Here is the first of two awesome guest posts on Pile of babies while I am away at/recovering from Blogher 2014. This one is from freelance writer and stay-at-home dad of twins, Matt Vasko.
15 Things I’ve Learned From Becoming a Stay-At-Home Dad
By Matt Vasko
(image via pixabay)
When my now 3-year-old twins were born, my wife and I made the decision that she would take a break from her career for a few years to stay at home with them. Last year, she was offered an exciting opportunity to return to her pre-kids career, and we decided to trade places. Before becoming a Stay-At-Home-Dad I was what most would call an Engaged Father. I shared responsibilities at bath time and bedtime, changed diapers when the kids were still in them (potty training has been one of my recent projects), and helped with chores. Still, being an Entrenched Father for several months has been illuminating. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…
People can be pretty great. I admit it, I was apprehensive about telling people that I was becoming a Stay-At-Home Dad. I anticipated everything from people telling me that it would be a mistake to take a break from my career to blatant digs at my masculinity. To the contrary, I was overwhelmed by all of the positive reactions that I received. Stay-At-Home Moms said, “You’re doing a really great thing… this will be a special time for you and your kids.” Moms who did not take time away from work after having their kids said, “I sometimes wish that I would have done that.” Dads who have not had a similar opportunity said, “Dude, you suck! I wish I could do that.” Friends, family and complete strangers have continued to be wonderfully supportive.
It is both harder and easier than one might imagine. Three-year-olds have inexhaustible energy, and it’s exhausting. Every muscle in my body hurt for the first two weeks and I lost seven pounds that haven’t found their way back. Keeping up with them while taking care of meals, dishes, laundry and housekeeping all at the same time is like trying to juggle chainsaws while taking care of meals, dishes, laundry and housekeeping. On the other hand, people told me that there would be no time for myself. Not true. It comes in milliseconds peppered throughout the day, but it is enough to get by. Especially if one pretends that blinking is a very short nap.
Dishes suck. There is no greater exercise in futility than doing dishes. You can clean them 10 times a day, turn around, and there are more to do. Few things make me sigh so deeply. If I were Sisyphus my boulder would be made of grimy pots and greasy frying pans. If Zeus really wanted to punish Sisyphus, he should have replaced the boulder with an eternal sink full of dirty dishes. There is no upside to this.
Poop happens… and pee-pee and vomit and boogers. I realized that I was getting into the groove as a Stay-At-Home-Dad when one of my kids could hand me a booger and I no longer thought, “Eeeeeeew.” Strange at is seems, this is probably the item that has made me understand my Mom better than any other. When I had the stomach flu as a kid, I was baffled by how she could so calmly reach for a bucket and hold it under my head as I heaved up my rotten guts. Little did I know that she’d seen it all a thousand times before I could even remember.
(image via freeimages)
Zen is achievable. I now realize that when I started this gig I was the classic definition of a hot mess. I wasn’t used to being alone with the twins for more than a couple of hours at a time and had the startling realization that I had never taken both of them out anywhere by myself. I was in a near-constant state of panic. At home, my eyes darted about wildly, afraid to take my eyes off of either of them for more than a moment at a time, certain that I would end up needing to call my wife and explain why we were at the emergency room. In public, I feared that if they got more than two feet away from me they would most certainly be abducted, escape, or escape and then be abducted. I second guessed my every decision, beat myself up about every perceived mistake, and dreamed of the rest I would get following my inevitable nervous breakdown. Each day that has passed without catastrophe has taught me to trust both my abilities and my children’s innate survival instincts. A sense of hysteria has given way to a sense of being the calm in the storm, self doubt has transformed into consistent growth, and destructive criticism has changed to constructive criticism.
Schedules matter. I thought I would be a lot easier going than my wife. Lunch at noon? Naptime at 2? Nah, we’ll get to it when we get to it. Wrong. I soon discovered that preschoolers need a schedule like planes need fuel… without it they crash and burn. Hard. And my twins did. I used to think that my wife was micromanaging their daily routine – in fact she was a preschooler mood control mastermind. Returning them to their schedule has turned Mr. and Ms. Hyde back into pre-doctoral students.
They’re tough customers. Before stepping into this role I worked in customer service. Customers could be rude, crude and demanding, but at least they knew what they wanted. There have actually been moments during a child’s tantrum in which I have found myself begging, “Please dear god just tell me what you want so that I can make this stop!” I’m still working on this one. So far, the best thing I’ve come up with is embarrassingly frequent use of the phrase “use your words” and heavy sighs.
Sally Field was right. There is no 40-hour work week, no 10-minute breaks, no lunch periods, no sick days, no vacation time, no bathroom breaks without someone asking “What are you doing, Daddy?,” and the Department of Labor could care less. We need a union.
We get it. I don’t think that my wife and I have ever been able to empathize with each other as much as we do now. When she gets home from work and the house is in shambles, and I am standing in the middle of the living room looking catatonic, she doesn’t need to ask, “What happened to you?” She simply distracts the kids while I search for my sanity. Similarly, when she calls to tell me that she’s going to be an hour late leaving work because – you know – work has a way of sucking like that, I don’t lament the delay in the reinforcements. I soldier on, because I know she’d move heaven and earth to be home if she could. We know, because each of us has been there.
Attitude is everything. They say that attitude is everything. This could not be truer for young ones. I have been startled at times by the impact that my attitude has on my kids. As a result, I have become hyper-aware of my state of mind, because when I’m cranky they get cranky. The upshot: I’ve learned to harness this power for good instead of evil. When I really want them to get excited about something I present it as the-most-exciting-thing-EVER!!! It works best for things like trying to get them motivated to go outside, but even this technique fails to get them enthused about cleaning up their toys.
They’re honest… painfully honest. If I make something for dinner once and they don’t like it, they complain. If I make it a second time, they burst into tears when I set it in front of them. That’s honesty. And it stings. On the other hand, when I get all dolled up for a date night with my wife, walk downstairs, and my daughter says, “Wow, Daddy, you‘re handsome!” I feel like a shiny new penny.
It’s all about perspective. For me, getting this time with my kids has been a gift. I don’t feel entitled to this opportunity to be at home with them, I feel grateful. And it is this perspective that helps me keep a positive mindset when one child is standing in the middle of the living room floor in a puddle of their own pee, the other has just played Picasso on the dining room wall, the phone is ringing, there’s someone at the door, and dinner is boiling over on the stove.
(image via photopin)
Little things matter. The longer I do this the more I learn to take pleasure in the small, quiet moments. Yes, birthday parties and making the holidays special matter, but I anticipate that the things that I will hold most dear when I look back on this time with my kids are those perfect moments when we are reading a book, snuggling on the couch, or searching for just the right wildflower to give to Mommy when she gets home from work.
You’ll never be perfect, but your kids won’t care. I set a pretty high bar for myself in the beginning. I wanted to be the “perfect parent,” whatever the heck that is. As it turns out, they just want your time and attention. Give them that and you’re golden.
There is honor in serving one’s family. To be honest, I thought that becoming a Stay-At-Home-Dad would be a blow to my ego. I left a job managing two departments, a 30 person staff, and a $1.3 mil budget – that felt important. How could dishes and diapers possibly compare? I’ve discovered that all of the seemingly mundane tasks that make up my new job do add up to something. They create a caring, nurturing environment for the three most important people in my life. That matters more.
Matt Vasko recently left a perfectly fine job for the exhausting bliss of Stay-At-Home-Parenthood. Over the years, he has worked in customer service, sales, management, and misspent his youth as an actor and comedian. He is an occasional freelance writer and lives with his family in Los Angeles, California. You can read his brand-spankin’ new blog Super Eclectica, follow him on Twitter at @Vaskoco, and e-mail him at [email protected]