I recently did an article on AC Producer3lilangels about being a stay-at-home mom of three children under the age of three. I started to wonder if there were any men out there in a similar situation. After doing some research, I found that more dads than ever are staying at home and playing a more meaningful role in their children’s lives.
How many stay-at-home dads do you know? I bet the answer is not that many. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were only 143,000 at-home dads recorded in 2006, compared with 5.6 million women who described themselves as stay-at-home moms in 2005. However, the trend is that more men are choosing to become at-home fathers because of a special partnership they have with their wives.
Fellow AC producer, Les Jacobs, is one of those at-home dads, only with a twist – he’s the father of triplets. I met Les a couple of months ago and found his personal story so interesting I thought other men, who were considering being at-home parents, would want to read about it.
To give you a little background: Les, besides being a super dad to his three beautiful boys, he is an experienced journalist, having worked as both a reporter and an editor. His employers have included the Economist Intelligence Unit, Business International, China Online and several trade magazines.
He received a B.A. in Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a Master’s degree in Pacific International Affairs at the University of California – San Diego. He currently does freelance copy editing and writing from home.
Irene: Why did you choose to become a stay-at-home dad and how long have you been doing this?
Les: My wife earned more money than I did so since one of us had to stay at home with the kids, I volunteered. I’ve been doing this for three and a half years now.
Irene: What kind of reaction have you gotten from people when you tell them you’re an at-home dad?
Les: From women the reaction has been almost uniformly positive. Men usually don’t have much to say on the matter – I don’t blame them, as most can’t relate to what I’m doing – but when they do comment it’s usually something like “I wish I could spend more time with my kids.”
I’ve gotten only two outright negative responses from people. Once, when the boys were about six months old and I was pushing them downtown in their triplet stroller, a woman – who looked like an experienced mother – asked me: “Are you the father?” I said yes and she asked, incredulously, “You stay at home with them?” I nodded. Acting as if she seemed to find this hard to believe, she pressed further: “You change their diapers and feed them?” I nodded again, adding, “And bathe them.”
She paused, gave me a sharp look and said “Good!” Only it wasn’t in a supportive, encouraging tone; it had a bitter edge to it.
Once, when I was at a rally protesting the racist comments of a local radio shock jock, I met a young male lawyer. After chatting for a bit, he gave me his business card, then asked me what I did. (It was a Saturday; my wife was at home with the kids.) I said, “I’m a stay-at-home dad.” He blinked for a moment and blurted: “You’re kidding!”
These comments didn’t bother me; I only mention them because they were so unusual. Where I live I’ve become well known (my wife says “famous”) for being an at-home dad of triplets. It makes me feel special, and who doesn’t like that?
Irene: What’s the most difficult obstacle you’ve had to overcome being an at-home dad?
Les: There were two. The first was coming to terms with leaving a paying occupation and taking up a non-paying one. Men in our society tend to measure ourselves in terms of how much money we make, so when you’re not making anything it’s easy to feel worthless.
The second obstacle was simply dealing with the stress of being perpetually on duty. If you have a job outside your home you can leave the workplace and “come home.” If your home is your workplace, you never stop working.
Irene: How did you deal with the self-esteem issue?
Les: I kept reminding myself how much money I was saving the family. Putting three babies in daycare is expensive, and what you’re providing as a parent is equivalent to high-quality daycare. I say high-quality daycare because you aren’t just providing simple daycare – where there’s one caretaker per ten children, let’s say – you’re giving your children much more individualized attention than they would get elsewhere. And if you make an effort to teach them while they’re at home, your kids are also getting what’s equivalent to a preschool education. That’s worth a lot too.
One of the goals I’ve set is to have my boys reading by the age of three. When the late author Isaac Asimov was five he taught his three-year-old brother to read, so I don’t think this is an unreasonable expectation.
I started teaching my sons letters from day one – singing the alphabet to them – and they can now read the simplest of beginner board books. When I see my kids accomplishing things like that I feel better about being an at-home parent.
Irene: How do you handle the stress of living where you work?
Les: This has been tougher, mainly because my wife and I didn’t really understand what the problem was at first. The triplets are our first children, so we had no experience as parents before this. I found myself growing irritable, feeling resentful and just plain being in a bad mood, especially on the weekends. Because I was miserable, I was unpleasant to everyone around me, my wife particularly, and this took a toll on our marriage.
Not wanting to end up in divorce, I sought counseling, and this was the best thing I ever did. The counselor, a mother herself, saw the problem right away and immediately advised me to take time off every week for myself. I had to get away from my “work” – that meant the children as well as the house.
So I started taking a few hours off every Saturday or Sunday.
Irene: What do you do to break away from all the interruptions you must have while working at home?
Les: See a movie, go to the bookstore, sometimes just sit and read in a coffee shop; it doesn’t matter. What matters is I’m away from the constant interruptions, away from the need to do those unending household chores. It’s a time of peace and quiet. It’s wonderful. And it saved the marriage. My wife and I are on much better terms now.
Irene: Do you have any other tips for stay-at-home dads?
Les: Yes, many. Here are two: First, make sure you get out of the house every day. It’s important to get some exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk. Put your child in a stroller. If you have more than one child to take care of, get a double stroller. Do this even if they’re babies. I pushed my kids in a triplet stroller up and down a local hill almost every day – winter, summer, spring and fall. The only time I didn’t was when it rained.
Getting out of the house is good for you and your kids. You both get some fresh air, the kids will nap better (sometimes even in the stroller), and it’ll keep you from going stir crazy from being indoors all day. It’ll also break up your day and interrupt the monotony of changing diapers, making bottles, feeding, doing laundry, etc.
Second: Groom yourself, wash up and change your clothes every day. It’s so easy to fall into the habit of not looking after yourself, even going days without taking a shower and not changing your clothes. It’s easy because you are very, very busy. I know. It’s hard work taking care of babies especially. And it’s much harder for women who breastfeed because they have to produce milk on top of all the other chores associated with childcare.
No matter how busy you are, however, you must look after yourself. It’s vital for your well-being and self esteem. Many people get the blues when they first become at-home parents (even mothers, as just happened to a friend of mine). This is made worse when they look in the mirror and see an unshaven face, messy hair and wrinkled clothes. If you take time to wash up, groom yourself and change your clothes, you’ll feel better.
Irene: You write for both AC and Helium. Is that another thing you do for yourself? And how do you balance that with caring for the triplets?
Les: Yes, this is another thing I do to stay sane. Writing calms me and makes me feel fulfilled. I get the same feeling when I sing. [Les is a soloist at a local church.] I used to write when they napped. Now that they nap a lot less – only about an hour a day, as they’re three years old – I usually write before they get up or after they go to sleep at night. Of course, if I want to sleep longer, spend time with my wife, watch TV or do something else, that eats into my available writing time, but all writer-parents face these choices.
I also have a blog, by the way, where I write about my stay-at-home dad experience, at TripletsDad.com.
Irene: Is there a special genre you prefer when you write?
Les: When I write non-fiction I prefer to cover investment and business topics. I recently wrote about the Bear Stearns buy-out, for example, andBorders Books’ financial troubles. I’ve also written about how to invest in gold, oil, corn and other commodities.
When I write fiction, I like fantasy best. I’ve been working on an epic fantasy novel for several years now. I find it much harder to write fiction than non-fiction.
Irene: As a writer, how would you compare AC and Helium?
Les: Both have their strong points. I like the fact that AC pays an upfront fee and that you can publish immediately with your own heading if you want. I use AC to publish breaking-news stories.
Helium has a seemingly endless number of titles you can write and publish immediately to, and their Helium Marketplace is a great way to earn money. Right now you can earn $96 writing a software review, for example.
Irene: Les, with your background in writing, I’m sure there are some important tips you can give the readers here about writing as a career and what a publisher would look for in a writer.
Les: I can’t speak for any publishers, but as an experienced journalist I can give some basic writing tips.
First, read The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. This is a very short and concise book that tells you all you need to know about writing, including the rules of grammar and punctuation. (For journalists, the primary guide to writing is The A.P. Stylebook, but this is for people in the news business.)
People often get intimidated by grammar and punctuation and get bogged down in the rules. Keep in mind that these rules are there for one purpose: to make writing clear. And that should be your main goal when writing – to get your ideas across as clearly as possible.
Another tip (and this is for AC and Helium writers specifically) is to take more time writing titles. I’ve found on both sites that these can be sloppily written. They even have misspelled words at times.
I know how this happens. You spend hours writing a piece and when it’s finally done you just want to get it published and out there. You’re tired and in a hurry, so you whip something out and click the “submit” button.
The thing you have to remember, however, is that the title is really the most important part of the article. That’s how you’re going to spark interest and get readers to read your work. You want your title to be concise and interesting: the shorter the better.
Irene: What are your plans for the future?
Les: It’s funny you ask that. Recently I subbed for my sister as a content manager for a Web site while she went on maternity leave, and I loved it. I loved having a full-time job again. (We hired a sitter to watch the kids while I worked.) Compared to being an at-home parent it was easy – I could actually sit and accomplish something without repeated interruptions!
After it was over I realized it’s time for me to get back in the saddle and get a job again. We’d like to send our kids to preschool so they can start socializing with other kids, and that’s going to take extra money. We also need to start saving for their college education. So I’m job hunting. Know anyone who’s looking to hire a journalist with at-home-dad experience?
I can relate to Les as a stay-at-home mom myself. Whether you are a man or a woman, stay-at-home parents pay a professional price. They give up not only income but their time away from the work force, leaving them with less experience than their non-parent peers when they go to rejoin the 9-5 world. Society prefers to judge them as if child rearing is easy, with no management or financial skills needed to be successful. However, I beg to differ here. It probably takes a lot more ingenuity as a stay-at-home parent than a CFO in a large corporation to be successful.
To preview Les’s work on AC, please click “here” for a link to his home page.