A Stay‑at‑Home Dad Questions His Relevance

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May 6, 2016

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One of the great challenges to being a stay-at-home dad is emerging as the girls grow up: Relevance.

So far, as a stay-at-home dad, I am the sort of home-front do-everything person, and the girls have enough things that require my presence. Apart from simply accounting for where they are and getting them where they need to be, I’m also the arranger of all play dates and similar events. But increasingly, the girls’ playmates and mothers are sort of a package deal. As a result, there is a certain drift opening up in my daughters’ friendships. The mothers of their friends tend to be actual friends with each other. I’m friendly with them, but we’re not friends; I am usually included in the group at the behest of my daughters.

As a father, the answer might very well be to find the dad groups, circles in which my daughters and I can all find friends. But it seems artificial. And such a move would mean my daughters would have to form friendships with people based on my friendships. And isn’t it my job to make sure that the groups they wish to participate in, and their friends, are accounted for first?

I also feel compelled to demonstrate to my daughters that gender is over-emphasized, and there’s nothing wrong with my spending time with the moms’ group. There are no ‘girl activities’ and ‘boy activities.’

Thus, we’ve arrived at what I see as a bit of an intractable situation. While I have made acquaintances in the parent (mom) groups, I don’t really adequately belong in them. I am gender cognizant in these interactions, even if gender is not an explicit issue; I know that merely being male can mean conversations have a certain psychological distance. After all, what can I add to a conversation on the difficulties of breastfeeding? And we’ll certainly not be getting together for a mani-pedi anytime soon.

I have a feeling that in the next year this issue will become more apparent as my daughters may or may not be invited to things simply because I am a dad. As the girls grow up, the moms and daughters are doing more things together as exercises in bonding.

My own friends are outside of this circle, usually independent of my children. Many of my close male friends wish they could spend as much time with their children as I do with mine. They work hard, see their children rarely, and mainly try to keep a schedule functioning. Indeed, it is a gift to be able to get to know my children so well and to have the luxury of choosing not to work in order to be with them. However, I do not hesitate to tell my friends it can be odd in its own way. The normal contours of my day seem strange when I spend so much time with other mothers.

Because of this, I sometimes cannot resist the siren call to return to the workforce in any capacity. I frequently miss the pace and common purpose of a workplace, despite knowing that most workplaces are all a little bizarre and dysfunctional. I feel caught between worlds: feeling not fully part of the ‘stay-at-home’ group, often populated with mothers, but also guilty for that feeling and for wanting to go back to work.

For all of modern society’s talk about balancing work and family life, for all its openness to fathers staying at home, it’s not yet designed to function this way for long periods. Men are still defined by what they do for the wider world, and, while there can be arguably no greater or important role than being a parent, is hard to escape that definition. I am a bit confounded by my desire some days to be someone working toward a common purpose other than raising my children.

It makes me increasingly conflicted about what exactly my role is, as my children arrive at a new, more independent stage in their own lives. I believe that they need to experience the world on their own terms, without my involvement. They need to do their own homework without having it checked; they need to spend the school day by themselves without expecting me to show up as a volunteer or just to visit. And yet, aren’t these the very things I gladly stayed home to do?

To be candid, there’s no easy answer. But luckily the summer school break beckons, and the rhythm of the days will change to a more relaxed one. Yet, over the horizon, I see the next academic year, and the next. It fills me with a strange sense of anxiety that my relevance as a stay-at-home dad may be fast coming to an end.

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Written By Rajat Soni

Rajat is an Indian-American stay-at-home father of two girls, aged 7 and 3, one of whom was born in India. After working as a lawyer and raising his girls for several years in Mumbai, he moved to the U.S., where he became the primary caretaker for his daughters while his wife started a new job. He’s interested in exploring the role modern fathers play in the lives of their young children.

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