I’ve been thinking a lot about this stay at home dad thing over the past few days. This is the first draft of an article I should be writing…
It’s almost as if staying home and taking care of my kids – and all the other things like doing the laundry, cooking the meals, cleaning the house, diving them to doctor and dentist appointments, and to skating and piano lessons – is about going back to the basics of domestic life. These are things that have been done for eons in order to maintain a domestic home life and this has traditionally been the work of women, mothers and grandmothers.
The main trend in my social circles is dual income homes where a nanny is hired to handle most of the day-to-day childcare and housekeeping. Nannies take the kids to and from school, do laundry, keep the house clean, and cook. Some even drive kids around to appointments and play dates.
The nannification of domestic chores, in a way, devalues them. It starts with nanny pay – typically not much more than minimum wage. Like teachers, nannies do important work in caring for and raising our children, but they do not receive any more than minimal wages. Obviously, some nannies do better, but no one will argue that nannies are a highly compensated position. Partly, this is a result of the perception that nanny work is unskilled. Anyone can care for kids, do laundry, drive, cook, etc.
This leads to a devaluation of domestic chores and childcare, in a more general sense. If a nanny can be hired for $10/hour to do all this domestic stuff that no one wants to do, that becomes its worth. I sense this devaluation when I tell people that I stay home and take care of the family, while doing some work on the side. I also sense this devaluation when I look to my wife for approval. “Look at all that I have done today,” I say. “I cleaned the house (even the toilets), I shopped, I prepared dinner, I ironed your shirts, not to mention I picked up the kids from school and gave them a bath.” While I will often get a “that’s great, honey” – in the back of my mind I’m thinking that she could pay a good nanny $100 for the same service.
My desire to stay at home and be a mommy-type daddy – at least for a little while – has many origins. First and foremost, I want to be integrally involved in my kids’ lives. I want the relationship with them that is reserved for a primary caregiver. Also, with the recent passing of my mother, I find myself wanting to live a bit of her life in order to try and better understand her. My mother was the consummate homemaker who reveled in creating a warm and safe place for anyone who came into her home. So, all this domestic stuff comes honestly. In a way, I learned from my mom how to be a dad. Or was it I learned from her how to be a mom, or a mothering dad?
Creating a warm home and home life is one of the most gratifying things to do for the people you love – children, spouse, and friends. Perhaps by returning to the basics of domestic life – going “back to the land”, domestically speaking – I can help to increase the social value of maintaining a good home.