He looked at me, big-eyed with 1/4 of a grin that was progressing towards full on smile. I was just waiting with all seriousness to see what his response would be.

He and his family had just joined us for dinner. We were going through the ‘What have you been up to lately’ chit chat that is standard for us whose lives are full of youth sports and PTA meetings, affording few get-together opportunities.

We had traded the updates back and forth and were concluding with Becky, Joe’s wife.

My wife, Amber, had the last volley, bumping it over to Becky. “What’s new with you, girlie?”

A drawn out “Wellllllll….. you know…” as she tilted her head, blinked a long, slow blink and looked directly at Joe as she finished in a sigh.

“I am watching all these kids now, plus my own…it’s a lot…I’m just really tired…like every day.”

All of the attention went from anticipating a typical return on the routine question, to anxiety of how Joe might react having the question nonverbally deflected to him.

I think the three of us not named Joe were curious of just how crisis might be adverted.

It was clear in her response that she had some stress from dealing with kids day in and day out.

It was even more clear that she felt like perhaps it was not appreciated or possibly not acknowledged by Joe.

Joe’s grin seemed to be altering towards a smirk and his wide eyes shifted to more of an “Oh brother…” eye roll.

Joe is an astute fella, read the room correctly and immediately adjusted facial gestures to that of an “Oh come on now”. A guy confused as to why his wife would have subtly suggested his cynicism for her frustration.

Joe and Becky are a beautiful couple, inside and out. They are a tremendous and loving family who, by any standard, are successful in marriage, in parenthood and just overall winners in life. They are dear people and very good friends of ours.

I’ve been around this type of conversation enough times to know, as had Joe obviously, that you simply do not respond or you respond affirming your spouse.

Joe chose not to respond and just sit there with a friendly, confused look and let the room take it for what it was.

Good move Joe. Good move. Personally, I would have gone choice B; over exaggerating my appreciation for her struggle, then argued with her later about putting me on the spot. Lol

I’ve had the very experience Becky was referring to though.

When Amber was working, before we had kids, I spent summers taking coursework and preparing curriculum for the next school year.

I enjoyed other activities, like going fishing, water skiing, hiking, projects around the house, woodworking, staying up late watching movies, sleeping in most days. It was nice.

The first kid changed most of that. The second and third one ended it.

I was stay-at-home-dad for the summer months.

2012 was the final summer that it was just me and the kids. We had 3 daughters at that time, 7 yrs and under. Amber would be home for good the July of 2013.

It was TOUGH. If I wasn’t changing the poopy diaper of one, I was beckoned to the bathroom to wipe the butt of the other while lugging another around on my hip.

If I wasn’t preparing the bottle to feed the one, I was replacing the batteries in the other one’s toy and trying to ignore the tantrum of the third.

If I wasn’t cleaning up the crayons on the wall, the play-doh smashed into the carpet, or sweeping up food morsels around the house, I was desperately hunting for pacifiers in couch cushions, keeping dog food out of the baby’s mouth, or making sure one didn’t stand on the other one!

I was a mess.

Gym shorts, no underwear, barefoot, hadn’t shaved, brushed my teeth or even put on deodorant. My t-shirt collar all stretched out and coated with a combination of meals I had prepared that day, boogers, snot (kids and dogs, not mine), and tears (kids…and likely mine).

Nap time from 1:30 to 4:00 couldn’t come fast enough each day.

Until 1:30, I’d daydream of all I would accomplish during naps. The possibilities excited me! I could shower, read a little, watch a show or maybe have a snack without grubby little hands fighting for space inside the bag.

Nah. Even when it did go smoothly and the tiny untrained humans were peaceful, nap time always went way too fast.

Most days I’d eat and shower, but there were usually other things going on to fill the rest of the time. Whether it was school work, mowing the grass, paying bills, scheduling appointments…

There were just always more “other” things that had to get done.

Once up from nap, it was back to preparing, feeding, cleaning, diapers, messes….

Often, especially when Paige was still young and Aubrey was new, I’d get them into a show or DVD of some sort and I’d go hide in my bedroom.

That’s where Amber would find me, face down into a pillow with my arms and legs sprawled out.

Think “snow angel”, but face down. Instead of snow, a warm pool of agony, frustration and exhaustion.

Listen, I love kids.

I teach for crying out loud. However, leading a room full of 30 other peoples’ children was somehow much less stressful than watching my three all day long.

I don’t know why that was true, but for me it was.

I’d be asinine not to mention the blessings of being with my kids all day. So here’s the first 3 that came to my mind:

#1) I’m blessed to be a parent at all, a privilege many dream of. Beyond that though, the blessing of resources permitting a situation where I can be at home with them.

#2) There seem to be an infinite amount of times each day my heart melts as they see, play, and fumble through their day.

In one moment they are driving me bat-shit crazy, and in the next I fight back tears of pride and want to hold them up as if they were Simba.

#3) At some point, kids do realize what all we are doing for them. It’s not often, but occasionally they verbalize it, draw it, or if we’re really lucky, act it out as they role-play unaware we’re even watching them.

There are so many more perks of being at home with my crew, but since the critics already know all of them and more…the purpose here is to bring to light the challenges.

My job as a teacher is exhausting mentally. I sleep well during the school year.

I’ve also had physically challenging jobs in my life. Working on roof tops in July or warehouses pulling orders of heavy reels of wire.

I’m just saying stay-at-home parents deserve a lot less of the satire you see in sit-coms, the side-mouth wise cracks from familiar faces and the sarcasm of spouses. Al Bundy made it famous.

Being a stay-at-home parent can be brutal emotionally, psychologically, as well as the physicality and non-stop action that often prevents you from even eating a meal that isn’t just your kids’ cold french fries or veggies they ignored.

Nothing says ‘parent’ like slamming what’s left of your kid’s bite marked sandwich and washing it down with what’s left of their juice box.

There is the stereotype coming from “the working world”, but especially among men of the working world…that stay-at-home parents have it made. Their lives are somehow easier.

I for one, almost went nuts each and every single day during those summers. It was not easy. Ask my co-workers and see if they remember how excited I’d get for the school year to begin.

When Amber made the decision to come home, it changed everything. I’ve written about that before and will again I’m sure. But it dramatically changed our summers for the better.

We now have four kids and with two of us home in the summer, we can divide and conquer most tasks and responsibilities, and still have room for fun.

This isn’t about our situation though. I just wanted to acknowledge any parent who stays home with their kids.

Nobody but you can really know how much of yourself you sacrifice, but I got enough of a taste to know it’s bitter sweet. We love our kids, but good grief they can take a bunch out of you.

Culturally, staying home is not fully respected. There is a stigma. You get looks when you tell people you are a stay-at-home parent. You sense lots of corner-of-the-eye looks and whispers when you enter a room.

As a teacher dad with a working wife, I would get asked “What do you do during the summers? You have all that time off.”… I’d look at my 3 daughters and look back at them and say “What do you think I’m doing all summer?”

I even had one person consistently remind me each summer that I should find a second job. No reply for that one.. just shake my head.

That comes from a couple of different places. Jealousy. Ignorance. Pettiness. To name three.

There are also insecurities to deal with, even when they aren’t passing judgement, you suspect they are.

Again, I just want it to be known, there are people who “get it”.

To all you who stay at home and feel unappreciated, disrespected or otherwise unsuccessful;

Keep your head up…or if you are like I was, head to your room and assume the “face-down snow angel”. Either way, keep doing what you do.

It IS NOT easy. Your sacrifice IS noticed…..and it ABSOLUTELY MATTERS!!

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