Stay At Home Fathers: Tips For Saving Your Sanity
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, February 2009
One of the more recent phenomena resulting from the increase in layoffs is that many more fathers are staying at home and assuming more child care responsibilities. Previously, men made the choice (often with the blessing of their partner) and they "prepared" and were "ready" to take on the demands and challenges and chose to do this with an open mind and heart. Often it was for a finite period of time.
Now, we have many more men who lost their jobs and they have to adjust to the shock, disappointment, added stress of losing a job along with having to adjust to a whole new and different (AND DIFFICULT) role as stay at home father. Also, his partner's feelings factor into the equation. She may be angry about the change in their life style or needing to give over child care responsibilities, alter her "schedule," return to work or become the sole earner.
This may not be what either of you "signed on for" but it is what you have NOW. It is no great challenge to be kind to each other when there are easy times. Commit yourself to helping each other during these trying times.
Keep in mind that roles change and if you can detach from the need to have traditional gender roles, each of you will be more free to discover a different and enriched partnership. Replace compassion for criticism and appreciation for blame. Additionally these men have not previously seen themselves as stay at home fathers and may resist or feel uneasy about it. They may be more uncomfortable with the role (especially if they don't take to it well initially), and are still dealing with the mental and emotional issues related to losing their job.
Here are some tips to help you adjust to changing roles:
• Have Compassion - Have empathy and be encouraging as both of you are probably easing into new roles reluctantly and without a lot of confidence. A man's identity (tied strongly to his work world) may be shattered (or at the least, wounded) and he may not feel good about himself and question his value and worth. Help each other to avoid getting discouraged if there are initial doubts and uncertainties and if things don't go well right away.
• Have Patience - You should both expect it to take time for everyone to get comfortable in the role and for a man to learn the day to day routine and to "get to know" the children better. Both partners need to have patience and a sense of humor, roll with the punches and learn from them. Dads need to develop their own parenting style and routine and get comfortable. Their partners need to value them in that role and appreciate their unique gifts that they bring to being a full time father.
• Encourage Connections - Men need to connect with other stay at home fathers in person and on line. Isolation is a potential trouble area so ward against it. Working out at the local Y to connect with other men and volunteering at the children's school, PTA, clubs, or coaching a sport team keeps men involved with the world.
• Have a Job-Search Routine - By establishing a specific time during each day to stay involved in the job world by networking, surfing the internet for job openings to send resumes, reading industry magazines and journals, attending conferences or meetings, stay at home fathers remain interesting and interested in the world of work. If a change in work considered, enrolling in a class on line or in a local college can help jump start the effort.
• Value Your Partner's Role and Contribution - Realize that you do not have to justify yourself or your choices to anyone other than yourself, your partner and your children. Think of this as an opportunity for a father to get to know his children better, to spend precious time with them and to contribute to his famiy in a different and unique way. Many men "wish" their fathers were present with them as they were growing up. Develop the attitude that this time is a gift when a father can be with his children and be there for them in a way he would not have been able to had he not lost his job.
Partners can look at the positive side of this situation by sharing the responsibility and decision making about family issues with their partners that they may not have had to opportunity to do so under different circumstances. This can be an amazing opportunity for children and fathers to bond, and to discover each other can bring enormous joy. What is possible is that fathers could actually become more positively integrated into the fabric of the day to day of their children's lives, and how could that be bad?