At Home Parenting: It Runs In The Family

If we are open to thinking about a son or daughter following in the footsteps of either parent then the idea of a man staying at home with the kids is not an anomaly at all. He is following the ultimate family tradition that extends back thousands of years.   

I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) a few hours a week for the local community college. One of the activities we do is trace our family tree to learn the names of relatives and family members. On top of that we write down the careers of each person in the family tree.

As my primary career is at-home parent, I looked forward to doing this activity. Being a man and staying home with the kids is foreign among the cultures in the classroom and it is always an opportunity to blow a few minds. I remember sitting down to do this career family tree for the first time. I wrote next to my father and grandfathers-“Pharmacist, Pharmacist, Farmer”. I imagined the tree going back farther and the entries were essentially all Farmer.

Then something interesting happened. I wrote down the careers of my Mother and Grandmothers-“At home parent, at home parent, at home parent.” It was my mind that was blown. For the first time I realized I was carrying on the family tradition of caring for children at home. It was even more powerful when I quickly thought of the maternal family tree expanding a hundred or thousand years and seeing their career as an at-home parent.

Just like me, each of them had some way of making income on the side. My farm-wife Grandmother sold chickens and chicken eggs. My pharmacist-wife Grandmother worked a few hours at the drug store and helped with the books. My Mother did the same when they took over the store. At the end of the day, though, they all stayed home with the children when they were young.

What a relic from our gendered past that is only now starting to shed. I had only thought of “carrying on the family business” from the lens of the patriarchy in my family.  Yet, this rich career history on our Mothers’ side has been there all along. Maybe this is different for daughters and this default to dads is a thing for sons. I don’t want to assume that though. If you are woman reading this, I look forward to hearing how you have imagined and thought about “the family business.”

To all my fellow at-home dads: thinking about carrying on the career tradition of my matriarchy has been a powerful thing for me. I feel even more purpose and legitimacy in the role. When others ask if you should be doing something else, remember that our Moms are just as important as our Dads and carrying on in their footsteps is a historically valid and important career to pursue.

 

 

WWZAMD? – What Would Zombie Apocalypse Me Do?

Sometimes when I feel like giving up on a challenging parenting task I stop and ask: “What would Zombie Apocalypse Me Do?” What would I do if there was no one around I could call for help?

tumblr_mff5ie9vas1qcwe13o1_500Yes, we are fans of The Walking Dead on Tinkerbell Road. In the story there is a baby whose mother is gone and the team of survivors in the zombie wasteland are left to keep her fed. Even the toughest dudes pull Daddy weight with the little one.

Last week, in the real world, I was giving our 1 month old a bottle while Mom was out. He wasn’t taking it. More appropriately, I wasn’t doing it right. We were both frustrated. In the back of my head I knew that I could call her. It would be so easy. But there I was with a child, a bottle of good breast milk, and nothing but time on my hands. As an At-Home Dad there are many times like this during the day. The fact Mom was on maternity leave and I could call in help was all too tempting.

Before I gave in I imagined a world where I was my child’s last resort, his only hope. The two of us alone in a zombie apocalypse. I knuckled down and did my job. (Apologies to my would be zombified wife in such a scenario.) A phone call to a relaxing mommy was not necessary.

I also recognize that there are many people in the world living their own apocalypse. Refugees, survivors of domestic violence, torture, and other horrific things. I could think of friends who at one time huddled with their child in the Sudanese brush, the jungles of Burma, or the rescue mission down the road. To think that I would cry UNCLE when a little trouble came my way? I can buck up and make it through.

The idea that people in our real world are faced with such adversity can be emotionally crippling and in some cases too close to home. In the South, we have a notion that if we think about bad things happening they may in fact come true. It’s best we don’t focus on a situation that could come true for us or anyone. So it’s safe to pick a scenario that’s fake. Imagining fictional people in a stressful reality that will never exist can be a safe way to imagine a scenario that inspires perseverance.

Dad and Two Kids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is important for me now because next week Mom goes back to work and my caseload will grow from one to two. I will need to bolster my nerves for a whole new set of challenges.

Feel free to join me and use this the next time you are feeling like the baby won’t eat or sleep and the buck stops with you. If you are not into Zombies, think of your own alternate world where you are the only one left who can help your child. You can get the job done. You can pull through. (Even if you hear scratching and moaning at the door.)

2015 National At-Home Dad Convention

Last weekend I attended the Convention of the National At-Home Dad Network. Over 140 Dads from across the country met to take some time off, share parenting tips, and most of all get energized to advocate for Dads and parents everywhere. There’s a lot I could say, but let me raise four major take away messages from the event.

1. At-Home Dad describes who we are, but Dad Advocacy is what we do. 

We shared plenty of parenting tips and gave each other support as primary caregivers. A major connection, however, is that we are all actively working to promote and inspire a new state of fatherhood. We stand in the face of stigma surrounding “Mr. Mom” and proudly demonstrate that fathers can be caring and nurturing parents. Two examples:

In the opening keynote, Dr. Scott Behson (@scottbehson), author of The Working Dad’s Survival Guide, repeated this mantra:

“Almost every dad I know is putting in the hard work to be a loving, hands on, involved father.”

Sounds like preaching to the choir. Unless the choir is a leading voice for improving the status and opportunities of fathers across the board, not just those who can be at home. The another component to his talk was on self care. He gave us some tools to create more time for ourselves that can help us recharge and relax to be a better father every day.

Closing keynote speaker Josh Levs (@joshlevs) is a CNN reporter who was denied paternity leave. He fought back, won, and wrote a book titled “All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families and Businesses — And How We Can Fix It Together.” He electrified the audience with a call to arms to get back out there and fight the good fight.

Levs pointed out that the U.S. is one of only three countries in the world that doesn’t provide paid family leave benefits. And in the U.S., only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island provide paid family leave benefits at the state level. Why is this?

“Workplace policies, structures, and stigmas are rooted in outdated 1950’s sexism,” says Levs. “It is based on the idea that women should stay home and men should keep working. If you believe a woman should stay home, why would she need paid leave? And if men should work, why would they need paternity leave?”

Myths that lead us to think that men are bad caregivers also fuel these sexist policies. Lies like “dads are lazy, focus on leisure, don’t help out at home, can’t change a diaper,” all support a false reality that men are bad at caregiving. They support the sexist notion that men should work while women should stay at home, because aren’t they better at the job? These images of fatherhood are not true. This also energized this choir to go back home and fight even harder for all Dads.

Sound like a bunch of homemakers sitting around and dishing on their spouses? Hell no. These are guys committed to making the opportunity to be a great father available to all.

2. Everyone at this conference loves his job and is doing it by choice.

This was the first work conference I have been to where no one complained about the company or was jockeying to find a new job. Each Dad present loved what he does. This year Yahoo released a marketing study that confirms 70% of At Home Dads are there by choice.

Its a job we are suited for and seek out. If we all worked in an office or a call center, I am sure we would all find each other as friends. Why? We have similar skills, interests, and work styles that make raising a family full time our dream job. “Isn’t being full time Dad all video games and naps?” some ask. Not in my world. But don’t take my word for it. Ask the other working Dads I encounter who clearly tell me there is no way they could do our job. We are in this by choice.

3. There is collaboration among all Dads and Dad groups.

This convention was hosted by the At Home Dad Network. Active leaders and panel members there this weekend were from Dad 2.0 Summit, City Dads Group, Life of Dad, and a number of other fatherhood organizations. Heck, a bunch in the audience were a blogger of some sort who could benefit from sponsor attention, right? Not at this convention. Everyone was working together for the big picture of building up Dads, demolishing stereotypes, and creating a new set of rules so a guy could do work he loves and have time for his family.

4. We are early adopters of a growing movement. 

As our message gets out and more Dads make choices our numbers start to grow. It’s not only full time At Home Dads, but Dads changing jobs to align more with their desired lifestyle- freelancing, part time working, and other creative ways to earn a living in a way that incorporates family. I believe the future of this organization and our efforts is in diversity. We can benefit from reaching out to Dads of color, and Dads in the LGBTQI community. If you are out there reading this and have a voice on the issues of fatherhood I encourage you to reach out and speak out. This group of guys I am a part of is here for you, willing to listen, and ultimately open to learning from you. You will be welcomed with very large, and often hairy, open arms.

I will blog more about what I learned at this convention, but here are the main points from Tinkerbell Road. Thank you to everyone who played a role in putting together the convention. I look forward to staying in touch with everyone over the year.

Please let me know any specific questions you have about the conference and I will be glad to answer them!

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You Can Control the Stress of Time

Spend the limited time you have with your little ones well. When you feel rushed, stop and ask yourself if hurrying right now is absolutely necessary. I know this has been said before, but it is always good to hear again.

The other day we were leaving play group and Boogie wanted to walk up and down some steps. “C’mon. We don’t have time for that! Let’s go!” Mom was going to be home in a while and I wanted to get home to clean up a little before she got there. Boogie looked at me and kept on climbing. I stopped. Did I really have anywhere to be? No. I put things in the car and then joined her. She spent 5 minutes on this and was ready to go. (We need to come up with some time conversion like we have with dogs and their 7 years to our 1 year thing. I will go with 10 minutes in kid world is like 1 hour in ours.) I told Mom that I spent time with Boogie doing her thing instead of cleaning up. Interaction with our child wins, an should win, every time.

20150611_085421Another example: this morning we made bread. Someone wanted to play with toothpicks. All good, we moved them from one box to another taking up an hour (in toddler minutes). We were getting ready for a play date, but the same someone wanted to make toothpick bread. Why not? We really have nowhere to go. Any stress about leaving the house is created by me alone. We were done with that and then on our way. If it is a situation where being late is rude? We have cell phones now. Send a text to keep your folks informed but don’t get stressed about it.

Of course there are times you do need to be somewhere: doctor’s appointments, the bank is closing, the post office is closing. For the most part, however, your need to be somewhere is manufactured. This is the thinking behind Slow Parenting, or the practice of scheduling less and having free time more.

A few tips:

  1. Live the slow life. Schedule less. If you still want to have scheduled events have fewer of them. Or, schedule free time.
  2. If the scheduled event is a loose playgroup or other social engagement you can take it easy. Everyone knows what it is like. Don’t create your own stress around these meet up times. If you show up at the end, folks will be like “Hey good to see you!” If you miss completely everyone will all be meeting up next week. If someone chides you for being late you should leave and never come back. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  3. If you absolutely have to be somewhere, and you know that ahead of time, factor in 10 minutes of free space before the event. Give your little one some decision in play before you take the lead with your decision to go do this urgent task.

Time is your currency as a parent. Spend it well. Don’t choose the stress. Stop and assess how urgent your need is. If you don’t have to be somewhere indulge your kids and go with the flow. They will be onto the next thing soon enough (about 10 minutes in our world).

4 Tips to Help Your Working Parent Take More Free Time

 It is hard for the working parent to find and prioritize time to do his or her own thing. We need to help.

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Tinkerbell Mom showed me her to-do list for the weekend. “What’s missing?” I asked. She thought of more tasks. “No! It is missing free time for you!” The star was her answer- buying new towels would be her “free” time. This is a common discussion at our house that comes close to a fight. I want her to take more time for herself and she thinks about getting things done. Free time is one of the things she needs to get done.  I see how it is not easy to find.

Working parents are scrambling to spend more time with the kids. This builds into tremendous pressure and creates a lot of stress. As a result, we full timers get some alone time while they have valuable one-on-one time with the kids in the evening or on weekends. What’s missing from this work/life balance? Alone time for the working parent.

If your working parent is a woman, the job may even be harder. The difference between the sexes in taking time for ourselves is for real. The seminal Atlantic piece Why Women Still Can’t Have It All isn’t titled why “men and women can’t have it all.” The men in my life, yours truly included, make “me” time quite easily and have no trouble reconciling it with the other responsibilities in life. Women may need extra support and encouragement that time for her is not only a priority but necessary for the family.

So how you do it? How do you help your working spouse? This is still a work in progress for me. Here are a few ideas that we are putting into action:

1. Put working parent free time on the calendar.

If it is not on the calendar it won’t happen. That is why I use the word make and not take. Free time doesn’t exist out there somewhere for you to take. You can’t take it and you can’t find it. You have to make free time happen or it won’t. We are starting at a deficit here. There has to be a conscious effort or you will stay in the pit of no time for her. Put it on the calendar. We then plan our at-home parent free time around that.

2. Treat your full time parent job as a gig with a six day work day.

There are plenty of jobs out there that are not limited to a 5 day work week. This is especially true if you are an entrepreneur or otherwise own your own business. Is there no better example of a family-owned business than being a full time parent? I used to plan things for Saturday or Sunday relying on that crutch “oh yeah, mom needs time with Boogie.” How unfair. I am now trying to balance time better on the weekend and be on the clock for more hours. I know we can take a cue from double working parent households. There is some good advice out there. We have to remember that the kid time imbalance, though, is the elephant in the room for us. I say the onus should be on us to keep working and prioritize what the working parent chooses to do.

3. Don’t greet her at the door when she gets home.

They can benefit from transition time. Office clothes aren’t play clothes. Your working partner will also need to use the bathroom, get some water (or a drink), and take a few minutes to switch hats. This is especially true if she is a nursing mother. Once baby sees Mamma it is all over. Going to the bathroom and getting changed is a nightmare with a child desperate to nurse.

If you are home, play with baby in the back of the house where mom or dad can’t be heard or seen. If at all possible you can also plan your final errand around homecoming time. This way the parent gets home before you and can have a few minutes at home alone.

Of course this is an ongoing conversation. Some days, like yesterday, it brightened Tinkerbell Mom’s day to have those little stomping feet go crazy upon her arrival.

 4. Encourage them to plan some earned work vacation on themselves.

It is easy for the working parent to see work vacation time, petty leave, or comp time a window for more family time. To be honest it is good for me too as vacation is only going to come from her time off, not mine! I am not sure what a good balance is for allocating vacation time for family vs. self-care. All I know is that she earned it and I want to support her using some of it on her own pursuits over getting in more family time.

In the end it is all up to what she wants to do. I feel my job is to lessen the pressure in whatever way I can. Hopefully this is a start. These are my current thoughts on the topic. What do you think? How do you help your working parent find more free time?