About a year ago, my wife was offered a position in a global MNC that represented a substantial increase in her compensation and benefits. FINALLY. This was a chance for me to leave my corporate 9-to-5 job to venture into something that allowed for more flexibility.
I’ve been working since I graduated and always dreamed about taking a break. But of course, there was the paycheck that afforded the lifestyle that my family and myself have gotten used to.
However, my wife’s new position would require a lot more time commitment and focus as it entailed stepping out of her comfort zone into unfamiliar territory. She estimated that it would take 6 months to form a new team and stabilize it, after which she would probably be able to regain her current work-life balance that she currently enjoyed.
She was keen to take up the challenge, but it would mean that I would have to be in charge of all home affairs whilst she transitioned into her new role. She was supportive of the idea for me to to take care of our two young children and encouraged me to “just do it”.
And this was how I became a house-husband. In my head, this was gonna be the best thing ever! No deadlines, no corporate politics, freedom to dictate my own time, quality and quantity time with the kids.
10 months later, I have to say that perception is very far from reality. I discovered that it was far more challenging mentally and physically than I had originally anticipated.
1. There are certain expectations of a Chinese Malaysian family
My family was brutally honest with regards to the decision. Some understood, others could not.
Coming from a traditional ethnic Chinese family where the men were always the breadwinners, it was difficult to come to terms with the constant feeling of inadequacy. It’s a common observation, according to the latest research, men’s desire for professional advancement, achievement of power and status are greater compared to women.
With that phase of life now temporarily behind me and given the lack of opportunities to utilise my god given predatory instincts for food gathering and hunting due to modern farming, being a stay-at home dad meant that I had to re-define what achievement and success meant to me as quantitative monetary measurements were no longer suitable.
I had to deal with a plethora of reactions ranging from positively stunned…
“Good life lah you, that’s my dream too.”
… to the skeptics.
“I didn’t think you had it in you, you don’t really look like the type, your wife got give you hard time ah?”
The back-handed jibes really bugged me in the beginning and it took a while getting used to it. The skeptism has yet to completely abate after 10 months and I still receive some occasional inquiries about my well-being:
“Still doing nothing ah?” “Not bored meh?”
It requires a conscious effort to just be confident about the decision and to remind myself the reasons our family set out to do this. Doesn’t matter what other people think.
2. It’s not as easy for a guy to spend money when it isn’t yours
As mentioned earlier, my recurring income stream plummeted to zero overnight. No amount of spreadsheets and projections can prepare you for the day you officially go from contributing spouse to full-time-dependent.
Granted there was a budget, but it was difficult for me to splurge on discretionary things without guilt. My wife lets me control the household finances, exactly like in Japanese households where the wife (in my scenario the husband) decides the proportion of his salary he should receive as a discretionary allowance.
In spite of this, I do feel embarrassed asking my wife for money. I always thought it would be easy to spend other people’s money. Sure, if you left out “responsibly” from the sentence. I am heart broken every time I see my wife come home from a tough day at work. The feeling of guilt and inadequacy is compounded because I can’t help but feel I could ease her suffering by having an income.
3. Meeting new people now is like meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time
Remember the anxiety of meeting her parents for the first time? You don’t know what they will think and you reassure yourself by saying, they’ll like me once they get to know me better. Nowadays, I get that same feeling of dread when I get asked “what do you do”.
I never had this problem before as I used to derive a lot of my identity from my job. My first hand experience came when I was filling in some forms to purchase a life insurance policy. The insurance agent asked for my occupation and I told him that I was unemployed. He was like “HUH?!”
He asked if I was in between jobs and I said no, I am unemployed and I take care of the kids while my wife works. “You have your own business is it, no need to work anymore”, again I said no, I have no business, my wife gives me money and I use it to manage the household finances.
There was no check box for house husband, but there is one for housewife, I couldn’t tick that, as clearly I don’t fit the gender criteria of being a “wife”. Just when I was about to tick the unemployed box, he advised me to tick the “others” box and write home-maker instead. I gathered us house-husband’s just aren’t sizeable enough a profession to justify a dedicated check box, I console myself by saying “superheroes don’t have a box too”.
Turns out insurance companies are just like your girlfriend’s parents, they will like you once they get to know you better and in my case, they wrote me a policy when my health screen report came back all clear and when I showed them my wife’s income statement.
4. Spending time with kids – too much of a good thing can be bad
During my years in the corporate world, I always felt guilty that I could never spend enough time with the kids, by the time I got home, they were either already sleeping or in the midst of preparing for bed. 10-30 minutes was the norm and anything above an hour would be a real bonus.
Fast forward to today, I am overdosed on time with kids and although I am thankful that I get to witness the kids grow up, but I can now relate to the saying where too much of a good thing can be bad. My patience with the kids has decreased significantly and it has definitely affected my relationship with them.
According to a research published by the National Academy of Sciences, after you become a dad, your testosterone levels drop. Apparently its nature’s way of reducing aggression, calming us down and making us more attentive to children. I guess we men just aren’t as nurturing to begin with, and nature shrinks our dad balls to boost our ability to keep up with mom. I wonder if nature has a way to increase our patience towards rowdy, needy children. God knows i need a huge dose urgently!
5. Buying things from pasar pagi is alot harder than bargaining at LowYat Plaza
I would characterise myself as a thrifty person. The feeling of getting the best deal brings a lot of satisfaction to me. So when it came to grocery shopping, I was confident that my geeky obsessiveness when acquiring gadgets at Low Yat Plaza would readily transfer to helping me get the best deals at the pasar pagis.
I was dead wrong.
Groceries are not homogenous, there are no brands, no specifications for fresh produce, SO BUYERS BEWARE! Before this, decisions were driven by price and my groceries were mainly from the supermarket aisles, prices clearly labeled, no haggling, what you see is what you get. Odds of getting quality was like buying 4D, win some lose some. Its a jungle out there.
Having said that, I’ve also learnt that the pasar is where the good stuff are at. I’m guessing it’s because the hardworking pasar Uncles and Aunties act as a first layer filter, so its in their best interest to pick the good stuff to increase “marketability”. I have a fixed “guy” that I frequent now.
Developing that relationship took a lot of trial and error, but it goes a long way in not getting conned. It reduces anxiety and stress knowing that I’ll get what I paid for. I admit after 8 months of on-the-job training, I am still unable to discern crap if pasar sellers started peddling it to me.
I thought I left the corporate world, but good networks and relationships are important, even to an internally focused role of homemaker.
6. Home making means being commander and foot soldier all in one.
Raising children is tiring physically and mentally. You are the one-man-army. You strategise to educate, discipline, meal planning etc. and are on the frontlines everyday ferrying kids, entertaining cooking, nagging them to bathe, eat, sleep etc.
So what about days when my energy levels are low? I’ve discovered that there are tactical options we can deploy to achieve objectives. These include:
- The “Persuasion” – conventional response to a wide array of situations. Two-pronged approached either through the use of encouragement to give support/ hope or alternatively the use of negative deterrence strategies to discourage unwanted behaviour. No known side effects. Effectiveness is high during early years but rapidly declines as intelligence and self-awareness of child increases. when no longer effective, raise dosage as required.
- The “iPad” – effective in neutralizing boredom, tantrums and whining. Widely frowned upon by childless and mature population. Danger of prolonged use not clearly established, however mounting evidence that early prolonged screen exposure could lead to multitude of developmental issues including aggression, ADHD, speech delays, depression to name a few. Use with caution.
- The “Bribe” – psychological tactic. Effective over short term. However prolonged used will negatively influence believe and behavioural system. No, you do not get money for bathing and finishing dinner.
- The “Rotan” – deals massive amounts of physical damage. Deployment is applicable in all situations and scenarios. Extremely effective in gaining instant obedience, however possibility of mental collateral damage is high. Use as a last resort option. Generally acceptable for use when danger involved (e.g. playing with fire, unsupervised climbing etc).
Someone once told me you need to lose a battle to win a war. Wise words indeed.
7. And NO, I did not have all the time in the world to do what I wanted to, when I wanted to
I imagined that getting out of the rat race meant that I would have more time for myself. I would no longer need to go through the LDP jam to get to work. I had already gotten used to drop offs early in the morning before heading off to work, so it flowed nicely with my schedule. However, I didn’t realise mid-day pickups throw a nice spanner into your work timing. I still haven’t gotten this one figured out (please leave tips in the comments!).
Usually the build up of traffic around school areas is caused by inconsiderate parents turning 3 lanes into 1 as they wait to pick their children up. I hear its not just commonly practised by Malaysians parents, but also by our Malaysian police.
It’s the same kind of anxiety and stress of having to wait for your girlfriend at the crowded airport after her vacation. Arrive too early and you could be in for a long wait, worse if there was delay. Can’t be too late either, or she’ll be angry.
Throw in the meal preparations, putting the kids to bed, grocery shopping, shuttling children between extra-curricular activities, play dates, organizing birthday parties and unscheduled ad-hoc stuff like visit to the doctors, household maintenance (leaky pipes, faulty appliances) etc, very little time remains for pursuing your own interest and hobbies.
I cut back on night time sleep thinking I could take a short nap in the afternoon. That is a slippery slope. It is no wonder housewives always complain that they feel perpetually tired. I am nowadays.
Raising children is probably one of the worst endeavours to achieve the usual socially defined success.
Return on investment is close to zero in the short term, and to my corporate past, this would be considered a non-starter. I signed up with eyes half shut, now they are wide open. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
But being there to console my kids when they fall down during sports, seeing the smile on my child’s face every day when I pick him from school, perking their curiosity when I teach them about the world… all these sustain and encourage me to stay the path.
It is not as easy as it looks and housewives all over the world really do deserve a big hand for doing a thankless job. In parenting full time, I’ve learned that somethings can be changed, some can be shaped, but others are simply out of your control.
Expectations of perfection creates a lot of unnecessary stress for parent and child alike. Learn to accept your child’s uniqueness and have fun. Embrace the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a full-package thing. Good things come to an end and bad things don’t last forever. I always remind myself that I’ll never get this time in their life back – cos all kids will grow up someday. And I’m glad for the opportunity to watch them as they do.