I was waiting in a doctor's office when I saw a news blurb on "Modern Families" and the new "Stay at Home Dad." The blurb was partially tied to a new movie coming out that's all about dads as primary child-carers. In it they interviewed two different stay-at-home dads to get their take. I only saw one dad's interview, but his words, and those of the interviewers framing the entire thing still ring in my ears.
Most poignantly, "I think you'll see a lot more families deciding to do what's best for their families." These words were from the dad, and echoed several times by the interviewers.
And by this, he meant, of course, that the "best" thing for families is to have a stay-at-home parent - whether that be mom, or dad.
I take offense at his choice of words, and what he implies.
First of all, I strongly believe most people are already doing what's "best for their families." We all want to be the best parents we can possibly be. I mean, Kids First, and all that is everywhere you look. Judgment free at every grocery store checkstand. Let's go ahead and recognize that most people are already choosing to do what's "best for their family" in their situation.
And let's go ahead and be clear - what's best for your family, may not be best for mine.
So while for this dad, the "best" thing was to have someone stay at home, I take issue with him suggesting that is the "best" for all families.
Because I can tell you - I thought like him once. Before we ever had sweet Wiggles we discussed at varying lengths our "ideal" or "best" scenarios for child-rearing. We both agreed that "best" was to have a stay-at-home parent, and we both agreed it would be whoever was earning less money. Or...supposing we were earning about the same or even the lower-earner made enough for us to all live on, then the one who disliked their job most would stay-at-home. Or some other criteria would be used. It was all very hypothetical - I was still in school after all.
Well. I'm still in school. In fact, Mr. Random went back to school. And for Wiggles' first year and a half or so of life, we juggled baby duties and student duties (and teaching duties for me) to make it all work. We were both stay-at-home and working-parents. It was tough. I'm glad we managed it. I really am. I think it really helped both of us bond with the little guy, helped our family grow strong together, and helped us really understand each others' position. Heck, we were both doing both jobs!
But I'll be honest. We'd reached a point of diminishing returns. When Wiggles was young, we could effectively study and work at home while sticking him in a bouncer or letting him crawl in a small baby-proofed space. But around 12 months of age, our little man started toddling all over and was into everything. And needed constant minding. And Mr. Random and I were staying up to wee hours to finish our work, which we could only begin after putting our little tyrant to bed for the night. We were both becoming exhausted, aggravated, frustrated, and just plain spent. We had little time for each other, or ourselves. Not to mention, we both wanted more for Wiggles. Our time minding him when he was awake was just that. We minded him. Sure I had ideas and pins on Pinterest and notions of educational and engaging activities I wanted to do with him. But I had no time. And hardly the energy. So once in a blue moon I'd manage something, but the day-in and day-out was very mundane, and starting to be quite boring for Wiggles. He loved going out so we'd try to do regular walks - but these often wound up more hurried than he'd like and never had any theme or other educational premise. Sure we'd read stories to him, but this was at his fancy and his attention was ever fleeting.
Finally, with Mr. Random student teaching and my teaching obligations, we reached a point where we could no longer physically juggle baby duties. There would be hours during the week we both needed to be out of the home. So very reluctantly and at the last moment, I finally conceded to look at daycares. And with a heavy heart and many tears, we put our sweet boy into a daycare setting. We signed him up for full time. Our sweet Precious Snowflake, cared for by strangers for approximately 37.5 hours every week. It felt wrong. It certainly felt like it wasn't the "best", but it was the best we could do.
You know what? It's The Best thing that we've done for our family. Wiggles loves going to school. He loves playing with other kids his ages, he loves his teachers, and I think most of all, he loves their activities! He gets to play with new toys and they teach him all kinds of things. His vocabulary took off at a stellar pace after starting school. He started being able to point to body parts and surprising us with the new things he's learned nearly every day. Best of all, we're not as exhausted and worn out from "minding" him, that now when we do have him - we really focus on having fun and playing with him. Which feels so much better than "minding," which induced a lot of guilt.
No, our weekends aren't filled with those activities I've pinned, but we usually do manage at least one adventure - even if it's just going to Costco (on a Sunday? That IS an Adventure) and enjoying a churro as a family. And yes, I do miss him a lot. But I also value the time we now have to work on our work. And the quality time we've re-captured as a family, and as the two of us after the little guy is in bed.
So. Mr. Stay-at-Home Dad. I want to commend you for doing what's best for your family. But I ask you - please don't deign to think that what's best for yours, is what's best for mine. Because we've found differently. And that's okay.