 hours every night without exception. I may smile approvingly while listening, but on the inside, I’m filled with envy and outrage. Adley is, at best, an inconsistent sleeper. We’ve tried several different methods to change this, but inconsistency remains. As you can probably tell from this mini-rant, I’m not a morning person. My wife and I split the mornings, but I try to take an extra shift or two during the week to help. That makes a 5 a.m. start (like this morning) an extra-long day. Sprinkle in a few tantrums from a lack of sleep and dad can be just as grumpy as a toddler.
This is hard work.
There’s always been a perception that staying home to take care of a child is somehow not working. This ridiculous premise is far less prevalent today than 10 or 20 years ago, but it still exists. I wish people understood how much work goes into the day-to-day life of a stay-at-home parent. Planning meals, planning activities, doing work around the house. If you want to do this parenting thing right, all of this takes time and, in some cases, significant effort. Saying you get it versus understanding what goes into this are two very different things.
Feeling valued is underrated.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a strong support system. While I appreciate having help when I need it, having emotional support is even more important for me. I regularly chat with my wife about how I’m feeling and what challenges I’m facing. She doesn’t have all the answers and I don’t expect her to. But she’s there to listen and that makes a world of difference. It makes me feel appreciated and valued for the job I’m doing. Whether it’s from a boss or your family, it’s always nice to hear the words “good job.” It can go a long way in staying positive when transitioning to a new career as a SAHD. Find ways to get that appreciation because, let’s be real, we stay-at-home dads deserve it!