A Stay-at-Home Dad Primer
This article is courtesy of ParentLife magazine.
By the time Becky and I married, we already had decided the child care our children would receive. We agreed that day care was not an option for us, neither was a nanny or in-home care provided by another person. This decision is not easy or preferable for everyone, but we decided that one of us should care for our children during the day.
Of course, it is easy to write "one of us" in retrospect. At the time, we assumed Becky would be the one staying home with our children. Our resolution faced its first test with the birth of our first child. When Macy was born in 2001, Becky had a good, well-paying job. I was a recent college graduate with primarily creative skills. Unfortunately, the job market was not looking for someone like me. Therefore, we decided the best thing for our family was for Becky to continue working and me to stay home to care for our child.
With little experience caring for children and much apprehension, I joined the ranks of the growing number of stay-at-home dads. A sluggish job market, nationwide layoffs, and more families rethinking at-home care are causing more fathers to become stay-at-home dads every year.
The United States Census Bureau (www.census.gov) estimates that there are 105,000 stay-at-home dads in the United States. These numbers include married men with children under the age of 15 who are not in the labor force so they can care for their children while their wives work outside of the home.
Stay-at-home dads are nontraditional, and the challenge lies in reconciling the concept of biblical manhood with a commitment to what is stereotypically thought of as the "woman's role." It has been an ongoing learning process for me. I currently care for two little girls during the day - Macy is now 3, and baby sister Grace joined our family in 2003.
Through time with my children, God has taught me four keys to successful stay-at-home fatherhood. These keys can have important applications for all fathers.
Develop a servant's heart
Servanthood, to some people, has been equated with sub-servience. But servant leadership is as Christlike as one can get. In John 13, Jesus washed the disciples' feet, which is one startling example of service in humility and love. Every day I provide meals, clean up messes, change diapers, help dress, play, and read on demand. I let this routine behavior soak into my core character.
As I go about meeting my children's needs, I battle feelings of resentment or annoyance. This is one way to "take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). I trust that my example is teaching my children humility and sacrifice.
A stay-at-home dad often has his at-home illusions shattered quickly. Some working husbands underestimate the difficulty of caring for children and may place extraordinary, often unreasonable, demands on their stay-at-home wives. Stay-at-home dads gain new perspective.
Stay-at-home dads sometimes face condescension or passive disapproval from the outside world. Sadly, this takes place even within the church. Men who choose to stay home and raise their children sometimes are considered lazy, incompetent, or bad husbands.
A popular image of stay-at-home dads comes from the Michael Keaton movie Mr. Mom. In it, Keaton plays a bumbling, stumbling fool, clueless about all things domestic, wreaking havoc on his home and family through his incompetence. This caricature is just one way society tears down fathers.
Stay-at-home dads face culture shock from the inside and disapproval from the outside. These experiences help put the world in perspective, guiding you to focus on what really matters — the God who loves you unconditionally and the family you love unconditionally.
Set a standard
Stay-at-home dads are with their children almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Therefore, you have around-the-clock opportunities to model biblical manhood for them. What you say and do will mold your children's idea of true manhood. Fathers establish the template for their daughters' future relationships with men and for their sons' own development into manhood.
The following are basic ways to model biblical manhood:
- Love, honor, and cherish your wife. Ephesians 5:25 illustrates this command.
- Be a disciple. Pray and study the Bible in the presence of your children. This will influence their discipleship and create opportunities to teach biblical lessons or even lead your child to faith in Christ.
- Be a gentleman. Open doors for your wife and daughters and use proper etiquette. Be polite. Do not deny manliness, but rather, uphold the ideal of the tender warrior. A real man knows there is a time to be firm and a time to submit (see the balances struck in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). By example, teach your daughters to be strong and independent, yet not strong-willed or immodest. Teach your sons to be wise and manly, yet not haughty or unrefined.
Embody spiritual formation
Paul writes, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23). Not only is this a fitting measure of your own character, it is a guide for a stay-at-home dad's daily duties.
In all actions, show and speak love. When children are angry or upset, bring peace. When they are testing limits, show patience. Remain faithful in prayer and Bible study, in church attendance, and in keeping your promises to your children. Be gentle in play and practice self-control in discipline.
Stay-at-home dads face unique challenges. Most men were not raised to be "house-husbands." But I have found that no experience has taught me more, or conformed me more to the ministry of Christ, or shown me grace and humility more than my time with my children.