Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Trouble With Stay at Home Dads

With Fathers day coming up the idea of who a dad is and what he does become more prevalent.  I see it starting already on social media.  As a mother to 2 small children I know that I am very grateful for the dad that they have and the wonderful influence he is on their lives.  He does work a full time position and enables me to spend most of my time home raising our kids.  I think it is wonderful to be able to have that option and I recognize that that isn't a choice for a lot of families.  With the cost of life and the pressures of our culture having a stay at home parent isn't often an possibility.  There has been an increase in the acceptance of a stay at home parent in the last number of years and I also have appreciated the recognition that it is a difficult position to take.  There has been a huge increase in the respect and appreciation given to stay at home parents and a huge growth in the acceptance of the idea of a stay at home dad.

I read an article yesterday, directed towards stay at home dads written from the Christian perspective.  I attempted to find a copy of that article to link here but I was unable to find it on the magazine's web site.  They talked a lot about if this is an appropriate place for a man and sited 1 Timothy 5:8 which says,
Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
But rather than jumping on that as biblical evidence that men must be breadwinners they spoke about the idea of what the provision actually means in this day and age.  To us the idea of providing usually equates to finances and working outside the home but that might not be the only interpretation.  There is also the necessity of security, of providing a quality relationship with an appropriate example of loving fatherhood, working to increase the quality of the home environment and also the ability to recognize the possibility that the wife might be in a better position to provide the finances.  I believe being a stay at home dad requires a lot of humility, confidence and commitment to the quality of life of their children. 

Of course, having a stay at home parent can come with a number of challenges, regardless of whether it's the mom or dad that stay home but there is a challenge that I think gets overlooked quite often when it comes to stay at home dads specifically.

I know a family where the dad is mostly a stay at home dad.  It's amazing to see the quality relationship he has with his kids and though the mom is working she does take care to ensure that she gets quality time as well.  Those kids are confident, secure and well cared for.  However, this can cause great big problems in the marriage relationship and I believe that is something that is too often forgotten about.

For myself, when I started this stay at home journey it had an effect on me emotionally and mentally.  I had been working and providing for myself for at least 13 years at that point and it was quite an adjustment to all of a sudden have no income and to be completely dependent on another person.  I struggled deeply with feeling indebted and like I was a burden.  I worried I was adding extra stress to my spouse and I hated feeling like I needed to run every purchase past my husband, like I was a child waiting for approval.  It changes the dynamic of your relationship. 

There are a few friends I have that are also stay at home moms and we have talked a few times about the sometimes insensitive things that husbands can say that add to burden we feel.  They don't do it on purpose but I just don't believe they understand how belittling some of their comments can be.  For example, a while ago my husband made an unnecessary purchase.  Something just for him that was fun and non essential.  I commented, "when do I get to do that?" and his response was that he had saved for a number of months and that when I did the same I could spend it how I wanted.  This caused me to burst into tears and hurt me deeply.  Meanwhile, he totally hadn't realized that what he had said or done would have been insensitive.  He only saw that he had wanted something and saved up for it, not that what he said might be cruel since I had no possible source of income to save up.  I felt he was treating me like a child, not a spouse making sacrifices for our family. 

This issue of having an income to contribute can be even more of a burden on men.  After all, our society revolves around affluence, status and bravado.  Men are taught to equate their masculinity to their possessions and their jobs.  Being a stay at home dad could be very tough on their psyche!  After all, it's not really that prestigious.  If people still look down on a stay at home mom I can imagine the scorn a man in that position would experience!  

Remember the family I mentioned with the stay at home dad?  Well, he ended up having an affair.  He was also sneaking money to her and buying her gifts.  I think that is a sign.  A sign that he needed to feel needed.  He wanted to provide for this woman and feel like he could make things better for her life.  The dynamic of the relationship with his wife had been turned into more of a parent/child situation and that just isn't sexy!  When someone isn't bringing in an income it is difficult not to feel indebted and just like another dependent.  For men, I believe it's emasculating and since the ultimate expression of manliness is sexual conquest, I believe relationships set up this way run a much higher risk of infidelity. 

Even saying all of this, I still don't think it is necessarily a bad idea for a man to be a stay at home parent.  I think there could be a lot of benefit to the children.  However, this is a risk that I have never heard mentioned and if this were a choice you were looking into I would recommend taking a few precautions to safeguard your marriage. 

One of those would be for the wife to be extra sensitive to this possibility and taking efforts to "affair proof" your relationship.  Never say things that could be demeaning, insulting or dismissive about the position your husband has taken.  You want to make sure you are doing all you can to build him up and boost his confidence.  Making him feel small will only push him to find someone that will encourage him and build him up.  (This would be a good idea for any marriage actually, not just ones with a stay at home dad.)

Also, make sure that your husband remains heavily involved in the finances.  Make certain he feels some control over spending and feels involved in the process of meeting all your financial obligations.

Be sure that he has plenty of opportunity for social interaction.  This can be tricky for any stay at home parent.  I have had many times when I have felt closed off from the world with little to no adult input.  It can be a strain on your relationship if your spouse is then 100% responsible for all your grown up conversation and interaction.  It's important to have friends that you can spend time with to get refreshed and recharged to be the best parent they can be.  For men, this social part could be harder to sort out when dealing with a stay at home dad.  Women can just meet for coffee and have a fantastic time chatting for hours about hardly anything at all.  Men, on the other hand, I have found need an excuse to get together.  They need a hobby.  Something that they do with another guy and hang out at the same time.  Men need an excuse to socialize, women....not so much.  I try to be really accepting of my husband's hobbies because they really do need activities to keep them connected.  So a hobby that let's your stay at home dad hang out with other men, doing manly things might be just what he needs to keep him happy, confident and secure in his position.  The only caution I would offer is to be careful of female friends.  Men, don't hang out one on one with a woman other than your wife.  I offer that caution to anyone though, stay at home dad or not.  I also will use this opportunity to tell women the same thing (again) do NOT create a close friendship with a man that is not your husband!  Those relationships are far, far to dangerous, even if they seem completely innocent and harmless at the start. 

Finally, defer a good portion of the family decision making to your husband.  If he isn't making work decisions he might need the boost of confidence in knowing he is in charge of some portion of his life.  He needs to feel respected and capable.  Showing him that you trust his judgment and are willing to follow his leadership will help him feel needed and that his opinion is valued. 

I have a lot of respect for a man who can humble himself for the good of his family and I do feel that there are some quality men out there doing a great job of providing a solid home life for their kids.  I applaud their commitment to their family and I appreciate the sacrifice they are making in order to create a positive environment for their child's growth.  I pray that you are also able to feel fulfilled and appreciated in your married life and that your relationship will grow ever stronger instead of pulling you apart. 


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