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The stay-at-home dad: Mom shouldn’t solve all the problems

by TYLER WILSON/Coeur Voice contributor
| January 9, 2021 1:00 AM

Even stay-at-home dads must contend with the all-powerful aura of Mother.

My wife has been working from home since last March, and it’s changed the dynamic of how we parent our four kids. Before the pandemic, I was solely responsible for the minute-to-minute requests and needs of our four children during the hours my wife went to the office. Every little thing was my responsibility by default.

After she got home from work every day, the kids understandably wanted dedicated “mommy time.” With four kids, that’s a daunting task on its own, especially after working a full day, commuting back-and-forth, etc. We worked to find a balance, because I also needed at least a little bit of time away from the kids after serving as their butler for the day.

In many respects, the pandemic made my life easier. Yes, the kids had additional needs via virtual school, but my constant stream of kid-related errands (pick-ups, drop-offs, etc.) essentially ended. And with my wife at home, the kids had two parents in front of them. Not surprisingly, they love having Mom at home for 10 extra hours of every day.

While it’s good for the kids, and it’s good for me, my wife’s daily routines have become infinitely more complicated. The kids see Mom. They want to spend time with Mom. They want to have Mom solve all their problems, because Mom is the best at solving problems. MOM!

Except that Mom still has a full-time job. She attends multiple Zoom meetings every day and has a pile of work to do on top of that. If the situation was reversed, I’d be too stressed to be concerned about anything with the kids. I’d lock myself in a bedroom and hope that everything worked out without me.

So even though I’ve been the stay-at-home parent for a few years, the pandemic helped me realize something about our family that is probably very common in many households: Mom is the preferred caretaker. Mom has more patience. Mom says “Yes” more often. Mom is more fun. Mom is in charge.

At first glance, this seems like a very depressing realization for a stay-at-home dad. Despite my presence and past efforts, it’s hard to think of myself as the secondary parent. Especially after all those dirty diapers I changed (probably at a margin of 90 percent to my wife’s 10 percent)! I want credit!

I must be a bad parent, I thought, or at least not nearly as good of a parent as my wife.

Then I thought about it from her perspective. Imagine the burden of being the favorite. Imagine four kids constantly asking you for things no matter what you’re doing and bypassing the other parent who’s perfectly capable of catering to their needs.

This happens all the time. My wife can be on a Zoom call, talking to a co-worker or her boss, and the kids will go up to her and ask something random, like “Can I get a yogurt tube?” or “Can you help me find my reading packet?” In many cases, I’m right there in the room readily available to help them. I’m not doing anything time-sensitive. And they’ll still ask Mom first.

Perhaps this phenomenon simply speaks to the overall incredibleness of my wife. She’s a rock star with the capacity to multitask with compassion and grace. But that doesn’t make it a fair deal. Just because she can, doesn’t mean she should, and we’ve had to work on reminding our kids that Mom can’t do everything.

Recently, whenever Mom gets one of these random requests from the kids, no matter if she’s available to help them or not, she tells them, “You have another parent you can ask.” Conceptually, it’s about reminding them that:

  1. Dad is more than capable of helping them.
  2. Mom has other responsibilities that are important to her and to the overall success of the house. She shouldn’t solve every problem just because she can.
  3. Dad can be awesome too. In fact, you once relied on him for several hours every day. He even wiped your butts when he really, really didn’t want to.

Do I still feel bad that I’m considered the “second-favorite” parent? Oh yeah, it’s depressing. But it also means I need to be better, and that Mom deserves a partner who can be just as super and essential. If that doesn’t work, I’ll bribe them with candy.

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Tyler Wilson is a freelance writer and stay-at-home dad to four kids, ages 3-9. He is tired. He can be reached at twilson@cdapress.com.