An Open Letter To My Partner, A Stay-At-Home Dad

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Dear Sweetie,

You haven't been a stay-at-home parent for about four years now, so this letter long overdue, but you know how it is when you have kids. Like... you definitely know. And yes, I've thanked you for everything you did as stay-at-home dad before, because I'm truly grateful you could do that for our son for the first two years of his life. I tried to show regular appreciation while it was happening. I made a point to check in and make sure you were feeling all right. I think I succeeded in doing my fair share around the house when I wasn't at work. But the truth is, until I found myself at home with our children years later, I couldn't fully grasp everything that you did. If I'm being honest, and I try to be honest every damn day, I have to admit that I couldn't possibly have appreciated what it means to be a stay-at-home parent until I was one myself

I don't blame myself for that, though. I don't think I was callous or dismissive of what it was you did. I recognized you played a vital role in our house and family. But now I know that even with the best of intentions, and despite all of my careful situation, if I haven't experienced something firsthand I can never completely "get it."

While I may not have grasped the nuances and depths of your contributions, nor the toll they took on you, I knew one thing: as a working parent who had a stay-at-home partner, I had it damn good.

"This is why men tried to keep women at home for so long" I would joke (but, like, half joke, because I also think it's true). I'd go to the office knowing my child was in the best possible hands, I had someone to manage all appointments and household chores that could only be accomplished from Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and when I got home, someone had made dinner. Oh, and also? This wondrous person regularly had sex with me. What?! Is this my own personal fan fiction? It was fantastic, my dude. I never took it for granted.

But, still, I didn't get it.

While I may not have grasped the nuances and depths of your contributions, nor the toll they took on you, I knew one thing: as a working parent who had a stay-at-home partner, I had it damn good.

When I would ask how your day was, on the days (and there were a lot of them) when you would unhesitatingly say "terrible," I wouldn't always feel sympathy. I'd feel jealous and annoyed. Because, the way I saw it, there I was commuting an hour and half every day, providing literally all the household income, while you got to stay home with our baby (something I would have loved to do) and you weren't even enjoying it. If I were the one staying home, I thought, I'd enjoy it. I wouldn't let the bad stuff get to me. I'd appreciate every moment with our sweet child because I knew that however bad it was his absence every day was worse.

But I really didn't get it.

I had a new and deeper appreciation for your role as a stay-at-home parent when you re-entered the workforce. Suddenly there were considerations and new duties I hadn't had to think about until that very moment, when they suddenly became my responsibility. Day care pickup (and tuition), making sure I left work at precisely the right time so I could make the bus (never mind if something really important came up and I'd look bad if I didn't take care of it immediately), cooking dinner, dividing who would handle the errands and appointments that could only be handled Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., coordinating who would leave work if he ever got sick, and dedicating one of our mutual days off to do all the chores that couldn't be done during the week.

If I'm being honest, and I try to be honest every damn day, I have to admit that I couldn't possibly have appreciated what it means to be a stay-at-home parent until I was one myself

Life got harder. That's not to say it was unmanageable or bad, but it was definitely harder. My reign had ended.

And even then? I still didn't get it.

I didn't get it until our daughter was born and we decided I wouldn't go back to work. I didn't get it until I spent days, weeks, months, and now years in the service of children, more or less 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I didn't understand the physical exhaustion of rarely sitting down, and never getting to sit for more than a few minutes before someone needs something. I didn't realize what carrying a baby around all day for months does to the middle of your back. I didn't understand what a damn accomplishment it is to keep a child happy and healthy and get even a few chores done and cook and have energy left to be a loving and attentive partner.

I didn't get how lonely it can be, not talking to other adults but for a few hours at the end of the day.

I didn't understand the physical exhaustion of rarely sitting down, and never getting to sit for more than a few minutes before someone needs something.

Being a working parent was damn hard. In some ways harder than being a stay-at-home mom, but in other ways less so. It's just completely different, and the difficulty of being a working parent cannot prepare you for the difficulties of being a stay-at-home parent.

All this to say: I get it now, and I want to thank you in a way that truly understands what that gratitude has to include to fully cover everything you did.

Sincerely,

Your Sweetie