Before I was a pastor, I had a much different vocation — that of a full-time stay-at-home parent.
My wife and I decided that this arrangement made the most sense given our life and work situation. My other vocations (school and freelance writing) provided me with more flexibility than my wife had. We weren’t alone in making this decision. More than 1.4 million dads stay at home, according to a 2009 study.
Being a stay-at-home parent taught me valuable (even spiritual) lessons — oftentimes via the school of hard knocks. If you find yourself in the same situation, here are five tips for surviving and thriving as a stay-at-home parent:
1. Help out around the house.
If you’re a stay-at-home parent and your spouse is the primary source of income, you can’t rely on him or her to do everything. This is particularly true for stay-at-home dads, who may be less accustomed to working in the home. Serve your spouse by picking up a few tasks around the house.
You could cook the meals, wash clothes, clean the house or whatever you and your spouse decide would be most helpful. And don’t think you have to be Emeril, Martha Stewart and June Cleaver rolled into one. Simply serving in small, practical ways will encourage your spouse and nurture humility in your soul.
(To wit: You should ask my wife about that “cucumber chicken” recipe I invented. Did it taste good? No. Did she appreciate the effort? Absolutely.)
2. Pursue a hobby.
Being a stay-at-home parent doesn’t mean that your life and aspirations are over. You do not, in fact, have to spend every waking hour reading parenting blogs, researching the pros and cons of cloth diapering or making homemade organic baby food pouches. (Unless you want to, of course.)
Instead, you can use your time at home to pursue lifelong interests. So listen to academic lectures while you play with your child. Spend extended time in prayer as you push the stroller. And work out, read enriching books, hone your work skills, do carpentry or work freelance during nap times. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn and do with a child at home. (On some days, at least.)
3. Seek friendships with others.
Let’s be honest: The classic “no-you-cannot-in-fact-have-a-cookie-nor-go-outside-in-the-rain” speech can get old. Fast. You need to have an actual conversation with a real-life adult every now and then.
So invite your neighbors over to watch the game. Have friends from church over for lunch. Or meet an old co-worker for coffee. No matter how you do it, be intentional about pursuing and investing in relationships with others. It’s a proven (and biblical) method of staying sane.
4. Use frustrations to become a better person.
Spending forty hours per week alone with a kid will wear on you. The human psyche can only endure so many snot stains, temper tantrums and blowouts without cracking.
The question is not whether you will face parenting frustrations — but how. Will you grow frustrated or develop patience? Grumble about your situation or learn contentment? Treat your time selfishly or serve wholeheartedly?
Decide every day to use these opportunities to become a better, more godly person.
5. Treasure these moments with your child.
Being a stay-at-home parent can be frustrating, tiring, isolating and emotionally draining. Many days you would prefer to work a nine-to-five — and actually earn a paycheck for your work.
But consider this: You have the privilege of investing in your child’s life during his or her most formative years. You’re making memories that neither of you will forget. You can’t put a price tag on that.
(Plus, think of all the embarrassing stories you can tell when your kids bring their boyfriend or girlfriend home for the first time.)
These tips sustained me as a stay-at-home parent. What suggestions would you add?