Friday, July 08, 2005


Freaky Friday: Life with a stay-at-home dad

Every now and then, I stop and look around my life and say, "Wow, how the heck did this happen?" This meaning all of it. When I was a kid, I never spent hours daydreaming about being a public servant when I grew up, but all in all it's a good job and I'm quite happy with it. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would be a mom, even though it hurt to keep believing that through our infertility struggles. But what really surprises me is to find myself a working mom and breadwinner, counterpart to a stay-at-home dad.

Beloved teaches, which is not a profession known for its extravagant recompense, and a part-time one at that. During the school year, between office hours and teaching, he puts in about 15 to 20 hours a week, and he stays home with the boys two days a week. He also teaches private classes in the evenings when there is enough demand, but only about half of the courses he offers through the Ottawa School of Art ever have enough enrollment to run.

Now that it's summer, he's at home full time with the boys (minus one day of daycare, both to keep continuity for the boys and to allow Beloved to keep a tenous grip on his sanity) and I have mixed feelings about this arrangement.

Part of me is simply green with envy. The rest of the family is home, or at the park, or at the mall, ostensibly having fun together, and I'm at work, drinking hot coffee and sitting on my arse all day (you can see, there is room for ambivalence here). I envy the time Beloved is spending with the boys, too. I've worked really hard at giving up the guilt I feel about being away all day, but I simply miss them during the day.

Another huge issue has to do with control. After a year's maternity leave at home with them, I got used to the idea that I am the primary parent. Make no mistake, Beloved has been a hands-on kind of dad from day one, but he has always deferred to my way of doing things, probably largely because I'm so damn bossy and it's just easier to let me have my own way. It's a habit left over, I think, from the newborn days when parenting is all about facilitating eating, sleeping and pooping... I covered the first two bases and most of third base, and Beloved was left to shag the occasional fly in the outfield, watching the infield plays with detachment.

When I went back to work in January, Beloved would call me at least a couple of times each day with some pretty inane questions. "Can I dress Simon in the blue outfit?" "What should I feed them for breakfast?" "Have you seen the Penaten lotion?" And I enjoyed it, because it made me feel like I was still important, still a part of the daily routine, even as I rolled my eyes and wondered why the hell he was calling me for this stuff.

Since he's been staying at home with them more frequently, he's found his own way of doing things. He's doing a fine job without me, in fact, and I think we're both a little bit surprised by that. And sometimes (grits teeth) his ways are better than mine. It's tough - I've got this picture in my head of me as the family parenting expert, and here he is finding perfectly acceptable routines and solutions and ideas that never occured to me. The gall of him.

My anxiety in handing over control has manifested itself in some pretty silly ways. The other day I had to talk myself down from a good head of irritated steam when I was going through Simon's drawers putting laundry away and found he had reorganized the drawers without consulting me. He changed them from the way I've always organized the boys' drawers. Can you imagine? And we won't even talk about how annoyed I get when he persists in loading the dishwasher with the sippy cups on the inside row, instead of dispersed through the rest of the cups and glasses.

But I have some more weighty concerns, too. Beloved lets the boys watch a lot more TV than I would. He's not extremely fond of the great outdoors, and doesn't take them to the park or even out in the backyard or driveway nearly as often as I would. And being both a less social creature than me and a daddy to boot, he finds playgroups and drop-ins somewhat painful and avoids them entirely. Again, it's not so much that what he is doing is inherently wrong or bad, it's just not what I would do.

When I was very young, my father was a musician (mostly a nights-and-weekends kind of job) and my mother worked during the day to supplement their income. Around the age of four or five, I spent my days with my dad and I have some very sketchy but fond memories of that time. I particularly remember going to the Red Grill in Woolworth's for breakfast with him and some of his friends. (I think these early days had a lot to do with cementing my princess complex and my love of being the centre of attention.)

So I know, intellectually, that being home (or out on the town) all day with their dad is good for the boys. And good for Beloved, too. But on a beautiful sunny Friday in July, I'm feeling a little bit regretful. Okay, the word I am trying not to use is resentful. I know they are doing just fine, but am I?