Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Becoming a stay-at-home dad (2011)

“I’ve turned into a real bitch since becoming a housewife!” I joked to a buddy of mine last year. I had called curtains on an IT career that my heart had abandoned years back. Now I was in what I called the de-institutionalisation phase – letting go of the “unhealthy” and holding onto the “useful”. This is the story of my becoming a stay-at-home dad.

My wife had gone back to work full-time after we’d had three children in four years. For me, this was a dream come true. I grabbed redundancy and now I had the opportunity to spend more time with our kids, while developing a long-time sideline occupation into a real business.
But the dream was crumbling, and I was cracking up! After a few weeks of the incessant noise kids make, the mayhem and muck, I’d turned into a grump. I felt angry and tired and I was unpleasant to be around (I was told). The quality of all of my relationships at home had deteriorated. Life had turned chaotic. I had an enormous struggle on my hands. I had been used to pleasant, organised work spaces, fun and free-flowing conversations, coffee breaks and chats, loads of me time. I’d come home and be greeted by our three divine babies racing through the hallway, shouting, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” While I would hit the ground running to help my wife out, it was less than two hours before all three were asleep, stories read, tales told. I had been getting all of the good stuff.  There were mornings when I’d breathe a sigh as I left for work, saying, “Yo Hooo I’m away!” as I left the madness behind.
But I never ever anticipated the relentless demands of being a stay-at-home dad. I didn’t fully understand what had brought Amy to the point where she needed to get back to work outside of the home – for her sanity – until it all had brought me to my knees. I had relocated to Planet Chaos – where none of nature’s laws apply; where time is warped and energy fields zapped by random little creatures called children. Wave after wave of demands, requests, yells, tantrums, nappies, food prepping, cleaning, laundry, picking things up from the floor, wiping up, putting away, shopping, planning, school drops, play dates, more nappies, more screams, more tantrums, conversations continually derailed by kids on speed. I felt ungrounded, unnerved, and unavailable.
Over the weeks and months, I persisted. I organised some support for myself. Also, I got lots of good stuff from Amy, her parents, my extended family, friends, and peers. I started a men’s group. We meet weekly. Not in the pub but sometimes afterwards, yes. We each have a creative project we’re working on – like career or direction change. We discuss the hurdles – sometimes practical, maybe self-imposed or imaginary. We bitch, moan, gloat, laugh, joke, take the mick, give out, give feedback, give advice if required, cry (yes, it’s happened – in joy and despair), and all really good stuff. Also, I write a lot. I read when I get a chance. I did a mindfulness course. I get on my bike more regularly. I’ve attended a few training courses for my growing counselling career – one that I feel I’ll still want to do when I’m eighty. I’ve got better at managing my time, the chaos, and my inner life. I reckon I’ve grown to meet the challenge.
Today I’m much happier. I’m more available to Amy and our three smallies – because I’m more emotionally available to myself. It’s taken me nine months to process the life change at a deep level. I love that I’m more likely to smile when they do something crazy. Now I’m getting the deeper significance of their random acts. It doesn’t matter that much when there’s a spillage or a scream. They’re my babies, this is family. They’re on their way. I’m sharing the early years of this unique journey, and it’s precious. I’m getting a laugh out of it all. I’m playing with them lots. I’m holding and cuddling. I’m being creative, compassionate, and loving. Yes, it still annoys the hell out of me at times, but it’s not overwhelming any more. I enjoy the spontaneity; I see the beautiful and the profound.
A big winner has been our youngest. He’s nearly three. I didn’t have as close a relationship with him in his first two years as I did with the older two, because life was less stressful and chaotic when they were little. Lorcan’s arrival meant there was an unmarked player on the pitch at all times, which escalated stress levels massively. But today we’re over those humps. We play and we share and cuddle. I’m able to slow down to his pace. It’s a gift – for me and for him. Becoming a stay-at-home dad has been an enormous gift to me, one that I’m deeply grateful to Amy for affording me.
Just like for mums, looking after our mental and physical health is utterly important for us stay-at-home dads.
Tom Evans is a father, hubby, writer, counsellor, and psychotherapist based in Midleton, Cork. 
Counselling & psychotherapy at www.selfcare.ie
Critical Incident Stress Management at www.teamcare.ie