SURVIVOR STORIES: My Husband, the Stay-at-Home Dad
I am a suburban stay-at-home mom by trade. My whole parenting experience has been largely a solo-parent adventure due to my husband’s pursuit of a career as an orthopedic surgeon. At one point, I calculated that between night-float rotations, weekend call shifts, conferences, fellowship interviews, and big boy job interviews, I had solo-parented our children overnight “Mom Alone” style from sunset to sunrise over 365 times. That’s a lot of nights during residency and fellowship triple-checking the locks on the doors, tucking babies in with promises of “Daddy loves you and will see you soon,” watching bad TV by myself, and going to sleep with half of my bed empty. During that same time period, my husband’s only experience being “Dad Alone” was when our youngest child was hospitalized when she was one, and he stayed home with our two boys while I slept at the hospital with our daughter.
Some time this past spring, I decided that I was overdue for some “Moms Gone Wild” time away from home. When my husband came back from yet another conference with his bone pals, I told him that it was my turn to go to a conference, and there was one in Dallas for doctor wives in September, and he better plan now to take off work so that I could go. He happily agreed and encouraged me to make flight reservations right away.
It was very easy for us to make this arrangement since my husband is now at the start of his second year of practice post-training, and therefore, can easily take time off of work and request to be off call for the weekend so he could pull Dad-duty. I had suggested that he invite his mother to come visit while I was away for help and companionship, but he refused. He told me that “asking her to come would be like admitting defeat before the battle had even begun.” Poor guy. I think he felt that he owed it to me to experience the “Dad Alone” life for four days and three nights since I had done it so many times.
For me, Lives of Doctors’ Wives Get Together (LDWGTG) was an uplifting, refreshing, and enjoyable experience. I’m so glad that I made the time for myself to set aside the stay-at-home mom title for a few days and journey to Texas for the first time. I knew precisely no one who was attending the conference personally. I shared a hotel room with a gal I met for the first time in the hotel lobby at check-in. (Turns out, she’s my long-lost best friend.) The other women we met at LDWGTG were relatable, friendly, honest, open, and fun. The sessions- from financial to legal, relationship advice to self-defense- were perfectly suited for the concerns and needs of a physician’s significant other. The evening dinners and socials were so much fun. How could I have forgotten how liberating it is to sing Cher karaoke?! The LDWGTG allowed me to grow personally in ways that I needed- such as figuring out how to get an Uber for the first time ever (I’m such an un-hip mom!).
For my husband, LDWGTG was not as joyful an experience for him. It turns out, he is not cut out for solo-parenting (and that’s okay). He regrets not calling in grandmother assistance. Prior to my departure, he was worried about fixing our daughter’s hair and getting our sons to the school bus on time. Little things like that which are small parts of my day were big concerns for him. While I was at the LDWGTG, I laughed at the irony of his panicked phone call my first night away because our two year-old daughter had puked in her bed. Poor guy. Our boys were predictably feral- climbing, jumping, shouting, misbehaving, and fart-joking everywhere all of the time just because that’s who they are. My husband sent a variety of clueless Dad texts to me like “What vegetables do the kids eat?” (Answer: whatever you want to eat. They will either eat it or they won’t. Carrot sticks always work though.) He sent me a video one night of the kids in a three-way wrestle match giggle-fit at bedtime, which was cute and hilarious to me, but frustrating to him because he had solo-parented all day, was tired, and needed to relax over some man-oriented movies I had no interest in watching. With all of his panic over his fish-out-of-water “Dad Alone” time, I was proud of him for planning things to do with the kids. He took them to a huge playground that he drives by on his way to work that we’ve never been to before. He took them out for ice cream. He took them to an animal care festival at the local veterinary school (which I’m sad I missed because it looked awesome). They read stories, watched movies, went to their rock-climbing and karate activities, ate pizza, and had fun.
My husband and kids were all so relieved to greet me at the airport. I was happy to be home and see them. It’s nice to be missed. My husband admits that in spite of his four days of “Dad Alone” induced stress, the kids maybe weren’t that bad and maybe he actually did have fun with them, but he agrees that next year, he will most certainly call for grandmother assistance. I cheered him up with some wisdom that I took to heart at LDWGTG, “It’s okay if you need help. No one is going to think less of you because you need assistance or you aren’t as good at something (solo-parenting) as someone else (me).”
It was a fun little experiment for us as a couple to do a conference role-reversal. As the stay-at-home solo-parent for several days, my husband gained a new appreciation for what my everyday life is like and the value of my contributions to our family as a stay-at-home parent. While I have always felt appreciated by him, and he makes an effort to thank me for a hearty meal or compliment the success of a cleaned family room, for him to live my life for several days brought new meaning to his appreciation of me. When he thanks me for little things in the future, I know it won’t just be because it is something to say, but rather because he gets it having experienced it himself.
For me to be the one traveling out of state for several days at home helped me to better appreciate what it is like to be my husband on the road at one of his conferences. It’s lonely hanging out in an airport alone and flying by yourself (I hadn’t flown solo in like 15 years). When my husband attends conferences, he doesn’t have a friendly local LDWGTG attendee offering a ride from the airport to the hotel (Thanks Julie!). He is usually staying in a hotel by himself instead of with his new best friend (Hi Katie!). Finding the time to call home isn’t always easy when you are balancing conference sessions, meals, and networking (aka socializing) with time-zone differences and bedtime routines back home (something I admit I’ve given him a hard time about). It’s hard feeling like you are missing out on what the kids are up to. (I missed my boys have their first ever rock-climbing class.) It’s tough when you find moments while away that you wish your spouse could share with you (my husband would have really loved that Mexican feast the first night).
My husband will soon be off for his first conference since I attended LDWGTG. The kids and I will plunder along as usual while I “Mom Alone” for a few days. My husband will come home from the conference both sad about missing family stuff while simultaneously energized about a few days with bone people talking about bone things. It will be a routine we’ve done countless times before, but I bet we will look at each other with more gratitude when he comes home now that we’ve had a chance to switch places. It’s good to be missed and appreciated.
-Heather Baldwin Ross