Work-at-home dads learning to balance
kids and career
If you think every day is Father's Day for work-at-home
dads, think again. The guy down the street who traded a lunch bucket
for a diaper bag is not unique, and his situation is no holiday.
"There's a lot of us out there," says Jay
Massey, father of a young son and co-founder of Coco Design Associates
Inc., a Web design firm he helps run from his Pensacola, Fla., home.
The numbers back him up. According to estimates from
the market research firm IDC, more than 14 million households have
at least one home-based business. U.S. Census data show that the
number of children living with stay-at-home dads has jumped 70 percent
since 1990, to 2.5 million.
The bottom line is that more men are joining women
in juggling career, kids and home. Their conclusion: It isn't easy
-- but it is worth it.
Help crucial for home -- and
work -- success
"It's been huge to be with the kids," says Todd Landrum,
who is home with his two youngsters while also running Paladin Programming,
a software design firm, from his Evergreen, Colo., home.
But he admits he couldn't do it without help.
First, of course, there is mom. His wife, Tish, is
a doctor and schedules appointments on just four weekdays, freeing
her to look after the kids on one day. They also hire a baby sitter
when needed to give Todd extra time to meet with clients and they
trade off, so each can have a little time off to see friends or
just catch up on work.
And the Landrums promised each other from the beginning
there would be no working at night or on weekends. "You have
to work out how it's going to work," he notes. "If it's
catch-as-catch-can, it can be difficult."
Their nap time is your work
The first thing work-at-home dads learn? Get as much done as you
can while the kids sleep.
When Massey started his business shortly after the
birth of his son Tucker, it was a struggle. "I was averaging
three to five hours of sleep a night," says Massey. "I
had to work during his naps and at night."
As Tucker grew, so did the business, creating a tremendous
amount of angst for dad. "He'd come to me and say 'let's play
some ball' and I'm on the phone," Massey remembers. "There
were days when I felt like such a schmuck trying to juggle a growing
business and a child."
Once his son reached school age, Massey got more sleep.
But he never did housework. He and wife, Joann, a psychologist,
hired a housekeeper once a week to handle the worst of it, and they
split the rest of the chores.
"Every family has to come up with a routine of
their own," he says.
Thanks to the Internet, home-based dads also are networking. They
host Web sites, sharing the joys and pains of parenting. They've
formed a national network of dad-only play groups for mutual moral
support, for their kids and themselves. Dads also meet regularly
in Internet chat rooms to discuss everything from last night's game
to problems with nap time.
"The biggest problem for at-home dads is isolation,"
says Landrum. "You get the idea that you're the only one in
"If I go to a grocery store at 10 a.m. or story
time at the library, I will be the only guy there among moms who
are not overly fond of talking to a guy. Our e-mail group is like
your watercooler at work."
Landrum also started a local dads group, where three
or four dads get out to the park with the kids once a month.
Day care dilemma
The information age and the computer certainly have facilitated
the at-home movement. But Robert Frank, co-author of The
Involved Father: Family-Tested Solutions for Getting Dads to Participate
More in the Daily Lives of Their Children, says that most
of the dads he studied chose to be at home because both parents
didn't want to put the kids in day care.
Such was the case of Gary McGonagill. He opened a
small sign shop, Hometown Signs, behind his house in Big Stone Gap,
Va., because he loved the work, enjoyed the idea of going into business
for himself and he and his wife, Dr. Theresa Dunton, wanted one
of them to be at home with their daughters.
One of McGonagill's biggest challenges was making
the business fit his family's schedule. "I really changed my
schedule a lot -- that's what you have to do," he says. "If
you make a commitment to be an at-home dad, that's what you are."
But he almost became a victim of his at-home business's
success. When the venture really started to take off, McGonagill
moved it to another location away from home.
"I was working 60 hours a week, and we were shuffling
the kids back and forth between two offices," he remembers.
"Finally, we said 'this is crazy.'"
Tired of the push-pull, he moved the business back
home -- to a brand new 900-square-foot workshop in his backyard,
complete with second-story playroom for the girls. "You can't
go head first into the business and think that the rest will take
care of itself," says McGonagill. "The priority has to
be the kids."
Work schedule flexibility key
McGonagill also learned to work around his kids' schedules rather
than the other way around. He does jobs in pieces, rather than trying
to finish one whole job at a time. He squeezes in work in the mornings
and evenings when kids are sleeping or occupied.
And he's not afraid to say "no" -- or at
least "not now" to clients. "I've gotten better at
it," he says. "You have to pace yourself and be flexible."
Marl Gorkin, a licensed psychotherapist specializing
in stress, agrees that it's OK to say no, to clients and kids. "N
and N -- no and negotiate," advises Gorkin. "Don't just
say no and slam the door."
While dads often have a slightly different parenting
style, they also tend to be more sanguine about client relationships
and deadlines -- and the clients respect that. With a national client
base that's grown strictly by word-of-mouth, McGonagill has found
that his clients are willing to work with him on deadlines.
"If they want the quality I can produce, they
know they may have to wait a little longer," he says.
Stereotypes still strong
But despite the success stories, work-at-home fathers still must
deal with stereotypes.
"There really is a stigma," says author
Frank. "Society changes very slowly, and we hold on to stereotypes."
Other men don't always understand, either. "My
feeling is they don't get it, and they don't respect it," adds
Landrum. "You get comments like, 'I'd do it if I could,' then
they have a kid, and they take one day off from work."
Sometimes, the pressure comes from within. Buzz McClain
was an entertainment editor for the Washington Times when
he decided to give up the daily rat race for a freelance career.
"I came home really miserable one day and said 'I have got
to do something else.'"
Suddenly, the Playboy columnist who just a
few years earlier was named one of Washington's most eligible bachelors
was changing diapers and watching his wife bring home the big paycheck.
"I had to ignore all my masculine aggressive tendencies in
the early years," he recalls. "She's making more money
than me -- who cares?"
Now McClain has a strong bond with his two kids, plus
more work than he can handle.
"It sure beats going to an office, I'll tell
-- Updated: June 9, 2003