Care and Feeding

I Really Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Dad

What do I tell my wife?

A father plays with his daughter.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

When my wife and I had our first daughter, we knew one of us would be a stay-at-home parent. We both grew up in working-class families where both parents worked, and we were excited we had this opportunity. At first, I suggested I could stay at home, mostly because I’ve always been the one who enjoys and was responsible for all the cooking and cleaning.

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However, my wife pointed out that I made more money and reasoned that since only one of us would be working, it should be the one who made more money. It made sense so I agreed. We now have 2 daughters, aged 11 and 8, and I haven’t been able to spend as much time with them as I like. I normally spend weekend mornings with them, and I’m responsible for dinner and bedtime. However, last March my company went remote, and I was able to spend more time with my kids. My lack of 1-hour commute meant I could make breakfast with them as well as dinner. I’ve been able to play basketball and bike and cook with my kids most days now that I don’t have to face rush-hour traffic.

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Now, it’s looking like I’ll be going back to in-person work, and I’ve been thinking that I might like to stay at home. My wife has complained about how she misses her job, and I find some of the things she hates, like waking up early to make breakfast or helping with homework, truly enjoyable or at the very least bearable. My father-in law was recovering from a surgery a month ago, and I managed on my own with the kids for a few weeks, so I think I could handle the responsibility.

I want to bring up the idea of switching our roles, but I don’t know how. It seems cruel to ask my wife to re-enter the workforce after so many years. Logically, if my wife were to work for a larger company, she could make as much, if not more money as me, and I’d be able to take a part-time job from home if our finances were a problem. I feel like I’m missing too much of my kids’ childhoods while I work, but It isn’t fair to my wife to ask her to miss out either.

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—Stay-at-Home Dad Hopeful

Dear Stay-at-Home Dad,

As a former stay-at-home dad myself, I love seeing men who understand that the greatest ability we can display for our kiddos is “availability.” Time is the only resource we can’t get back once it’s gone, so I applaud you for wanting to step up in this role.

I’m confused, though. You mentioned that she despises waking up early, making breakfast, helping with homework, etc. and that she misses her job. So why are you afraid to bring up this topic with her? This seems as if it would be the easiest discussion topic in the world — especially since you enjoy the aforementioned activities. Chances are she would welcome the change of going back into the office.

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In the event she’s not onboard with the decision for whatever reason, perhaps you could find a similar job where you can work remotely and ditch the hour-long commute. If the pandemic taught American businesses anything, it’s that it’s possible to have a highly productive remote workforce. Particularly now, there should be plenty of companies out there that will allow you to do your job without being in an office building from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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Either way, I don’t think it’s “cruel” by any means to ask this of your wife based on what you lay out here. If you want a starting point to help you with the discussion, I would mention how staying at home would make her life easier because many of the things she doesn’t like about parenting will fall on you instead of her. I could be wrong, but I think this conversation will be much easier than you think it will be.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a single mother by choice to a wonderful, sometimes strong-willed girl. A few years ago my parents retired, sold their house and moved to where we live so that we could be mutually helpful to one another. We all bought a house together to cut back on costs. The problem is my mother. She sometimes, more often than I would like, shifts into parent mode with my kid. She tries to force her to do extra schoolwork in areas she thinks my child needs more help , she assigns chores for my child to do around the house and will even discipline my kid when she decides that the way I have disciplined her is “wrong” (once when I was already in the middle of disciplining her)!

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We have different parenting philosophies—I am trying to raise my daughter to understand her feelings, and accept that sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to, for example. My mother is of the “do what I say when I say it,” and “children should be seen and not heard” school. If my child shows emotions like anger or frustration, I want to talk to her about them. My mother yells and wants to punish. I have tried to talk to my mother about this but she gets defensive, insults my parenting and/or tunes me out. How do I get her to be a grandma and not a second parent?

—Only Mom

Dear Only Mom,

I’m not going to say it’s going to be easy to have this discussion with your mom, but it needs to be had immediately in order to help your daughter. My heart goes out to your kid because it’s probably messing her up to receive mixed messages from both of you.

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Your mom had her time to raise her children, and it’s over — and you should be unapologetic about the fact that she does not call the shots when it comes to your daughter. Personally, I don’t think she should have any say when it comes to how your daughter is disciplined (or not disciplined), but if you choose to have her involved, she must do it the way you want it done. No exceptions. Being a unified front will help your daughter understand what’s expected from her.

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The other issue here is that your mom isn’t taking you seriously. I’m worried she’s showing such a blatant lack of respect for your parenting skills. I wouldn’t allow that to stand with my kids and you shouldn’t either. You can say something like, “Mom, I appreciate that you’re trying to help — but you haven’t raised a child in decades. Things are different now, and I know what’s best for her. Going forward, I’m going to be the one disciplining her, checking her schoolwork, and giving her chores. If you want to join in, then it needs to be done my way. Are we clear?” You’re not asking for her permission, you’re telling her how things are going to be. You’re a grown-ass woman, and your mom needs to treat you like one.

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If she insults or belittles you, then you need to show her how serious you are by threatening to change your living situation. You can also try to recruit your dad to talk some sense into her if needed. Your daughter deserves better and so do you.

If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

Recently, my five-year-old daughter and I were walking by a police station where two officers were waiting beside a cruiser. My daughter saw them and said, “If we were Black, they would hit us with their car.” I was horrified and replied that they would not do that, then launched into a barely coherent tangent about how some officers behave badly but not all of them do, and asked her again why she thought that. She replied, matter of factly, that police like to hit Black people with their cars.

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I don’t know how to handle this. I feel like any conversation I have with her about police brutality toward people of color will not only be way over her head but will also introduce the idea of systemic racism to her when she’s still in the “use picture books to celebrate diversity” phase of the anti-racism curriculum. But, given her statements—obviously informed by national and local news and our ensuing conversations, which we should be better about shielding from her—she may need some preschool-level context (particularly so she doesn’t say something traumatizing to her friends at school). Please help me help her.

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—Guilty White Mother

Dear Guilty,

I mean, where’s the lie in what your daughter said?

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I say that tongue-in-cheek of course. Yes, we know that not all police officers are racists hiding behind their badges to harm Black people, but it’s inarguable that policing in America has some serious problems—especially in how they “protect and serve” communities of color. The fact that a child as young as your daughter can see things that many white folks can’t see (or choose not to see) is pretty commendable if you ask me.

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I think you can help your daughter by explaining how we arrived to the point where Black people in this country have been treated so unfairly — starting at 1619. You may think these conversations about slavery, Jim Crow laws, the KKK, and other things may be over her head — but I taught my two daughters about those topics when they were your daughter’s age, and they comprehended it. You may be surprised at how well your daughter is able to handle and understand these topics.

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If you look around, there are plenty of anti-racism resources for kids outside of picture books. Heck, I offer anti-racism classes for kindergartners. Once your daughter understands the history, she’ll have a baseline for why racism persists today. Additionally, she will be motivated to do her part to help fix it.

Let’s face it — adults have failed miserably in the fight against racism, and it’s up to our kids to save us from this dumpster fire. Best of all, your daughter is ahead of the game because she’s already aware of the racial inequalities in America. That means you’re doing something right.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a white woman married to a Black man, and we have a beautiful 9-year-old daughter together. Our family would eat at a local restaurant for breakfast every Saturday morning prior to the pandemic, and now that things are starting to get back to normal, we decided to go back there last weekend for the first time in over a year. My husband couldn’t attend, so it was just me and my daughter. Everything was going fine until a white man who is a regular at this restaurant stopped by our booth and ran his fingers through my daughter’s thick curly hair and mentioned how beautiful it was. My daughter and I were shocked, but we didn’t say anything.

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When I came home and told my husband, he was furious. He was so mad that I had to physically restrain him from going to the restaurant to knock the guy out. Is my husband overreacting? I thought the guy crossed the line, but it’s not like his intentions were malicious. We see him at this restaurant often, and he’s a very nice man. I know that it’s not politically correct to touch a Black girl’s hair, but now I’m worried that my husband has anger issues that I’m unaware of. I have never seen him that angry in the 13 years we’ve been together and he’s still angry about the incident today. How can I talk him off the ledge? Please help!

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—Hair Despair

Dear Hair Despair,

Let’s say you were out at the same restaurant and you were pregnant. Now imagine the same dude approached you and rubbed your belly without permission. Would you be cool with that? According to your logic, his intentions weren’t malicious or creepy — so why should it matter? Actually, you should just let any random dude with good intentions rub your belly without asking. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is ridiculous. Strangers shouldn’t be randomly touching anyone — pandemic or not.

The situation with your daughter is way worse because she’s a child, and the fact that you’re dismissing this situation shows that you’re painfully clueless about what it’s like to be a person of color in America. I don’t know your husband personally, but the one thing we have in common is we are both Black men with mixed-race daughters. About four years ago, I was at an aquarium with my girls and a white dude started groping my youngest daughter’s hair. I didn’t get physical with him, but I definitely caused a scene that put my anger in full display of everyone within 50 feet of me. The white man didn’t apologize and thought that I was “overreacting” and being “excessively angry.” Sound familiar?

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The reason your husband and I were so upset is due to the dehumanization Black people have endured throughout American history and still endure today. These two white men treated our daughters like zoo animals meant to satisfy their curiosity. In their minds, no permission was needed because our daughters didn’t deserve the dignity of permission. On the flipside, could you imagine what would happen if I was at a restaurant and ran my fingers though the blonde hair of some random white girl? How do you think that would have ended for me?

For my entire life I’ve dealt with white people dehumanizing me overtly or through micro-aggressions. When it happened to my child at the aquarium, I snapped. Your husband snapped, too. Why? Because we love our kids so damn much that we want to do whatever it takes to protect them from the racism we’ve suffered through. A good partner would approach the situation with the same energy, but instead you’re making excuses for a stranger. It’s an awful look.

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So, no—your husband doesn’t have a problem with anger, he has a problem with racism. I’m all for your husband being as firm as he needs to be with the guy at the restaurant without being physically violent with him. People like that guy need to understand how incredibly disrespectful it is to do what he did to your child, and apparently you do too.

—Doyin

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