As an at-home dad (AHD) who works a few part-time jobs two or three nights a week, I can tell you that no paying job is as rewarding as being an at-home parent.
Becoming an AHD was no easy decision, nor is it one you should take lightly. My wife and I went from dual income, no kids, and living in New York City to one income, one-two-three kids in rural Connecticut. If you’re considering the AHD route, there are lots of things to consider. Here’s a rundown of some of them.
Can you afford it?
Some dads are forced into the AHD role after losing a job, and in this case it really doesn’t matter if you can afford it. You have to do it while you search for your next opportunity.
If you’re becoming an AHD by choice, if you’re certain you can swing it, and if your partner is all-in and supports the decision, go for it.
Is it short-term or long-term?
I coached college baseball prior to becoming a dad/AHD and have a Master’s in counseling. I thought my time as an AHD was going to be short-lived, so I kept my options open. In fact, after moving to Connecticut after my wife accepted a new job, I actively searched for full-time work. Hoping it would lead to something more permanent, I worked as an in-school suspension supervisor at a high school until applying/interviewing/accepting a long-term (three months) middle school guidance counselor position late in the school year. I interviewed for the guidance position towards the end of the year, but nothing materialized.
After a few years of this apply/interview/”everyone thought you were a strong candidate but…” cycle, we decided that my being at home was the way to go. Once our boys are school-aged, I can take on more hours to help bring in more money. Until then, I’m not anticipating seeking out 9-to-5 employment.
That’s me, though. As I mentioned above, if you were laid off and are just waiting for your next job, being at AHD isn’t a bad way to spend your time.
How easily can you adapt?
Chances are, you’re leaving your 9-to-5 career to focus on being the primary caregiver for your kid(s). The good news: There’s no boss to answer to (well, no adult boss anyway). Hell, your new boss probably won’t speak a whole lot, especially if you begin your AHD-hood right after childbirth. There are no set hours. And you’re not cooped up in an office all day.
The bad news: Your hours went from 9-to-5 to around-the-clock. There are very few breaks, And there’s definitely no pawning off jobs to someone else. It’s all you.
How’s your head space?
Let’s face it: You’re probably going to question your own “manliness” and your place in the home (and even society). That kind of head game goes with the territory. After allm you’re bucking every convention you were raised with. Know this, though: You’re awesome and you’re not alone.
Still, awesome as you are, you’re going to feel isolated now and then. You’ll take your kid to the playground, and the vast majority of the adults there will be moms or nannies. You might feel out of place. You might feel like an alien. Power through it.
You might experience burn-out at some point. It’s important for you to maintain a sense of who you were before becoming a parent. What made you happy? What hobbies did you enjoy? Reading? Hunting? Barhopping? Gardening? Hiking? Fishing? Writing? Keep doing those things. (Except barhopping. That’s probably frowned upon with a small child in tow.)
Do you have thick skin?
You’re going to be stereotyped.
You’ll be asked if you’re babysitting. (You’re not, it’s called “parenting”.) You’ll get the “awwww” reaction quite a bit as well, and you’ll feel really good for a split-second, until the “You must have your hands full!?” or “Giving mom a little break?” that immediately follows. As if we’re some oafish schmuck who’s completely clueless as to how to raise our kid.
Back to the playground. You’ll probably be ignored at playgrounds but who gives a shit? You’re there with your kid and they’re having the time of their life. You’ll see moms chatting up moms, but every once in a while you’ll see another dad rolling solo with his kids. And you’ll get giddy. You might stroll over, ask how old his kid is, strike up a conversation until you get to the crux of the matter: He’s got the day off and his wife stays home. Good for him, though, and good for you. Adult interaction: Hooray!
Make a pros and cons list: YOUR pros and cons
Ironically, the internet has plenty of lists and articles that tell you the pros and cons of AHD-ness, but the truth is that every situation is unique. This isn’t a decision to make lightly. You’re new job is raising your kid.
But hey, no pressure.
Here’s my own list of some AHD pros and cons:
PRO: You’re the primary caregiver. You ensure a fun, safe, and nurturing environment and you attempt to get your kid(s) on a sleep schedule. You’ll read to them, and you’ll goof around with them.
CON: You’re the only caregiver. You’re responsible for all aspects of keeping them happy and healthy—and sometimes you won’t know if they’re either.
PRO: You don’t have to deal with coworkers’ complaining, bickering, or bullshit.
CON: You’ll see shit, literal shit, you didn’t think was humanly possible. Change it.
PRO: You might be able to sneak a nap on the job.
CON: Nap time can will be a pain in the ass at times, but stick to that routine.
PRO: You have the freedom to get out and do things.
CON: You’ll go out and do things around your kid’s nap schedule because you never want to waste a good nap in the car.
PRO: Until your kid can speak and articulate feelings, they won’t be rude or talk back.
CON: When they’re crying for no apparent reason, they won’t be able to tell you why.
PRO: You’re the head chef at home now.
CON: There’s a 97% chance your kids won’t eat what you cook.
PRO: It’s OK to let your kids see you sad, see you cry, see you happy, see you acting goofy.
CON: If you feel like you’ve lost your identity and are bitter or angry at your former employer, your kids will pick up on this. Kids are more perceptive than you think.
PRO: You’ll take “class trips” to the playground or museum or park.
CON: I get lonely sometimes being the only dad there. (Read Brian Craig’s book Lone Pair of Blue Jeans in a Sea of Yoga Pants.)
CON: It might take you a while to figure out where they are in your area.
Bottom line: Everything you want and need to know about deciding to become an AHD can’t be quantified into four, five, or thirty bullet points or a pros-and-cons list of any length. It all hinges on one key aspect: you and your happiness.
If you aren’t happy, then maybe it’s not for you. And that’s okay too.
Ryan shares his experiences as a dad at Home-Field Dad and at Instagram @rdarcy1981.