School to home
International educator, Dallin Bywater had not expected to become a Stay at Home Parent. It was the right choice, but not an easy one and led to a broader perspective on life.
A surprising move
As a Third Culture Kid (TCK), I was privileged to attend a high-quality international school that provided me with countless opportunities for educational and personal growth. The resources at the school were seemingly unlimited. There were no future careers that seemed out of reach, whether it be in the sciences, arts, or elsewhere. I went on to obtain an undergraduate and two graduate degrees. I knew that I would seek future employment that would keep me overseas, but much to my surprise, over two decades beyond my international school student years, I am now an international Stay at Home Dad (‘SAHD’)
Not an easy choice
How did the transition happen? The choice to stay home was just that – a choice, not a necessity. I was enjoying my job, and I felt effective in my role. Simply, I chose to shift from full-time work to being a SAHD because it felt like the right time and choice for my family.
The decision was far from easy and infinitely complicated. Being at home is not right for everyone, and I certainly had my doubts. Along the journey, there are particular emotional experiences and challenges, but also benefits you can expect will come with such a shift.
A sense of loss
Upon committing to be a full-time carer, I certainly foresaw routine differences and priority changes. However, I did not fully anticipate what amounted to the grief I would experience in losing what my previous job provided – a clear daily schedule, feelings of accomplishment, and anticipated future career growth. I experienced waves of palpable grief from each of these losses. The resulting emotional roller coaster naturally affected my ability and emotional availability to care for my children.
Feeling inadequate at my new responsibilities after feeling so confident in my employment was certainly depressing! As a salaried employee, your effectiveness is often measured in charts and graphs – you can see your progress and production. But at home, no one is providing visible measures of success, unless you include just seeing your children survive the day. The success indicators for a Stay at Home Parent (SAHP) are internal, and different.
Losing work relationships was also a marked change for me. Having worked in a school environment, my daily relationships automatically included coworkers, students, and students’ families. I was closely connected to the community. As a SAHP, your social circles in the community are completely different. Without making a real effort to extend your relationships, many days your only interaction will be with your children and partner. You might even crave the previously tedious small talk. While social encounters previously came as a natural part of your day, now you must intentionally set these opportunities into your schedule.
As a salaried person, your job often dictates your daily activities. You might have some flexibility within that schedule at work, but parenting children requires a creative and intentional approach. Children thrive with routine, so you must find a new routine that helps you feel productive, but also supports your children and partner. To complicate the process, this routine changes with your children’s developmental stages. Finding a balanced routine is no small task, as you may be used to a particular lifestyle, and children tend to move through developmental stages at relatively unpredictable intervals. Designing a fitting schedule takes time and regular reevaluation.
Privilege and opportunity
While considering those challenges and emotional experiences, the opportunities for growth and fulfillment as a SAHP should not be understated. At home, you are privileged to observe the minutiae of your children’s progress: first words and phrases, physical growth, and moral developments of learning right and wrong. Finding joy in these events brings more meaning to your new responsibilities. Additionally, as a carer, you gain perspective of a lifestyle where parenting is at the forefront.
Your appreciation and admiration of SAHPs increase as a natural result of shared experience and deepened empathy. Increased empathy has been particularly valuable to me as a former educator, one who sometimes wondered why supporting children’s academics at home can be so challenging. Now I know.
Becoming a SAHP, your relationship with your children changes. You likely take on an increased role as disciplinarian, concurrently increasing shared play time and learning opportunities. Your child takes on more of your mannerisms, your strengths, and your struggles. While this is typically a joy, it can also be a horror depending on which behaviors they are mimicking!
Success and achievement as a SAHP are qualitatively different from outside employment. You are not ‘making money’, but gaining emotional currency. Product planning and output is irrelevant, but present moment attention is essential. Company growth is traded for child development. Rather than spending so much time evaluating how to be a better employee, your brain space can be used to ponder how to improve your personal character.
Growth in this way is mutually beneficial to your children, because social learning, or learning through observing you, is so powerful. The effect of parenting behaviors that appear to be mundane and monotonous have potential to reverberate for generations.
To remain balanced and find joy in stay-at-home parenting, you must regularly revisit this mindset of positive development.
The transition from educator to SAHP is not one to be taken lightly. It will involve doubt and a sense of loss. Personally, I am glad I made the choice.
Dallin Bywater is a Third Culture Kid and an international school counselor on hiatus. He has presented for parent workshops, and has published articles on a range of topics related to student and parent mental health.