README, Stay-at-Home-Dad

No man that I know of –including yours truly– will accommodate easily to the idea of being a “Stay-at-home-Dad“. Be it through retrenchment, relocation, illness or simply because your partner makes so much more than you do at your workplace, the decision to become a “Stay-at-home-Dad“ is not on the radar until it’s time to become one.

As many have found out before me, it was a surprise to be alone at home and lost, with a baby and a freezer full of mother’s milk– on that fateful first day my wife had to go back to work.

“After all, raising babies is a woman’s job, right?”

No. It isn’t.

So without further ado, here is our “README” for a new “Stay-at-Home-Dad”

1-

Be proud of your reality and stand up for it

Just like any other high-paying and stressed-out role, being a stay-at-home father carries a high level of responsibility and satisfaction to it. Your job is important for the success of your family and you are the best man to do this job.

Do not let yourself be labelled by others. Stand up for yourself. Be firm but kind.

Explain the importance of your role, the benefits your children will have, and how being a stay at home father has changed your view of society and the world around you.

You and your family are the only ones who should care about your “stay-at-home-dad” job. As they say “your business is nobody else’s business“.

2-

Negotiate the role and set expectations

Do I have to cook? Do I have to do laundry? Clean the house?

Like any other job application the “spec” has to be mutually agreed on.

A “stay-at-home-dad” can be a competent cook or can show no interest into cooking. You might be a whiz at Excel, but have no idea (or interest) in operating a washing machine. There are limitations to the things you can do. You can learn, but it takes time.

Enlist paid help if you can, specially if the child is very young. In places like Singapore you can find a full-time, live-in helper for less than 500 USD per month. In other countries you can find nannies and helpers for reasonable salaries as well. It’s all about how much you value your own time.

3-

Negotiate your “free time”

Being a stay-at-home-dad is a role with no schedule, no “office hours” and no holidays either. This can quickly turn into a dull day-to-day gloomy existence of no personal activities or hobbies. In the long term this leads to clinical depression –a major source of unhappiness for stay at home parents.

Talk to your partner. Negotiate your time –even with a highly successful and highly stressed executive wife, I have my “gym time“, my “social time” and my “alone time“.

Set up a schedule and be clear about it –this does not mean that you relinquish ownership of your life or responsibilities with your kids, it just means that your own adult life must be filled with activities that you enjoy (other than being with your children).

4-

Spend time away from home

Build a routine where you take your children out regularly.

It does not have to be costly forays to a shopping mall; hiking, museums, free activities, even a quick walk to a nearby park will help break the day into manageable parts.

As a rule I try to have one or two walks away from home per day. If looking after a baby who’s still napping during the day, schedule your walk to happen at this time and choose a quiet locale for the walk, like a museum.

Walking Carla around Singapore has given me a great knowledge of the city and its culture. This is how “AMIGO Dads” started.

5-

Connect with others but don’t compare yourself

Whenever you go to a park or to a children’s playground you will find other adults there –some might be “stay-at-home-dads” like you.

Finding support from like-minded individuals is crucial. You want to hear reassurance from others that you will be fine, that you are doing the right thing, and perhaps even start a friendship. Having adults near you talking about “adult things” feels amazing after a hard day of chasing after a toddler.

But don’t fall into the trap of comparing with others –as a new “sahd” you will acquire the skills and experience over time. You will do no service to your ego by comparing yourself to the ultra-fit, hyper-competitive “sahd” who runs in marathons, cooks, looks after triplets, cleans, jumps bungee and, also, juggles.

There is always someone who feels great by proclaiming to all and sundry the kind of over achievers they are. Don’t compare, just avoid them.

6-

Avoid large nights

Baby has no concept of Christmas dinners, birthday parties or wedding anniversaries. Baby just wants to eat, sleep, defecate and very occasionally, drool, coo and smile at you.

The first time I had to feed Carla at 6 in the morning after a large night I said “…sweetie. Daddy’s broken…

Of course she did not understand my plea and screamed ever so loudly. My head was caving in from a massive hangover and a crying baby was no help. I should have thought about having those extra drinks the night before, but now it is too late.

Avoid consuming large amounts of alcohol if on baby duty the next day. Babies and toddlers have an uncanny ability to pick up when you are hungover and they will scream accordingly.

7-

When losing it, don’t get angry: just leave the scene.

The most important tip comes last. Being a parent can be extraordinarily frustrating. Babies cry for a multitude of reasons or for no reason at all –that is the only way the know how to communicate with others.

As a new member of the “sahd” club you may not know what is going on with your child. You might be genuinely worried, perplexed or irritated by the crying. Sometimes the crying will be of ear-shattering proportions and your stress will rapidly rise. You have tried everything at your disposal, to no avail.

Or like in #6 above, you had a large night and are nursing a splitting headache. And can’t cope with it anymore.

Do not be a statistic. Hitting or shaking your child to stop the crying will not make her “comply” to your wishes. On top of the emotional damage and abuse, you might inflict serious physical damage to your child.

If you are about to lose it, just breathe in. Make sure your child is in safe surroundings and leave the room for five minutes. Try to blank your mind. Have a cup of your favourite brew and calm down.

Run a quick checklist of the reasons behind the crying: hunger, thirst, gas, nappy, tired, over stimulated and can’t fall sleep,  teething, recent immunisation, unexplained illness (usually comes with fever), frustration.

If you can’t put the finger on the cause of the crying, are lost for solutions and baby does not calm down after 15 to 20 minutes, feel free to call baby’s mom or a friend.

Sometimes, a helping hand is all you need.