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Making the Transition to Being a Stay at Home Dad


Father and Child Cooking
Getty Images / Digital Vision
My friend Travis called me quite excited about the decision he and his wife Jenna had made. Jenna got a great promotion at work that significantly increase her salary and Travis was in an organization that was downsizing and he saw the handwriting on the wall. They had saved and prepared for his possible layoff, and his employer was offering some incentives for employees to leave. So, Jenna and Travis decided that he would become the stay at home dad for two young children and Jenna would accept the promotion and be the primary breadwinner.

There are more and more families in Travis and Jenna's situation. According to the 2010 Census, more than 175,000 fathers in the United States are full-time stay at home dads. Another 500,000 have a part time or freelance income while still being the primary caregiver at home. And the trend is increasing in significant ways.

But as Travis and I talked, he was a little worried about the transition. How would he adapt from a full-time job in the workforce with friends and associates to being isolated at home with mostly little people as his companions? How would he react to spending money that his wife earned, even though it was clearly a family resource? How would he getting needed recharging and refreshing? How would he interact with other stay at home parents, the vast majority of which were mothers and not fathers?

These are certainly all legitimate questions, and they are ones that any stay at home parent, mother or father, has to answer. In most cases, the answers are not that much different, but in some notable cases, the gender differences between fathers and mothers can make answers a bit different. So, let's deal with several of these issues surrounding making an effective transition into the role of stay at home dad.

Isolation Issues. As I talk with stay at home dads, this is a big one as a dad transitions from the full-time workforce world to the stay at home dad role. Often, stay at home moms develop a network of other moms in similar situations which help them get breaks in their day for adult contact. But there are still very few if any stay at home dads in any given neighborhood, and developing close relationships with stay at home moms can lead to problems. One suggestion that many stay at home dads offer to combat isolation is to create playgroups with other stay at home dads. There are many ways to find other stay at home dads and they can then get together to play, go to the library, head off on field trips or otherwise connect. Dads can also find some connection online via social media with other fathers who are at home during the day.

Money Issues. It can be tough for a family to adapt to a single income or a significantly reduced income when dad becomes the stay at home caregiver. Many dads find it difficult to feel financially "limited" because they don't have their own income with the flexibility they used to enjoy. Families with a single breadwinner can really benefit from having a well-thought-out family budget that offers some opportunity for the stay at home dad to take care of shopping and some limited recreational and entertainment opportunities. Dads can also find fun things to do with the kids that don't take a lot of money like library storytimes, hiking, playing at the park and such activities. And having some money set aside in the family budget for a little "mad money" can help a dad not feel quite so constrained.

Refreshing and Recharging. Stay at home dads have a real need to not get too bogged down in the routine and to find ways to refresh themselves and to recharge their personal batteries. Having a good exercise regimen, bringing the kids along where possible, can be one way. Other dads create an early morning or late evening "devotional" including meditation, reading or writing. Moms in the workforce need to remember the importance of still creating time with their husbands who are stay at home dads and having weekly nights out and quiet moments without the kids.

Interacting with Stay at Home Moms. When dad becomes the primary at home caregiver, he will of necessity interact with stay at home moms in other families. He will encounter them at the park, at the library, at school, on field trips and in other settings. It is important to be socially friendly and polite, but creating close relationships with stay at home moms can threaten a marriage. So work to interact with at home dads primarily and maintain "professional-level" relationships with the moms you encounter.

Being a stay at home dad can be a decidedly wonderful experience. You will create connections with your children that most dads only dream of. But it is hard work and a little counter culture in most areas. If you follow a few simple steps and maintain a positive attitude, taking time to refresh and recharge, you will be a great stay at home dad and be a great asset to your family.

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