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Last week I posted an entry for anyone to ask me questions the fact that I work full-time and Marc stays home with the kids. I wasn't sure if there'd be much to say about it but you all asked me some good questions so thank you. In fact, I sat down to write answers, and a NOVEL started pouring out... way too much for one entry. So I'm going to make this a two parter. Maybe three parter.

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.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 21st, 2014 09:04 pm (UTC)
Amongst our circle of friends, there's a stay-at-home dad who also kind of fell into this just because it was the best option for them. He brings in a lot of wonderful perspectives. And yeah the whole stay-at-home dads meet up groups never take off. Not sure if women crave more of company, I don't know.

All the meet up groups here have changed their titles to stay-at-home parents to be more inclusive. I see more and more stay-at-home-dads at various activities, the library story times, example. And they seem to make a lot more friends easily than other moms with each other. We seem to keep such boundaries. No idea why. I feel like I am doing the dating scene, except it's with moms. They are so tough to crack! lol…and with moms we seem to always talk about kid-care. At least with the dads we can talk a little about politics and other stuff.

If anything the dad has helped me to relax and not get so worked about it. You need more dads like Marc and this other friend!
Feb. 22nd, 2014 12:05 am (UTC)
*beams at Marc, and at you*
Feb. 22nd, 2014 12:18 am (UTC)
"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.

I think a lot of that could possibly be due to the fact that Marc is a male. First of all, males tend to have less investment in what others think of their external identities as a whole. And fatherhood in society, unlike motherhood, is very much coded as an external identity rather than an internal; there's a reason most men identify themselves by their occupations first (such as engineer, lawyer, whatever) versus women, who is more likely to say "I'm a married mom of two," and then their career.

Also, society pretty much gives dads a high-five just for not killing their offspring, never mind doing things like teaching them letters, feeding them, tucking them in at night. That is to say, they're valued simply by being in the equation, and everything else is treated like a bonus, so it's a lot easier for dads to be indifferent to approval and validation in the conversation precisely because they don't have the same struggle for legitimacy.

When I took my daughter to the movies, just the two of us, people acted like it was Tuesday. A mom spending time with her kid? Not noteworthy, even though I made a big deal with her so she would be excited and know that I was actually really psyched to be getting to spend time with her like this. Just the other day, my husband decided to take her out to a movie, just the two of them. From the moment he paid for the tickets, to getting the popcorn, to actually sitting in the theater, people could not stop talking up what he was doing as he revealed he was a dad taking his daughter out. I had told him ahead of time to expect that, and when he got home, he was amazed that I had been right.

It's just a reflection of how differently we treat the sexes in parenting. Jessica Valenti talked about this in 2011 right after she had her baby. She talked about an experience on a plane, observing how flight attendants and passengers seriously fawned over her husband for the not-so-remarkable act of changing a diaper. Her argument is that not only is it insulting to fathers that the mundane "mothering" tasks are met with praise and shock, it promotes a culture which simultaneously diminishes the role of mothers while also setting a low standard of what acceptable fathering is.

Just something to think about. I'm not saying Marc has the wrong attitude. I do think it's great he's a stay-at-home dad and I have no doubt that has been met with some criticism and invalidation, too, but I think it's a point worth considering as to why he doesn't have the struggle that a woman with a similar background and attitude might.

Edited at 2014-02-22 12:22 am (UTC)
Feb. 22nd, 2014 02:48 pm (UTC)
I think this is an excellent point and one I've totally seen... especially the "oh you're having a special daddy day!" comments from strangers toward my daughter that she gets totally confused about because, uh, every day is daddy day. So I agree with everything you just said.

here's my next question though... is it just me, or when women branch out into doing something that's more "male" they do not get high fives. There are whole blogs (like http://www.notinthekitchenanymore.com/) about girl gamers being harassed, called posers, asked if they just want attention... that doesn't happen when men cook or take care of babies. not trying to play oppression olympics or anything here, and maybe it's just my perception, but I feel like women really have to prove ourselves to break out of our gender role where men just have to do it with a "what, like it's hard?" sort of shrug.
Feb. 22nd, 2014 05:56 pm (UTC)
No, it isn't just you; it's true. When women pursue activities that are typically seen as male in nature, that's a pretty typical response. I'd be kind of surprised if you hadn't experienced some form of these micro aggressions when you started in your industry, to be honest, as you've mentioned being one of the only women in your sector, never mind occupation.

I don't think you're playing Oppression Olympics at all--I think that would come in if, instead of validating the point, a counter was, "Well, men have to fight twice as hard to access father's rights!" which is not only inaccurate, but suggests that women should be grateful they don't have that struggle because no one will ever doubt a mother should have her kids. Unfortunately, being a stepmom involved in some of the more active internet communities for stepmoms, the parenthood OO happens fairly often, and usually at the expense of the larger conversation. Want to have your Feminism challenged? Just wander into a stepmom community, Facebook or otherwise.

Anyway, your point is totally valid, and it needs to start as early as possible. I read an article once which backed up a study that found even when girls perform as well as boys in what we perceive as masculine activities, they are praised for the feminine element of it. For example, in first grade, a girl may get 100 percent on the science test, but the teacher is more likely to comment on the handwriting she used, rather than the accomplishment of a perfect test.
Feb. 22nd, 2014 07:12 pm (UTC)
It's not just you. Definitely we don't get high fives for doing male things. And I do a lot of them. It was so freeing to go to Geek Girl Con there was NO WEIRDNESS.

Well, I mean, not that kind of weirdness. I did have blue hair after all. ;)
Feb. 23rd, 2014 06:47 pm (UTC)
I also agree that in general women don't get "high fives" for doing or being interested in "male" activities. But... it is a huge advantage for me at work. There have been several instances at work where the project manager just brushed me off for whatever reason (being female, being young, being a part of the company that bought them out... who knows), but if I find something we can bond over like sports, video games, or TV/Movies it all of a sudden seems to get me a seat at the table.
Feb. 22nd, 2014 04:53 pm (UTC)
It sounds like you guys have a great arrangement. And it's also great that Marc is still able to work some so that when both of the girls are older he won't have complete gaps on his resume (how a lot of stay at home parents struggle coming back into the workforce).

I'm just curious why the out of hand rejection of day care? We love ours and it's been really interesting to get someone else's perspective on our child and her challenges (someone who's seen dozens of children). They've made some really great suggestions about how to handle different kinds of stuff. We did decide to both go down to only 4 days a week so that she's only in day care MWF, but that was more to just overall reduce the stress in our lives and have more time with our daughter. So just curious what horror stories you've heard or were picturing when you decided that it was definitely not for you.
Feb. 23rd, 2014 03:23 am (UTC)
he sounds like a really cool person
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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