The Reason I Stay: The Life of a Stay-at-Home Dad

Our daughter, Edith, just turned four. It really is crazy and incredible and I can hardly believe that it has been four years already. As I have mentioned in other posts, this is the final Spring and Summer before she starts school in the Fall. We are so very excited that she will be attending a Waldorf School. (More posts about that in the future). However, I am sad too, because it will be the end of a portion of my life with Edith that I have been very fond of: the stay-at-home-dad years.

I feel so very lucky that we were able to figure out how to make it work for me to stay at home. Being a dad (Papa actually) that stays home brings it’s own awkward moments and plenty of moms giving unsolicited advice. We still have a very pervasive attitude in our culture that men are merely babysitters and aren’t fully capable of parenting. I have wonderful and smart friends and none of them have ever “momsplained” anything to me, but plenty of strangers have:

“Put that girls hat on!”

“Giving mommy a break?”

“Do you have the day off today daddy?”

“Shouldn’t you be working?”

“You are doing a good job, daddy, how great that you are helping out!”

Gag. Gag. Gag. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Dads are parents too. This is doubly true of folks lucky enough to have two of them. Mostly we laugh these off but sometimes and on some days it can get to you at least a little bit.

I always get very excited when I run into another dad who stays at home. In fact if you are reading this and you are one please message me. We should definitely be friends. I’m not sure if stay-at-home-moms get the same line of questioning but I do get asked to sort of justify my choice to be at home. So, I thought I would share the reasons we chose for me to stay home. I say “we” because clearly I have the best husband on the planet and we make our decisions together. Usually. Unless it’s about how to spend $200 a week at Target. That’s all on me.

So here are the reasons I stay home.

1. I wanted to parent more than anything

I waited until I was almost 40 to be a parent. For a large part of my life I didn’t even think being a gay parent was an option. I want to be the best parent I can be. For me, this means spending as much time as possible with Edie in her formative years. I want to set the pace of the day for her and be there when she reaches milestones. I liked being a teacher and making money but nothing at all compares to the responsibility and reward of being a parent every single day.

2. She is my only child

Perhaps if we had started earlier, or if adoption wasn’t so darn expensive, or if having multiple children wasn’t so expensive then we would have had more than one. As it stands though she is my only child and most likely always will be. (Unless I get pregnant naturally). I literally can’t believe that my time as stay-at-home Papa is getting remotely close to ending. I have learned so much about myself, the world, and my husband during this time. I also feel like I’m just now getting ok at this parenting thing. Like many of you I feel like I suck most of the time. However, I give it my all because she is my all.

3. I want Edie to love herself

This is my absolute top goal as a parent. I want Edie to love herself and to love others. It’s also part of why we are raising Edith in a faith community. I want to be here to show her how to speak kindly to herself and others. I want to be there to help her navigate racism as best I can and to help her love herself so much that she can stand brave and tall in the face of injustice. I want to be there to help her build her confidence and to find her voice. Again, I mess up almost every single day and as a white man I am still learning, but we are determined that she love herself.

4. I stay home so Edie knows we will always be there

I should make sure that you know that I didn’t love my job as a teacher. So, quitting a job you don’t like is never too difficult. I should also say that though my husband works a full time job as an attorney he too makes tons of sacrifices. He rushes home on the 5 pm train to insure he sees Edie for at least an hour every evening and he is at her beck and call all weekend. We make sacrifices of our time to be with her because we want her to know that she is our priority and that we will always be there. This is certainly not to say that working parents do not do this. I am not judging anyone’s choices at all. I’m simply explaining our choice!

5. Who wouldn’t want to play all day?

Of course there are tough times. Most of the time by Friday I’m so tired and just want a moment or two to myself. However, I basically get to play all day and spend a large chunk of time outdoors. What’s not to love? Today, for example, we made pancakes, we did some chores, played with baby dolls, painted, went to the library, read, danced, did gymnastics in the family room, colored, played in the yard, walked the dog, and drew before bed.

Perhaps you are a stay-at-home parent as well and can relate to some of these. Maybe you are thinking about taking the leap into the land of parenting from home every day. I’d love to hear from you about your own experiences. Also, if you are a fellow stay-at-home-dad message me! We can start a club.

What are your thoughts on staying home to parent?

Get Out! Enjoying the Outdoors With Your Little One Everyday

It’s that time of year when it is starting to feel like it has been winter forever. In fact, in New England, where we live, it has been cold now for five months. Though we haven’t had much snow this year we have had dark, gray, and cold and we are all a bit ready for Spring. Today was the last official day of winter and Edith and I decided it would be the perfect beach day. And it was.

The temperature was right around 40, though the wind made it feel more like 26. The sun however was doing it’s thing and was lovely and invigorating. As we were climbing rocks and hunting for treasures I started thinking about how we had the place to ourselves. In fact, we went to two separate beaches and had both to ourselves, except for the birds and crabs.

As a stay-at -home parent being outside every day has been a priority and a real life saver. Not only does it give structure and meaning, it also helps us to stay healthy, calm, and refreshed. I read recently that Americans spend 97% of their time indoors. I also read that young children should be outside at least 3 hours, though preferably between 4 and 6! I definitely fall short of that some times though I’m always looking for ways to increase our time outside. It’s good for me, it’s good for her, and it’s good for the dog. If you are looking for ways to get out and stay outdoors more then here are some tips!

Top 5 Ways to Play Outside More:

1. Dress The Part

As the saying goes, “There’s no bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” We have found that layers are key. Edie is a real Yankee and is almost never cold unless it’s below 10. When it is that cold we definitely stay inside more. However, with layers we can stay out much longer. In the winter that means we wear all of Our LL Bean gear at once. This means snow pants and boots too, as well as good quality gloves. The cheap Target ones are cute but do not work for longer periods of time. Layer and stay!

2.Open Ended Play Is Best

While at times it’s good to have a mission or even a game as a focus, the best play is usually open ended. Backyards or beaches make great locations for this type of explorative play. In the backyard it’s good to have some old kitchen tools, buckets, old cookie trays, sticks, wagons, or other materials. After or during a rain storm these are even more fun. Always begin one of these play sessions by saying, “it’s ok to get dirty and make a mess as long as we are being safe!” I always tell Edith, “when you are dirty you know you’ve had fun!” This takes the pressure off and sets clear expectations.

3.Create a Mission Or Project:

Edie and I have a little wooden box with compartments that we use for all sorts of things. One way we use it is to organize and categorize our collections. Sea glass and shells are definitely our thing. We have multiple full jars and containers throughout our house. We use this box to help learn sorting and categorizing. It’s also aesthetically pleasing. The point is that you can set our on a mission. We will often collect things related to the season: pine cones in fall, sticks in winter, etc. It can be as simple as collecting rocks or looking for sticks in the backyard. Make it a mission and make it fun.

4. Grow Something Together

When you plant, feed, water, and wait together with your little ones there are so many fun and rewarding experiences to be had. It doesn’t have to be anything huge. We have a small vegetable garden. We love growing strawberries. Flowers are my favorite and provides an experience in most seasons. Even in winter, Edith will check the strawberry patch to see how it’s fairing. There are lessons on conservation and environmentalism to be learned as well as patience and all the amazing bugs. Right now, we are enjoying the birds at our feeder and watching the daffodils, hyacinth, and tulips slowly emerge.

5. Schedule It Every Day

We all live to follow a rhythm to our day that is predictable and orderly. This is particularly true for children. What do you do all day? Scheduling a Successful Day As a Stay-At-Home-Parent is one of my posts about scheduling if you haven’t read that yet. Schedule your time outside and make it a priority. Try and keep to the same time frame every day. Break it up if the weather is too nasty or cold (or hot). Schedule meals outside too when possible as a little picnic is good for the soul.

I’m curious…how much time do you spend outside with your children? What are other ways to get out more?

How can you get out more tomorrow?

What do you do all day? Scheduling a Successful Day As a Stay-At-Home-Parent

I decided I really needed to start this entry by sharing a picture of an activity that was unscheduled. One of the things I have learned, actually a skill I transferred to parenting from my teaching career, is the ability to recognize opportunities that present themselves to experience unplanned joy. This picture of Edie playing in my grandmother’s flooded backyard with her cousin captures a perfect example of such joy. Being open to opportunities to laugh, get dirty, and try something new are essential for young kids and their caregivers alike.

Having said that, I also know the importance of a routine and some planning. I think this can be one thing that parents struggle with. It can be especially tricky for stay-at-home parents. There are definitely those days, particularly during the cold winter months, where the time where Edie and I are home alone can feel like an eternity. As has been said by many parents, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Here are just a few things that I have found helpful along the way to keep Edie engaged and learning, and to keep me sane and learning too.

Make a Physical Calendar

Particularly as kids age I think a consistent routine and set activities can be helpful. We have an old chalkboard that is in our kitchen. On one side it has the full month and any regularly schedule activities. My husband and I can also use this place to remind each other of any events that we are attending or appointments to remember.

On the other side we have a simple checklist. Edie and I create this every day and she has choice and a voice, something that is exceptionally important for her and all three year olds. She helps me figure out the day of the week and the weather. Some times she adds drawings. It helps her with number sense and to learn the days of the week and months.

I have considered an hourly schedule and I might do that as she ages and gets closer to school ( I’m not crying you are!) For now, though, the list works and keeps us both accountable. It gives her something to check off after dinner each night.

Go Do Something Everyday

If you can, then you should join the YMCA. It’s been a lifesaver for us. We have regularly schedule swimming as well as gymnastics class. Most Y’s have a babysitting service too if you are into that and need a minute or a workout yourself. Go to your local museum.

We are lucky to have the Peabody Essex Museum nearby. They have a wonderful pre-school hour each week as well as many other opportunities for young children and families. Don’t forget your library. When I first started staying at home I did not get out enough with Edie. Yes, we went to the beach every day and took walks but I mean organized activities with other kids. I think it not only helps with their development but is a great way to meet other parents too.

Some days it’s just grocery store and dry cleaners while other days (too many days if you ask my husband) it is running to Target or our favorite Thrift Shops. Just get out!

Creativity and Pre-Academic Skills Focus

Take time every single day to make something with your little one. Some of my favorite moments are painting and drawing with Edie. We also love utilizing our massive sea glass collection in a variety of ways. A little glue and some string or paper goes a long way. Of course painting is one of Edith’s favorites. Check out Ecokids for a wonderful line of paints, clay, crayons and more. You will not be disappointed.

Edie has been very into letters, writing, reading, and numbers lately. When we go to Target we almost always buy something like this Workbook. I am definitely against pushing literacy too early. In fact as a former teacher I could devote an entire blog to that topic alone. However, if that is an interest your child has then go for it. They even make cute paint by number workbooks that help with all sorts of skills.

Include Little Ones In Household Jobs

Little ones love to be a part of household tasks like cleaning, cooking, organizing, shopping, pet care, etc. There are also lots of reasons why chores are important and beneficial. Here is a great article from the New York Times highlighting some reasons why.

One way that I love to include Edie is dinner prep. Getting her involved has made dinner prep so much easier and less stressful and since we are tv free (see blogSet Free From TV) , she is engaged and not bored while I’m cooking. We bought these great knives that she is quite good with and we have fun cooking together.
. Edie also helps with laundry, dishes, and feeding the dog as well as dusting and floors. I had to let go of some of my control freak overly clean tendencies but that’s ok. Mostly.

Go Outside

Buying clothes to help you enjoy the outdoors in every weather condition is very important. Not only is the fresh air good for you and your little ones’ mental health and physical health, it can make a day much more fun and interesting. We are lucky enough to live a few blocks from the ocean and we go there in all seasons. Yes, the summer is still our favorite but there is something to do and explore all year long.

Let me know what you think? What tips am I missing? Don’t be afraid to schedule as little or as much as works for you and your family. Remember that consistency and clear expectations make our kids feel safe and secure, but don’t be afraid to seize moments of adventure! Go play!