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MomTalk.com November 24, 2017:   The women's magazine for moms about children, family, health, home, fashion, careers, marriage & more


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Stay At Home Dad



By Julie Burton



Heidi Carpenter is the attorney for Momtalk.com. She has worked for the law firm of Fafinski Mark & Johnson for nine years. Five years ago her life changed a bit as she gave birth to twin girls. And three years ago it would change again when she had another daughter. But one thing didn't change for Heidi, she continued practicing law. When faced with the decision regarding child care for her daughters, Heidi knew that the job would not be hers. "I went to school for seven years, I love what I do, and I did not want to stop," explains Heidi.


As Heidi and her husband Mike calculated the cost of day care for their twins, Mike came up with the idea of him taking a year off from his job selling memberships at a health club when the twins were born. Heidi explains that "he didn't care about picking out furniture for the nursery when I was pregnant, and didn't know how to change a diaper, but he certainly figured it out." Having Mike at home made the transition for Heidi going back to work much smoother, "I didn't have that 'back to work guilt' because the kids were with my spouse," she says.


Not that having newborn twins at home was a piece of cake for Mike..."The first year was really hard, but Mike handled it really well," Heidi says. "His personality works for parenthood." Heidi says. And Heidi feels very strongly that having her husband home with the kids has allowed her to succeed as a lawyer. She explains, "When my schedule gets busy, and I have to work late, there is no shuffling because Mike is always there. I don't think I could have made partner without his support at home."


As much as Heidi likes having Mike at home with the kids, they've always agreed that if Mike wanted to go back to work, that would be an option. At one point, he decided to go back to work at the YMCA, so they put the girls in day care, but after three months Mike realized that this did not feel right to him. As for Heidi, "If he would stay with the kids until they go to college, I would love it."


Not all people share Heidi's optimism regarding dad staying home. "People have weird stigmas about why Mike is home," Heidi says. "Our parents had a difficult time with it at first. Our neighbors had such reactions as: 'Poor Mike, he can't get a job; why can't he get a job; how long until he goes back.' You have to be prepared for other people's reactions."


More important than what other people think of the Carpenter's set-up, is how it works for Mike and Heidi. And yes, as with any couple who is starting a family and juggling work life and home life, there are challenges. The biggest challenge for Mike and Heidi had to do with expectations. Heidi expected Mike to take care of the house and the kids since she was working outside the home, and Mike expected Heidi to take care of half of the housework. There was a lot of back and forth about "who is doing what," but over time they have figured out a way to divide up the house responsibilities in a realistic, workable way that feels good to both of them. For example, Mike does the laundry, Heidi folds it; Mike cooks four or five nights a week, and Heidi does two or three; Heidi handles all the finances/bills; they trade off doing grocery shopping as they both despise the task; Mike takes care of all the girls' appointments (doctor, dentist, etc.) that have to happen during work hours; he drives the kids to and from school and even helps at the girls' preschool. Having trouble mixing their two cleaning styles, Heidi and Mike compromised by calling in for some cleaning help. "Mike has a higher threshold for dirt than I do so we solved that by hiring someone," Heidi explains. And there are things that Heidi is adamant about them doing together, "I like to go with Mike to buy the kids' birthday presents and to decorate for Christmas." She adds, "As our communication has gotten better and the kids have become less physically needy, managing our household has gotten progressively easier."


And what about the kids? Do they think it's "strange" that their mom is at work and dad is at preschool helping out with all the other moms? "The kids haven't questioned it," Heidi says. "They don't know any different." In fact, when the Carpenter girls hear a line from a storybook that reads something like, "My sister and I are making cookies with mom...," they laugh. "That's not what we do with Mom," they say, "That's what we do with Dad." "They have a different idea about what moms do," Heidi says. Yet, as far as their connection with mom goes, Heidi explains, "I don't always know if they like their sandwiches cut in squares or triangles, but they still want me when they are sick."


And then there is the big D-word: Discipline. "He's the disciplinarian, I'm the push- over," Heidi admits. "When I get to see the girls for only two or three hours in the evening, I don't want to do heavy disciplining," she says. But Heidi takes control of the nights and bedtime so Mike can get a night out a week. He also takes "time off" on Saturdays, and takes trips with his buddies a few times a year.


As much as the Carpenters have things running relatively smoothly, Heidi, who describes herself as "extremely Type A," certainly has those days "when I feel like I'm not doing either well, my job or being a mom. It's impossible to do everything, and I can't be 'supermom'." Heidi talks about how working dads seem to be expected to do less at home, and historically, it's been "o.k." for men to detach from a lot the home/kid responsibilities. It is more accepted that most high powered CEOs can't be "superdads" too. "Women are just figuring this out, yet we still put the pressure on ourselves that we should be able to do it all," Heidi says. "You see the frustrated working moms who always feel cheated and do not have enough help and support."


Heidi has some advice for couples who are considering having dad stay home and mom work full time. "Before you go down this road, sit down with your partner and lay out expectations." (Sounds like good advice for all couples who are about to become parents, regardless of who is working and who is staying home.) But looking back on the last five years Heidi has no regrets, "I wouldn't change a thing -- except maybe not having three kids in five years. Neither Mike nor I would go back and change anything." And looking forward for the Carpenters, "When all girls are in school full time, Mike may go back to school or work, but we still want him to be home when they get off the bus," Heidi says.



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