Why We Have a SAHD Dad

Saying you have a SAHD Dad is like saying you’re going to the “ATM machine,” or using your “pin number,” or serving the beef sandwich “with au jus.”

SAHD stands for Stay-at-Home Dad, and Phil has been one since last summer. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, he’s 1 of 154,000 other dads whose primary job is in the home. We came to this decision rather quickly, but I think after both of us had been thinking about it for a while. One night last spring, after a particularly trying day, Phil asked me how I felt we were doing with the kids. I said I felt we could do better, and he agreed.

Like many families, we both worked full-time jobs. The boys were both in elementary school, but attending different ones. Sylvia was in daycare full-time. The summers meant rousing them out of bed to get them to daycare or summer camp in time to get ourselves to work. When one of them was sick, we would negotiate who had the worst day at work and who could miss time to take care of our child. Even simple things seemed hard; when I would pick Sylvia up from daycare, she would need some time to transition to being back home, so starting dinner was tough with a toddler clinging to my legs or insisting on being picked up. Laundry was always overflowing.

Phil and I did the math, as they say, and realized, like a lot of parents in our situation, that the second paycheck wasn’t really netting us that much. A third of Phil’s take-home pay would naturally just not be needed once we stopped paying for daycare and summer camp. We knew we’d save a good deal of money by not paying for services and conveniences that seemed necessary with a second job: A twice-a-month house cleaner; frequent dinners out when neither of us could muster mealtime prep energy; buying something at full price because we didn’t have the time or bandwidth to shop for a bargain.

Phil took the plunge at the end of May, when the kids got out of school. This wasn’t an easy decision; he’d been with his company for 20 years, and leaving his job meant he was walking away from some benefits and security that would serve us well in the future. But ultimately we both decided our kids are only young once, and if we could make this work, we should.

The kids’ summer was very different from their previous summers; they got to wake up naturally, and then went to swimming lessons at the pool we belong to, something we’d never been able to swing because lessons happen every day in late morning. Tommy and Sylvia both learned to swim, and Max honed his technique, becoming a much more graceful swimmer. Phil usually packed them lunch and snacks, and they would hang out at the pool for much of the day.

Now that the boys are back in school, Phil and Sylvia have tackled some bigger house projects — like reorganizing our storage area above the stairs so that 1) You can walk into it, and 2) We won’t get a call from the producers of “Hoarders.” Phil’s taken on a lot more dinner planning and prep, and, when I’m running late at work, I don’t have to cut someone off mid-sentence to say I have to go before daycare closes. For us, this was the perfect decision for our family, and I feel infinitely grateful that we were able to do it.

We don’t know what will happen in a couple of years when Sylvia starts kindergarten, which is full-day in our district. At that point, Phil might decide to go back to work. He’s an editor, and a very good one, so he might decide in the interim to take on freelance projects to keep his skills sharp and to keep our options open. But we feel we have options. For awhile when we were both working full-time, I felt like our options were closed, that this is just what one does. It’s been empowering to realize that we can make choices.

Our lives have really become much simpler, although still not where I want them to be. I’m still looking for the day when I’ll come home, the kids will run to me, scrubbed and fresh looking. Sylvia will have on a crisp dress and a bow in her hair. Pepper, our Dachshund, will greet me with my slippers in his vile mouth, which is amazingly sweet smelling. Phil will hand me a martini and the paper and tell me to go rest in the study we don’t have while he finishes dinner, which smells magnificent.

A girl can dream, right?

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