Stay-at-home dad stays social

Posted: Wednesday, July 18, 2007

There is one distinct disadvantage to being a stay-at-home dad: I am not a woman.

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Being a man means that I mostly avoid inviting my children's friends over for a visit. Why? Because inviting a child means inviting a parent, and most stay-at-home parents are women. The last time I checked, our society still frowns on married men inviting women into their homes.

Come to think of it, my kids have only rarely been invited to anybody else's house.

I mentioned this dilemma to a stay-at-home mom once, and was a little surprised when she suggested that our kids get together anyway. I then asked if she would feel comfortable inviting me to her house, or coming to my house, and she came to agree that it probably wasn't a good idea.

Actually, there are alternatives to meeting in the home. Juneau has a fine new playground, and several other parks with good places for kids to play. In inclement weather there is the Mount Jumbo Gym, and a couple of privately owned indoor playrooms as well.

Of course, when I had my conversation with the stay-at-home mom we were in the depths of winter, and the thought of meeting at one of the indoor playrooms never crossed my mind. Even so, I can easily imagine such an innocent encounter being misinterpreted by some otherwise innocent passing acquaintance, with the resultant rumors of illicit affairs and clandestine meetings!

No, thank you.

Since I am the stay-at-home parent, I feel that I bear most of the responsibility for how my children spend their time at home. I play with them, pretend with them, read to them, and do my best to interact with them throughout the day. My wife does the same when she's not at work, and through the summer when she's not teaching.

Even so, both of our children were slow to start talking.

Most children like having other children of their own age to interact with. In decades past this was largely possible because most stay-at-home parents were women, and it has been a long-accepted norm of our society for moms to get together with other moms.

While mothers have long been accustomed to networking with other mothers, it is uncommon for stay-at-home fathers to get together. For one thing, there are statistically very few of us. We are also hampered because a lot of men, myself included, find it difficult to make new friends, or even to get together with old ones. Finding fellow stay-at-home dads with common interests is not an easy task.

The end result is that my kids, on average, may not be getting the same degree of peer interaction as the children of stay-at-home moms.

I sometimes wonder if my daughter would have been better served had she grown up in the presence of siblings or peers modeling age-appropriate behavior. Perhaps her development would have been accelerated at an earlier age had she spent more time in the company of others. Or maybe not: those are among the uncertainties of autism.

My wife and I are both extraordinarily grateful for the Juneau School District's preschool program. It has provided our daughter with a peer group, and given her friends to talk to and about.

Our daughter has thrived in preschool. She is using a widening vocabulary now and speaking in simple sentences. She knows the names of her classmates and likes to play with them. Her attention is now much more easily focused.

We all need to be able to socialize with our peers, whether we are children or adults. My daughter has preschool. Our kids have each other, and they are usually the best of playmates. My son gets together with several kids during the Two's Learning Class at REACH, and when the time comes he'll probably also go to preschool.

I like to play and pretend and read with my kids. I like to interact with my wife too, both in front of the kids and, when we're very lucky, when they're both asleep in their beds.

Some day, I hope to reconnect with the outside world. Maybe I'll make some new friends. Perhaps, some day, I'll even befriend a fellow stay-at-home dad.

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