Two friends sent the same article to me yesterday. Published in The Atlantic, Ryan Park eloquently writes about his time as a stay-at-home dad following his clerkship in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s office. The article is titled, “What Ruth Bader Ginsburg Taught Me About Being a Stay-at-Home Dad: A young lawyer puts his former boss’s ideals into practice.” Here is a link to the full article, which is not short, but well worth the read to get this dad’s perspective.
The following are quotes from the article that prompted some head nodding and laughing because Park is so spot on.
“There’s an underlying assumption that women and men have different visions of what matters in life—or, to be blunt about it, that men don’t find child-rearing all that rewarding, whereas women regard it as integral to the human experience.”
I fully agree with the author on this point. The above assumption, in my case, is not true, and I wish the assumption was not out there at all (it would make it a little easier on us SAHDs). However, I can understand its existence. When I was growing up gender roles were presented as evolved from decades past, but there was still an emphasis on the mother as caregiver and the father as breadwinner. I do not know if that has really changed. Based on television commercials, it hasn’t, but that is a quick calculation by me.
“I could go weeks without seeing another man between the ages of 5 and 70 during the weekday working hours.”
Isolation is something that all stay-at-home parents must endure for part of their parenting, especially if that takes place during the infant months, which are chock full of naps. Naps, which we love, but also necessitate some solitude on the parent’s part.
“In virtually every extended conversation with a member of the yoga-pants tribe, I encountered the assumption that I didn’t want to be doing this—that my presence at the playground was the product of a professional setback.”
This is one of Park’s strongest points. Many people who hear that I am a SAHD assume it is because I was fired, couldn’t find work, or just generally suck at being out in the “real” world. Most people would never, ever confess to harboring this feeling, but I have the radar for it. It really does not get by me. I am sure it does not get by most SAHDs. The assumption is that this is not a choice, that SAHDs have been forced into their role. It is true that Kate and I were forced into this situation because of London’s prematurity. But now, since London has shed her medical accoutrements, we could, if we wanted to, decide that I should go back to work and we could pay a nanny $12/hr to be at home with London during the day. That is a realistic option we have now, but we are not moving forward with that, at least not at this point. So, in our case, we have made a choice for this to be long-term.
I understand that when you meet a SAHD it is difficult to tell whether his role is a chosen one. I am all about making it a little easier for SAHDs to be loud and proud about their duties and the way they go about accomplishing them. Thus, I have one suggestion. When you meet a SAHD do not assume he was forced into staying at home with his kids. Do not assume he chose to stay at home with his kids. Just talk to him instead. Hear him out. He will probably enjoy talking to another adult during the day (this rarely happens). Afterward, maybe you will know why he is a SAHD, maybe you won’t, but that should not be your concern, being friendly should be.