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Making the Change to a Stay-At-Home Dad

By: Nick O'Leary

Making decisions on where to work in my career was less stressful than the process of deciding to become a stay-at-home dad. During my career, I knew exactly what my strengths and skills lied and how the market pays for those services. Lateral job opportunities were easy to come by in my previous line of work. New, uncharted things are scary. Being a first-time father, who had essentially never held a baby or changed a diaper until my son was born, is definitely one of those scary things. As parents, we recognize that times change and goals change too. We must adapt our strategies to reflect the desired outcome. I would like to share my wife’s and I’s decision process to see if it helps others out.

Our son was born in the summer of 2020. For the first year of his life, my wife's mother watched him at our home five days per week, and my wife took over in the evenings and weekends. My job in retail left me little time to spend with my family, and that time was shrouded by exhaustion. It was a blessing to have my mother in law's help, but it was not a long-term solution.

After my son's first birthday, we discussed me leaving my job. The first thing we asked ourselves was, “Can we afford it?” We had a lifestyle we liked and didn’t want to let go of that. But let’s be realistic: We knew that hobbies, projects, and nights out were going to go down in frequency. And they did, saving us a lot of money. Instead of eating out, we cooked more. We limited trips to the movies or expensive restaurants for special occasions. It all adds up. We never kept detailed track of our spending prior to me leaving my job, but were surprised at how much we were paying for non-essentials.

In my line of previous work, I had to wear business clothes every day. The dress code was critical as I was a leader. Buying, cleaning, and replacing those clothes was no longer a consistent and necessary cost. The drive to work, gone. Buying lunches at restaurants, gone. Far fewer Starbucks runs (not completely gone). All work-related costs were removed from our family budget. Believe me it adds up. So much so I even sold our second car. So, no insurance, payments, or repairs for a second vehicle. We used the money from the sale of the car to pay off credit cards. This isn't to say that I wouldn't love a new Tesla, but not at the expense of having to go back to work to pay for it and losing out on this priceless time with my son.

Another reality: Child care is expensive. In my area, the average weekly charge is close to $500/week. That’s $26k a year! On top of that, there's having to get up early, eat breakfast, drive to the location and drop off, and then get to work on time. How stressful that must be. We are not a morning family and this would have made everyone in the house miserable. The peace of mind of having a slow, flexible morning is so relaxing. We go at our own flow and that is priceless.

Time to think and plan. Cooking, cleaning and "getting supplies" (my manly way of saying 'buying groceries'). I take the time to compare the costs of meals, and make decisions for dinners that are nice, but also economical. Buying ingredients that can be used in more than one dish. There are ways to do this at less than $5 per plate and use leftover ingredients to make a new fun meal the next day. My cooking skills while I was working involved picking the phone and placing an order for delivery. In a short time, I have mastered cooking breakfast foods, and have made some of the best meals I have ever had in my life. Tip: Find ways to clean and do the dishes as you cook. Feeling efficient can bring quite the natural high as a man.

We go to thrift shops and scope out deals on needs of the household. Recently, I found a stroller wagon (a super cool vehicle, if you don’t know) for $12 at a thrift shop. Super affordable kids’ clothes and all sorts of things I normally would have just bought brand new out of convenience. When I was working, I cared more about enjoying my limited time off rather than finding something at a better price. I've completely changed my mindset. But, be careful going down the toy aisle with the kiddo. I always keep a toy in my back pocket in case he sees something he really wants that we do not need. Pull out that pocket toy, and we are free to move on.

Explaining the decision to the older generations in our family was hard for them to understand. “You’re just quitting your job?” Their perspective is that the man is supposed to work and provide. These reactions are rooted in our traditional roles that, if you haven’t dealt with and teamed with your wife, could make you feel inadequate. You will need to work through this and find ways to overcome those feelings. Sports and competition can go along way to keep you feeling up to par. I've also found easy ways to keep busy and bring in extra income by doing odd jobs and selling things online.

Because I have so much flexibility in my day, my patience for my kid is almost unlimited. If he falls asleep in the car while doing an errand it's no big deal. I don’t have to stress about waking him up and ruining his nap. We have nowhere to be, and I can relax. No need to cram everything on my day-off from work like before. We go at our own speed. This has single-handedly made my family’s life immeasurably better. When my wife gets off work, she has almost no cleaning or cooking to do. We can just enjoy one another and have leisure time with our boy. Go for a walk, play, or whatever. This brings such balance and happiness to my clan. Stress levels are at an all-time low, and enjoyment to the top. My wife can also now pour more focus on work, and she is getting better results. With me taking on more household tasks, she is developing her career more effectively and has even found time to start working-out again.

Nothing is permanent. If something isn't working you can always do things differently. I will undoubtedly return to the workforce when our son is older. But I'll never get this time with him back again. Whatever your decision is, just keep your eye on the most important goal of all: A happy healthy family. How you get there is up to you.

About the Author:

This blog was written by Nick O'Leary, a new stay-at-home dad who is passionate about sharing his experiences with fatherhood, parenting, and everything in-between. Nick currently writes for Kaleidoscope Learning's "The Father Blog" series, which specifically focuses on how fathers and other adult male caretakers of children can support young children in their lives. Nick is eager to share his stay-at-home dad experiences, and he hopes to inspire other men to take interest in their child's education and development. Nick lives in St. Louis, MO with his wife, Jill, and their almost two year old son.

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