What happened when I became a stay-at-home-dad?
Part One of this story is here.
Essentially, a baby’s needs are; feed me, change me, burp me, love me, help me sleep, keep me safe. If only a parent’s needs were just as simple.
I was more than happy and more than willing to take on this role, to give our baby everything he needed, to take care of him to the best of my ability. I felt able to do that.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the loneliness and isolation.
My wife worked 9-5 Monday to Friday, and went back to work after just six weeks maternity leave (which is normal in the US).
We were living in an apartment in a college town in Wisconsin. I’d moved there from the UK two years previously to join my American wife. I didn’t have many friends.
Our families were thousands of miles away; mine in the UK, my in-laws on the East Coast, so we didn’t have the usual support network of grandparents, aunts and uncles. We were on our own.
At first, everything was fine. I enjoyed staying home, I felt so lucky to be in this position, and was very happy to be able to support my family in this way, to allow my wife to continue to work in a job she loved.
Wash, rinse, repeat
Then the hours became long and the days blurred together.
My days were dictated by two things: the baby’s naps and his cloth diapers’ wash cycles.
Every other day I had to wash them, twice; first on a cold cycle, then on a warm cycle with detergent, before finally throwing them in the dryer. If I didn’t wash them, then we’d run out of clean diapers.
It sounds like such a silly thing now, to have become so obsessed by washing diapers, but that was my reality.
Looking back, the loneliness and isolation was taking its toll, but at the time I wasn’t really aware of it.
The highlight of each week was meeting other parents on Wednesday morning, for breakfast in a diner, followed by story time at the local public library. This was pretty much the only social interaction I had, other than spending time with my wife, or talking to my family in the UK on skype.
It all came to a head that first Christmas. We had traveled to visit my wife’s family, and my parents also traveled there so we could all spend our son’s first Christmas together.
I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed and, essentially, had a mini-breakdown, which I tried to conceal from everyone.
At one point, I went for a walk, alone, and thought how much easier it would be if I just threw myself into oncoming traffic.
If that’s not a sign of postnatal depression, then I don’t know what is. But, men aren’t supposed to have postnatal depression, so it didn’t even cross my mind as a possibility. I just thought that I couldn’t cope, that I was too tired, too stressed, or just a useless person.
Fortunately I got through it; that January I returned to college part-time to continue on with my degree, so I had something else to focus on rather than being at home literally all of the time, and that made all the difference.
Later, after our son’s first birthday, I got a job in the local public library, as a shelver, just 8 hours a week, which gave me the important time away from home that I needed. Our son went to daycare those hours that I worked, and the money I earned went straight to pay for that daycare, but it was totally worth it. I became a much better and more content stay-at-home-dad because of those few hours away each week.
7 years later
I am still the primary caregiver in our household, even though both of our children are now at school. Being a stay-at-home parent is an incredibly rewarding job to have, but isolation and loneliness can be huge problems. Seek help if you need it.