In a month that’s all about dad, we celebrate all kinds of fatherhood! Good dads deserve our respect because they’re helping raise the next generation of happy, healthy kids who will grow up and make big changes. Lots of people imagine dads going to work and supporting the family financially, but there’s also a growing number (an estimated 1.75 million in the US) of dads who stay home and support the family in less typical but no less important ways. We reached out to talk to at-home dad Ryan. R, who takes care of his kids at home each and every day.
Ryan is 38 years old and has a degree in Video Production and Recording Audio Engineering, but his career path was varied with all sorts of jobs over the years, most not even related to his degree. When he told his wife he wanted to stay home with their first child, Ryan had an excellent job with great benefits, good pay, the works!
He says, “It wasn’t like I was in a job I hated and couldn’t wait to get out of - I left a good job to take care of my boys.”
We asked about when, how, and why Ryan and his wife decided he would be a stay-at-home dad. Ryan said that when his wife was about five months pregnant with their first baby (L, now three and a half), “we realized daycare was going to cost almost as much as our mortgage payment. We could have afforded it with our income at the time, but we were planning on more kids later. After a second child, the cost of daycare just wouldn’t be worth it.”
Ryan’s own father was a temporary stay-at-home dad while recovering from an injury and unable to work, and Ryan always appreciated that time with his dad. It wasn’t something strange or outside of a gender role to him, it was just normal - a parent taking care of his children. Ryan says, “I’ve always liked the idea of staying at home. I have a ton of respect for all stay-at-home parents, mom or dad.”
At-home parents are subject to flack from friends and family, since “mommy wars” and mom guilt are ubiquitous. A mom who works is seen as selfish (hardly!), while a mom who stays home is seen as decadently not doing anything all day (seriously?). Both of these stereotypes and assumptions are dead wrong, and stay-at-home dads are subject to some of the same issues.
Ryan remembers, “We went to our baby shower and I was talking to her uncle. When I told him I was going to stay home with the baby, he laughed. He thought I was joking.” Ryan also says that he got just as much negative feedback from women as he did from men. “It’s not seen as a ‘manly’ job.”
After a brief chat about how raising your kids is about the most fatherly thing a dad could do, and how that could possibly be seen as unmanly, we chatted about stay-at-home dad challenges and the best parts of being an at-home parent.
The conversation about people’s expectations and stereotypes continued into our chat about the challenges Ryan faces on a regular basis. He says, “The world expects women to be stay-at-home parents. It’s understood that it’s what a mother is supposed to do. I get a lot of comments like ‘When are you going to go back to work and give your wife a chance to stay home with the kids?’ that assume she wants to stay home and my role is at work.”
We talked about the isolation that is so prevalent among stay-at-home parents regardless of gender. “I absolutely feel isolated. The only thing I miss about having a job is the adult interaction with somebody who doesn’t care about the wheels on the bus.” He’s joined a stay-at-home dad group on Facebook but hasn’t had luck with in-person meetups.
“When I take the kids to the park, the moms don’t talk to me. The moms usher their kids away from mine because it’s ‘weird’ for me to be there.” He even tried to join local stay-at-home parent groups, but hit a wall there too. “I’d be okay if I could get into a parent group, but nobody would take me because I’m a dad. I reached out to 20 groups in the area, and they all wouldn’t take dads.” When we asked if he had thought about starting his own group focused on dads he said, “I’ve thought about it, but I’m a little busy!”
He struck up a weekly game night with some friends and now he has an outlet where he can get out and interact socially without having to be in dad-mode. He says, “It’s as important for the parents to socialize as it is for the kids.” Time alone with his wife is important too, and Ryan makes sure to get a date night on the books at least once or twice a month. He spoke a lot about how much he values his wife’s support.
“She’s 100% supportive of whatever I want to do. When I said I wanted to stay home, she said OK. She’s always right there on board.”
He says it’s hard sometimes because “when [L] sees me all day, he gets a little tired of me and he wants mommy. But other times he hugs me and says ‘You’re a good daddy, daddy’ or tells me he loves me.”
Discussing the best parts of being a stay-at-home dad, Ryan says, “When you’re working with them on something - letters and numbers, walking, anything - when they start to get it and do it on their own, it’s really rewarding. It’s something they’ll know or do for the rest of their life, and they learned it from you. It’s amazing. It’s awesome.”
Speaking of teaching the kids new things, we asked if Ryan planned on homeschooling in the future. “Absolutely not,” he says, “I’d like to say that I’d do it right but I don’t think I’m the homeschooling type.” He is, however, very attracted to the idea of staying home to manage the house while the boys are at school. “The longer I stay at home, the more I like the idea of being the PTA dad, the house-husband, the community dad. I want to be there when they get home from school and be there for their activities.”
In closing, Ryan had this to say about staying home to care for his children as a stay-at-home dad: “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. But it’s also the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”
Thank you for chatting with us and talking about your experiences as a stay-at-home dad, Ryan! We appreciate all your hard work.