There is a growing demographic in the cities, suburbs, and small towns and villages across the world: stay at home dads. Estimates of the number of stay at home dads just in the United States alone is over 2,000,000 and climbing. For some people, the first impression of a stay at home dad is a guy in his pajamas watching Netflix, but the truth is, making the transition and thriving in this role is not as simple as it might seem. In this post are 10 tips that helped me make the change from a full-time job in Washington DC to a new, full-time stay at home dad in New Delhi.
10 Tips for the Stay at Home Dads
Tip #1 Did you say SAHD or sad?
The stay at dad movement became official when popular culture gave it the acronym SAHD (Stay at Home Dad). Unfortunately, for many new stay at home dads, SAHD sounds a little too much like sad. And while SAHD sounds nothing like embarrassed, shameful, shy, or confused, many new stay at home dads go through some of these emotions as well.
For the first year, when meeting new people in Delhi and the career topic inevitably came up, I would introduce myself starting with my previous job in Washington DC, shift to my current stay at home pursuits as an artist, then mumble a few words about being a stay at home dad. About six months into our new life in India, my wife pointed out my rambling introduction. While I knew what I was doing, her supportive kick in the pants to be SAHD and proud, was just what I needed to start with, “I’m a stay at home dad,” and leave it at that. For whatever reason, it was tough at first, and the split second of silence was deafening. But I’m happy to report, almost every single person I meet now responds with some variation of “I wish I could that” followed by a series of questions about what life is like as a SAHD, a stay at home dad.
Here’s your first tip new stay at home dads, share your story with pride, and remember, you’re a lucky dude.
Tip #2 Being a stay at home dad is your job. Treat it that way.
I don’t know about you, but all of my previous jobs included responsibilities, deadlines, schedules, and getting along with my coworkers. Being a stay at home dad isn’t much different. Set yourself up with a plan.
- First tip, there’s a lot of research that demonstrates kids thrive in a structured environment.
- And second tip, there’s also a lot of research that demonstrates adults also thrive in a structured environment.
I experienced my own growing pains in setting up a routine. But I’m happy to report that I now have set times when my kid and I wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, drive to school, have an afternoon snack, take a nap, and so on. I also have set times that I work out, write my blog, create some art, and so on. Instead of the Outlook Calendar I used at my job in Washington DC, I now have a bulletin board with my schedule posted in the hallway.
Tip #3 Work out home responsibilities with your spouse.
This is an important step you need to take and to be honest, we are a great example of what happens when you don’t go through the process of figuring out shared expectations. While we’ve made progress in this area, it’s also been a source of strain for us.
Before moving to India, I didn’t give it much thought and assumed I’d handle everything kid-related at home. I mean come on, I’ve worked 40 plus hour work weeks for years, right? Wrong. It’s not that simple, son. First, time flies by, and second, especially when your spouse comes home from work and over the weekend, both of you need a break.
So, here’s a big tip for new stay at home dads, make a list of the household chores and activities. Think through who’s doing what and when for the cooking, cleaning, paying bills, buying groceries, and feeding the dog. Besides making your own daily dad schedule, think through, what’s your co-parenting activity process in the evenings and weekends? Figuring out who’s doing what and when with the kids will be a big help in avoiding needless arguments.
Tip #4 Network, network, network, find and connect with other stay at home dads.
Isolation is almost inevitable. Stay at home depression is a very real experience for many stay at home parents. For a little insight, one study found that 16% of working moms experienced depression, compared to 26% of stay at home moms. Creating for yourself a supportive network will take some time, of course, but you can get ahead by looking for local dad or stay at home parent groups close to you. A tip shared with me by another stay at home, check out social media and websites like Meetup. If you can’t find a group, consider starting your own. Also ask yourself, where do the stay at home moms hang out? Some of my best friends and resources are the stay at home moms I’ve met.
The point is, you don’t want to needlessly isolate yourself. Before children, or BC as I like to say, our coworkers played a big part in how much we enjoyed a job. Find the other stay at home parents close to you, they are your coworkers! And what’s even better, you can choose who you hang out with.
Tip #5 Make time for yourself.
You have to do it. Otherwise, your day will feel like one, long, monotonous plane ride. Here are some tips for new stay at home dads to help get you started:
- What are your hobbies? Don’t have any? Change that.
- Exercise, Exercise, Exercise. And if that means downloading your favorite podcast or investing in a subscription to Audible to listen to books while you walk, great! Moving your body is one of the best, cheapest stress relievers.
- Find another stay at home parent, or grandparent, or hire a baby sitter once a week for a couple of hours and go see a movie, get a pedicure, take skydiving lessons, whatever. The point is to include time for yourself in your schedule.
- Do something both you and your kid will enjoy. I love being outside, so taking my daughter to the park or zoo in a stroller helps me let go and relax as much as it helps her. See if you can combine an activity that you’re passionate about with your kid tagging along.
Tip #6 Duh, you can’t do everything all of the time, so ask for help!
Men, if we are going to evolve, we’ve got to learn to ask for help. Asking for help is a personal challenge for me. Being the oldest of four, I took care of myself growing up, some would say with mixed results! Seriously, here are a few tips I want you to consider, some of which I’ve used myself, to help you get familiar with how you might need or want help. KNOW that you’re not alone in seeking help out.
- If you have the means, consider hiring a cook, or having your groceries delivered, or sharing cooking responsibilities on Sunday with your spouse and making several meals for the week.
- If you have the means, consider hiring a weekly babysitter to give you a break or swap out babysitting duties with another stay at home parent. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from your kid even if you are the stay at home parent.
- If your gym has a babysitting service, check it out, and if it passes your test, use it.
- Seek out resources like other stay at home parents, websites, even blogs for parenting advice and ideas: potty training, sleeping, brushing teeth, eating, and discipline are all parenting skills that are learned and for most of us, not necessarily intuitive.
Tip #7 Take a nap instead of that afternoon coffee, or both, up to you.
So, one of the BEST parts of being a stay at home dad is the naps. The length of the nap has changed as our daughter needs them less and less, but if she’s napping, most of the time, I’m getting my 15-minute power nap in. One of my tips of the trade, at nighttime, I try to go to sleep when my daughter goes to sleep, which is usually around 8:00 PM. If I’m successful, I will often wake up at 4:00 AM, which gives me two to three hours of uninterrupted “me” time.
Tip #8 What are your post SAHD plans?
One of the advantages of taking time away from a full-time job is giving your head the time and space to relax and consider your next career step. Here’s a tip, as noted before, as you build your daily and weekly schedule, consider adding time for online training, researching options, or other activities that help you reach the next phase of your career. For myself, I fret sometimes about what I’m going to do next. Building in time each week to work on different career and personal development goals definitely helps me feel like I’m continuing to make progress even though I’m not working outside the home.
Tip #9 As we like to say in our home, communication is key.
While we discussed before working with your spouse regarding household chores and responsibilities, you also want to regularly communicate the daily decisions you make that affect the health, wellbeing, and development of your kid. During the day, make a note of questions or observations that you want to discuss with your spouse. Simply put, we all have different expectations and opinions regarding the choices we make when it comes to our kids. Our tip for stay at home parents, moms and dads, is to regularly check in with each other.
Tip #10 Have fun with it, embrace the experience, be a geek.
I value this stay at home dad experience. Our kids grow up so fast, and spending time with them is such a precious opportunity that we too easily lose sight of working full time. Here’s my last tip new stay at home dads, take pictures, record videos, blog, share your experience as often as possible with your spouse. Be sure to share your observations, challenges, triumphs, and joys that your spouse doesn’t get to see as you do. Be a geek. However much you are comfortable sharing your experience online with family and friends, go for it. I’ve been told so many times by family and friends how much they enjoy keeping up with us and watching our daughter grow up even though we are so far away.
This transition takes time, give yourself a break!
In my late twenties, I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand as an English Teacher-Trainer. The first 3 months of my three-year service involved language, culture, and job training. One of the recurring tips shared by our trainers and the experienced volunteers was to relax in the first year. If you’re making friends, learning about your community, then you’re right where you want to be. It’s not until year two that you’re ready to lead a project and make an impact. I can’t think of better advice to give a new stay at home dad, or mom, for that matter. Give yourself time. My challenges today are so different from the first year. Relax, find and establish a community, regularly share, and communicate with your spouse, ask for help, be a learner, and I promise everything else will take care of itself.
For any advice or resources, please share in the comments below!