For this first entry, I figured I'd get the more interesting side out of the way: Marc's side. Then later I'll write about me, or our marriage, or general ups and downs of the whole idea.
Disclaimer: everything I write is based on my case study of one family: us. So in discussing this issue my experiences will have some class bias - I'm lucky to have a salary that makes it relatively easy to support a family. And will definitely sound really heteronormative. I'd like to talk about just "supporting your partner" but the fact is Marc is a male and that changes some dynamics. I've also got to note that Marc is, well, Marc. He's different from other men and other fathers - that's why I married him! He identifies as a feminist. Doesn't care much about gender constructs. Definitely doesn't care about what other people think. Will go out on his own and make friends because he's very extroverted. Doesn't mind hanging out with women. Makes fun of other guys who have to prove that they're "manly" or worry about being seen as gay. So there are men out there who might be worried about their masculinity in relation to their fatherhood. Maybe that's a minor obstacle, I don't know, or maybe you just shouldn't marry a guy like that in the first place.
I also realize I'm doing a lot of speaking for Marc here, but I'm the blogger. He can comment and will probably jump in and correct me if I said anything wrong :)
1) What made you decide to do this, and what was the transition like?
When I first got pregnant, Marc was doing database programming mostly from home, and DJing a lot of weekends. I've always fantasized about having a spouse at home just taking care of things - it's very common among the guys I work with to be supporting their wives at home. Marc said it would be simple for him - he'd just not take another programming contract for a while. I wanted to go to work and come home. I did not want to pick up and drop off the baby at a daycare, stop at the store for food, wait for the weekends to do laundry - I just wanted that stuff taken care of. Marc loves going to the store and cooking, so if he was at home I knew he'd take care of that stuff. And no daycare!
I told my boss I wanted eight weeks off after the baby came. After six weeks, I told him just kidding, I was ready to work some half-days at least so I wasn't just leaving Marc with a newborn eight hours a day. He was a little nervous, I was a little nervous, Josie was very unhappy with her tiny life so I imagined his days would be stressful.
But it worked out. Well, obviously... three years later there was a second baby, my maternity leave was much different, Marc was like "Oh just go to work already so we can get to our routine, what are you doing here, it's weird!" ha ha.
2) So what did he sign up for?
We still divided up chores - for instance, I unload the dishwasher, put away laundry, and wash the babies. He does the grocery shopping, cooking, clean up after dinner, washes dirty clothes, probably does most of the housework, definitely does most of the house cleaning if we've got a party or house guests coming over. Hell I'll just be honest, if we don't have an "event" we don't put a big priority on dusting shelves or vaccuuming behind the couch, so it doesn't happen as a really routine thing. Although he has mentioned that he vaccuums more often than I notice. Totally possible. But I clean the bathrooms more than he notices, because I like wiping off counters.
And of course, he keeps the kids alive. I get asked a lot if he also "engages them in enriching activities" and as luck would have it, our kid practically demands enriching activities, she'll be awful to deal with if her life is boring, so to save his own sanity he's forced into all kinds of fun stuff. More on that later.
3) Does Marc feel like his work is valued?
I asked him and here's the truth: Marc doesn't give a fuck if his work is valued. I mean yes, if he cleans the house, cooks a nicer dinner, etc he likes me to say thanks. He definitely would NOT like it if I implied that he just sat around all day or that his days were easier than mine.
But he sees childcare differently than a lot of stay-at-home-moms I've talked to do. Some of them see it as a "job" or even "career", they describe it as "the most important job I'll ever do". Some even set goals, have notebooks, figure out how to word it impressively on future resumes.
Marc just sees it as something going on in his life right now. It's what worked for our family. He's not proud to be a stay-at-home-dad any more than he's proud to be a dad in general.
He sees his career as being a database application consultant - which he does part-time, brought in about 15% of our income last year. Something he likes about his life is that he gets to do this work on his own schedule and from home. Yes, it's a little difficult to balance it sometime - he'll get offered a big contract and has to think about the childcare situation, because it's not always easy to meet deadlines if the kids are going crazy one day.
4) What's his routine like? Who does he hang out with?
When the first baby was born, we started going to this weekly parent-baby time at our birth center. When I went back to work, Marc kept going, even though he was the only dad. He'd get a few sideways glances from new moms announcing "I have to NURSE my baby now. You know, BREASTFEED." And he'd say "Go ahead! Doesn't bother me, all my babies have been breastfed too so I know what breasts are for. In fact here's this bottle of milk that was in a breast yesterday, ha ha!" And the cool moms would stick up for him, like he's not here to oggle you, he's here with his kid, deal with it.
A lot of them liked him in the group because he did good things for the mix. Women can be too polite to one another in groups, it could feel like one big prim-and-proper baby shower. Marc would break any tension without hesitating, just blurt out "Hey you're new, what's your name, what's your baby's name, come sit in the circle." Or some worried mom would worry about a motor skill delay and he'd say "Oh shit of course not every baby is crawling at six months, who cares, the important thing is that your kid isn't as funny looking as THAT ONE right?"
From there, he made more friends who had babies the same age and branched out. At one point he was meeting other moms to go to the zoo with three times a week. The kids would run around and wear themselves out, and everyone would return to their homes knowing naptime was a slam dunk. We have a science museum pass too. Lots of passes are required. Nobody wants to sit at home all day with a pent-up toddler. And Josie loves her little friends, it was important to us that she learn social skills from day one and she has.
He got kicked out of one facebook playdate group, possibly for cussing too much, but they kicked out several members at the same time, there was drama. When we talked about that and I asked him for advice he had for other dads he said "Yeah, don't let the bitches get you down." - not something I can say in my presentation, but good advice for anyone. I'll admit, I have a stereotype about at-home parents as being hard to get along with. They don't work for a boss. They don't have to make anyone happy. They forget how to compromise. Marc has found that indeed, it can be a tough community.
He tried to start a dads group. It didn't take off. Maybe Wichita just isn't big enough, the pool is too small, and I think he also found that he didn't automatically have things in common with every other stay-at-home-dad. We've become good friends with one other couple, okay friends with a second one, but a lot of the guys just weren't that excited about getting out there. Or they had family in town, which TOTALLY changes your routine and lifestyle, if you're an at-home parent who can leave your baby at grandma's whenever you darn well please you don't need a "community", these types rarely make it as our friends because they just don't relate.
I think the deal with Marc is that in a room of 30 people, he will make friends with some of them, and they won't necessarily be male or female, just whoever he gets along with. So he now has 3-5 really good friends who he hangs out with a lot and that's enough, and they happen to all be moms but they're who he likes.
He goes to a gymnastics open house called "mommy and me" and leaves the kids at "moms day out" programs at churches - doesn't bother him. They've had no reason so far to not be sexist. He thinks it's funny, and figures if they see him show up enough they'll realize they're being stupid with the names.
He loves our little girls to pieces but when pressed, he'll admit that he misses the old days too, when it was just us and we had all the alone time together we wanted. We've been getting back to some date nights now that Olive is almost ten months old - new baby time always means some serious isolation. We went insane when Josie was about 4-5 months, there's just no break. So that's probably why he really doesn't want us to re-baby again. I was always split between having 2 or 3 kids but have to admit that I don't really want to buy a bigger car, and I miss our freedom too, look forward to the time in our lives when we can be more independent. It seems like in many families men are more likely to want fewer kids, so I joke that Marc's "hours in" have influenced him but that might not be true. Plus when I do talk to guys about this, a lot of men who want more kids are ones who have daughters and want to keep trying for a boy. Marc does NOT feel any need to try for a boy and even gets offended when asked about it. He was thrilled to learn that we were having another girl, says he wanted to "stick to what he knows", or maybe it's just his inner feminist getting defensive about the value of girls.
I guess when I think about it, Marc may say it's no big thing to be a stay at home dad but I'm proud of him because I don't think a lot of guys could do this. You have to be relaxed, roll with the craziness, not take life too seriously, because life will never be serious with toddlers crawling all over you. I am lucky to have this setup that works so well for us and don't want to be like other guys I work with who really seem to take it for granted. This is good for me, good for our daughters, works all around.