Whether it's the fledgling economy or a simple sign of more modern times, a growing number of men are deciding to stay at home with the kids and let their wives deal with rush hour traffic and casual Fridays. Case in point: In 2005 the US Census Bureau reported there were 98,000 stay-at-home dads nationwide; today, that number is closer to 2 million -- and climbing. "A stay-at-home dad is still considered a rare specimen," says Barack Levin, a stay-at-home dad and author of The Diaper Chronicles. That can make the transition from full-time employee to full-time father a daunting one. Luckily, we have some survival tips to make those first few months easier.
Although there are more SAHDs out there, that doesn't mean there won't be some people who don't understand the concept of you staying home while your wife goes to the office each day. "There are people out there that when they see a man staying home with his kids, they automatically think, 'he's an unemployed loser,' " says Levin. "You have to be comfortable with your decision and not let it get to you." So whether it was a financial move or a lifestyle change, hold your head up high and let everyone know you're happy being Mr. Mom.
Before you officially become "stay-at-home dad," you and your wife should sit down to discuss exactly what that title entails, says Armin Brott, a stay-at-home father and founder of MrDad.com. Sure, you'll be taking care of the kids, but does your job description also include cooking dinner every night, doing the laundry and running all the errands? "Create a list beforehand so they'll be no arguments later on," suggests Brott.
It's important to establish a daily routine that works for you and the kids -- and don't worry if mom lets you know that isn't the way she would do it. "You're the one who is with the kids 8-10 hours a day, every day, so you need to do what makes you comfortable," says Levin. "That doesn't mean you can't involve mom in the process, though. Let her know why you're doing something a particular way. And once she sees the kids thriving, she'll learn to trust your instincts and decisions more."
Isolation is the number one complaint for many stay-at-home parents. After all, you need more than episodes of Sesame Street and endless rounds of peek-a-boo to get you through the day. Search for other SAHDs in your area through meetup.com. Can't find anyone? Create your own group! You can also connect with SAHDs across the country on websites like Athomedad.org and Dadstayshome.com. Both sites have message boards and online resources so you can share and get advice with other dads.
"It can be intimidating to walk into a playgroup and be the only guy, especially when some moms might feel a little uncomfortable at first as well," explains Levin. "But you and your kids need to get out and socialize with different groups of people." During those first initial meetings, Levin suggests just sitting back and observing the other moms. "You can share some constructive comments, but don't ask a ton of questions or get too involved. You need to earn their trust first."
It's easy to think your whole world needs to revolve around the kids, but that can lead to some serious burnout. Love to read? Make the time to enjoy a good book while the kids nap. Want to work out? Take advantage of the gym's free babysitting services or ask a friend to watch the little ones for an hour (you can return the favor later on). "It's important to keep your own interests and hobbies," says Levin. "Look at it from the perspective that if you take some time for yourself, you'll have a clearer head and be able to better focus on the family."
Just like women who feel they need to be Superwoman at home, SAHDs can fall into the trap of thinking they need to do it all on their own. But that mentality always leads to one thing: stress. "If you can't get it all done, there's nothing wrong with asking for help," says Brott. You might need to hire a cleaning lady to help with the housework, or find a sitter to come in so you can run errands without the kids. If it's not in the budget, sit down with your wife to find ways the family can cut back so that you'll have the extra cash. Remember, your sanity should be a top priority!
"A father with a baby screams VIP treatment," says Levin. "A dad with a baby in a stroller is a great way to receive offers to cut into lines, get faster to the cashier at a grocery store, and if you are flying alone with the baby, you will be treated like royalty. Take advantage of it. Discrimination -- being singled out and distinguished in a crowd -- has never felt this good!"
Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.