Lessons From The Other Side

Early in our marriage we decided that we wanted to homeschool our children. Even before our lurch into libertarianism we were convicted that public schools are no place for the minds of our children. We were further convinced that one parent should always be present in the lives of our children. This means we made a conscious choice to live in a single income family.

For ten years our single income came from me. During this time our family expanded from two young lovers into two lovers and five crazy loinfruits.

(The loinfruits hate photos (and shoes), except for the eldest)

Two months ago when my seasonal employment ended we decided to do something outlandish (for conservative folks like us) and let Nicole work while I stay home with the kids.

After ten years of telling her what I think she ought to do in her home I am now the one running the show. And I am drowning in it. I used to think “that’s an easy job”, not as a comparison with my job, just as a mindless judgment. I used to give her all kinds of hints and tips that I thought were soooo helpful. “Why don’t you try doing this?” I would say, empathetically and sincerely. In reality, I had no idea what I was saying.

I am now the one who is one twitch away from snapping at the kids for running through the house like wild banshee after being told not to 59 times. I am now the one wondering why the laundry never ends or why the kids insist on using 5,000 forks in one day.

I am also the one watching a weary, exhausted spouse come home and turn off. The one hoping to have one decent conversation in the day because all they have dealt with is childish conversation with little people who can’t empathize at their ages. I’m the one knocking the children off of their beleaguered parent, telling them “Mommy is tired, be kind, leave her alone for a while and let her breathe.” All the while wishing that maybe Mommy could just take them away for a few minutes and give me some rest.

Being on this side of the stay-at-home parent dynamic has been one of the most humbling experiences since I broke my collarbone, two ribs, and a shoulder blade last year. I was laid up for almost two months, physically unable to move much due to the pain. I had to learn to swallow my pride and accept the help of others. While that was a physically humbling experience being a SAHP is an emotionally and mentally humbling one.

There is so much one hopes to accomplish in one day, and so many obstacles getting right in the way, that the day never seems complete enough. One drops into bed feeling like nothing was done and tomorrow nothing more will happen. While physically capable of accomplishing the goals, one never feels emotionally like the goals were met (even if they were physically met, which they never are actually.)

Thus there is a desire for empathy from the other parent who quite frankly has no clue what’s going on.  He or she has spent all day outside of the home and away from the children, oblivious to the chaos that has been occurring all day. While one may be physically fine, the enormous amount of emotional and mental support needed at the end of the day is staggering. There is an excellent reason God made parenting a two person job. Even if a single person can physically accomplish all of the tasks of parenting, housekeeping, and bringing in a family income, they often do so at the expense of their emotional and mental health. Super kudos to those that do by the way. Y’all are some special people.

Even working on dynamic firelines where one has to be concerned about getting burned up has not prepared me for the mental taxation of several tiny voices all demanding equal time and treatment. The overwhelming number of details one must keep in one’s head is staggering even when compared to the number of variables on a fire line.

This job is not the most difficult job physically, there are jobs far more physically demanding. This job is not the most difficult mentally, brain surgery is probably much more mental. I’d even be willing to bet that this isn’t even the most emotionally draining job out there. But cumulatively SAHP is the most difficult job I have ever encountered.

Much grace should be given to the stay at home parent. More humility needs to be exhibited by the breadwinners of the house. These people are doing a difficult task, and probably the most important one as well. Cut them a little slack if you run across them out in the world and their kids are orbiting them loudly and perhaps a bit chaotically.

Which brings me to another point. 

If you see a father with his horde of children, don’t assume that he is incompetent or unable to handle them. Don’t assume that he was conned into “babysitting” his kids or that he is miserable (even if he is, it’s not likely to be because he is a dad.) Don’t look at him with pity or call him “brave” or “strong” (unless of course you would also do the same for mothers).

Men are capable of parenting. If you assume that the men you know are not up to the task, perhaps you should hold them to a higher standard. If you do see them struggling (as any parent does at times), don’t draw attention to their failures. Don’t make them feel like maybe they aren’t doing well by suggesting that they must be worn out or using the well meaning but much overused phrase “you look like you have a handful!” Give them some grace and maybe even a helping hand, as you should do for anyone you witness struggling through life.

Above all else, don’t give them a pass when they are genuinely being negligent. Don’t play the “poor incompetent dad, I hope his wife is coming back soon.” routine. If he’s slacking, call him out. If he’s spending most of his time staring at a screen or a magazine or book, while his kids are climbing the walls or destroying displays at the store, call him out on his lack of discipline. He can and should step up to the plate and at least try to engage his children in play or conversation.

Encourage fathers to hold their children to high standards in behavior and respect of others. Encourage fathers to discipline children and raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Encourage fathers to be vulnerable with their kids, play with them, empathize with them, let them know their father loves them and has feelings about them and about the world around him. The encouragement we need to give to fathers is part of the encouragement we need to give to all men, but I’ll touch on that another time. For now I’ll leave it at this:

Becoming a stay at home dad for this season has been an eye opening and humbling experience. All the folks who do this full time for years on end have my utmost respect. All of them need grace and patience as they navigate the hardest job in the world. Please give it.

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