I met a man the other day who is a stay-at-home dad.
I met him at a PTA meeting, and even though I knew better — even though I knew exactly what not to say because it had been said to me — I felt the words coming out of my mouth before I could swallow them back down.
He told me that his children were all in school all day, and that the nature of his job, and his wife’s career, had shifted so that it made more sense for him to be the one to stay home with the kids. And for a lot of reasons — curiosity, personal conflict, brashness — I didn’t filter what I said next.
“What do you do all day?” I asked him.
I didn’t have bad intentions, and I certainly wasn’t trying to demean him. All of my kids will soon be in school full time, so I’ve been thinking about time and how I might spend it with some trepidation. My days disappear so easily, I sometimes wonder to myself what I’ve done with my day, and I was curious how he would answer, but as soon as the words left my mouth I was ashamed.
I saw a flash in his eyes that reminded me of the look I’ve seen on the faces of many women who stay at home when they’re asked what they do with all of that time. It was a combination of being caught off guard; of knowing how every minute is taken, yet not easily accounted for; of defending one’s worth and contribution; with disappointment that the question would be asked in the first place.
I don’t like answering that question myself. So why did I ask him? For a moment, I took privilege in the fact that I experience the same things and assumed that would eliminate the question of worth. I intended to ask the question from a place of knowing, but as soon as I heard myself say the words I knew that was impossible, and I shouldn’t have said them.
Those words rattled around my head as I drove down the road, days later.
It was toward the end of a busy week. On Monday, I taught art in my daughter’s class at school. On Tuesday, I volunteered at my sons’ play rehearsal after school. On Wednesday, I taught art in my son’s classroom. On Thursday, I volunteered at my daughter’s swim meet. I made breakfast and lunch every morning. I must have made dinner, but I don’t remember it. I helped with homework. I helped with spelling words and vocabulary.
I tried to have meaningful conversations with my kids while we were one-on-one. One child was struggling at school. Another was struggling at home. The third child has decided to combine not minding with talking back. I took kids to piano practice and swimming practice, and I tried to figure out what could help them become happy, healthy adults someday.
I went to the grocery store, I went to the gym, I went to the school, I looked at the baskets of laundry on the floor and found myself distracted every single time I attempted to fold them. I know I was so tired I fell asleep in my kids’ beds every day at 8 p.m., but I didn’t have much to show for all of my energy and effort. Every day was filled, that’s how it goes.
Just like the busy day of a stay-at-home dad.2 comments on this story
A lot of times, those contributions to our most precious part of our community — children — are given by women, but plenty of men are in the equation, too. And a lot of times, neither gender receives recognition comparable to their gift. They aren’t paid the salary of a CEO with off-shore bank accounts, and nobody lines up around the block for their signatures. There are no radio stations that spend their entire days discussing their hits and misses and whether another team wants to take them on because they’re so good. There are no awards shows with acceptance speeches and red carpets and televised coverage of what they’re wearing.
We all know that. But that’s not to say that the job of raising kids is any less valuable. The rewards just come in quiet, loving ways, with a kiss or a hug, in the moments when a child makes a right choice or finally learns how to read that word.
That kind of investment, with that kind of reward, takes all day.