Stay-at-home dads: Joys of raising children aren’t just for moms

May 2018 Posted in Community, Other

By Melissa Wagonereric and charolette

Househusband, stay-at-home dad, work-from-home father – all of these terms describe a trend in parenting showing up wherever young children are found.

Fathers are strapping on baby carriers and diaper bags and getting down to the daily business of caring for their young children – many while continuing to embark on a career.

“[W]ith child care being so expensive the bulk of my paycheck would have gone to that,” Kevin Gerlits, father of two, explained. “We had also always hoped to have our children have one parent home raising them – we are grateful and lucky to have this opportunity.”Kevin and Emmett Gerlits at Silverton Indoor Park (2)

With the birth of their first child, Alana, now five, Gerlits – a building designer – began working half time but continued commuting to Salem. With the birth of their second child, Emmett, now three and a half – he became a full-time work-from-home dad. He spends nights and weekends – time when his wife Therese is home – catching up on work.

“Therese [Principal at Butte Creek Elementary] made more money than I did and had better benefits so it just made sense at the time,” Gerlits said.

Apart from the financial savings, the arrangement has benefited Gerlits by offering him the chance to be present during each of his children’s firsts – something he likely would have missed had he continued to work full-time.

He described “seeing the joy and enthusiasm when they discover something new and wonderful for the first time,” as one of the greatest highlights of the parenting arrangement.

Fellow stay-at-home dad Eric Nelson agrees.

“I think the first six years is a special time – before they go to school,” he said. “My favorite part is that extended time during the day to watch them grown.”

Nelson, a full-time firefighter for the Salem Fire Department, is able to maintain a career while acting as the primary caregiver for his daughter, Charlotte, age two, because of the flexibility of both his schedule and that of his wife Jennifer, a forensic scientist in Clackamas.

“Her job is unique because it’s full of mothers,” Nelson said. “They had a very liberal policy where they just need 40 hours. We made the decision to co-parent instead of do daycare.”

Although the decision to maintain one parent in the caregiving role at all times was an easy one for the Nelsons, it has come with challenges. Very limited time alone as a couple is one of them.

“We basically give each other a high five,” Nelson shrugged. “We’re in a season where our time together isn’t much, so we have to be more intentional.”

Although the scarcity of couple time isn’t a problem exclusive to couples with stay-at-home dads, it has given Nelson a unique perspective.

“The hardest thing for me – for our situation – is paying attention to Jen,” he said. “I think for the first eight years of our marriage she was my princess and then Charlotte came along…”

Gerlits, too, has gained new perspective in being the primary caregiver for his children and tries to find balance with empathy.

“The parent that is at work all day needs to realize that staying home with the kids is also a full-time job,” he explained. “Likewise, as the stay-at-home parent it is important to remember your spouse or partner has been at work all day and may need a little time to be home before the full weight of the children jumps on them and hugs them into oblivion.”

Although parenting – no matter who is doing it – has its challenges, those hugs are a big motivator for both Gerlits and Nelson who feel lucky to be able to spend every day with their kids.

“I have always wanted to have a heavy hand in parenting and my job has given me the ability to do that,” Nelson said. “[Charlotte] basically stays with family 100 percent of the time.”

Although the majority of stay-at-home parents are still moms, Gerlits said he has encountered a lot of support.

“I think daycare has kind of become the norm and a lot of the people I have talked with seem pleasantly surprised that I’m staying home with my children,” he said. “Plus two of my close friends are also stay-at-home dads so that’s been fun.”

Overall, both men said they are happy with their choice and would recommend it to others.

“Just do what works best for you,” Gerlits suggested.“And don’t be resistant to change as new situations arise.”

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