One of the first things my publishing agent tasked me to do after signing me on was to create a book outline that we would pass along to prospective publishers, along with the first fifty pages of my manuscript. This outline consisted of an overview, chapter summaries, author bio, target audience and a market comparison. I found that researching this last part was very interesting and completely eye-opening… and it led to a major epiphany.
The point of the market comparison was to size up my generational masterpiece of non-fiction with similar stay-at-home-Dad titles already published and show the world how my book was different (and hopefully better) than all of the rest. After visits to book stores and plenty of online research, I found that there are a boatload of books out there that are pretty similar to mine. One of them even had similar chapter titles! While a majority of the books were humor-based, anecdotal accounts of life at home with kids, there were also a couple that were almost technical manuals that gave prospective stay-at-home-Dads step by step instructions… everything from meal planning to tips on breaking into the mommy-only play groups.
However, the common thread that I found running through all of these other competing books was obvious. Being a stay-at-home-Dad is HARD WORK! The phrase “the hardest job in the world” appeared more than a few times. The lighter-toned works used humour to illustrate this point, while the more sterile, serious handbooks made it very clear that unless you followed their detailed tutoring, your life would devolve into unorganized chaos. It was then I realized that my experience, and more importantly my book, is actually broadcasting a very different message. Then it hit me: that’s how I was going stand out from the crowd! I would offer up a competing, and perhaps controversial perspective.
I’m suggesting right here and right now that men may have an easier time of managing stay-at-home parenthood. There, I said it.
I don’t have any scientific research or sociological studies to back up my bold claim, but I do have my own personal experience… twelve-and-a-half years of it to be exact. Now, I’m not suggesting that what I do can’t be difficult, challenging, infuriating or all-consuming at times. I’ve had days when I felt like jumping off a cliff was a viable option. I’m simply saying it has been considerably easier than I imagined it would be.
But why? Why do I find it easier? Why do I think that men have it easier than women? Well, it all comes down to a rather convenient double standard that works in favour of us stay-at-home-Dads. Hey, imagine that! Women are getting the short end of the stick… again. I’m convinced that if you compare the job that I’m doing with ninety-nine stay-at-home moms, I would very likely rank close to the bottom of the pack. If a woman had my culinary skills, my penchant for allowing us to run out of clean underwear and my ability to let a mess stew for days, she would be considered a terrible stay-at-home parent. Yet, somehow, if a man does all of that he gets a ticker-tape parade.
When I first started off as a stay-at-home-Dad, I would pack up baby Abby, take the stroller and hit the mall. In the cold winter months, it sure beat going for morning walks in the frigid January air. I would stroll her past the shops and stop for a latte or two. The only other people at the mall that early in the day are the old folks who are also there to stroll and sip coffee. They loved to stick their wrinkled apple faces into the stroller to try and elicit a smile from Abby who mostly looked back at them with confused, wide eyes.
Inevitably, every conversation with my new elderly coffee mates would turn to why I was at the mall with my baby. Was I filling in for mommy today? When I explained my situation, the responses were usually very enthusiastic. “Oh, that’s just wonderful! You are truly doing God’s work!” is what I once heard from an overly excited senior citizen. That was certainly high praise, and it was also very indicative of the kind of comments I would routinely get. I would try to take these glowing endorsements in stride and humbly reply that I was just trying to do my part. These remarks were certainly nice to hear, but they were also complete B.S. Would those little old ladies fawn over a stay-at-home mom who wheeled up beside them and joined them for coffee? I seriously doubted it. I wasn’t doing God’s work. I wasn’t being heroic. I was just being a regular dad and, speaking of heroic, this brings me to another story that also helps make my point.
On my last day at the office, my colleagues in the marketing department had constructed a life-sized cutout of me … as a superhero. They photoshopped my head onto the body of a man in green spandex and a cape with the words “Super Dad” sprawled across the chest. I thought it was hilarious, as they had found a body that wasn’t a typical superhero build. It was rather ordinary, almost flabby, so it actually looked like it could be me squeezed into that ridiculous outfit. I was carrying my likeness to my car at the end of the day when I ran into a woman who worked upstairs in the purchasing department. She took one look at the foam-core cutout and simply said, “Do the graphic designers also do this for women that go on maternity leave, or do only men get the superhero treatment?” I was pretty sheepish at that moment and mumbled something about having nothing to do with it. In retrospect, I wish that I’d had a longer conversation with her as she was making a good point. Why was I so damn special? Why was I suddenly superhuman for simply staying home to raise my kid? Why was it such a big deal?
It’s like men are playing by a completely different set of rules that gives us a free pass to be less than stellar in our daily household duties. I get all of the credit in the world just for trying, and that can actually work against me. In my case, it means that the bar has been set pretty low, as Lianne is happy that we have a parent who stays home, is there after school and goes to music, gymnastics and soccer practices. After that, she’s learned not to expect me to be Martha Stewart.
The fact that my best meals are the ones that I purchase from a place down the street that makes daily gourmet meals is irrelevant. I have it easier because I don’t think I face the same expectations that a stay-at-home mom would have. The stress of homemaking is something that I’ve never really experienced because I believe the job is as hard as you want to make it. If it’s paramount that your home be spotless, every home-cooked meal be planned out days ahead of time and you have to look great while doing it, then I can see how this job could completely stress you out. That would be a lot of pressure. While I don’t speak for all househusbands, I can’t shake the feeling that most guys in my position simply don’t feel the same pressure as our female counterparts.
I recall several years ago when my sister-in-law was staying at our home for a couple weeks in the summer, and she discovered a significant amount of dried-up, crusty mac & cheese completely imbedded into our shag area rug. I’m not sure how long it had been there, and I really didn’t care. I was in no big rush to get rid of it and she seemed taken aback that I wasn’t concerned about removing that embarrassing living room contaminate at once! Eventually, I got around to it. Pro tip: when spilled food has been exposed long enough, it will dry up completely, providing a hard protective shell that ensures extraction can be put off days, if not weeks!
I also don’t really care about keeping up personal appearances. My wife is a total clothes horse. She has the giant walk-in closet to prove it, and the sleek, svelte figure to justify it. She always looks very stylish, whether she’s in her sharp business attire or cool casual wardrobe. For a forty-something year-old-man, the way I dress for my job is borderline embarrassing, with ball caps, worn-out tee shirts, and ripped jeans accentuating my personal style. I have actually driven to school drop-off wearing pajama bottoms. I know that not all stay-at-home moms have the time to doll themselves up every day, but I’m sure the vast majority of them don’t wear the same pair of pants four days in a row. I don’t think anyone is keeping track of what I wear each day, but even if they did, it wouldn’t bother me one bit. Actually, there’s not a whole lot that bothers me.
When I was still working in advertising, I would sometimes have trouble getting to sleep at night. My head was spinning with deadlines and work stress, and I would toss and turn for a couple of hours before I could finally nod off. Since I’ve been home, I sleep like a baby… (well, not a new-born baby, but you get my point.) Sure, I sometimes worry about house stuff, the future or if I’m doing a good parenting job, but the home stress is somehow a different breed. It doesn’t keep me awake at night.
The bottom line is, just being a guy makes this job a whole lot easier in many respects, but not all of them. Being born with the XY chromosome will cut you a lot of slack, but sometimes being a stay-at-home parent in a profession dominated by women can kind of suck… but that’s another topic for another time.