It feels kind of surreal to type this out, but I’ve triple-checked the math, and yes it’s true. I’ve officially been a stay-at-home dad for fifteen years. Wait, FIFTEEN YEARS? Wow, time certainly does fly when you are raising rug rats.
October 2003 feels like yesterday. I nervously bid adieu to the world of paid employment to take a job with zero monetary rewards, but plenty of fringe benefits. As I look back on my myriad of experiences at home, it is safe to say that the job has evolved incredibly over the past decade-and-a-half. But, here’s the million dollar question:
Has it gotten any easier? Well, yes and no.
Let’s compare two very different time periods within these past fifteen years:
- The “insane era”: which I recall as being the craziest time period of my tenure as primary caregiver. It was right after Lianne finished her second maternity leave and deposited a six-month old baby and a two-year-old onto my lap – full time.
- The “modern era”: which is my current situation, best described as me desperately trying to figure out what either of my emotional teenagers actually wants or needs from me.
What I remember the most about this particular time at home was the LOOOOONG days with two tiny humans who were very needy. After several hours of being run off my feet, I would often get cabin fever. I would then pack them both kids up and head out into the world for some adult interaction… ANY kind of interaction that didn’t involve dirty diapers, potty training and endless questions from a very chatty toddler.
There are still some very long days, but I’m not being run ragged. Instead, my days are filled with meal prep, driving kids to sporting activities, random errands and endless complaints from my 15-year-old daughter who claims I ask her way too many questions on our morning commute to school. I guess I’m the very chatty toddler now? And while there are no more diapers to deal with, I haven’t the faintest idea how my son’s laundry hamper can be completely overflowing after just three days, while the rest of our hampers seem practically empty. One thing that is remains the same… there is still very little adult interaction.
I vividly remember epic temper tantrums. My kids were exceedingly loud and never shy about letting me have it when they thought I had done wrong. Back in the insane era, I used to call Abby my strong-willed muffin, as she could be as stubborn as a mule. Back then, Daniel was still a baby, but I’m positive he was soaking up all of the emotional energy in the room and storing it for future outbursts. I found them very difficult to deal with.
Not much has changed. My kids are still exceedingly loud, they can still fly off the handle at a moments notice, and they still blame me for everything. Abby is still a strong-willed muffin, but she is now armed with a cocksure teenage logic that never admits defeat. Daniel now feels free to release gargantuan amounts of pent-up emotional energy… throwing epic fits when he realizes he “forgot” to do two days worth of homework at exactly two hours before his Sunday night bedtime. I still find them very difficult to deal with.
In many ways, my kids were completely helpless in the insane era. They needed me to do practically everything for them. Baby Daniel was… well… a baby! Wouldn’t you know it, that bundle of joy required constant supervision. At age two, Abby boldly claimed she could do everything on her own, but if left unattended she would plug the basement bathroom sink with toilet paper just see how quickly she could cause it to overflow. Realistically, they required me to do everything and anything: from bathing them to feeding them to dressing them. While this was a very tiring and sometimes tedious existence for yours truly, it made one thing crystal clear – my kids needed me. I mean, they REALLY needed me. I felt I was literally the most important factor to their continued survival.
In many ways, my kids don’t need me at all in the modern era. They can make their own breakfast, buy their own clothes, and plan their own social life. (One thing they can’t seem to figure out is how to do their own laundry… but I digress.) Even my days as family chauffeur are numbered, as Abby is only five months away from taking her drivers exam. She can’t wait to be able to transport herself around the city. She can’t wait for her freedom… from me!
Despite all of this, I know there are still times when they need me – and I mean REALLY need me. In this modern era, it has nothing to do with tedious tasks. They don’t need me to brush their teeth or wipe their nose. Rather, it’s all about being there for them when times are tough. I used to tell people that the insane era was the time that I really “earned my keep” as a stay-at-home parent. But now, I’m not so sure.
As much as I found those days of babies and toddlers extremely exhausting, they are nothing compared to the stress and worry a parent of teenagers goes though on a daily basis. Helping my kids navigate through this crazy, confusing and emotional time in their lives isn’t easy. But, if I get it right, the rewards and fringe benefits will be endless – and last a lifetime. (But no, I still won’t get paid any recognizable currency.)
And speaking of money, what about that million dollar question? Has my job as a stay-at-home dad really gotten any easier?
I’d say the answer is still yes and no.
Maybe I’ll have a better answer for you in another fifteen years.