Over the past two years, I’ve gotten to know another stay-at-home dad in the neighborhood. Bob has a boy who is also two years old. We try to meet up once a month to catch up and trade notes on how to be better fathers.
Our latest topic du jour is trying to figure out when the right time is for us to go back to work full-time. We’re tired and need a vacation from parenthood.
Go back to work too soon and you’ll miss many of your child’s precious milestones. Go back to work too late and you might never be able to get a similar paying job or a decent job again.
What is a conflicted parent supposed to do? It turns out, we may not have to make a decision at all if we can hang on.
Logically, if you can afford to, the best time to go back to work is once your child goes to preschool or kindergarten full-time. Preschool can start as young as two. Kindergarten usually starts around five or six. With 3 – 8 hours of free-time a day, it would be best to at least do some part-time work instead of drinking rosé all day.
Although being a full-time parent is brutally hard, raising your child full-time for the first 2-5 years of life has its benefits. 90% of a child’s brain develops by age five. The quality of a child’s experiences in the first few years of life – positive or negative – supposedly helps shape their future. Therefore, if possible, we might as well make it count the most when development is most rapid.
So far, I have yet to meet a single parent who has regretted giving up money to take care of their children during my limited time of being a full-time parent. The thought process is usually the same. We can always make more money, but we can never get back time with our children.
But many parents do not have the luxury of being stay-at-home parents until their child goes to preschool or kindergarten. Going back to work after 1-6 months is usually the norm here in America.
For those parents who’ve given up their careers to take care of their children, yet long to get back into the workforce before their child enters kindergarten, here is when to emotionally go back to work.
When it comes to family, logic often goes out the window and emotions take over. Emotion is why parents are willing to pay $70,000 a year for a private school education when $20,000 a year for a public school education will do. Our desire to give our children everything makes our willingness to pay inelastic.
We, as parents, feel our children’s pain as if it were our own. We also feel an immeasurable amount of joy once they achieve something they’ve worked so hard to achieve.
What I realize now after being a stay-at-home father for over 28 months is that there are a couple phrases that pierce my chest and sting my heart like no other. They are:
“No daddy! Just mommy.”
When all I want to do is hug and play with my boy, him saying either one of these two phrases really hurts.
As a stay-at-home parent, one of my biggest fears is that I spend so many hours raising and loving him everyday and he ends up hating my guts. The more you invest, the more you have to lose. This fear of failure is why it’s scary to try hard.
At only 28 months old, I recognize my boy does not exactly mean the harshness of his rebuff. I also recognize that when he’s teething, sick, or needs to go to the bathroom, he often wants to be left alone and doesn’t know how to politely say, “Hi daddy, could you give me some privacy?”
Nonetheless, his bluntness still hurts.
After one particularly unloving afternoon, I had an idea. Every time my boy said “no daddy” or “no daddy, just mommy,” I would respond with an “OK, bye-bye” and leave.
In the past, if my son was awake, I felt guilty if I left the house for more than two hours. I felt bad putting the sole burden of parenting on my wife. I also felt guilty about choosing another activity over being with my son since I have full control over my time.
I realized separation time was important for a parent’s sanity, yet I couldn’t help but feel bad.
Now thanks to my son’s rejections, I no longer feel nearly as much guilt going to my office for a couple hours to work on an article. And if he’s been particularly moody and says “no daddy” repeatedly, I feel completely guilt-free leaving the house for several hours at a time to run errands and play tennis or softball. Heck, I might even have a beer after with the boys.
In contrast, whenever he says “Where’s daddy?” or “Hi to daddy,” I find it impossible to leave him without feeling like I’m abandoning my son.
Now, when I come back from a long outing, he is always extremely excited to see me. This might seem like commonsense for working parents. But for me, I did not see this coming until after he turned two because I hardly ever left him. In fact, one of his developmental delays was not knowing how to wave good-bye because we never did.
My son’s rejections have actually enabled me to feel happier overall because I now have more guilt-free freedom to do as I please. Further, he is getting what he wants – to be left alone. What a win-win!
By going back to work when your child starts rejecting your love, you are making your child realize how truly loving you actually are. All too often we take the people in our lives for granted. Kids are no different.
Your child will learn how to be more independent. He or she will learn to adapt to new caregivers and new playmates. Your child will also learn to better self-advocate, which is critical for young adults and adults alike.
Based on my informal survey of fellow stay-at-home parents, I’ve found kids start to talk back between 18 and 24 months. Going back to work by 24 months is great for parents who are still very career oriented. If you’re away for 24 months or less, I doubt many parents will skip a beat at work.
For parents who feel bad going back to work well before 24 months, feel better knowing that your child’s undying affection won’t last. As their brains grow, so will their desire for independence and new experiences.
It’s amazing how nature has figured out a way to help ensure parents keep on working to improve the survival of our species.
If children were always incredibly loving, happy, and kind, we parents would never want to leave our children again! Alas, the terrible twos and threenager years exist to push stay-at-home-parents to seek the sanity and financial security of part-time or full-time work.
As for whether I plan to come out of “retirement” now that my boy is going to preschool this fall, I’m keeping my options open. I’m happy to work for a promising company with an enticing compensation package if an opportunity presents itself. With a growing chance of a recession, it’s not a bad idea to earn some more active income.
But I’ve come up with another plan that could be the perfect solution. Stay tuned!
Update: I taught my boy to say “daddy later“ instead of “no daddy” or “no mommy,” and it’s made all the difference!
The Risk Of Not Being Able To Get A Job Again After Retiring Early Is Overblown
A Severance Negotiation Case Study For Those Who Want To Be Stay-At-Home Parents
What Is The Best Age To Have A Baby Based On Biology And Finances
How To Survive The Pressures As A Sole Income Provider
Readers, at what age did your kids start to rebuff your love or not want to hang out with you as much anymore? Did it help relieve your guilt of not spending as much time with them anymore? What other things does nature do to encourage parents to stay as supportive as possible and ensure the continuation of our species?