SAHD. In the world of acronyms, it’s probably not one of the best, but the job it stands for—stay-at-home dad—can be one of the most rewarding. I should know. I’m a father of two who did diapers full-time for more than a year.
In doing it, I learned some valuable tips for couples, and especially the dad, to consider if they’re thinking about trading in his power tie for potty training.
1. Mom, let’s talk. Are you prepared for your husband to run the business of the household while you’re at work? Can you relinquish laundry, dishwashing and appointment making and feel comfortable when it’s not done your way? For my wife, letting go of the reins was one of the hardest adjustments she had to make to accommodate our new situation.
2. Keep your expectations realistic. Now that dad is home all day will he finally clean out the garage? Will he fix that groaning garbage disposal? Probably not. Time is an at-home parent’s most precious resource. Ira Dolin, caregiver for his 2-year-old twin daughters in Gurnee, is practical about necessary chores: "I pay someone to do the big stuff, like mow my lawn." He says he prefers to spend any extra time with his family.
3. Check your ego at the door. As a stay-at-home dad, it was difficult for me at first to admit that I "babysit" all day. Many people don’t understand that you’ve chosen this labor of love, so it’s important to develop a thick skin early. "What surprised me the most about this job is the look you get after you’ve told someone—usually a guy—that you stay at home with your kid all day," says Jeff Kogan, a stay-at-home dad from Buffalo Grove. "They always seem to feel sorry for you somehow."
4. Understand who comes first. It doesn’t matter that the opening round of that golf tournament you’ve been dying to watch is on in an hour. It’s naptime and the little one’s schedule comes before the PGA. It can be tempting to adjust a mealtime here and a naptime there to sneak in a little "dad time," but the most important rule of the game is that your child’s needs come first. Dad, be prepared to sacrifice a game or two on the tube for the sake of raising your child properly. Who knows, you may be raising the next Tiger Woods, so you better do it right.
5. Going it alone. To cope with what he calls "monk-style isolation," Kogan started a playgroup for local fathers that has evolved over the years into ChicagoDads.com. He found meeting regularly with other SAHDs gave him a sense of community with those sharing his same daily challenges. "It’s a rude awakening for someone coming from the business world. The level of socialization just isn’t there," Kogan says.
6. No promotions, no raises. If the company e-mail announcing your promotion or the plaque on your wall for salesman of the year is a big part of what makes you tick, think twice before dumping those accolades for the glory and rewards you’ll receive for keeping your little princess on her sleep schedule. You won’t be getting any. Nothing in this job will compare to the sense of accomplishment you may get from hearing your boss say, "How does ‘VP’ sound?"
7. The job that never ends. "It can be a little frustrating learning my limitations," says Peter Bryant, a dad from Lincoln Park who spends his days caring for his daughter, about the never-ending nature of raising children. Mom will be around to help when she can, of course, and you will make time with your buddies to shoot pool now and again, but, ultimately, there is little rest for the weary bottle washer.
8. Things can get a little ugly. Do you love the television show "Fear Factor"? If so, great. You will need a strong stomach because the gross-out factor for your new assignment will be high. Nose-plugs, rubber gloves and safety goggles are just some of the supplies you’ll need on your SAHD tool belt.
9. Time for a dress rehearsal. If you’re really sure Dad is the man for the job, schedule a trial run before he signs on the dotted line. Send Mom on a three-day weekend with her friends and see how well he does. If 15 minutes of a crying baby sends him reaching for the cell phone looking for guidance, then having him stay home full-time might be worth reconsidering.
10. It’s not forever. This is not a permanent arrangement—unless you want it to be. Realize that in a few short years your child will be off to school and Dad will have a chance to head back into his career. Bryant says, "When a day is really going badly, I just think, ‘I’d rather have me be the one dealing with this situation than a stranger.’" For many families, that’s the bottom line.
Chris Bonney is a dad and freelance writer living in Winfield.