Updated: Aug 25, 2019
By V.H. Yap
“So,… what do you do all day?”
That’s a common response I get from strangers, acquaintances, even friends and family, whenever they first find out that I am a stay-at-home dad. After I’ve swallowed my annoyance and laid out the many tasks that fill my days, I can usually see that my attempt to justify my existence has not dispelled the look of incredulity on most people’s faces.
“You lucky so-and-so” is the polite version of the other most common response from aforementioned strangers, acquaintances, family and friends. “I wish my wife would let me retire and look after the house and kids”.
By this stage, I have usually given up trying to reform such audiences’ misguided association of “retirement” with “looking after the house and kids”. Experience has taught me that no amount of explanation is going to convince those misguided souls that swapping their day job for being a stay-at-home parent is NOT a life of stepping onto easy street filled with leisurely strolls through nine holes of golf, endless three-martini lunches, interspersed with the occasional “family duty”.
In our comfortable lives of modern conveniences with a live-in maid and endless outsourcing opportunities for every conceivable “need”, from child-care to academic tuition, most of us would not stop for a second to think about the unpaid labor that our mothers expended to provide for the health, welfare and happiness of the family back when we were children. My wife is fond of pointing out that, as a stay-at-home dad, my celebrity flies in the face of doing nothing more than what every mother (sometimes even as a single parent) has done since the dawn of time. They are the truly deserving but unsung heroes.
There are numerous reasons why some men have bucked the conventional role of being the primary breadwinner. For our family, we moved overseas from our home country in order to fulfill a life-long calling of faith my wife has had to utilize her professional skills as a doctor for the blessing and benefit of others in Asia. This calling was front and center from even before my wife and I met. And so, a few years and a few children later, when we did make it overseas, there was never any doubt, nor anguish, that I should be the stay-at-home parent.
Was the requirement for either parent to stay home at all, even necessary? Does every child need at least one parent home to steer them through schoolwork, adolescence, life challenges? Every couple and every child is different and every family’s circumstances, equally diverse. For us, we were adamant that we did not want our children to be raised by a third party, not even a close family member. Giving our children the best meant giving them one of us to be their primary carer, always present and always available.
I have embarked on this role reversal ten years ago. Do I miss my profession? Yes, greatly. But the satisfaction of having been involved in most aspects of my children’s lives and shaping their development cannot be offset by any professional satisfaction no matter how fulfilling. It is a tired but nevertheless true maxim that no matter how successful you are professionally, your job will never hug you back. Definitely, it may provide financial security and satisfy your aspirations, but I did not want any such successes if at the end of the day my own children were to become strangers to me.
There are seasons in every individual’s life. I have had the privilege of transitioning from one season of career, to another, of child-rearing. I realize that marrying relatively later in life, I had had a satisfying and successful professional career which made my transition to staying at home a relatively easier one. Many women, and it mostly is women, do not have this luxury due to the biological pressure of procreating earlier in their adult years which unfortunately does not coincide with trying to launch a career.
Any mistakes or missteps? Only by the truckload; too many to go into in any meaningful detail. If I had to pick one, I would suggest being careful about your culture. What do I mean by that? When I was a young single adult, I had a roommate who was very earnest and intentional in how he led his life. We had many discussions around how one manages one’s time, priorities, etc. Each December, as we looked to the new year ahead, he would select as his starting point, his Unifying Principles; guiding principles, or fundamental beliefs, you would live your life by no matter what the circumstances or situation you would find yourself in.
The establishment of those underlying principles was something that I probably did not do very well when I started out in this role as the lead parent. Foolishly perhaps, I relied too much on prior experiences, instincts and common sense to lead me through the maze ahead. The problem with experiences, instincts and common sense if that they are neither all that common nor anywhere as concrete as articulated principles. And so, as time went on and I encountered each challenge, I often found myself guided more by what was the usual practice in the culture around me than by deeply defined convictions. There have been many occasions whilst in a panic or out-of-control tantrum where I’ve caught myself short and wondered why I was doing whatever it was that I was doing which landed me in that situation. More often than not, upon reflection, I had to admit that I was buying too much into the prevailing culture to excel or succeed at all cost, never once wondering if my current approach was going to ultimately yield the result I valued. Such tiny moments of epiphany necessitated a total rethink of what I was doing and/or the way that I was going about it.
Culture is peer pressure at large. Moreover, as if succumbing to its seduction was not bad enough, I also foolishly thought that whatever good practice I come up with could be applied equally across the board to all three of my children. Surely, what would work for one ought to work for the others. Majorly wrong,and naive assumption. But that’s another story for another day.
Almost ten years later, do I regret the decision? Not for one minute. Though many, many mistakes have been made along the way, life is a journey. I’d like to be in the driver’s seat as we journey along, attending to every bruise and bump along the way, conversing through thoughts and ideas and curious inquiry at each junction along the route.
This December, our family will get to experience a literal version of that life journey during our vacation when we take a month-long road trip. I look forward to every discussion, every radio program we will listen to and debate, every new vista we encounter, storing up precious shared memories for the family bank account. This is one investment which pays dividends that last a lifetime.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
V.H. Yap has been a stay-at-home father since 2005 when his children, two biological sons and an adopted daughter, were adoringly aged four, five and six. He and his wife are now parents to three teenagers.