I think it's safe to say I'm fully entrenched in the stay at home dad business - especially with baby number five on the way. A couple months from now I'll be crossing the two year point since I quit my corporate gig to stay home full time with my kids. We thought long and hard about that decision and agonized for months over what we were actually going to do. Now it seems like the answer should have been obvious. It hasn't been easy, but it was clearly the right decision for our family. In the 665 days since then, I've learned a lot about myself, about my kids and about laundry.
I love being a stay at home dad. Here are some of the things I've learned, observed and discovered since becoming one.
I have more patience than I ever realized. I always thought I was a fairly laid back person, but my patience muscles have been seriously exercised since taking on the full time parenting gig.
I have more of a temper than I ever realized. But when my patience wears thin... look out.
You can't let a three year old girl comb her own hair with one of those stupid 360 degree round brushes. You know those brushes with bristles all the way around? Those things should come with warnings. Amelia can get her hair irreparably knotted around one of these devices in under four seconds.
Silence is not golden. Silence is cause for alarm. Silence is the last thing I want to hear. Silence means someone is focused on getting into some serious trouble. Like cutting their own hair. Or stuffing golf balls in the toilet.
Children are often less logical than pregnant women. It's close, but at least pregnant women don't stick jelly beans up their noses for no apparent reason.
Kids remember. They always remember. You know when you promised them at age three that when they turned five they could have their own pack of bubble gum? You might as well etch that stuff in stone.
I can make pancakes without looking at a recipe. In fact, I have my own made up recipe. And they're the bomb.
I can grocery shop with four small children. I get lots and lots of looks, but the grocery store staff has at least gotten used to us. One time at Walmart, a woman yelled from across the parking lot, "YOU GO, DADDEEEEEE!"
The bar for dad parenting skills is set way, way, wayyyyy low. Seriously low. See above. I can be in the grocery store at the same time as a mother with more kids than me and I'll get no less than half a dozen "compliments" on my bravery while she won't get a second glance. At the grocery store, the doctor's office, the library, the park -- pretty much any public place -- if I have more than two kids with me, I'm guaranteed to get comments from someone concerning my ability to parent. "Wow, you're brave." "My husband could never do that." "Do you need help?" "Dad of the year!" My personal favorite, though, is "What did your wife do to get the day off?"
Preparation is key. Being a stay-at-home parent is almost exactly like being a restaurant manager. The more you do to prepare for each day the easier it will be to handle the challenges that inevitably pop up. Right after college I managed a restaurant for a few years and the parallels between that job and this one are incredible. The stress and chaos are so similar, as are the means for dealing with them. The big difference is I can't fire my kids and I can't blame my woes on the manager from the prior shift.
Laundry is the killer. With this many people in one house, no other task occupies nearly as much time as collecting, sorting, washing, drying, folding and putting away the laundry. I need a better system.
Systems are key. This is also a restaurant management principle. It's my nature to want to have systems for everything and for those systems to constantly be refined for maximum efficiency. It's the only way I can effectively manage my days with the kids.
Repetition is key. The more an activity becomes a routine, the easier it is to manage the kids during said activity. Grocery shopping with all four kids is usually a smooth affair because we do it every week. I know what to expect, they know what to expect and together we're fairly proficient at it.
Potty training is overrated. Sort of. Yes, changing diapers is a tiresome chore. But, I like to spend a lot of our day out of the house. Before potty training, that meant we had the freedom to do what we wanted when we wanted and we just had to be prepared to change an occasional diaper in the car. Post potty training it means ten minutes of bathroom breaks every time before we leave the house, monitoring fluid intake away from home, and potentially visiting some less than savory public restrooms with two, three or even four young kids. And Miss Amelia is notorious for exclaiming, "I have to poop!" the moment she spies a Target. What the hell?
Life is harder for the working parent. I think it's no contest. I can by physically, mentally and/or emotionally drained at the end of the day, but when it comes down to it I'm spending time with my kids and just thinking about how much I love them and how lucky I am to have them gives me all the motivation I need to keep going. I don't miss office life one bit. Working outside the home can have all the stress and demands of staying at home, but it has the added stress of always being away from the ones you love the most in the world.