I have the pleasure of being married to a wonderful wife who also stays home with our child. But I never realized how hard being a stay-at-home parent was until I became one.
Stepping Up My Game
In addition to staying at home with our toddler-aged son, my wife works full-time from home. She can do most of her job on the phone and on the computer, so she’s able to keep him with her in the house. But one week she had to go away on a work-related trip. And in her absence, the Junior Varsity parent became a starter.
I do my best to share the parenting load with my wife, but I found that staying at home all day with a child is a whole other level. Here are five lessons I learned from my week as stay-at-home dad.
1. I Had No Idea How Hard It Really Is
There’s “tired” and there’s “stay-at-home parent tired”. I’ve come home beat from work many a time, but as draining as dealing with adults can be there’s a particular kind of exhaustion that goes with caring for children all day. The need to be constantly aware of where they are, what they’re doing, and the risk of mortal danger from anything from sofas to scissors saps more energy than I ever expected.
2. I Started to Doubt Myself
As my week as a solo parent went on I developed a paranoid fear that every decision I made was somehow scarring my child for life. Just when I thought I got something right, something else went wrong. I came to the conclusion that most people who claim they “know” how to parent are overestimating themselves or underestimating their responsibility. Whether it’s picking foods that are both healthy and tasty, gauging how much a child should struggle on their own versus when you should help, or deciding how to teach them about God, you’re never quite sure.
3. I Became More Sensitive to My Wife
I couldn’t understand my wife’s frustration when I would just breeze into the house after being out at work all day and start getting involved. I thought it was fun to play war with my son using the living room throw pillows. I didn’t realize she’d spent hours telling him not to pull the pillows off the couch. I was confused when I gave our child a Go-Gurt pouch for a snack and my wife got mad. I didn’t know she was saving those for his lunch each day. And I struggled to see why our boy couldn’t play upstairs by himself… until he broke the bookcase in his room. A stay-at-home parent daily labors to construct and maintain a delicate eco-system in the home. Outsiders must tread carefully lest they disturb the balance.
4. I Needed Help!
Adult life does not stop just because you have children. Going to the grocery store, talking on the phone, or meeting a friend for lunch become nearly impossible when only one parent is available for a child who’s at home all day. I’m a proud man. I struggle to admit when a job is too much for me. But taking care of a toddler all day, every day quickly brings you to the end of yourself. I could not have survived the week without the support of my church family.
5. I Am More Sinful than I Dared Imagine
The most difficult part of my week as a stay-at-home dad was discovering that I’m actually a much worse sinner than I thought. In my weakest moments–when sleep deprivation, frustration, and exasperation all piled on top of one another–I experienced flashes of real rage. Occasionally I would act on those emotions and raise my voice or overreact in some way. I realized that no matter how civil I may act in front of adults the way I treat a powerless toddler reveals my true character.
The God Who “Gets It Right”
I tried really hard to be a good parent according to biblical standards. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the right choice for my child every time. I couldn’t balance all my responsibilities without something important crashing to the ground. And I couldn’t be the type of parent my child really needs. I’m a broken man and the cracks show most clearly when I’m parenting.
But there’s grace for sinful, inept parenting, too.
Christ isn’t asking us to “get it right” as parents. He knows that we can’t. All Jesus asks for is our surrender. Our Savior offers all parents a sweet, blessed burden transfer. He takes the weight of perfect parenting off of our shoulders and puts it on His.
As an obedient child, Jesus did His Father’s will all the way to the cross. And because of Christ’s perfect work, we can be forgiven for our imperfect work. If we have put our faith in a flawless Father who gave His only Son and unites us with Him through the Holy Spirit, then we don’t have to live under the unrelenting weight of inerrancy in our parenting. So even though we constantly “get it wrong” as parents, we can trust God with our children and with our sin.
All that being said, I’m glad He gives us spouses, too.