I woke this morning to a warm, cinnamon-y smell. Must be my imagination, I assured myself. But as I entered the kitchen with my 11-day-old daughter in my arms, the taunting smell materialized before me – a freshly baked coffee cake with crumble topping. The two older kids were dressed and ready for the day, my daughter dancing to our favorite children’s songs and my son eagerly learning from Dad how to connect different cables to our stereo system.
At this point, you may expect me to paint my mother or mother-in-law into this picture, some maternal figure responsible for picking up the slack around the house while I rest and recover. No folks, this is day 11 of my husband’s paternity leave. My mom came to town the week of my daughter’s birth to cook, clean, play and generally make our lives wonderful. But since then, my modest husband has been the star of the show. He would never admit it, but he is doing a first-rate job as a stay-at-home dad.
I am embarrassed to say it, but I did not expect things to go this smoothly with the majority of the family responsibilities under his care. Turns out that was a pretty silly notion on my part. Fatherhood, like motherhood, is intuitive.
My midwife emphasized after our daughter’s birth that I needed to really take it easy for two weeks so that I would heal well. My husband, knowing I had not done this after the previous two births, took her instructions very seriously. He assured me that he would be taking over completely at home so I could rest and recover during that time. He arranged to take a full four weeks off for parental leave. I half expected that after a week or two he would be ready to go back to work and asked him a few times if he would rather take less time. He firmly insisted that he wanted to take a full month of bonding leave. Why did I not have full confidence that he would love being at home and thrive in this job as a stay-at-home parent?
I think it has something to do with gender stereotypes that we still need to work through as a society. We have all become quite comfortable promoting women’s equality in the workplace. Women can do what men can do at work. Women can and should be given equal pay and job opportunities. But what about men in their abilities to fill roles that have traditionally been women’s roles?
Before this paternity leave, our only experiences with Dad staying home with the kids were for a couple weekend trips that I took. Older women at church would smile at me when they heard of our plans for the trip and say, “Oh, it will be good for him to experience that.” Or “He will really appreciate what you do when you get back.” Yes, I did receive a couple of desperate or frustrated calls those weekends. But everyone had a marvelous time and the kids were healthy and happy when I returned. And heaven knows I have made my share of frustrated calls to my husband during the day when he is at work and I am home. Staying at home full-time to raise children is not an easy job. Anyone who has spent even one day doing it knows that.
This paternity leave has proven to me that my husband is wholly capable of juggling all the aspects of caring for our home and two older children. He has been completely engaged with them the whole time he has been here and our kids are happy and thriving. It seems the time together is boosting his confidence as a parent and strengthening the bonds he has with our children. And honestly, many days he does a better job as the stay-at-home parent than I typically do.
Let’s give dads the respect that they merit. They deserve to know that we believe in them and in their parenting abilities. Just as women don’t want to be treated the way their grandmothers were in the workplace, let’s not treat men like they were treated in the home in the 1950s. They are capable of cleaning up, cooking dinner, leading dance parties and telling bed-time stories. And as I have seen this week, they can do a first-class job at all of it.