“Gentlemen, it’s gonna be a game-time decision for us today,” I warned the other stay-at-home-dads the morning of one of our weekly activities. Weathered SAHDs know a thing or two about game-time decisions, and generally respond to them with similar, game-time strategies, unless of course, the score is a total blow-out.
I eventually made it to our outing at a West Seattle park that morning, but only after struggling with a whiny toddler who required two poopy diaper changes on our way out the door, and I also forgot his lunch as well as extra diapers. To make matters more unnerving, my cell phone died as we pulled out of the driveway. Enter game-time strategies: swing by grocery store for macaroni salad and coffee, then borrow Jake’s (another SAHD) back-up diapers, as needed; as for no cell phone during this outing? Just don’t mess up.
As with any stressful job, challenges and frustrations are a regular occurrence in the daily routines of a SAHD. The group that I facilitate is one of few opportunities for SAHDs to talk about those struggles, often with lightheartedness, humor or sarcasm. While under duress, one dad in particular will raise his baby son over his head with one hand, look at everybody with utmost sincerity, and ask: “Is there an off button? Can somebody tell me if this thing has an off button, please?” Others quip back and forth about their misfortunes, mistakes and challenges, eventually participating in a friendly game of one-upmanship. Witnessing this can, at times, be humbling, hilarious or poop-filled—sometimes all at once. While this may be different to what women discuss in moms groups these interactions provide a necessary regular outlet for SAHDs.
While interactions between SAHDs sound simple enough, in reality there is a lack of community support and infrastructure around the SAHD and his family, and achieving even the simplest engagement with other dads can be difficult. Many SAHDs in my group have reported to having periods of wanting to engage with others but felt the obstacles achieving this were too great, and therefore found it easier to remain homebound. More specifically, most SAHDs are faced with obstacles of not only learning how to successfully get out the door and caretake on-the-go, but must do so in the face of the perceived public opinion that SAHDs are emasculated for taking on the traditional mother’s role, and/or lazy for “not wanting to work”. While these perceptions are clearly not valid, the concern for judgment is very real for some SAHDs. As more families designate dad as the primary caregiver, it becomes more important that these men have a sense of acceptance in their community and opportunities to engage with each other. Parenting in isolation is less than ideal for both dad and baby.
Getting out of the house has never been more important for dads. Beyond obvious benefits such as having the opportunity for dad and kiddo to interact with the outside world and other SAHDs, seeing dads as caregivers out and about helps to publicly normalize the role of the SAHD. By getting out and showing folks that, while different, at-home fathering is common, equally effective and just as important as at-home mothering, acceptance for the role will likely increase—perhaps even become celebrated. If dads can feel healthy and comfortable in their role, they’ll help to raise healthier children.
The other day, during a SAHD group outing, several of us were strolling from Firehouse Coffee’s playroom to the Ballard Locks, and a car full of women slowed down beside us hooting and hollering, lowering the window, and yelling: “woohoo dads!” I looked at the SAHD strolling next to me, who started to blush. We were catcalled. But instead of the norm, it came from a different group of people, about completely different reasons, and instead of feel degraded, they made us feel great. Keep ‘em coming!
For you future and current SAHDs out there, here’s a list of resources that might enlighten your day-to-day:
Programs and Activities:
- PEPS for Dads: Weekly gathering of part-time or full-time SAHDs who have a baby 0-12 months (registration fee; financial assistance available upon request). http://www.peps.org/programs/dads-group
- Seattle Stay-at-Home-Dads Activity Group: Weekly meet-ups, monthly dads night out, annual barbecues. Dads from all backgrounds are welcome (free service). http://www.meetup.com/Seattle-Stay-at-Home-Dads-Group/
- Storytime at Seattle Public Libraries: Bring the kiddo and meet other at-home parents (free service, multiple locations). http://www.spl.org/audiences/children/chi-calendar-of-events/chi-storytime-calendar
- Toddler Indoor Play Areas: Want to play but it’s raining outside? No problem. Find the nearest Seattle Parks and Recreation community center and drop in for a playdate ($3 admission, multiple locations). http://www.seattle.gov/parks/children/play.htm
- YMCA of Seattle: Get exercise while taking advantage of the Infant or Kids Corner; sign up for swim lessons for babies 6 months or older; and monthly Parents Night Out for any age (registration fee). http://www.seattleymca.org/Pages/Welcome.aspx
About the Author
Will Owen has been a stay-at-home-dad for over over two years. During this time he founded and leads Seattle Stay-at-Home-Dads Activity Group, co-leads newborn support groups for PEPS and volunteers at various human services agencies in Seattle.