What My Partner Learned As a Stay-At-Home Dad
When my partner called me at work, his breath sounded labored. “Is everything okay?” I asked with alarm. Everything wasn’t okay. My partner was walking home with our 14-month-old baby on his back, wearing a tank top through which he was copiously sweating.
Were it summer, there would be no cause for concern. No one walks outside for any length of time during a Washington, D.C. summer without copiously sweating — especially if you have a baby on your back.
But it wasn’t summer. It was January, and the temperature outside was a brisk 31 degrees.
I think I’m having a panic attack, he said.
The thought of my husband having a panic attack — with our daughter on his back, blocks away from home — was enough to send my own nervous system into overdrive.
I managed to talk him down, but it wasn’t the last time his anxiety would rear its ugly head. He wasn’t a stranger to anxiety — or even to panic attacks, for that matter — but this felt different. His anxiety built on itself that much more quickly when he was simultaneously being entrusted with a human life. Not only that, it was the life of a human who had recently learned how to not just walk, but run (sprint, really) — a human who was hell bent on putting her new skill to use whenever he set her down.
My partner wasn’t new to parenting. He’d already been through all this with his 13-year-old son. He worked night shifts for much of his son’s early childhood, and was often on childcare duty during the day. But with a girlfriend who stayed home for the first year and an abundance of help from her parents, the work wasn’t quite so… intensive. He still engaged with other adults on a regular basis, still maintained his own sense of self, still felt like his contributions were, more or less, seen and understood.
But not so much this second time around.
The 16 months during which my partner served as our daughter’s primary caretaker were eye-opening, to say the least. Society has long been dismissive of the work that stay-at-home mothers do, reluctant to even label it as “work.”