Getting Beyond the At-Home Dad Thing

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

Last week, I had my 15 minutes of fame, appearing on the Today Show as something of an expert on at-home fathers. That was a somewhat uncomfortable position to be in: I haven't been an at-home dad by any definition for a couple of years, despite my continued interest and blogging. If anything, I've morphed into a great believer in the idea that you can charge hard in your career without ignoring the little ones.

It's not that I don't believe that at-home dads are doing wonderful things. They are redefining gender roles and are overwhelmingly committed to their kids. I have all the respect in the world for guys who have made that choice, and I want them to have as much support as possible.

But I'm increasingly mystified by the press attention paid to at-home fathers. At the end of day, what I did during my tenure as an at-home dad was no different from what the moms in my neighborhood were up to. That doesn't make at-home fatherhood any less worthwhile, but is the trend of fathers raising children so revolutionary that the media must still be alerted?

My growing discomfort is part of the reason that I've been writing more and more about work-life balance, which is an issue that is important for both the go-to-work set and the at-home set. On my other blog, I still post on a steady stream of at-home dad news -- I want to be a source of support and community for at-home dads -- but that makes up a smaller and smaller piece of my blogging pie, and I've lost some of my initial passion.

Can you guys help me out? Am I alone in suffering at-home dad fatigue, or is does the growth of this group still say something important about 21st century parenthood?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  April 10, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Dads
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erste

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2008 7:45 AM

Brian, I think the simple explanation is that you are way ahead of the curve on this. Like most early adapters, you've explored every nuance by the time the rest of society starts to catch up. But don't throw cold water on their enthusiasm -- from my perspective, the increasing awareness that dads can put their family first in myriad ways (as SAHDs, or by going on the so-called Daddy Track for a few years, or just by actually taking paternity leave) paves the way for more dads to explore this option.

You were GREAT on the Today Show. The segment is fabulous. Everyone should go to the Rebeldad blog and check it out.

Posted by: Leslie | April 10, 2008 8:07 AM

Why so many pot bellies on the SAHDs in the clip?

Posted by: Meow | April 10, 2008 8:16 AM

vierter

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2008 8:43 AM

After getting a bunch of platitudes from my son's teacher after she asked me again to be in charge of another class project since I'm one of the parents in the class with the "ummm, flexibility" to do these things, I'm pretty over it all.

this is a direct quote "Oh, Moxiemom, I know you do so much but most of the other families are both 9-5 and since you don't... well, I mean you work, geeze you do the hardest job in the world, but you are more flexible, could you be in charge of the garden committee next year?"

I looked her straight in the eye and said "This is NOT the hardest job in the world. While it has its challenges, do you really think I would do it if it wasn't a great gig? I'll run the garden committee".

This whole mommy war thing has people talking to me in the oddest way. I'm pretty sure that everyone here could list 10 jobs that are harder than SAHM of SAHD. Frankly, I think everyone needs to get over themselves!

Posted by: Moxiemom | April 10, 2008 9:07 AM

Meow -- maybe so all us moms will feel better about OUR potbellies!

Posted by: Leslie | April 10, 2008 9:20 AM

«This whole mommy war thing has people talking to me in the oddest way.»
«Posted by: Moxiemom | April 10, 2008 9:07 AM»

Mommy war, any war, war is bad. Cannot we all get along, without wars?

Posted by: abu_ibrahim | April 10, 2008 9:45 AM

Ahh, Moxie, that's why we like you. :-) But I gotta say, after an evening of unexplained meltdowns from both kids, I was really, really relieved to have an office to go to this morning! (all the while waiting for a call saying that someone just spiked a fever, of course. . . .)

On topic: I agree with Leslie -- Brian was ahead of the curve, so what's old news to him is new and different to the mainstream media.

Posted by: Laura | April 10, 2008 9:46 AM

Moxie, I'm SO glad you said what you said. I work part-time, so have one leg in each world and, no matter how stressful or never-ending some days with kids can be, it's just nothing compared to, say, an office job. More flexibility, much less pressure, more fresh air, more fun, more me-time, more control over how your day goes, more say in who you meet and talk to during the day, etc., etc. I don't know why (stay-at-home) mothers, in particular, feel the constant need to stress what a hard job parenting is.

Posted by: Me | April 10, 2008 9:48 AM

«Why so many pot bellies on the SAHDs in the clip?»
«Posted by: Meow | April 10, 2008 8:16 AM »

SAHDs, these are American SAHDs, maybe they eat too many fatty chickens. Sahd, in Beirut Lebanon there is Mr. Abu Sahd, he sells lean chickens, buy from Abu Sahd, eat lean, no pot belly.

Posted by: abu_ibrahim | April 10, 2008 9:49 AM

Oh, and I LOVE the fact that we don't have to sign in any more. Feels much less constraining.

Posted by: Me | April 10, 2008 9:49 AM

Why genderize the entire thing...let's just use stay at home parent! (SAHP)

Posted by: teach1 | April 10, 2008 9:54 AM

"I don't know why (stay-at-home) mothers, in particular, feel the constant need to stress what a hard job parenting is."

Well, probably because they got tired of condescending comments by WOHMs about how they must all just lie around eating bon-bons and watching Oprah all day.

NTTAWWT. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 10, 2008 10:00 AM

"Why genderize the entire thing..."

It's imperative for Brian's book.

Posted by: Pyewacket | April 10, 2008 10:00 AM

"It's imperative for Brian's book."

Hee hee.

TILIS = Tell it like it is.

Posted by: TILIS | April 10, 2008 10:08 AM

I think having a foot in both worlds is almost the easiest way to handle things. It creates its stresses, but you get to get away from the kids, you also get to get away from work.

SAHP'ing is a whole lot of the same things over and over and over. There is some very cool things about it, but there is a low level of stress too.

Posted by: to: Me | April 10, 2008 10:23 AM

LOL moxiemom. What ever happened to the KISS principle? As in isn't it easier to just say "do you [still] have time to do x?" Let the person being questioned evaluate their own juggle/schedule/conflicting obligations. Maybe I am just too direct. ;-)

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | April 10, 2008 10:29 AM

"SAHP'ing is a whole lot of the same things over and over and over. There is some very cool things about it, but there is a low level of stress too. "

Grammar Police!

Posted by: Bullwinkle | April 10, 2008 10:29 AM

"Well, probably because they got tired of condescending comments by WOHMs about how they must all just lie around eating bon-bons and watching Oprah all day."

Posted by: Laura | April 10, 2008 10:00 AM


That's no different than the comments SAHMs constantly make that WOHMs are having other people raise their children.

The mommy wars will continue as long as mommies continue them.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2008 10:32 AM

Brian, statistically, SAHDs are still quite uncommon. The media loves focusing on uncommon niche groups.

I think this is a great example of how people automatically universalize their personal experiences--for you, you were a SAHD for awhile, and your blog serves as a meeting point for other SAHDs, so it just seems typical and normal to you. But it's still fairly revolutionary, especially in certain areas.

THANK YOU to those of you who confessed today that being a SAHM is often a relatively EASY gig. I'm 20 weeks pregnant and am fairly certain I'll go back to work after 3 months maternity leave, but it's nice to hear that staying home is NOT all drudgery and in fact allows for a great deal of life enjoyment. I'm hugely looking forward to my maternity leave, when I'll get to go outside and take walks and enjoy the weather. (I'm due at the end of August, and I LOVE the fall, so it's going to be glorious, sleep-deprived and all!)

Posted by: newslinks | April 10, 2008 10:40 AM

"That's no different than the comments SAHMs constantly make that WOHMs are having other people raise their children."

Agreed. But I was answering the question of why SAHMs feel the need to justify how hard they work -- not why WOHMs feel the need to justify how dedicated they are to their kids.

"The mommy wars will continue as long as mommies continue them."

Survey says, ding ding ding!

Posted by: Laura | April 10, 2008 10:44 AM

"The mommy wars will continue as long as mommies continue them."

Don't look for an early cease fire; women are their own worst enemies.

Posted by: Dora | April 10, 2008 10:48 AM

...as to why so much emphasis on SAHDS, I agree with newslinks, statistically v few of them out there, and more acceptable to wonder and marvel at than SAHPs generally - who are also often referred to as a 50s anachronism - for fear of sparking mommywardom.

...as to SAHMs 'justifying' their hard work, who cares what other people think? it's hard enough pulling my life together in a way that is meaningful and makes sense to *me* -- but in general, I think that newslinks once again nails it -- people generalize their experiences. i hope you have an easy baby, newslinks! some of us with kids on whatever different ends of the scale in terms of temperament may see things differently than the folks who had what my DH and I love to call decoy babies.

Also? I think SAHPing is not quite understood (and perhaps belittled) because a)it's a traditionally female role (which lends itself to derogatory comments, like with teaching and other fine fields) *and* it's a nebulous role. Some people who self define as SAHMs actually work (and make some money), some don't, some have massive volunteer commitments, we all parent differently, some are more involved in their kids lives than other parents, some are making homemade broth from bones and bread from scratch, others are coaching sports. Nebulous. Different job depending on who's doing it.

Posted by: MamaBird/SurelyYouNest | April 10, 2008 10:55 AM

Brian, you're just ahead of the curve.
We're due in a few weeks, and since I have the professional job w/benefits, I'll be back at work within 6 weeks (no mat leave available), while my husband is home with the baby (can't afford daycare). It's amazing how many people feel the need to make comments like "well, it's nice of your husband to do that, but babies really need their mommies - a daddy just isn't the same!" or "oh, aren't you worried about your husband taking care of the baby as well as you would.." etc. ad nauseum.

Folks just assume that he won't be a good primary caregiver because he's a man. And he feels like he already needs to apologize on the one hand for not having the kind of career that could support all of is, and on the other, for potentially screwing our kid up in some way by not providing the nurturing that mommy can.

I don't think either of us has the "easier" job...we do the jobs we can...

Posted by: Ariel | April 10, 2008 10:58 AM

Yes, it's often hard work being a stay-at-home parent, especially during the years when the older children are still too young to be of much help with their younger brothers and sisters. But there are times when the pace is not frenetic, and there is time to relax. When that happens, remember to thank your working-outside-the-home spouse who gets up at 5 AM to catch an early bus, stands on the bus all the way to the subway station, waits on the platform, squeezes into a standing-room-only subway car, spends all day at the workplace with its dog-eat-dog world of fierce competition and deal-making, repeats the subway-and-bus trip at the end of the workday, and returns home (in my father's case, often as late as 10 PM) exhausted, but with enough energy left to sit down at the piano or stand up with his violin (my father did both) and entertain us. The late singer, Dr. Nina Simone, sang about such periods of family relaxation:

"In the evening by the moonlight
When my mother had finished working
We used to sit around the fire place
Till the cornbread it was done

"And then we all would eat our supper
After that we'd clean the kitchen
It's the only time they ever gave us to spare
To have a little fun.

"Then my daddy used to take his fiddle down
That hung upon the wall
While the silvery moon was shining
Clear and bright

"How the old folks would enjoy it
They would sit all night and listen
As we used to sing
In the evening by the moonlight."

Posted by: MattInAberdeen | April 10, 2008 11:01 AM

Newslink,
Please don't set youself up for disappointment. I too looked forward to the leisurely walks and days with my first newborn but was faced with the reality of a baby that cried non-stop the first 3 months of her life and the anxiety of being a first time parent. I hated almost every moment of it but then miraculously she became the sweetest baby ever and I had to return to work. I wish I could have taken 6 months off and then I could have at least enjoyed half of the time. My second maternity leave became the one of my dreams because 1. kept the older child in daycare 2. did not have the first time parent anxieties 3. while not a complete easy baby she at least did not cry 24/7.

Posted by: long time lurker | April 10, 2008 11:02 AM

MamaBird/SurelyYouNest

"like with teaching"

Like huh??

"Some people who self define as SAHMs actually work (and make some money), some don't, some have massive volunteer commitments, we all parent differently, some are more involved in their kids lives than other parents, some are making homemade broth from bones and bread from scratch, others are coaching sports. Nebulous. Different job depending on who's doing it."

AKA housewife.

Posted by: Wah? | April 10, 2008 11:03 AM

Woah newslinks - easy isn't quite the word I personally would use especially with infants. When both of my children were at home and under three I would have regarded a stay in a Turkish prision as a break, some people love the infant to 1 timeframe, I do not. My children were also born early and had some acid reflux that is a minor issue compared to autism, but major when you can't lay your baby flat. Now that they are both in school, I would say easier, certinaly not a hard job. What's difficult is the sisyphean nature of the work. I have never worked since I had children so I cannot begin to speak to how "easy" or "hard" that is. What's great about it is if I do want to eat bon bons all day one day, I certainly can. You are kind of your own boss, at least between 9 and 3. I won't even get into the sports and activity stuff after school, but all parents have to deal with that!

So, I hope you have a wonderful delivery and easy baby, but also don't be disappointed if you end up dying to talk to someone who can talk back and sick and tired of poop. The physical labor involved in a new baby is what was surprising to me. Good luck.

Posted by: Moxiemom | April 10, 2008 11:07 AM

The shock of parenthood is:

1) You can't predict what your baby will be like
2) You can't predict how you will take to parenthood

In other words, you're screwed or blessed and you have no control over which.

For some, staying home is a cakewalk. For others it's torture. Doesn't seem to matter whether you are a SAHD or SAHM.

Also, parenthood changes over time. I'm finding that being a mom to three kids 6,9 and 11 is far, far easier than the early days of diapers and the constant fear of a child choking on a penny or doing a header down the stairs.

For me, that saying "little kids, little problems" was ridiculous. There is nothing harder than caring for a two-year-old who any second might fall headfirst into the toilet and drown, or decide that drain cleaner looks tasty. I love, love, love babies but they are really hard work.

Also LOVE LOVE LOVE no registration!!! Good to hear all these voices again. Didn't fully realize how much I missed you all.

Posted by: Leslie | April 10, 2008 11:15 AM

Leslie: love having my "old" name back, even if I picked it in reaction to room mothers discussion. [tntkate wasn't the same]

I must belong to a strange cohort. I have 3 close friends with children and 2 have/or have had stay at home dads. To Ariel I would say just keep doing what you're doing - tuning out other's opinions about the decisions you and your husband made. Moms don't have the edge on nuturing...

Posted by: Product of a Working Mother | April 10, 2008 11:32 AM

Good to hear all these voices again. Didn't fully realize how much I missed you all.

Actually, Leslie, some of us just post under a number of different names now.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2008 11:36 AM

"Also LOVE LOVE LOVE no registration!!! Good to hear all these voices again. Didn't fully realize how much I missed you all."

Posted by: Leslie | April 10, 2008 11:15 AM

But the gang's not all back here yet. Will someone get the word out to paTRICK and Cream of the Crop and BabaBooey?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 10, 2008 11:39 AM

"The mommy wars will continue as long as mommies continue them."

Don't look for an early cease fire; women are their own worst enemies.

Posted by: Dora | April 10, 2008 10:48 AM

Am I the only one that thinks men contribute to this as well? You may say women are their own worst enemies but I've seen plenty of men fanning the flames as well. But some people like to talk as if men are somehow virtuously above all that and it's only women dragging each other down. Maybe with men, it's just not usually about their own role. They'll talk about their wife whether she's WOH/SAH and how that's the best thing and how other families just aren't focusing on what's important.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | April 10, 2008 11:44 AM

Hey, I know many post under different names, but it just hasn't felt the same since registration. The anonymity to post freely, perhaps even with different personas, is what makes our discussions so eye-opening. There's nothing else like it.

Posted by: Leslie | April 10, 2008 11:44 AM

Hello, my name is Fred.

I have always been Fred and will continue to be Fred.

I also post under Fred

(signed)

Fred

Posted by: Fred | April 10, 2008 12:00 PM

Lelsie

"Hey, I know many post under different names, but it just hasn't felt the same since registration."

Why did you cave on registration? It was clearly going to have a chilling effect. Censorship sucks.

Posted by: Meow | April 10, 2008 12:01 PM

"I don't know why (stay-at-home) mothers, in particular, feel the constant need to stress what a hard job parenting is."

I think it's because as a society or a culture, we often conflate how hard something is with how valuable it is - thinking if it's not really hard, it must not be valuable. Or thinking that whoever has it hardest is somehow more special or more important or whatever. I've seen people get into these contests in all sorts of contexts - work, school, whatever - pissing over who has the most work, the most stress, the most difficulties to face. I think the whole "mommy war" thing is just another manifestation of the same behavior - which men and women engage in equally in different contexts, in my opinion.

Posted by: LizaBean | April 10, 2008 12:09 PM

"I don't know why (stay-at-home) mothers, in particular, feel the constant need to stress what a hard job parenting is."

Cause most of them are trying to justify being parasites.

Posted by: Ya think | April 10, 2008 12:27 PM

"I don't know why (stay-at-home) mothers, in particular, feel the constant need to stress what a hard job parenting is."

A lot of office workers have the same type of attitude, only it's about their job. There's those people you meet in the elevator, coffee in one hand, doughnut in the other, coming in from another smoke break and when you ask him, "Hows it going?", his answer is always, "Busy, busy, busy!!"

Yeah sure, that's right, too busy to get any work done!

Posted by: Father of 4 | April 10, 2008 12:32 PM

Will someone get the word out to paTRICK and Cream of the Crop and BabaBooey?

Posted by: | April 10, 2008 11:39 AM

You gained some insight from their contributions? Amazing.

Posted by: the countdown begins | April 10, 2008 12:36 PM

well, I like to claim to have gained insight from almost everyone here. In some cases, the insight is 'well, there is another point of view'. Just because I don't agree with someone, doesn't mean I can't learn from them. I do believe that anyone with any modicum of sense and my identical experiences would agree with me (big grin here).

I'm happy to hear the words of Father of 4 again...original name and all...

Posted by: dotted | April 10, 2008 1:24 PM

dotted,

eh, I've gained insight from many, but I respectfully disagree that there was any value to bababooey's contributions. There's a big difference between, on the one hand, expressing a controversial or strongly-held belief and, on the other, insulting the intelligence, manliness, humanity, of all dissenting contributors, in all caps, all the time, for the sheer fun of seeing one's venom in "print".

even pATRICK had a moment or two when he suggested that those with a different opinion than he on the topic of male babysitters could expect to have their children sexually assaulted. There's disagreeing, being disagreeable, and not understanding that even an online conversation has minimum social boundaries. If you ignore social boundaries, you've reduced the value of your comments to zero. Snark is funny. Snark is vastly different from decreeing that death or sexual harm will, or should, befall a dissenter's progeny or spouse.

Even in anonymity, some contribute in varying degrees to the discourse, and others merely show up either because they have no real-life dogs to kick or because they seek the thrill of virtual conflict.

Other topic:

"Am I the only one that thinks men contribute to this as well? You may say women are their own worst enemies but I've seen plenty of men fanning the flames as well.

Posted by: Rockville Mom | April 10, 2008 11:44 AM

I agree wholeheartedly, Rockville Mom. I've noticed no gender divide between those who hold and express beliefs that those who choose differently are either: (A)materialistic, selfish, and abdicating their role as parents, or (B) silly, unsophisticated, pathetic, lazy, naive idiots whose children are overprotected. In fact, I've never had a woman challenge my life choices to my face. Nonetheless, 3 men in the last 6 months (one as recently as last Sunday) have in conversation with me used adjectives from the (A) category to describe me. The only thing they know about me is that I am employed as an attorney and have two children. That's all they need to know to start lobbing grenades.

Mommy Wars: perpetuated by a limited number of insecure individuals of both genders. Irrelevant to the rest of us.

Posted by: MN | April 10, 2008 2:05 PM

"others merely show up either because they have no real-life dogs to kick..."

Awe. Woof. Whimper, wimper. woof.

Posted by: LIL Husky | April 10, 2008 2:20 PM

"I don't know why (stay-at-home) mothers, in particular, feel the constant need to stress what a hard job parenting is."
I think it's because as a society or a culture, we often conflate how hard something is with how valuable it is - thinking if it's not really hard, it must not be valuable.
Posted by: LizaBean | April 10, 2008 12:09 PM

Thanks, LizaBean! This has been a puzzle to me for some time. I'd just like to state for the record that the people who do things best make it look easy, whether it's s terrific secretary, surgeon, or parent. Some things come naturally to people, and those are the things they're going to be strongest at. This is one thing I really love about my super-religious friends: they say things like, "I feel called to do this." And then they're great at it. As opposed to other people for whom a given task is clearly drudgery, but they insist on doing it personally.

My view is, celebrate that different people are good at and pulled towards different things. Let's celebrate that instead of trying to do absolutely every single thing ourselves. And if that means a terrific daycare worker is spending 9 hours a day with your kid while you're spending 9 hours doing other work, you've BOTH made a valuable contribution that day doing what you were best at.


Posted by: newslinks | April 10, 2008 2:20 PM

Right on, Newslinks.

MN, three in six months? Sheesh. What a rotten streak. I don't recall anyone challenging my choices directly to me. The most I've gotten are some very roundabount comments about how well, I guess everyone has to choose what works for them, but... trailing off with a dissatisfied tone. To which I respond with a hearty, "Exactly!" and a big smile.

Posted by: LizaBean | April 10, 2008 2:45 PM

Love the Nina Simone song, MattInAberdeen, and since this conversation has been about WOH parents too (unbelievable grenades lobbed at MN, whoa...) I think you make an excellent point that too often those who are making sacrifices to ensure the financial security of their families are given a hard time (a la the materialistic, hard time, abdication of parent role etc) instead of being roundly applauded for making sure their kids have stability and choices in life. Also love the idea of conflating 'hard' w/not valuable...

So, Leslie/others in longstanding commenting community, what's the deal with registering? Used to be no registration, then had username/reg, now back to whatever? Interesting the, um, level of snark as a PP called it. Some witty...

Posted by: MamaBird/SurelyYouNest | April 10, 2008 2:45 PM

MN - I love your characterizations! As I walk my dogs back home (ha ha ha). And I'm going to remember Lizabean's "Exactly!"

I love this no registration mode, even if it just may be because Wapo's server crashed the other day (remember when we couldn't post at all for about 4 or 5 hours? right after, we returned to the old backup routine of not needing to register).

Posted by: dotted (aka MN's N) | April 10, 2008 3:10 PM

I'm enjoying the lack of registration also. I believe that in the past I got so tired of trolls I may have once favored registration, but boy, was that a bad call! Totally killed the fun.

Posted by: LizaBean | April 10, 2008 3:30 PM

Brian, I agree with the comments that you represent a "niche" and that the media loves the anomaly of the niche. But I think the SAHD phenomenon deserves every bit of attention it's getting, plus some.

Men still dominate the workplace: the rules are built around your presence and your contributions, while women are seen as a partially available commodity with a smaller value. When more men demand flexibility from their employers and take on a bigger role in raising children, the juggle will improve for all of us.

Posted by: Jenny in Colorado | April 10, 2008 4:07 PM

I appreciate all the attention SAHD's get, and I'm sure DH is even more appreciative. He's been home for 16 years, two months, two weeks, and four days. The treatment he got for the first 3-4 years was appalling.

Any parent willing and able to take charge of an infant/toddler/preschooler and not go completely bonkers gets a standing ovation from me, because I know I couldn't do that. Men getting recognized for it, means that *my* man is finally getting the recognition he deserves.

Women should get that recognition too, and I think they don't receive it while men do, because as a culture we're just discovering that men are capable of what women have been doing for generations.

Posted by: Sue | April 10, 2008 5:25 PM

The lack of registration is a temporary situation. Need to enjoy it while it lasts.

Posted by: Leslie | April 10, 2008 5:49 PM

temporary? Say it isn't so...but we *like* it

Posted by: dotted (aka MN's N) | April 10, 2008 6:07 PM

off-topic

dotted,

We are reviewing the Carolina Performing Arts schedule for next year. Some day I suspect I'll meet you in the vicinity of Memorial Hall, LOL.

We'll know each other by our joie de vivre.

Posted by: dotted's neighbor | April 10, 2008 9:58 PM

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