I know what you are thinking. You are wrong. Very wrong.
Take it from me. I have done both and the idea of being a stay-at-home Dad is nothing like the reality.
Sure, you get to be with your kids – something most Dads never get the opportunity to do and something I can never be more thankful for. Sure, you can sit in a coffee shop at 10am and read a good book (why would you read a bad one?). Sure you can <insert whatever you dream of doing here>. But then reality strikes and the true role of a stay-at-home dad materialises and takes aim at the back of your head with a baseball bat.
I realised a while back that the corporate world was not for me. As much as I have been able to succeed in business, working in the bureaucratic 8 to 5 world where achieving anything worthwhile is seldom realised is not for me. I need to be productive and feeling your soul leeching away as you rush around frantically trying to make something (or nothing) happen is an exercise in futility I could only do for so long.
So, after the fifth au-pair in less than 3 years and turning down another corporate job destined for another train wreck, I decided to try looking after the kids and follow my dreams. My lovely wife seemed to take it in her stride (I don’t think the decision was ever really discussed, but that’s perhaps another story) and so it happened without much fanfare.
Its been over a year now (now being Oct 2012) and it has taken at least that long to get used to the new role.
Financially it has been hard for me (if perhaps less so for the family thanks to my wife). Barring a few years when I ran my own business, my clever wife has always earned double what I have (she is a true corporate animal, well on her way up the ladder with MBA in hand) and she has made my adventure possible (Love you babe). It has still been quite a shock to go from not worrying about frivolous purchases to counting pennies and sacrificing those delicious R50 smoothies you never worried about before and buying your favourite magazines 6 months after publication from those discount book stores.
So, what does a typical day seem like?
From 6am to 8am, waking grumpy kids who don’t want to go to school, getting them to get dressed and eat their bowl of coco-pops without spilling it all over their only clean school jersey, bushing teeth, making packed lunch, showering (given up on shaving without slitting my throat) and making sure that they have that smelly mouldy old tortoise shell in the car for show-and-tell (or secretly forgetting on purpose). And all with a smile and eternally bubbly attitude (I never used to be a morning person and I do not have a bubbly personality). Don’t forget to kiss the wife goodbye or that’s going to cost you later. Then you have to drop them off (fighting with the private school Moms in their enormous 4x4s who are under the delusion that they are driving Minis and own the road), walk them to class while playing last one there is a rotten egg, smile and make small talk with other parents (and struggle to remember their names). If its a good day, your 4 year old does not cling to you like a limpet and want you to stay with him and entertain everyone – usually by making a fool of yourself while simultaneously trying not to get fresh sticky snot from someone elses kid all over your clothes.
And now its 8am. Let me tell you, about now, a leisurely drive in rush hour traffic, and an 8am meeting with coffee in hand is sheer bliss in comparison to some mornings with the kids.
Sans kids, you can look forward to the morning. Peace and a little time to do what you want to do. Then you open the fridge and realise that there is no food for lunch and supper. The gardener needs a new rake and fertiliser that you forgot to get last week must be spread today or the grass will turn a bleak shade of dead. There is no toilet paper or vacuum cleaner bags even though there is a standing rule in the house to put those things on the shopping list before we run out not after.
Your morning of doing whatever you want is slowly disappearing under a seemingly enormous pile of little mundane things. So you sigh, suck it up and off you go to Woolies, Pick’n’Pay and Builders Warehouse and if you are lucky breakfast is a Red Bull from the petrol station on the way.
And the next thing you know its 12:30 and you are late to pick up your youngest and he is expecting some lunch to eat in the car. Thankfully you arrive late and find that fighting for parking isn’t a problem – except for that unknown Mom who insists on having a DMC (deep meaningful conversation) in the middle of the parking lot. It’s all about her kids ability to catch a ball with two hands tied behind his back and if that’s normal for a kid his age. Never seen a Dad do that – maybe we are wired differently. After getting pulled aside by the teacher to review your sons latest attempt at emulating The Hulks “puny god” manoeuvre on a classmate, it’s on to the next pick-up Oh yes, its Drama practise today… You catch a few moments in the shade watching your son clamber around the jungle gym while your daughter re-enacts a moment in the life of a lunatic spider ballerina in a school bus going to the moon. Back to the car, drive home playing I spy or trying not to embarrass the kids by playing the radio too loud, get them changed, fed, homework done.
If you forgot to arrange a play-date (and suffered your eldests disappointment and associated pout) then its 3.30pm and you steal a few moments to bash out something like this blog, replace a leaky washer on the garden tap – or catch twenty winks while they chase each other around the house with a plastic Moljinor.
Time flies while you are having fun and then the next wave begins… have to make supper (mud and worms please dad and no gluten for Mom) and fight about who gets to bath first (thankfully a coin toss is the latest mechanism they will accept) and if they have to wash hair (but I washed yesterday).
Kids washed, fed (sometimes mashed potato has to be made into a blue face with sausage eyes to become edible) and watered, your wife returns from her equally long and infinitely more stressful day eager to spend a few moments with her loving, clever and beautiful offspring. They spend the rest of the evening telling her how horrible Dad has been and how much they missed her.
If you are lucky and remembered pudding, sometimes your little s###s grace you with a real hug that touches your soul.
Then you fall asleep on the couch by 9.30 having missed the last 20 minutes of the PVRd episode of Supernatural you don’t remember starting.
Miraculously morning comes and everything starts again and mysteriously, the shopping list is longer than it was the day before. Oh and the pool needs cleaning and last nights rains leaked through the roof in the playroom.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always like this. I am sure that if you approached it with a GTD attitude, and regular medicinal fortification you could do far better. All I am saying is that sometimes escaping to an office on the other side of town may not actually be such a bad thing. I haven’t even touched on the concept of missing out on decent adult conversation!
I love my kids with all my heart and I cannot think of anything I would rather do than spend all this time with them… I will remain a stay-at-home Dad for as long as I possibly can (probably until they decide I am too embarrassing to be seen with – which, according to my 8 year old, is right now).
ps. One other thing a friend reminded me of and I figured I’d edit this post to add it, people listen to you at work (usually if you are the boss). Kids have perfected the art of ignoring you. The first time, second third and, well, if you’ve made it that far then perhaps you have the patience required to be a stay-at-home Dad.