While I chose to stay home with our first child – and her siblings – this article, More Laid-off Men Equals More Mommy Breadwinners, brought back vivid memories of the first days at home.
The most pointed was the dogging worry about money. We gave up almost 60% of our income to have me at home and in Washington, DC that meant something. We also knew that it would be almost two years before my spouse’s fellowship ended and she could look forward to an income that previously approached our combined salaries. Dinners out? Largely gone. Movies? Gone. Weekends away? Gone. Bookstores? Browsing, but no buying. And make that transportation last since a newer vehicle – we’d never bought a new car – would be out of the question.
Hunting and gathering took on a new meaning as I started truly shopping for the best deal on everything from bread to diapers. Hit the newspaper coupons and sales flyers, but only after first determining what was actually needed. I found that it was easy to confuse an impulse for a need – yeah, those bookcases could really come in handy for the toys – when I hadn’t really even previously considered whether a bookcase was necessary. After working with my mate to find the best buys, it then shifted to the "Traveling Salesman" scenario to find the best combination of stops for particular errands in a set timeframe. With a baby and small children, I was constrained by the need for consistent feeding times and naps. And the realization that I wasn’t home so that the kid could spend all her time in a carseat.
The next biggest concern was deciding what needed to be done versus what could be done. When did it make the most sense to do dishes versus laundry? How often should the vacuum be run or the bathroom cleaned? Believe me, with small children, the bathroom needs done a whole lot more than I ever thought necessary. Since I was up frequently with the children as they grew, should I grab a nap with them or put the time to other use? And how much time is optimal for interacting with my child? Let’s be frank. I wasn’t staying home to do housework but to raise the children, and plunking them in front of the television was defeating our intent.
Perhaps the biggest question dealt just with me. Was I actually letting my family down by not bringing in a paycheck? Did that lack of a paycheck make me less of a man? Was it wrong to look forward to time alone and away from the little one? It took time to recognize that childcare – being the househusband – was actually far more difficult than I ever understood; balancing the needs of the household, the child and the mate was and is sometimes an antic juggling act.
Finally, the simple fact of having to answer the question what the hell do I do now? was tiring. There are tons of resources out there for women but very little oriented towards a guy who’s having to decide between managing a fussy baby and cleaning Gerbers off of the walls. It would be easy to just call my mate but pride prevented that. After all, I’m a self-reliant guy who should know how to figure this out. The flip side was the humility of what I was doing. No income meant that what I did was less important than her and I should avoid bothering her since I only took care of the kids.
These concerns largely resolve with time – learning to live on less, making best use of your time, and even coming to grips with your manhood. But there are still challenges even after years and these will never resolve until the children are making their own way in the world. And then they’re back just in time for the grandkids…