My Husband Became a Stay-at-Home Dad. Here’s How it Changed Everything.
The idea of the male being the breadwinner is a tough mindset to overcome.
I’ve always suspected parenthood was more my husband’s purpose than mine. Motherhood, while something I wanted, was difficult for me to fathom until our daughter, Maya, was born four years ago. It had always felt surreal and unfamiliar.
My husband Russell, on the other hand, was seemingly born to be a dad. He learned to swaddle like a champion, he seemed tuned in to Maya’s needs immediately, and he had more patience than I could ever hope for. In being a stay-at-home father, he has truly found his calling.
But it wasn’t always our plan to have Russell be a stay-at-home parent.
In the eight months after Maya was born, however, we learned our Plan A—Russell continuing to work full-time, me writing during Maya’s naps and in the evenings—was simply not going to work.
Maya was jaundiced, refused all efforts of being “trained” in any way (go figure), and for two weeks, would only sleep with her head planted firmly on my heart. Nursing was difficult, leading to several bleary-eyed early morning trips to the hospital’s lactation nurses. It quickly became clear I’d need more help than I’d envisioned.
When Maya was five months old, Russell contracted a horrendous strain of influenza, a result of him riding the city bus to and from work in the winter while running on little sleep. And then I caught the flu, which promptly turned into pneumonia. But even after my wheezing subsided, my stress remained.
I’d pray Maya would sleep through my conference calls. I’d agonize over deadlines. We’d have days where neither of us got out of our pajamas and nothing got done. I felt like I was barely surviving.
As challenging as it was for me, it was harder for Russell. He was working 12 hours a day, after which he’d come straight home, take over baby duties, and often cook dinner and do the dishes. I started daydreaming about a life where he could be at home with us, where I could simply write all day and he could bond with his daughter.
Then, on one particularly brutal day, I fell apart. I waited until Maya was blissfully napping in her swing before I let the sobs overtake me, praying to whatever deities and angels I believed in as well as a few I didn’t. I asked for something to give, whatever that meant.
The very next day, I received a text from a friend that changed everything. She asked if I’d be interested in a contract position with her company. The pay was almost exactly what Russell was bringing home at the time. Although it was a gamble, I was confident that if I could land this gig, I would be able to find enough work when the contract was over to take care of us.
Although Russell has never been the traditional type—and, in fact, he’d half-joked about being a stay-at-home dad previously—I was nervous to make the official proposal to him. But after working nonstop since he was 16 years old, and after falling asleep on the Seattle city bus from sheer exhaustion one too many times, Russell was ready for the change.
“I know so many people who would do anything for the opportunity to raise their own kids,” he said. “Why would I pay someone else to raise my only one?”
And so, I accepted the role, Russell put in his notice, and our new life began.
As soon as Russell took off his work boots for the last time, he jumped right in to full-time parent/household maintenance mode. He treated the chores and grocery shopping like a job, right down to spreadsheets and checklists and “Tub-scrub Tuesday.” He has become an outstanding cook. He has made every effort to involve Maya in age-appropriate activities, from playdates at the park to ballet classes and toddler time at the aquarium. Instead of barely seeing his daughter every day, Russell and Maya are best friends.
I didn’t worry too much about outside opinions of our situation. I braced myself for comments and snark, but they never came. Our friends and family were overwhelmingly supportive, and if anyone did judge, they kept it to themselves.
There’s a surprisingly large stay-at-home dad community in the Pacific Northwest, and for the most part, Russell is praised for his efforts with Maya, by women in particular.
While he is absolutely worthy of the positive feedback he receives, he has mentioned many times how he gets kudos for doing what he considers basic parenting. Cashiers at the grocery store compliment him for “giving mom a break.” He has been asked if he is “babysitting” his child more than once, and he has quite a fan club among single mothers at the park. (For the record, I say good for him—we all like to be reminded that our spouse is a catch!) Stay-at-home moms are definitely viewed differently in our society from stay-at-home dads, even in a progressive city like Seattle.
Our arrangement has been a huge boost for our marriage, too. Instead of putting my bleary-eyed husband on a bus at 7 a.m., he and I cuddle in bed together until our human alarm clock wakes us up. While I have had days where I’ve had to take refuge at the nearest coffee shop to get some peace and quiet and meet a deadline, I’m still largely at home with my family, where I can take breaks for doctor appointments, playdates, and “Mama snuggles,” as Maya calls them. And we were both there for her first steps, which she took from Russell to me in our bedroom.
I won’t pretend our situation is always easy. We’ve dealt with unexpected layoffs, late-paying clients, and all the financial drama that comes with freelancing. And while I’ve made it clear to Russell that he’s doing more than enough for our family, he still deals with feeling like he’s not doing “enough” when money gets tight.
The idea of the male being the breadwinner in a traditional family dynamic is a tough mindset to overcome, even for someone who has never really believed that that’s the way it should be himself. It took Russell a long time before he’d stop asking me if he could spend money, despite the fact that we’ve always had a joint checking account.
When Russell returns to work when Maya starts pre-K this fall, we’ll have some serious catching up to do in terms of our retirement accounts and Maya’s college fund. But I truly wouldn’t trade one moment of the last four years for all the financial security in the world, because I have something better: the satisfaction of knowing we made the right choice for our family.
And for more first-person stories about parenthood, here is I Had a Kid in High School. Here’s How it Changed My Whole Life.
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