What a Primary Parent DOESN’T Need

When a couple discerns which of them should stay home with their children, there are personality traits that seem like they would be useful for the Primary Parent to have but aren’t really that important. At the very least, they can be learned, more or less. The first of these is time management. For any organization to be successful, from a big corporation to a family, it must have a certain level of efficiency. Whoever stay at home should have a grasp on scheduling or at least have a basic grasp of time, right? Not necessarily.

How will Baby be fed if Dad can’t create and stick to a schedule? He’ll eat when he makes the kind of noise that tells Dad he is hungry. How will the kids get to school or soccer practice if Dad is so overwhelmed by the clock that no one gets anywhere on time? Well, they’ll be late, usually.

There is a certain amount of embarrassment involved in sneaking into church or class or practice quietly so no one notices, but for the most part, there isn’t any great damage done. A really late Dad might accidentally teach his time deficient ways to his children who will propagate this dysfunction, but by the time it becomes a real problem, they will have moved out and be on their own.

Another trait that a good parent should have but doesn’t need right away is cleanliness. This isn’t personal hygiene; it’s the ability to keep a house clean when there are forces at work determined to create chaos and clutter. Clean is a relative term, of course. If Dad leaves the leftover Chinese food containers on the living room floor so long the mice have made homes in them, maybe he should pass the baton of Primary Parenting to Mom. If he has trouble keeping the playroom from being a minefield of toys for a week, leave him alone. At least the kids are happy! Besides, cleanliness, it turns out, is a learned skill.

My sister-in-law is a self-proclaimed neat freak. She is one of those people who can sense when the potted plant is in the wrong place on the shelf and MUST fix it immediately. I , on the other hand, have always been a bit lax in the tidiness arena. In high school, I was the founder and president of the Society for the Lovers of Being Sloppy (SLOBS). It was more to be the founder and president of something, but you get the idea.

By the time my sister-in-law’s first son was born, we had four kids and I had learned that children were messy. Happy kids are even messier. (I know that because whenever I tried to make my kids clean up, they usually ended up crying.) I was interested in how my sister-in-law would react when she came to that same conclusion. Would she fight harder and become even more neurotic about cleaning? Would she give up and relax, letting the house get untidy occasionally?

Know what I discovered? I really can’t stand having a messy house. I don’t think I’m neurotic yet, but I can’t imagine it’s far off. I spend so much time tidying now that when the house is actually clean, I’m uncomfortable because I know, I just know there is something else to clean somewhere. I still don’t like cleaning, I just like it to be clean. Is that so bizarre? This is proof positive that being tidy is a learned skill and that it will force itself on anyone who takes the reins of managing a home fulltime.

More than any other job, parenting is on-the-job training. Whoever gets to be the Stay-At-Home-Parent doesn’t need to be clean or on time or even the better cook, but he or she better be willing to learn. Unless the family really likes leftover Chinese food.

©2008, Mark Phillips

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 Women, it's true, make human beings, but only men can make men. - Margaret Mead

Mark Phillips is a Stay-At-Home-Dad and freelance writer. Along with raising his four children, he is developing a franchise called “The Vacuum IS a Power Tool.” It is designed to help SAHDs maintain that which makes us men, instead of hairy Mom-substitutes. He earned a B.S. in Communication/Theatre Arts and teaching certificates in English, public speaking, and psychology from Eastern Michigan University. After six years as a high school English teacher and Director of Dramatic Arts at Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Michigan, he changed careers and became a Stay-At-Home-Dad. or E-Mail

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