Everybody who has had the opportunity to be a parent knows that although it is one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet, it is also one of the most challenging. Few jobs, if any, come with the same kind of nonstop stress, anxiety, and also love that being a parent does. These stressors amplify if you are a stay at home parent whose 9-5 includes running and coordinating an entire family and you can't remember the last time you started as late as 9 or ended at 5. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance recognize the kind of sacrifices and sometimes social isolation that stay at home parents endure. This often thankless job has historically been taken on by moms. We wanted to sit down with a stay at home dad, Rick Jenkins, and learn what his biggest struggles have been, how he dealt with societal pressures, and advice he has for stay at home dads just getting started.
"I got to be a part of all parts of my kids lives. From school, to sports, all meals, every single homework assignment I got to see and help with. On a daily basis I was in the lives of the 3 people who mean the most to me in the world." said Jenkins about his favorite part of being a stay at home dad.
Jenkins was in the restaurant business and lost his job in 2007 due to a shift in his company. It seemed to be a perfect storm because at the same time he lost his job his wife's career was on an upswing and she stepped into a role and a new salary that was able to support the entire family. It was also a time where his children's extracurricular activities were at an all time high and his mother in law needed someone to take her to and from doctors appointments. Jenkins and his wife decided that it made the most sense for the family to not have him immediately search for a new job. The family would, and did benefit from having a stay at home parent.
His days quickly transitioned from client lunches and expense reports to grilled cheeses and math worksheets. "The initial transition was not hard at all. I felt very lucky to be home and spending that time with them. However, it did not always stay so picturesque," said Jenkins. Many stay at home parents mention the fact that it is an often thankless job. Some people look at stay at home parents and think they are people that merely do not have to go into work. But Jenkins wants people to realize that it is quite the contrary, they are people who never stop working.
"Around the clock I had to worry about and manage studying for history tests, making sure their uniforms were together and clean (enough), parent teacher conferences, car maintenance, piles of never ending dishes, and so much more."
"There were so many pros and some strong cons; I had no Sunday night blues but after a while I had no excitement on a Friday night, every day ran into each other. It got mundane and you start to feel like you are not part of society on some levels. One of my biggest pieces of advice for any parent who is taking the transition into staying at home is once you have a routine down and feel like you have a grasp on the day to day demands of your family try to find something that inspires you, and what was most important to me, connects you to society. My kids were very involved in youth sports so I started to get involved too. I started as just a parent who was helpful and at every game and practice and eventually became president of my town's youth sports club. This allowed me to have those meetings and events to plan for and look forward to that were outside of the house. It also was a reason for me to use parts of my brain that I had really missed, and make connections and friendships with adults in my area.".
For two years now the Jenkins kids have been at an age that no longer made sense for him to stay at home. He made the transition back into the restaurant industry, a transition he found to be harder than the other way around. "I took it for granted, I really did. I miss them at that age so much. I was so blessed to be able to have that time with them to throw the football around and to be so in tune with how they were doing and feeling. Cherish those moments. I know the stress of seemingly never-ending housework and appointments on top of appointments is overwhelming at times but try and take a breath and remember your kids are only this age once."
As previously mentioned, it is the "societal norm" that moms tend to be the stay at home parent, and dads tend to the "bread winners." "My wife is a rock star in and out of work and she started out-earning me about seven years into our marriage. I never felt threatened by that I am very secure in who I am as an employee and as a father I have been nothing but proud of that woman for how she has been able to provide for our family." We asked Jenkins what his biggest piece of advice is for both spouses to make the other feel supported and valued and he said, "The income needs to be shared, because the stay at home parent would be making money if they weren't at home keeping things moving for everybody. Appreciate each other. Both jobs can be easily taken for granted. The person working can get very resentful because they miss out on more family time."
He encourages anyone who is able to to be a stay at home parent to do it. While times got tough and he often felt taken for granted, he wouldn't change it for the world. He wants fathers in particular to understand that he has never felt more of "a man" than he did being there for and raising his kids. "Don't let anybody look down on you for staying at home. Be secure in yourself and realize how much you are doing for the ones you love most." According to Jenkins, "Above all; Be fun. Be tough when needed. Be secure because it's the most important job in the world. Love as much as physically possible, your kids will know it and be better for it. Cherish every single second. I would do it all over again in a second."