It's hard to believe that I've been a full-time stay-at-home dad for almost six years.
There wasn't one moment in the '90s when I sat back on my grody college sofa after pulling a hefty bong rip and thought, "Man, I'm really glad that I'm spending all this time and money to get a hearty education and robust toolbox to help me grind my way to the top in my career as a stay-at-home dad."
Don't misconstrue my sarcasm as a slam, as parenting is a full-time job in its own right (and one of the toughest on this planet) -- but a majority of my peers went on to secondary schools and technical institutions to master a trade... or went to college and beyond to learn more about a specific field of work.
I never took any parenting classes. I never read any books that would prepare me to be a father, let alone the primary-caregiver-type. Much like an apprenticeship, this is one of those "on-the-job" training situations. And just like every child is different, every parent is also different.
You listen to your family, take advice from friends who fell out of the raft and took the plunge before you, OR voyeuristically surf and observe social media accounts of people who are in similar life situations.
You guess and check -- you fall on your ass and jump back up to make sure no one saw whatever in the hell you just did, and move on. OR, in my case, you find the humor in f*cking up on the public stage -- stand, take a bow, and laugh it off.
I guess what I'm getting at is, these days, mostly because of social media, everyone WANTS TO BE or THINKS THEY ARE the perfect parent. Heaven forbid we should appear to have any flaws.
For any mom or dad, there will always be BAD mixed in with the GOOD.
However, with someone like me, a stay-a-home parent, who is around to judge? Who is around to keep me in line?
Who is front and center to remind me not to sweat the small stuff -- to take a minute, smile and enjoy the fact that Mason is smart enough to unbuckle himself and hop onto the counter and get a banana from the fruit basket? Where's the packed amphitheater to cheer with excitement as I stand center stage, removing a chair that Charlie got stuck around his head -- or better yet, cleaning the superhero underwear when he thought he farted, but instead sh*t his pants?
Perhaps the following list is a bit critical, but I felt compelled to share my thoughts on these last few years -- things I feel I could've done better, or, had I known ahead of time, things that would've made the journey a bit smoother. So, no matter which branch of the parenting tree you sit on, maybe these thoughts will help.
Top 10 Things I've Done Wrong as a Stay-at-Home Dad:
1. Immediately discounting my wife's opinion. I don't need to listen to her bullsh*t parenting theories after a 10-hour solo shift with three kids under 6, right? Wrong. Listen to her; she's got your best interests in mind. Plus, she's got a fresh perspective. And just a reminder: they are her kids, too.
2. Sweating the small stuff. Why am I bent out of shape and ramping up my blood pressure over my daughter wanting to wear rain boots when it's 95° and sunny? Life's too short. Calm down. She'll figure that sh*t out eventually.
3. Saying "no" too often. Unless they're talking about lighting my truck on fire or fashioning a toddler zip line off the deck with dental floss, doesn't it feel better to say YES when they ask if they can do something? Embrace the power of this tiny word; it might open your eyes to some amazing new experiences.
4. Hollow threats. I am the KING of telling my kids that I'm gonna "do this" or "do that." I'm gonna put soap in their mouths or take away their iPads. But when it comes down to it -- I never pull the trigger. NOTE: Because of "The Enforcer" (my wife), Charlie hasn't said "f*ck" in weeks. Ever since she jammed a bar of Palmolive in his mouth, old-school Christmas Story style, the kid is angelic and floating around the house with a halo. We sometimes become complacent. Follow-through is important.
5. Complacency. About that... As parents, in the early stages, we are our children's sole voice in this world. Whether it be educational, developmental, medical... We are their sole advocates in early life. I used to make fun of my wife for questioning things, for going against the grain of the status quo. I learned quickly after becoming a stay-at-home dad that with benign complacency -- accepting things that "have always been" -- my voice is lost. This doesn't mean that you always need to argue about the protocol, but don't be afraid to ask "why?" if you feel differently. Challenge doctors and teachers, because remember... they're practicing, refining and honing their craft just as you are.
6. Regimented bedtime routine. It's no secret that we aren't opening up a f*cking "sleep institute" anytime soon. However, after our well-documented co-sleeping debacle, we've finally found our groove. We like a simple bedtime routine -- we prefer for the kids to start out sleeping in their own big-kid beds, but THAT doesn't always happen. We occasionally let them bunk together in the guest room, or sometimes, if they're scared or nervous, in our room. This is a short blip in time -- microscopic, really. Enjoy the snuggs.
7. Caring about what other parents have to say. In the beginning, I cared. Now? I don't give a sh*t, go sit n' spin on my big ol' middle finger. Stop listening to the critical peanut gallery about pacifiers, potty-training and why your kid is taking a little longer to walk.
8. Ignoring personal time. Every time my wife takes the kids, I feel like I need to accomplish something. I feel like I need to get the dishes done or fold laundry. I never take five to sit down, read a dirty magazine, shoot guns in the backyard or craft my own fireworks. Take advantage of these brief moments; they recharge you more than you realize. Also, put on a nice shirt every once in a while -- people look and talk differently when you've got a popped collar.
9. Dinnertime. We're still struggling to transition from TWO separate dinners to ONE big family gathering, whether it be because we have picky eaters or due to my wife's schedule -- but I stress too much about it. My wife is fine with moldy yogurt and pizza crusts (not really -- but it doesn't have to be something from Bon Appetit that's gonna take me two hours).
10. Flexibility. The way I run my ship is with structure and organization. Without it, I'll have a mutiny. I've learned to use that as a starting point and RELAX from there. I write this as a suggestion to you and a reminder to myself -- break the chain of monotony and do something outside the norm. You'll love yourself for it, and your kids won't be far behind.
This post originally appeared on Adrian's blog, "Dad Or Alive". His memoir about the first year of being a stay-at-home dad, published by Penguin, is available now. He's currently a full-time stay-at-home dad for three kids under the age of 6.