An Indian Adoptee Reclaims His Voice in the Desi Diaspora
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Joy and Isolation: My Experience as a Stay-at-Home Dad – Part I

April 27, 2017

I recently began the hardest and most rewarding job of my life, being a stay-at-home dad. I lost my job in March 2016 and after a year-long job search that yielded little fruit, I now watch Sonali 50 hours a week.

It’s difficult. Spending all day with an 11-month old that can’t talk, walk and requires constant stimulation is exhausting. I’ll forever appreciate just how taxing life is for full-time parents.

This article, pulling figures from the 2014 Census, shows Washington D.C. has the third lowest number of stay-at-home dads in the country. But it also says that nationwide 80% of these dads are not voluntarily staying at home. I fall into this category.

Sonali had a nanny for five months, while I received unemployment benefits, which ended late last year. It’s impossible to pay rent and childcare solely using Sasmita’s salary. In early 2017, we decided I would stay home and watch Sonali full-time and job search at night.

Our friends fully support this decision, especially ones with children. Everyone, parent or not, thinks it’s great that Sonali and I spend our days together, especially at this stage of her development. It’s the right choice, we have no doubts, but that has not made it easy.

When I meet someone new for the first time, and they ask me what I do, things get a bit awkward. The first few times I just blurted out, ‘I watch our daughter Sonali.’ But then there’s a silence as if they are waiting for me to say something more. I would smile and they responded ‘cool’ or ‘neat’ and we moved to other topics. I noticed this and now I say the same thing, but then add-on, ‘I also do business development for an international economics consultancy.’

The new addendum seems to satisfy them. But it bothers me. Why do I feel like I need to justify my role as a stay-at-home dad? I’m pretty sure when mothers say the same thing, no one thinks twice. But our society says being a full-time dad isn’t good enough. Dads have to provide more than child-care; they must have a job outside of the house. But people wouldn’t ask the same question to a woman, hear she is a full-time mom and expect her to say anything else. There’s a lot more I could say on this, but the double standard seems unfair.

As I’ve become more immersed in the day-time dad life, I’ve made a few observations.

Sonali’s first ride in a shopping cart at Costco

Our neighborhood has few stay-at-home dads. We live in a section of Washington, D.C., where most households are dual income and I rarely see dads with their children anywhere during working hours. I’m not sure I’ve seen a single full-time dad in all our walking. I only see men with children in the late afternoons or early evenings, presumably after they are home from work and school is out.

Watching Sonali and hanging out with her in this way is precious. I could write for pages about what Sonali is learning, observing and ways she’s grown in the last few months. I feel privileged to spend all this time with her. I’m friends with a lot of great parents, and this was never an option for them. It’s a sacrifice for our future, but it’s well worth it. She and I are building bonds hopefully never to be severed.

To have someone so young, relying on you for all their needs and protection is awe-inspiring and intimidating. Sonali just began crawling and we’re waiting for her first teeth to emerge. She loves watching the rain fall outside the windows and recently discovered insects, particularly ants.

I’m speaking and singing to her constantly. A few days ago, we sat in the grass for the first time together, and she was very uneasy. She immediately lunged towards me, back into the safety of my embrace with gleeful giggles.

She’s become fascinated by shadows and reflections from the sun. I constantly remind myself she is learning everything. Everything is new, compelling and interesting to her. The simplest act or object will grab her attention. She’s a total sponge, and I’m educating her in ways I never could if I only saw her for one to two hours a day working outside the house.

But, this is an incredibly isolating job. I’m a social guy, thriving on communication and good conversation. Now I spend more than 55 hours a week with someone who cannot say a single English word. It’s a huge adjustment.

Coming in Part II, I’ll discuss more thoughts on my isolation, explore how I feel I’m perceived and reveal my least favorite place to take Sonali.

Readers, what do you think, does anyone have similar experiences to share?

6 Comments
Jill
April 27, 2017 at 2:55 pm

It wasn’t much easier being a SAHM in the DC/NoVA suburbs either. People assume you have no brain, and there was no one in my situation to talk to, except nannies, until coop preschool.

    A.J. Bryant
    May 4, 2017 at 12:41 am

    Hi Jill, thanks for reading and the comment. In Part II, I’ll discuss my interactions with moms and nannies, and yes, it’s quite difficult I think no matter where you are. Did the isolation get easier for you, as in you became numb to it, or was it exacerbated? I find talking with nannies is even more difficult because of the language barrier. People making value judgments about how families raise their kids is a huge pet peeve of mine and nowhere do I think it’s more pernicious than the tension between stay-at-home parents vs working outside home ones.

Natalie Anderson
April 27, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Can’t wait to read part 2! I remember when you were not comfortable holding a baby a few years ago (mine!), and to know that you are now a stay at home dad puts a huge smile on my face.

I was recently at the park with a group of moms. A group (3) of stay at home dads showed up (they met each other on MeetUp) and they made a big effort to introduce themselves to all of us and try to engage us. I thought it was awesome that they had found each other and also appreciated the effort they made to befriend us ladies, but I couldn’t help but notice that some of the moms felt uncomfortable about it. There was some whispering and “is this weird?” type of comments. I’m not sure why and it honestly bothered and surprised me.

I’d be interested to hear if you’ve experienced any judgmental feelings or even exclusion from stay at home moms (who you’d think would be the most understanding!).

I really admire you for taking on this challenge, AJ. We miss you and your family!

    A.J. Bryant
    May 4, 2017 at 12:36 am

    Nat, thanks for reading. I hope you did not take it personally that I never held Asher. I never held any baby, until Sonali and part of me is really proud about that and thinks that’s special, but maybe I’m being delusional. I would like to hear more about the group of dads that introduced themselves to ya’ll at the park recently. In Part II, I’ll speak more about interactions and reception I’ve felt from nannies and moms in public spaces as a daytime dad, so I don’t want to answer your question about being judged because that would ‘spoil’ it. But honestly, the moms uncomfortable with the idea doesn’t surprise me at all. As much as we like to think our society is very progressive when it comes to gender roles and child-raising specifically, I think we’ve still got a long way to go. It certainly is a challenge, but honestly, I’m really loving it so far. On one hand I miss an engaging intellectual environment, on the other, it’s fun to have to think creatively and on my feet (literally and figuratively) all day. It brings an exhaustion both physical and mental that feels quite different at the end of the day.

    We miss you guys as well but hear you’re coming East sometime this summer. Can’t wait to catch up and have all our family meet for the first time. Keep us posted!

Heather
April 28, 2017 at 11:31 am

Hey Adam,

So as a woman who was a stay-at-home mom for the first 4 years before our son started school, I would often be asked the question, “What do you do?” In the same way, I felt like saying I was a stay-at-home mom wasn’t satisfactory. Like you, I also found that I had add-ons to my statement…as if raising my son isn’t enough. Its been a frustrating journey as a parent and I find my questions to other moms and dads have changed. I no longer ask, “What do you do?” but rather questions like, “So when you’re not caring for your child, what other things are you involved in?” This leaves the conversation wider for things like hobbies, work, interests, etc. Its been a learning curve for sure.

    A.J. Bryant
    May 4, 2017 at 12:26 am

    Hi Heather, thanks for reading. I’m glad that what I’ve penned resonated with you and it’s good to know stay-at-home parents, both men and women deal with the same type of issues. As for the questions, that’s a good idea. In Part II, I’m gonna go a bit more into my interactions with other moms and nannies, but I like your suggestion about asking them questions around their hobbies and interests. There are some specific reasons why interaction is so hard for me and specifically here that I’ll get into in the next iteration. So stay tuned for that, I”m still working on it. Any other ideas or suggestions you for me regarding this time as a daytime dad would be welcome as well.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!