How I decided to become a stay-at-home dad

I know I'm not a trailblazer—yet quitting my job was still one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

Photo: James Jackson

“So James, how’s the babysitting going?” This, from my 95-year-old grandmother.

My mom and I, along with my 20-month-old daughter Olivia, were visiting grandma for lunch in the days leading up to Christmas.

“He’s not babysitting,” my mom replied. “He’s parenting!

I just chuckled. I’d heard many similar comments since quitting my job as a newspaper reporter and photographer that September to become a stay-at-home dad.

I can’t blame grandma for the babysitting comment. She came from a very different time when husbands worked (in her case, on the family farm) and wives raised the kids.

But times are changing, and an ever-growing number of dads are staying home with their kids—either by choice or because of other factors, like layoffs or childcare costs exceeding take-home pay. In 2014, Statistics Canada reported that stay-at-home dads made up 11 percent of coupled families with at least one child under 16 and one parent staying home. Compare that to 1976, when that number was just two percent. In the US, more than half a million dads stay home with their kids—double the number from the 1970s.

I know I’m not a trailblazer—yet quitting my job was still one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

Money was a big concern, as I’m sure it is for most couples wrestling with the decision to go down to one primary income. But my wife, a teacher, always made more than I did as a reporter. Plus, I was confident I could snag some freelance writing and photography gigs, squeezing in assignments while my mother or mother-in-law took care of our daughter.

But I’ve always been a risk-averse individual, and quitting my job without something concrete to fall back on was akin to jumping out of an airplane not knowing if my backpack was filled with a parachute or an anvil.

Still, money wasn’t my only big concern.

You know those little sayings or predictions you wrote underneath your graduation photo in your high school yearbook? Mine read, “I want to be remembered.” My work as a reporter helped achieve that goal. So my decision to leave that all behind created a bit of an identity crisis as I went from being James the Reporter to James the Father.

James the Reporter spent his days having in-depth policy discussions with politicians and digging through budget documents at city hall. I knew that James the Father would spend most of his time telling Olivia to stop licking the dustpan or persuading her to eat even just a bite of something green for lunch.

But I took the plunge—and it’s been incredible. That nagging desire I had to be remembered has been replaced by a feeling of pride and of genuine surprise nearly every single day. From practicing colours (her favourites are blue and “lellow”) to the sheer joy on her face as we count to ten, I know I made the right decision.

Even as I’m writing this, seated at a coffee shop enjoying what should be some precious time to myself, I find myself missing her. I might have even just taken a break to swipe through photos of her on my phone.

I still find myself in the minority when we’re at the playground or walking through the park, and more than a few people have, like my grandma, made comments about how I’m “babysitting” today. And yes, money is tight and I often wonder when my next freelance gig will come along. But once these early years in my daughter’s development are gone, they’re gone forever, and I can’t put a price on that.

As my wife likes to remind me, having quit my job doesn’t mean I’m now unemployed. It just means I have a different job now.

And no, that job isn’t babysitting.

Read more:
The ultimate rookie dad guide to newborns
Which Dad am I today?
Breastfeeding: 6 tips to get dad involved

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