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The Unique Stresses of Stay-at-Home Dads

By Tara Weng

stay at home dad, father and son play finger-puppetsprimary caregivers for their children. They care for more than 300,000 children while their wives work outside the home.

And many have nowhere to go with their stress.

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“The stigma associated with being a stay-at-home dad only amplifies the isolated nature of their existence,” says marriage and family therapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D.  Indeed, according to the Pew Research Institute, terms like “Breadwinner Mom” and “Stay-at-Home Dad” still don’t roll off the tongue very comfortably. This role reversal makes it tough for many men taking on this new identity.

“Men are generally looked at as the guiders, the protectors, and women are looked as nurturers,” says Dr. Hokemeyer. “There just aren’t a lot of role models out there for stay-at-home dads. So how can they judge themselves by so-called social norms?”

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Men may not be prepared for the stresses and challenges of full-time, stay-at-home parenting, he suggests. The key: Get connected. When women find themselves at home taking care of babies 24/7, they find solace and support with other moms. Stay-at-home dads need to do the same thing, says Dr. Hokemeyer. “They need to connect with other stay-at-home parents and normalize what it is they’re doing. This is helpful when stress hits. Fathers need to do a better job of asking for help — whether it be from their partner an outsider or just confiding in friends,” he says.

While you probably won’t find many ‘daddy and me’ playgroups out there, the web has become a popular source for dads to connect with other dads. There are number of online support systems out there for fathers who are looking to identify others in the same boat, get advice, and share war stories— just like moms do. You can find stay-at-home dad meet ups. You can find support and resources with the National At Home Dad Network.

And if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed by your stay-at-home role, there are things you can do to ease the load and things to avoid, suggests Dr. Hokemeyer:

  • Make time for yourself — don’t forget to do the things you love to do when you can, exercise, go out with friends, vent!
  • Talk — whether it’s to your partner, a relative, a trusted friend or even a counselor, make sure you talk it out, get it off your chest — it’s okay.
  • Connect with your partner — believe it or not, your partner does want to hear what your feelings — and work together to solve problems.
  • Don’t turn to unhealthy behaviors to quell the stress or ease the anger/frustration — such as alcohol, drugs, or overeating. If you’re depending on something else to ease the emotional toll, you might need to discuss this with a medical professional.

Parenting is indeed a full-time job. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or dad, it’s challenging and, at times, baffling. Don’t be afraid to call in the reserves when you’re drowning — even your own parents might be able to offer a nugget of insight (or at least, babysitting.) Reach out to your pediatrician for advice and help. You owe to yourself, your spouse — and most especially, your child.

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