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By Mike Church
I’ve been in the stay at home dad game, completely unsupervised (who’s bright idea was it to leave me alone with a helpless, tiny human being!?) for about a week now. So far, so good. At least the baby is still alive.
When my wife and I decided that this was going to be the way that we moved forward after FMLA was over, I was giddy at the opportunity to chill with the baby while being able to get all kinds of work on the website and other content done. Even for a three-month-old who takes several naps a day, he keeps me way busier than I thought that he would. It’s like a race against the clock while he sleeps. I really have to prioritize my time in unexpected ways. Do I try to knock out some of the giant pile of laundry that’s amassing in our bedroom? Do I knock out some dishes, and maybe do the prep work for dinner tonight? Do I try to get some editing done, and maybe finally figure out how Adsense and affiliate marketing work? Maybe I’ll finish that poutine write up that I’ve been working on for the last two weeks. Maybe I just want to sit and watch a show on netflix. I live my life an hour at a time, and it’s much more frantic than I had previously anticipated, and this baby isn’t even all that active yet.
I’m also coming to realize that staying at home with the kiddo is every bit as isolating as people say it is. I have always been the kind to play the hermit, but this is something entirely new. I spend my days either hanging out with a baby or staring at google docs. The amount of time that I spend interacting with adults that aren’t my wife is at an all time low, and I don’t yet fully understand how that is going to affect me psychologically. I know that I still possess some semblance of social skill, but the thought of going out into the world is beginning to feel foreign and scary. Even the notion of having to watch myself for signs of PPND is strange, as I’ve never been one to give much thought to my emotional and psychological condition. Just one of many changes my life has recently undergone, I suppose.
Now, the plus side to all of this newfangled discovery is that I get to spend a whole bunch of time playing with a really cute baby. Being the workaholic that I am, I found that I was able to let go of my professional needs much more easily than I had previously anticipated. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a part of me that would spend 12 hours a day learning everything there is to know about how this blogging game is played, but that would spoil all the fun I’m having with my son. Finding the balance between doing my work for the site, keeping the house clean and cooked for, and also keeping the baby properly stimulated will always be a challenge, but I’ve found that maintaining my priorities is easier now than it has ever been.
This new balance of time isn’t exclusive to me, either. Jenny and I are always iterating on the balance of responsibilities within the household, always wary of one another’s needs. Having a baby is strenuous on a relationship, and it takes real work to keep things going, particularly in a single income household. Being empathetic to one another’s needs and frustrations is so important, especially when you consider just how easy it is to feel like the weight of everything is on your shoulders. Being with someone who is so willing to share the load, willing to pick up slack when the other just can’t, is something for which I count myself extraordinarily lucky.
It seems to me that there are a lot of parents who lose their identity to their children. This was one of the issues that my wife was insistent that we avoid, and we discussed this to great length both during and immediately following pregnancy. I never thought that this would be an issue for me before the baby was born, so I took all of our conversations concerning this issue with a big grain of salt. Now, however, I can see why and how that happens to moms and dads everywhere. It’s way too easy to forget your own needs when your entire existence revolves around keeping a tiny human alive. Why do I need friends, and how will I even manage to spend any time with them when the baby obviously needs me? It’s even harder to maintain your individuality when your entire professional identity is the complete opposite of your new self. This is such a real issue, and I honestly have yet to work out a good way to stay ahead of it.
The problems that come along with being a stay at home parent can easily be considered so trivial when you aren’t the one who faces them on a daily basis. I know that I was certainly guilty of writing off these struggles as non-issues when I first agreed to this arrangement, and I don’t feel that I even fully understand the extent of which I am changing as a person. I am, however, eager to see where I end up. It will, if nothing else, be an exciting journey.