Being a stay-at-home-dad can be risky!

I consider myself a stay-at-home dad since I resigned from my full time career as a pastor. After nine years of ministry burning the candle both ends and over-working, depression took hold and after finally reaching the point of seriously planning suicide I sought help. I couldn’t go back though. So I made a deal with my wife. If she went to work for us, I’d take care of the home – lock, stock and barrel. The reason for this was that she wasn’t traveling too well either emotionally because of the toll mental illness had taken on us.

And so I took on a new role. I organised the home, established routines for the kids, and went on a steep learning curve not so much in how to do the job, but how to find a rhythm in each week so that I could still live in an active recovery space and not become overwhelmed by the fact that housework is never completed – it’s the nature of the beast.

I was intrigued to read that while house dads are increasing in number (10-14%), it’s not all beer and skittles. A recent The Age article reported some old research that put men at 82 times higher risk of heart disease than their career paid counterparts but went on to outline some other risks suggesting

Househusbands who linger too long can find themselves in premature retirement, shut out of the workforce, and quite isolated…

House husbands need look no further than house wives to know that it’s not going to suit all of us and that the downsides are the same irrespective of gender. There can be less “job satisfaction” because the work is never done. Progress with the children seems slow at times. It feels like spinning the wheels compared to say an engineering sales role that I performed where I could measure my sales figures.

I’ve done a couple of key things to make it work for me. Firstly, I don’t hope to have it all done. I try and prioritize and get down the key things and let other stuff slide (although I do get defensive if I feel criticized for this). Secondly, I make sure I get out enough and have some kind of life outside the home. I work two days per week in the community services sector, I fly fish (this captures exercise, mateship and photography as well) and I drop in on the local Men’s Shed once a week and make something – like a chicken feeder, or spice rack for example.

One advantage men have is that we’re not “nesters” by nature, so we’re not in general as “houseproud” as a women. Nor do we feel as scrutinized as the fairer sex by their peers (the sisterhood can be a harsh club at times). We’re not as susceptible to guilt when we don’t get it all done so we can still be happy in the face of a full laundry basket, or sit down and have a cup of tea even though the dishes are piled up on the sink. We don’t feel like we should be able to do it all like your average mum who feels like a failure if she doesn’t. I know I can’t do it all and am fine with it. I get the kids to help and train them. Once a week they cook for us. They fold their own laundry. They tidy their own rooms. They all have chores that need to be done. I’m doing them no favors if I do everything for them. We’re a team.

As I sit here, my thighs and glutes ache. The school athletics carnival last Friday had a parent race. My wife entered last year and came a dismal last (she’s a shorty), so I was urged to enter this year and win (for the kids of course!). I entered and whupped those other dads and won. The kids were all suitably impressed. All up, I consider what I’m doing a privilege. There aren’t many dads who have as much involvement in their kids lives when they’re young. Most have to work full time. I don’t and that’s a blessing.

Help! I feel like a girl!

No doubt you’ve heard the sayings “wait ’til the boot is on the other foot” or “your chickens will always come home to roost”. It’s like saying “what goes around comes around” or “you get what you deserve”. Seems like there are so many ways to say it. But I’m getting mine.

Some nights of the week, my wife will walk in the front door talking to someone from work on the cell. I think she’s talking to me so I start to talk back, only to see the hand go up. I feel miffed. Slighted. Other nights after she’s arrived home, she’ll be sending and receiving text messages and I think “for God’s sake, you’re home now, enough already!”

You see, the kids and I haven’t seen her all day. By the time she gets home, the kids have an hour before bed. They all have stories to tell about their day, but she’s still making calls and firing off texts. I wonder why she couldn’t get it done during work hours. I wonder why it can’t wait until tomorrow. I’m always up to my armpits in the sink, or trying to dish up food, couldn’t she help get the meal on instead? I feel hurt. Snubbed. Aren’t we important too? Doesn’t she want to talk to us? I feel like a desperate housewife longing for some attention when the husband gets home.

Then I remember all too well. When I was pastoring, I did it all the time – and worse. I did it from my bed late at night. I would sit outside in the driveway on the phone. I would get phone calls on weekends dealing with all kinds of problems. I would take calls in the car on family trips. One burned out pastor I spoke to said his wife once called him on his cell while he was in the house. She claimed she wanted to hear him talk to her like he talked to his parishioners. OUCH!

The rationale is hard to escape. I used to figure that if I can fire off a few texts, make a few calls, it will get the monkey off my back. It will ease the pressure – alleviate the workload. After all, if I can just get to these few things, it will only take few minutes and tomorrow won’t be so hectic. If it doesn’t get done today, it will pile up and tomorrow will be hell. There’s a lot of merit to the mentality and it’s so easy to buy into.

But the message it sends to loved ones is that work, and other people are more important. And it’s not the time spent doing it, it’s having your mind in two places. You’re physically present, but your loved one’s don’t have your presence, and that is more hurtful than if you’re not present at all.

I feel for anyone trapped in a job that is so demanding, it overflows into their family life. It’s not a nice place to live in. Now that I’m on the receiving end, I know I’m eating humble pie and getting my just desserts, but I still can’t help feeling like a girl when it happens to me!