I have significant experience as a stay-at-home dad and primary caretaker for my daughter. If there is a better spiritual practice than being a stay-at-home dad, I’d like to know what it is — though I’m not sure I’d like to experience such a thing.
A spiritual practice, for those who may not know, is a regular process that helps us become more at ease with the inevitable ups and downs of the life experience. A spiritual practice may be thought of as some form of exposure therapy, like an immunization.
The more we are exposed the less we are bothered — at least that’s the ideal.
Being a stay-at-home dad qualifies as spiritual practice because there is so much to cope with: the stress of dealing with a dependent; the stress of dealing with a someone who is subject to mood swings and who doesn’t entirely embrace reason; isolation and loneliness; long hours of work; fatigue.
All of these factors are potentially true for any stay-at-homer. What can be different for a stay-at-home dad, however relates to the familiar role, at least in much of western society, of the male as the financial provider. A male who remains home to care for a child or children is likely not to have much of an income, if any income at all.
These fellows are able to remain home — probably — because they don’t have the time responsibility of working a job. And there is, often, the rub.
Returning once again to western society, money is often correlated with self worth. The person with a reliable financial income is considered worthwhile; the person without a reliable income is considered inferior and even despicable.
This is inevitably more true for men than it is for women.
An adult male then who doesn’t have much, if any, income is at risk for diminished self-esteem; this risk may increase substantially where the male is reliant upon his female life partner for sustenance — even when he is the one primarily caring for the children. So is there anything to be done for stay-at-home dads who may be depressed or otherwise upset about their present role circumstances?
I believe that the answer is yes.
First, have an awareness of what causes depression and any other emotional malady. The cause is, in every case, thinking. To be even more specific, it is not external events but mental labels that are attached to external events that causes suffering. If these mental labels are not embraced as truth then emotional suffering does not occur.
Read that again, if you’re open to it, and consider the truth of it.
Secondly, the stories that come into our awareness about our life circumstances are not necessarily true. Is it certainly true that it’s shameful for a man to take care of his children while he’s temporarily out of work? If so, why? Is it certainly true that being a stay-at-home dad is a fixed role that will never change? Is it certainly true that life will not ever change according to our liking?
The suffering of stay-at-home dads then really is in their own heads — it’s an inside job. This doesn’t mean that the suffering doesn’t hurt. Of course it does. But the suffering isn’t coming from “out there”: it’s not coming from the circumstances of being a stay-at-home dad and what these circumstances involve, or what roles these circumstances violate.
This knowledge in and of itself doesn’t end the pain but it does correctly identify the genuine condition. So where do we go from there?
With respect to resolving any emotional suffering, no matter the cause, I suggest a few methods in particular: conscious presence or watching our thinking and emotions in an unattached way (spiritualist Eckhart Tolle is a well-known advocate for this method); something called The Work; and meridian energy therapy along the lines of EFT