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Growing up with Mr. Mom

One Reader Shares Being Raised by a Stay-at-Home Dad

Growing up in rural Vermont, I knew from a young age that my family dynamic was different. There
was no Ward Cleaver or Ricky Ricardo donning a suit and tie. There were no late nights at the office,
a briefcase full of papers, or business calls during dinner. My dad was different. As a young girl, I was
surrounded by classmates, neighbors, and friends who had both parents working. I was raised by a stay-
at-home dad.

In the early 1980's when my parents decided to start a family, my mom had a stable job teaching Special
Education at an elementary school. My parents decided that my mom would continue working full-time,
while my dad would stay at home and act as the primary provider to myself and my two siblings. Being a
teacher meant my mom had medical benefits, summers off, and holiday vacations; something my dad's
employer didn't offer. Much of my parent’s decision to have one partner stay at home was based on
benefits and the medical care they would need in raising a family.

My parents maintained a more traditional approach to family. They were both raised by stay-at-home
moms and wanted to implement this value into their own family. In their situation, it was just a reversal
in gender roles. While childcare may have seemed to be the obvious choice, the thought of daycares,
preschools or babysitters never really crossed their minds. Though having a one family income did come
with its drawbacks. My mom was making an annual salary of 12,000, so money stress was always an
issue. It forced my parents to be frugal and innovative with money.

So what was it like being raised by a stay-at-home dad? It was a unique, exciting, and evolving
experience. My dad would take me on car trips to upstate New York, New Hampshire, and various parts
of Vermont. We would never tell my mom where we went, though we always made sure to be back by
3pm when she got off work. When my mom would ask "what did you do today," it was always quipped
with "just the store" or "just to the mall."

My dad would drive 15 miles to the local thrift store to pick up books, puzzles, and sometimes a toy
that the sales clerk Bunny would set aside for me. When my dad and I would go to the community
playground, it was often surrounded by mothers with their children. He would push me on the swings,
tie my shoes, and tell me not to run to fast on the mulch. At the library, we would attend story readings,
watch movie screenings about animals and nature, and check out books. Afternoons with my dad were
often spent playing outside; making mud pies, raking leaves, or building a snowman. When bad weather
hit, indoor activities consisted of drawing rainbows, cutting out paper snowflakes, and tea parties.

There were hotdogs grilling on the campfire, macaroni and cheese on the stovetop, and peanut butter
sandwiches with the crusts cut off. There was never a dirty dish in the sink, laundry was always sorted
and folded, and my siblings always had a familiar face waiting for them at the bus stop.

Having my dad around all the time meant there wasn't as much worry or anxiety surrounded by
everything I did. I could explore the woods with my neighborhood playmates, ride my bike to the park, or create a rope tire swing with my brother. I really could be a carefree child, and it was amazing.

Being raised by a stay-at-home dad came with its stereotypes. Was he lazy? Did he have substance
abuse issues? Could he not hold down a job? As I got older, my peers often didn't understand the
concept of an alternative family situation. I found myself defending my dad, his work history, and
questioning what family meant to me. Though, from an adult perspective, most of my parent’s friends
viewed what my dad was doing as admirable and cool.

Being a stay-at-home dad takes a certain type of person. I admire my dad for not only breaking gender
stereotypes, but for never giving up on his definition of family.

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