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People become “stay-at-home parents” for many reasons. Financial, emotional, logistical, or even instinctual factors may play a part. Plus kids are only young once, and the tug to be close to them is overwhelming for some women—and for an increasing number of men.


At the same time, there are many myths and judgments out there about moms and dads who stay at home. For example, a recent study found that 2/3 of women who call themselves “stay-at-home moms” actually contribute income to their families.

It’s important to illuminate some of the hidden realities about stay-at-home parents. Since I was (proudly) one of them—a “stay-at-home dad” or full-time caretaker (the label I tended to use)—I experienced, witnessed, and examined the realities of those labeled “stay-at-home parents” and the way these conflicted with certain cultural myths and stereotypes in our society.

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There are so many things people don’t know about stay-at-home parents—what they do with their time, what motivates them, what their ambitions are, and so much more.

Here’s what I learned along the way—

Caretaking is really hard

I was the primary caretaker for my daughter from when she was born until she entered a Montessori school when she was 18 months old. During that time I was a PhD student, adjunct professor in a summer course, the editor of an online periodical, and a graduate fellow at a university think tank.

Caretaking was the most demanding and physically exhausting of these jobs.

It required more efficiency than completing my PhD coursework. I was more physically exhausted after taking care of my daughter for a full day than I was after volleyball or basketball practice when I coached (prior to my retirement upon her birth).

Balancing care-taking with other jobs was difficult—sometimes just finding the time to send a single email was like trying to thread a needle...while riding on a unicycle—and I was lucky enough to have flexible jobs and a boss committed to pro-family policies.

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Many caretakers are in more difficult situations with intense pressure to make ends meet with outside jobs while working as primary caretaker.

As a stay-at-home mom or dad, when you’re sick, there is no time off. When you and your child are sick, the sheer willpower required to make it through the day can be incredible. This is not ideal since kids constantly seem to be picking up bugs and passing them on to exhausted adults who have more trouble kicking the sickness. This is particularly true for caretakers who have an older child at daycare or school—germ factories. Being tired and sick while trying to take care of that which you value most in the world is no easy task.

Being a stay-at-home parent can also be isolating. In a society where an increasing number of parents live away from their own parents and the local community where they were raised, caretakers are often on their own—physically and emotionally. There may be groups where one can meet other parents—in person and online—but the level of support and engagement is often limited. These groups meanwhile are often billed as moms’ groups—not exactly inviting to male caretakers.

Caretaking is deeply rewarding

Few things are as rewarding as watching your child develop and learn. Their curiosity and joy are a constant reminder of the wonder and splendor of life and the world. Helping to form them as a person, to foster good habits and help them to build their character, is serious work.

It is work that society should value deeply.

And for the religious believer, while the great monuments of the world will one day be rubble, this person is transcendent and immortal. It is true of all parents, including those who work full time outside the home, that parenting is their most important work. But for full-time caretakers, most of their day is occupied by this grave responsibility. It is difficult work, but it is deeply rewarding.

Caretaking is undergoing big changes

There are numerous cultural changes that are affecting caretaking. The number of stay-at-home dads is rising. Millennials hold more egalitarian views when it comes to gender roles. Millennials are also taking on established work-life balance norms and practices, demanding greater flexibility and sufficient time for their personal lives. Many find Anne-Marie Slaughter’s message that ‘care is as important as career’ compelling.

Thus many millennials with ambitious career goals are trying to find an alternative to the career first/regret missing your children’s childhoods on your deathbed approach. Some are trying to have it all as mompreneurs who bring in big bucks from home while taking care of the kids. Others are trying to juggle part-time jobs and part-time caretaking, with help from babysitters, nanny shares, or others. Some are leaning in, then out, then a little bit more in, then out again—trying to find the right mix or seize opportunities with the idea that you can have it all, but perhaps not at the same time.

All of this is complicated by the digital revolution, which offers new opportunities for work, flexibility, and this type of juggling—but also invades our personal lives and family time.

It is also critical to note that these changes are not just happening among the affluent and highly educated. For instance, many working class men are stepping in as caretakers because that it the best option for their families. Childcare costs are skyrocketing, even exceeding the costs of college tuition in some areas. In areas where wages are stagnant and unemployment is high, it is often practical for one parent to take on some of the caretaking responsibilities rather than spending money on an expensive alternative, regardless of whether it is the mom or dad.

Dads are up for the job

I like a traditional sitcom trope as much the next person, but a few too many people seem to take the bumbling dad who struggles to ‘babysit’ his own kids one a bit too seriously. I’m sure they still exist, but I don’t know dads who don’t know how to change a diaper or get their kids to school on time and dressed appropriately. The dads I see on a regular basis are dedicated and competent. Yet stereotypes about dads and male caretakers seem to linger.

On the one hand, I’ve seen this manifest itself in what I call “momsplaining”: I’ve been told by moms (and single women with no children) that I should not be holding, feeding, playing with, or carrying my child in a particular way on numerous occasions. By complete strangers. I’ve also received my fair share of eyerolls.

Some of the reactions may be the result of my parenting style. When I look away from my baby if he stumbles in a play area, that may seem like neglect to a nearby busybody if she doesn’t realize it’s a conscious strategy to get my kids to not cry when they are not actually hurt. But many of the reactions are certainly the result of underlying prejudice against men as caretakers. And this is not at all uncommon and occurs even when dads are using the most textbook techniques. Personally, I don’t particularly care that random women are giving me bad advice, but I do worry about the impact it has on men who may not feel as confident or secure in their caretaking abilities.

There is also the soft bigotry of low expectations. I’ve been labeled “superdad” for doing what many moms do to little or no acclaim every single day.

Just as I’m indifferent to silly criticism, hyperbolic praise has little effect on me—but it really highlights how underappreciated many stay-at-home moms are, even by other moms.

While it is helpful to affirm the work of men who are doing a great job as caretakers, we must not forget about the moms who are everyday superstars and deserve recognition for their critical, excellent work as caretakers.

Robert Christian is the editor of Millennial, a Ph.D. candidate in politics at The Catholic University of America, and a graduate fellow at the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.

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We've all been there. You first hear those cries that don't sound like any other cries and immediately know what's happening. It's like our mama hearts know when our little ones need us the most. Having little ones feeling under the weather is hard. They can't tell you exactly how they feel. You can't explain to them that they'll feel better soon, and all there is for everyone to do is to take it easy and stay cuddled inside until you can get them to the doctor.

The issue, by this point, is that my son is old enough to know what's coming when we open the medicine cabinet, so giving him something for his throat ends up being like a wrestling match without the fun and giggles. My son especially likes spitting out anything as a way to protest how he's generally feeling, so we both end up covered in sticky syrup feeling defeated. Because, seriously, who thought that using a syringe or pipette to squirt out gooey liquid down an unwilling toddler's mouth was a good idea? (Probably not a parent.)

That's why when I found out there was an easier and more fun way to make these dreaded sick days better, I was all about it.

Enter: Lolleez.

Lolleez are organic throat soothing pops for kids—and adults!—that are made with organic ingredients that you can pronounce and understand like honey and natural fruit pectin. Plus, they're non-GMO as well as gluten, dairy and nut-free i.e. worry-free for all kinds of kiddos. The pops help soothe sore throats while acting like a treat for when kids are feeling under the weather. I also appreciate that the pops are actually flat and on a stick, as opposed to a lozenge or round ball lollipop. They were also created by a mom, which makes me feel a million times more confident about them since I know she knows exactly how hard sick days with a little one can be.

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When I introduced my son to Lolleez pops, everything changed. Suddenly the battle to get him to take something to feel better wasn't... well, a battle. In the few times he's been sick since, he's been more than happy to pop a Lolleez, and I've been more than grateful that soothing him is now as easy as peeling open a wrapper. And, since they come in watermelon, strawberry and orange mango—strawberry is the favorite in this household—he never gets bored of getting a soothing lolly.

Also, they're easy to find—you can get them at stores like Target, CVS and online so I never worry that I'll be caught without in a pinch. After the sick days have run their course and my son starts feeling better, there's nothing like seeing that glow in his eyes come back and have him greet me with a big smile when I come into his room in the morning, ready for the day.

While our littles not feeling well is inevitable, as a mama, I'll do anything to make my child feel better, and I'm so thankful for products that make it just a little easier for the both of us. So here's to enjoying the snuggles that come with sick days, while also looking forward to the giggles that come after them.

This article was sponsored by Lolleez. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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I tried to numb the stress and emotions of being a new mom with weed and booze. I didn't know how to face it all. I had so much grief, rage and regret stuffed down, so much heaviness, guilt and shame I was lugging around.

I would live my days looking forward to when I could drink or smoke to take the edge off, to finally relax, get rid of the anxiety, find fun in the endless playing with baby toys and get through the fits of crying and sleepless nights.

What I didn't realize until it was almost too late was that all that self-medicating with my substance addictions was actually making my issues worse.

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Even though the tequila or wine or gin would take the edge off at the moment, it led to more depression.

Even though the marijuana in the middle of the day would take the intensity of my anxiety down a few notches, it led to more anxiety because it suppressed my real emotions.

And all of it made me more exhausted than I already was from the sleep-deprived reality of early motherhood. After a few months, I found myself in a deeply engrained cycle of weed, alcohol and coffee to keep it all going which led to severe depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

Eventually, it all broke down.

The panic attacks got too frequent and extreme. My self-loathing soared to unbearable, suicidal levels. The alcohol and marijuana no longer did much to suppress anything. The can of worms was open and either I had to face it, get some help and get sober, or lose my mind or life.

It didn't get better overnight. I stopped and started again a few times before I found my way to true sobriety. It was a process.

I found a great therapist that helped me understand my cycle of suppressing feelings with substances and helped me to look underneath the addiction, anxiety and depression to understand what I was actually feeling. I found anger, rage, grief, trauma, shame, resentment, sadness and so much more. I had to actually look at, allow and feel the feelings in order to get through the need to cover them up with addictions.

I also learned mindfulness meditation, which was one of my biggest saviors. I learned how to be with all the anxiety—the tracking, planning, scheduling, worries, endless lists, to-dos and thought loops that come with being a parent. Almost everything I was trying to do with alcohol and pot, meditation did better and without side effects. Then I started going to recovery meetings and quit for real.

Parenting got so much better after I got sober. Not right away though. At first, I hit a serious period of boredom. Life with a baby without alcohol or marijuana seemed so bland to me. The stark reality of the mundane was hard. But over time I learned to find enjoyment without any substances.

There's no more cracking open a bottle of wine, sipping it to relax while I cook dinner. There's no more stepping away to slyly hit my vape pen, returning with bleary eyes and a goofy smile. There's just me, my daughter, my husband and more of myself—breathing, playing, bathing, laughing, dancing, singing, going to bed, waking up early and doing it all again.

Now that I'm sober, I don't have any panic attacks at all. I am way less anxious in general, and when I do feel anxiety I know how to work with it. Depression is almost non-existent, and even though I still feel tired often, I am not utterly exhausted. It's manageable, and I know how to recharge myself.

I'm a better mom now, too. I am more present, patient and kind. I am able to process my emotions faster. I am in a better mood more often. I have more energy. I enjoy our time together and show my love for her more. I am more responsible and available.

I'm not trying to escape anymore. I'm here.

One of my favorite things to do now as the sun sets and I cook dinner is to crack open an audiobook and savor that sweet time in the kitchen. My husband often bathes my daughter and gets her ready for bed and I have that time to myself, listening to something interesting, enjoying the smells and textures of the food, the rhythm of the chopping and my own breath.

I don't need alcohol or drugs to endure parenthood, to get through it, to cope with it, to escape from it. This is my life, after all, and it will be for a very long time.

Instead of using some external things to change how I feel about it, I let myself actually feel my feelings about it. I talk about it. I write about it. I dance about it. I sing about it. I work on it in therapy. I communicate authentically with my husband and other mothers.

Learning how to truly relax and deal with my emotions instead of faking it with wine or weed was the most important thing I ever did for myself as a human and parent. I no longer have to make myself go numb to make it through the days. I get to give my daughter my full attention, love and a childhood she truly deserves—one with a genuinely present, calm and sober mother.

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Life

The news cycle moves so quickly that the good news stories can speed through your feed quicker than you can see them. Yes, stories like Meghan Markle admitting that she's not okay or the Johnson's baby powder recall are important, but so are the good or funny stories happening to non-royal women every day.

It's important to keep up with the news, but it's also important to smile when we can. Luckily we track the best viral stories for you every week.

Here are the viral stories that made us smile:

Identical twin nurses go viral after they delivered identical twin babies together

Identical twins Tori Howard and Tara Drinkard both work at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center in Georgia— Drinkard in the labor and delivery unit, Howard in the neonatal intensive care unit. They hadn't worked together on a delivery, but they knew it would happen eventually. They just probably didn't predict that the first time they'd team up would be to deliver another set of identical twin girls.

Brannan and Rebecca Williams couldn't believe they had another set of identical twins in the room when they welcomed their daughters on September 25.

"We found out 10 minutes before Rebecca was wheeled into the OR for an emergency C-section," Brannan Williams told Today Parents. "I couldn't believe it. What are the chances? It's crazy."

The elder set of twins was just as surprised at this turn of events. "We knew we'd cross paths in the delivery room eventually," Howard writes to Today Parents. "But we never imagined that our first experience would be with twins girls!"

As a mother of twins, I know how overwhelming it can be to welcome two babies on the same day, but Brannan and Rebecca definitely had an advantage thanks to their experience with Tori and Tara. Brannan and Rebecca's daughters, Emma and Addison, were born at 32 weeks and spent three weeks in the NICU, so the parents presumably spent a bit of time with the nurses. They plan to keep in touch as well.

"They have given us so much good advice," the parents tell Today Parents. "The biggest thing they told us is to remember that the girls are individuals and even though they look alike, that doesn't make them the same person."

This viral #boymom is finally a #girlmom after 11 births 

Have you ever noticed how some families seem to produce way more of one sex than the other? Well, you've probably never seen anything quite like this. Alexis Brett, a mama from London, had 10 (yes, 10!) boys in a row. How crazy is that? But the streak was recently broken—Brett just welcomed her first daughter.

According to The Daily Mail, Brett and her husband welcomed their first son when she was 22 years old. Over the next 15 years, the mama gave birth to nine more sons, making them the first known British couple to have 10 sons in a row.

Brett just gave birth to her 11th child on August 2...and to her astonishment, it was a little girl.

"We're over the moon. I'd been expecting to hear we were having another boy but when I found out it was a girl, my face was a picture. I was shocked but delighted. Now she's here with us, it's a fantastic feeling," the mother tells The Daily Mail. "Curiosity did get the better of us [and we decided to learn the baby's sex before the birth]. When the results came in the post, [our son] opened the envelope because I was too nervous. When we realised it was a girl, we were amazed. It sounds silly because it's a 50:50 chance, but we were surprised anyway."

Brett named her daughter Cameron after actress Cameron Diaz. Cameron joins siblings Campbell, 17, Harrison, 16, Corey, 14, Lachlan, 11, Brodie, nine, Brahn, eight, Hunter, six, Mack, five, Blake, three, and Rothagaidh, two.

It appears the couple's first daughter will be their last child.

"No more! I remember saying that last time, but this time I absolutely mean it. I love my family as it is now...We've been asked a lot whether we've had so many children because we were hoping for that elusive girl. But I can honestly answer no. Cameron wasn't planned, but I was happy all the same, and if another boy had been on the way it wouldn't have bothered me," says Brett. "I'm an only child myself and I'd never planned to have a large family, but now that I do, I love it. I always joked I wouldn't have a clue what to do with a girl anyway but that's all changed now, of course, and I have to admit that we're having a lot of fun buying pink things for the first time."

This mama's viral 'ghost story' is too 😆

It's not Halloween yet but mom Maritza Elizabeth is going viral for her own hilarious ghost story.

She posted a spooky photo of her baby monitor on Facebook. It shows one of her kids in their crib and through the black and white of the baby monitor, it clearly looks like there is another baby in their crib with her son. It would be startling to any parent, especially in October.

"So last night I was positive there was a ghost baby in the bed with my son," she captioned her pic, which has now been shared more than 300,000 times.

"I was so freaked out, I barely slept. I even tried creeping in there with a flashlight while my son was sleeping. Well, this morning I go to investigate a bit further. It turns out my husband just forgot to put the mattress protector on when he changed the sheets 😂😂 I could kill him."

We're so glad Maritza solved the mystery of the ghost baby (without waking up her sleeping son).

This mama gave birth during a tornado and her story is going viral 

As a tornado hit Rowlett, Texas a group of women took shelter in a laundry room. As sirens wailed outside, and by candlelight, a mother delivered her baby.

The Bump Birthing Center shared this story to its Facebook page, captioning a photo of the mother and baby: "Baby girl born in our laundry room with the tornado sirens going off, a tornado on the ground half a mile away, and no electricity.....by candle light!! Welcome to the world beauty!"

The chief midwife and owner of The Bump Birthing Center, Kasie McElhaney, told the New York Daily News: "She had just started pushing when the power went out and the sirens went off, and we had to shuffle to the laundry room.

"It's the only room in the center that has no windows, and it's centrally located. So that's where we went. One wall is brick—it's probably not even big enough for a twin-sized bed. But we made it work."

They made it work and now the photographic evidence is making the rounds on the internet, with many commenters suggesting weather-related names for this baby girl. Her parents (who are protecting their own privacy as well as her own) are not releasing their last name or their baby girl's first. But they will say it isn't Stormy.

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News

It was never my goal to be a mama and a wife. As a teenager, I was completely fine with my decision not to have children. When someone would ask me how many children I wanted, my response would always be none. In my 20's, I traveled the world and focused on building my career. A family of my own was far from my mind. And I was okay with that. Then I hit 30 and something inside me changed.

I'm not sure what exactly changed. Or why it changed. But I started to long for a family of my own.

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Then as if my heart's desire had been answered I met him. We fell in love. And within a few years, I was married to this incredible man. Then we received the best news we could have hoped for. I was pregnant—with a baby boy. The family I had longed for was right here in front of me. I had become this child's mama.

Just like that my whole life's focus changed.

My mind wasn't on my career progression or where in the world I was going to explore next. It was focused on this little human. This little human, who was safely cradled in my arms. This little human who now relied on me to provide him with care, with comfort, with love.

I became defined by my motherhood. And that was okay.

Now I won't lie, as my son grew and we welcomed our second child to our family, there were moments of exhaustion. Moments of frustration. Moments of tears. Moments where I desperately needed some me time.

But here is the truth. Yes, right now I am defined by motherhood. And that's okay. I spent many years longing to be here at this moment. To have my family. To be my children's mama.

I know this is a finite period in my life. So I am choosing to embrace it. I am choosing to find joy in my motherhood journey.

I know my children need me now in a way they won't ever again. And I don't want to miss out on all the beautiful moments right here in front of me.

You see, one day they won't need me to rock them in my arms or lay with them every night till they fall asleep.

One day they won't need me to pick them up and carry them everywhere. In fact, one day they will be too big for me to do that even if I wanted to.

One day they won't need to help them get dressed and put on their shoes.

One day they won't ask me to sing them that song for the 10th time.

One day they won't need me to do all the things for them as they do now.

You see, right now my children are only little. Right now they need me. Right now they choose me.

I am their safe place. I am their comfort. I am honored to be the one that they turn to. I am honored to be the one they call home.

That is why, first and foremost, I am defined by my motherhood. And that is more than okay with me.

This article was previously published here.

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Life

Your to-do list is kind of under control. The kitchen is mostly clean. You just finished that big work project and to celebrate, you scheduled a lunch out with the girls tomorrow while your little one is at school. As you rest your head on the pillow you think to yourself, “Okay! I might actually sorta-kinda have this whole thing under control!"

And then you hear it from down the hallway: cough cough.

Your eyes shoot open. No. It's fine, just a little tickle in her throat. She's fine.

Cough cough cough.

Nope, it's fine. If I lay here and don't move nothing will be...

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“MOOOOOOMMMMMMYYYYYYYYY I don't feeeeeeel goooooooood."

Sigh.

You break out the humidifier, the Tylenol and the snuggles. And then comes the inevitable question—can they go to school tomorrow? It's not an easy question to answer, for sure.

On the one hand, kids are basically walking booger factories at all times—if we kept them home for every sneeze and cough they'd never go to school. On the other hand, we don't want to put our kids in a situation where they could get sicker—or make other kids sick.

When in doubt, you should always give your pediatrician a call for guidance. Most schools have policies on it as well.

But as a general rule of thumb, here's what to know when your child isn't feeling well:

On fevers

The most clear cut of all symptoms are fevers—if they have a fever, they stay home. A fever is any temperature of 100.4 Fahrenheit or greater. A child needs to be fever-free for a full 24-hours before they can return to school.

Note: If your newborn has a fever she needs medical attention right away. It could be an emergency.

On stuffy noses and coughs

A mildly stuffy nose, or an occasional cough isn't enough to warrant a day off from school. But if the mucus is really thick and/or the cough is frequent, loud, or just sounds “gross," it's probably best to keep her home.

Coughs can linger for a long time in children, but if it persists for several days, or she has a fever with it, give your doctor a call. If the cough sounds like a seal barking, and certainly if she is having any trouble breathing, get medical attention right away.

On tummy troubles

Or as my daughter's preschool teacher called it, “intestinal mischief." If your child is vomiting or has diarrhea, they should stay home (and should stay home for 24 hours after the last incident). Make sure everyone at home washes their hands really well, as stomach bugs tend to be very contagious.

Remember to encourage your child to drink lots of fluids. If they aren't drinking, call your doctor right away.

On skin issues

This can be tricky—between marker explosions, dry skin and rashes, it seems like my kids' skin looks different every day. Rashes are almost impossible to diagnose over the phone, so if you are concerned, they'll need to be evaluated by their doctor to help determine the cause (and contagiousness) of the rash.

If you suspect your child has lice, they should stay home as well—and you'll probably have to give the school a call so they can ANONYMOUSLY alert the other parents.

Along the same lines is the dreaded conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Usually your child (or lucky you) will wake up with their eyelids crusted shut, or they'll have a very pink eye with lots of goop (sorry—but we're all moms here, we can handle the eye goop convo right?)

This is highly contagious, so they should for sure stay home from school. Depending on if it's viral or bacterial, you doctor may prescribe medicine that clears it up quickly.

On pain

This one is tough—kids often complain about various boo-boos, especially when it means that they get a Frozen Bandaid out of the deal. If they complain of pain persistently, if the pain prevents them from playing, and of course if you witness a bad injury, keep them home and get medical help right away.

Remember that you know your child best. Ultimately, you get to make the decision. Your pediatrician will be there to guide you, and one day, ONE DAY, you really will get that whole to-do list tackled... we think?

You've got this.

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