Libby Gill, the author of "Stay-at-Home Dads, The Essential Guide to Creating the New Family," offers first-hand advice on making this unique family dynamic work.
Q: What prompted you to write this book about the stay-at-home dad/working mom (SAHD/WM) lifestyle?
In looking for SAHD/WM success stories and role models over the years, I discovered that there was very little information available and decided I would interview couples all over the country and write a parenting book on this topic. When we were first married, my husband and I decided that when we had children, we wanted one of us — whoever had the bigger paycheck or more stable job — to work full-time while the other stayed home to care for our kids. I turned out to be the breadwinner, while he became a full-time, stay-at-home dad. Even though we are now separated, he continues in the role of primary caregiver to our two boys, while I continue to support the family.
Q: Can you really plan this type of lifestyle?
Absolutely. My book includes an entire chapter just on drafting what I call "the family business plan."
Q: How do you prepare what you call the "family business plan"?
It's not really as complicated as it sounds. It just involves some soul searching and open communication with your partner. The first step is to check in with your spouse and see if you think your marriage is strong enough for this kind of scrutiny and honest reflection. It can be challenging to buck the norm and you need to make sure you are in a stable place before you take the role-reversed parenting plunge. Once you decide to proceed, there are a few key steps:
- Create a family mission statement that articulates your goals and objectives as individuals, as a couple, and as a family.
- Draft detailed job descriptions that clearly spell out who does what, i.e. does he cook but she runs errands? Does she buy the kids' clothes, but he keeps the family calendar? You should consider all the basics, including whether you want any outside help, who gets time off when, as well as special needs like medical issues, religious training or music lessons. If in doubt, spell it out.
- Establish periodic review times, so you can check in with your spouse, see what's working and what's not, and make course corrections along the way.
Q: Is there a feeling of community among SAHD/WM families?
A: Definitely. There is a real spirit of cooperation and camaraderie among SAHD/WM couples who offer parenting tips and guidance, and just generally support each other. Stay-at-home dads network in local playgroups, with or without kids included. They are also linked on the web by great sites like Slowlane.com, the online resource guide for SAHDs and parents. And there's an annual conference, The At-Home Dad Convention, held in Chicago every fall. Parents can check the Resource Guide in the back of my book or go to Slowlane.com for more information.
Q: Isn't it hard for men to give up the traditional role as breadwinner?
A: Not for all men, but for a lot of men it can be a real challenge. Most guys have been socialized to be providers, not to be caretakers, and it can be difficult to take a backseat to their wives with regard to earning potential. It's these deeper issues, what I call "emotional finance," that really need to be sorted through and discussed. Things like giving up control, personal power, feelings of masculinity and self-worth. It can be tough on men, especially in the beginning.
Women need to be sensitive to their spouse's feelings and let him find ways that make him feel good about their financial arrangement, whether it's being the one who picks up the check or handles the family finances. But most of the SAHDs find that the rewards of seeing their children flourish outweigh any negatives.
It seems like working moms just can't win. Just refuse to give into the Guilt Trap and remember that your kids have a full-time parent at home with them.
Q: What are the ABCs of the SAHD/WM lifestyle?
- A is for attitude, including appreciation, respect, flexibility, perspective and humor.
- B is for balance by teamwork, battling isolation and maintaining outside interests.
- C is for communication, as a couple, to the kids and to the outside world about the joys as well as the challenges of this unique lifestyle.