Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Mr. Mom

A friend of mine from college, a brand-new parent, is contemplating becoming a stay-at-home dad. His wife has stable job that she really loves; he has a job that he hates, though he makes more money. He knows his mother will give him a hard time about it, if he does.

Here was my response to him:

Sounds like you've thought it through fairly well, but here's my take:
  • I agree with your starting assumption that one full-time parent is required for at least the first four years.
  • If you're still in the programming/consulting line of work, absolutely you'll have an easy time reentering the job market. In IT the only thing people care about is whether you can do the job. So no sweat there. Plus, it's relatively easy to work out of your home as a programming consultant, so you have a good path to resuming work when you're ready for it.
  • Full-time parenting can be stressful job, mostly because it's a 24/7 gig. You are always, always on call, and the client is very unreasonable and demanding, and you have little or no control. Your ego will get crushed into dust. If you ever believed that life was about you, this child will drive home the fact that what you want doesn't matter anymore.
    My wife never muched like work either, or at least she never found a job she really, really loved. She was happy to leave the workforce. But at the same time, she went through a profound change in her identity by being a mom. If you're used to defining yourself by what you do, parenting is going to be hard, because you have no visible accomplishments. Because parenting is a 24/7 gig, it tends to suck the oxygen away from any extracurricular activities as well. So be prepared for the psychological hit.
  • No matter who stays home with the kid, GET SUPPORT. All that "Gotta have a Group" stuff that Augie pounded into our skulls applies to parenting as well. You need peer support, at an intellectual and emotional and practical level. Janet is an Attachment Parenting leader, they're pretty good at supporting more enlightened child-raising. In California, you could probably find a group that specifically supports stay-at-home dads.
  • You wife does have one advantage as a full-time parent, which is her biology. Breasts are extremely useful for the first couple years of raising a child. I'm not being sexist here but . . . Well, I am being sexist. Millions of years of evolution have made a remarkable mechanism for instantly feeding the perfectly appropriate food to a child, whenever they need it at a moment's notice. To say that a bottle is the same thing is like comparing a real human leg to a prosthetic leg. There is a stunning amount of scientific evidence for significant physical, intellectual and emotional benefits for extended breast-feeding. Not to mention the sheer convenience . . . Mixing up formula in the middle of the night is a pain in the ass. Now, the advantages of breast-feeding may not outweigh the benefits of having a full-time parent in a stable and supportive home situation, so this is not a deal-buster, but it IS an important factor to consider.
  • Your parents . . . Well, nothing to be done about your parents. I don't know anything about your mom. If she's the kind who will kvetch about the same thing endlessly, then I would not hestitate to tell her that you don't want to hear it. Period. As in, go home and don't come back until you can shut up about the job thing. Parenting is hard, and the last thing you need is someone with emotionally privileged position in your life telling you that you shouldn't be doing it. I suspect she will be willing to keep her opinions to herself if she sees that it is necessary in order to have a relationship with her grandson. Again, GET A GROUP to support you through that sort of thing.

Hope this helps. Good luck!



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