I think we do children and parents a disservice by assuming that if anyone stays home, it must be the person who gave birth.
Sometimes people ask my partner and me how we decided which of us would give birth to our daughter. For some couples with two uteruses between them, that might be a complicated and lengthy process, but we’ve had longer conversations about where to go for dinner. Charlie would have the baby, no question about it.
“But aren’t you, you know, the girl?” a handful of folks have asked. It’s true that our relationship looks pretty old-school butch/femme: I’m skirts and lipstick, Charlie is motorcycles and “he” pronouns. But it’s kind of the whole point in a queer relationship that “the girl” is a meaningless role. Charlie is “the guy,” but Charlie wanted to get pregnant, so he did.
And I wanted to be a stay-at-home parent, so I did. It made the most financial sense: I work from home as a freelance writer, and my income wouldn’t even cover day care. Charlie loves his 9-to-5 job, and although he always knew he wanted to have kids, he never envisioned being their primary caregiver on a day-to-day basis. So we ended up with an interesting combo meal of radical departure from and strict adherence to gender roles: Dad would have the babies, Mom would stay home and raise them.
My first few weeks as a stay-at-home parent were challenging. Charlie was breastfeeding our baby (I know some parents who didn’t give birth to their children are able to induce lactation, but it wasn’t something I wanted to invest the required time and effort in). After a slightly bumpy start, the kiddo was an avid breastfeeder, but she hated being fed from a bottle. Some of those early days were spent in tears – her wailing because I was inexplicably unwilling to feed her the way she wanted, me sobbing in exhaustion and frustration and terror that my child was going hungry.
On those days, the scant minutes I could grasp of typing as silently as possible with the baby on my shoulder after she cried herself to sleep were my only lifeline to sanity, and I wondered if I had made a mistake signing up to be a stay-at-home mom. After all, as countless well-meaning but clueless acquaintances had opined, I wasn’t a real mom, since I’d never been pregnant. I was just a glorified roommate, and my daughter knew it. Every day when Charlie came home and the baby’s face lit up, I felt like a failure. Why didn’t she ever look that happy to see me?
But over the weeks and months, as our relationship developed, things started to change. My daughter still fussed when Charlie left in the morning and rejoiced when he came home at night, but in between, we had some good times. It helped that she started eating solid food, so I didn’t have to wrestle with her over bottles every day. But mostly, we just fell into a rhythm together. Bonding with a baby who didn’t come from your body doesn’t necessarily happen instantly; it takes time and understanding. Over time I became increasingly attuned to her needs, her patterns, her signals. I became adept at deciphering her baby babble, discerning when “dada” meant “dinosaur” and when it meant “Daddy.”
And I saw myself in her more and more. She has my partner’s eyes and his tendency to be grouchy on waking up, but spending our days together has naturally meant she starts to take after me in noticeable ways. Charlie hates avocado, but my daughter and I will happily eat it with a spoon. He likes folk-rock and singer-songwriters; we prefer Beyonce. Every moment we share, even the frustrating ones, helps me feel like a parent – in much the same way that I imagine Charlie feels like a parent when he breastfeeds our baby, or sees a hint of his own father in her smile.
I have come to believe that more non-gestational parents should stay home with their children. While I certainly understand that having a parent stay home is not a financially viable option for many families, and also that not everyone can or wants to put their career on hold, I also know that many parents – especially dads – dismiss the possibility out of hand without ever really considering it. I think we do children and parents a disservice by assuming that if anyone stays home, it must be the person who gave birth.
Being a stay-at-home parent has helped me overcome my envy of the bond my partner and child have, a bond that is renewed and strengthened every time Charlie nurses our daughter. Though I felt ancillary in the early days of my child’s life, I now have a very clear idea of how much she needs me. From knowing which track from “Lemonade” helps her get to sleep to pushing her on the swings at the park, I’m the one who makes sure many of her daily needs get met. Not only does being a stay-at-home parent nurture me emotionally, it’s also great for Charlie, who remains an essential presence in my daughter’s life without being overwhelmed by parenting demands. He has more patience for being awakened to breastfeed in the night since he doesn’t have to spend his days acting as a toddler jungle gym.
I’m not saying that ours is the objectively best family model, or that everyone should do it, but I certainly think it should be considered more of an option. I only know a few stay-at-home dads, but the ones I do know are some of the happiest people I’ve met, so maybe it’s worth giving some thought. The way we’ve divided up the parenting labor feels close to achieving balance, that elusive goal that so many families strive for. When I was younger, I never planned to be a stay-at-home parent, but now I wouldn’t choose to be anything else.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, a really cute baby, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).