Today’s installment of #SoD is, as the title says, a double-feature: a quick post from me and then the first part of a very long, but honest and in-depth interview with a friend who, just this summer, went from being a successful lawyer at a bank in Austin, TX to a full-time Stay-at-Home-Dad (SAHD) in Dublin, Ireland. I hope you enjoy both posts!
#SummerofDad 10: Why I’ve Grown to Love Primary Parenting
Over the last couple months I’ve really come to enjoy being the primary parent, despite my initial trepidation. But, if I was told tomorrow that my wife’s playwriting/screenwriting/TV writing career was going to blow up and I’d be the primary parent, at home, responsible for kiddo-based activities, nap times, food, and what-have-you, I’d be pretty happy about that. Although I’d have to put a newly minted degree on the shelf, I think it would still be worth it—work will always be there.
I wouldn’t want it as a permanent situation, but definitely for the next few years until Gabe starts Kindergarten. Now, there are some caveats to this: I’d want some regular babysitting; I’d want some time off regardless of the babysitting; I’d probably want some other things that I’m not thinking about right now.
But the reasons I wouldn’t mind are manifold. Yes, the days can be long and tiring, or downright aggravating and frustrating. Yes, there are days when Gabe is less happy and didn’t only find his cranky-pants to wear, but an entire cranky tuxedo and overcoat. But those days are rare, luckily. So why have I come around from the feelings of apprehension that I had at the beginning?
There are a few big reasons:
- I’m good at this. And I’m not just saying that. I’ve been told numerous times by people that I don’t even know that I seem to be pretty good with him. So I’m going to take that as the collective wisdom; the public has spoken. (My wife and family also think I’m good at parenting, too, just for the record.)
- I (almost always) have fun with Gabe. He’s a silly guy; I’m a silly guy. He’s inquisitive; I like teaching. He’s got a sunny disposition; I (almost always) have one, too. So, we work well together.
- I really enjoy the incredibly small moments. It’s those brief, 2-to-10 minute (or second) time periods that occur randomly during the day and encompass something new, like watching him start using a spoon, something funny, like him making a funny noise and walking around with his arms extended behind him like he’s flying, or something strange, like when he alternates between wailing-in-protest and giggling before nap-time while he’s calming down. You never know when these moments are going to happen! And when they do, they’re really fun.
Maybe things will change when he’s older. Maybe he’ll become more difficult, demanding, crankier, quicker to anger, or all of the above. But I think not. He’ll become different, but not the opposite of who he is now. And I can deal with different, because that seems like half the fun of watching kiddos grow up!
Now, on to the interview!
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Part 1: An Interview with Ben Bui, SAHD
Ben is one of my closest friends from Austin. We met through a mutual friend, and then played basketball in a recreational league and won several championships—no big deal. (Even more impressive, they continued their winning ways, somehow, even after I left the team.) Since those heady days, Ben’s life has changed quite a bit. He married an amazing woman, Becky, and welcomed the arrival of their daughter, Berkeley, who was born in 2013.
In 2015, Becky was promoted to an international management position within Facebook, where she’s worked for several years. Taking the position required a huge change: they had to move from Texas to Dublin, Ireland, where Becky would be away on business all over Europe, Africa, and the Middle East and Ben would need to stop working as a lawyer to become the primary parent at home. This past March they packed up their belongings, got on a transatlantic flight (with their two dogs), and arrived at their new home in Dublin.
Needless to say, this move was huge in a number of ways: geographic, cultural, and on multiple personal levels. Of those big personal changes, he has changed from the work-a-day dad to the stay-at-home dad (SAHD). Now that he’s had some time to move in and settle down a bit in Dublin, I thought this would be a good time to catch up with him to see how his #SummerofDad is going (though his will become a #FallofDad and #WinterofDad…you get the idea).
Before you moved, you worked a 9-to-5 at a bank in Austin. What was your routine like during a typical day before you moved in regards to parenting and family life? Give us a day-in-the-life of Ben Bui when he lived in Austin.
For the record, it was more like an 8:45-to-5:30. I just want to get credit for all the extra hard work I did. So, when we lived in Austin, we would get up at 7am with my daughter. Get her changed, fed and play with her until 8am. Then our nanny came over to our house. She stayed until 6 pm. Then from 6–8pm, we fed Berkeley, played, read her stories and put her to bed. This was our Monday-through-Friday routine.
As you will notice, on weekdays we only had about 3 hours per day with Berkeley while she was awake.
Becky also traveled on a regular basis so I was by myself with Berkeley often. But it was really not too bad since Becky’s work-travel was on the weekdays and as noted above, Berkeley was awake about 3 hours of the time I spent with her.
On the weekends we had full days with Berkeley. On Fridays and Saturdays we would go out to dinner with friends and take Berkeley along. We would sometimes bring our pack ‘n play to friends’ houses and put Berkeley down at 8 pm. Or we would have friends come over to our house while Berkeley slept. We also had a Sunday brunch tradition where we took Berkeley with us when we tried new places. We didn’t let having a child prevent us from having a social life and going out to restaurants.
We loved the restaurant scene in Austin so we took her everywhere. If it a restaurant a little too fancy we would get a babysitter. We also had an amazing support system. Becky’s sister lived down the street so if I needed someone to watch Berkeley for a couple hours when I had basketball games she would come over. And our nanny was absolutely amazing. She was so great with Berkeley; she cleaned, did laundry and even ironed our clothes!
What is your routine like now? Now what’s your day-in-the-life like? Do you have a nanny/au pair/babysitter to help?
Life is much different now.
During the week, Becky will get up with Berkeley to change and feed her. Then Becky will get ready for work and I take over. Berkeley and I will hang out at the house reading books and getting ready for either the gym or a play date. We go to the gym almost every day of the week. There is a gym about a mile and a half from our house that has great kids classes, day care (€5 per hour), indoor jungle gym, and cafe. Berkeley has swim class once a week and I will often put her in daycare while I work out. We don’t own a car, so I bike us to the gym, or if the weather is bad, I jog to the gym with her running stroller. (I invested in rain covers for our 2 strollers since it’s often windy and rainy.) We come home for lunch and I put her down for her nap. During her nap I will do laundry, clean or tend to other errands like paying bills. After her nap, we will have a snack and I will have an outing planned to a local park, the library or the beach. Fortunately, we live within 15 minutes from both a beach and a park. But with Dublin weather, we aren’t in a position to be outside for an extended period of time.
On the weekends we will go out for brunch or explore Dublin together. My wife is a sales manager for the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) region, so her sales territory is rather large. Berkeley and I tag along on these work trips and have gotten to explore a lot of different countries (discussed in Part 2). Our routine is definitely different when we are traveling but we’ve sought out parks, museums and many other interesting sites.
Help-wise, we basically have none. We do have a babysitter, but we’ve only used three times in the four months we’ve lived here. The majority of the time she is at our house Berkeley is asleep. Berkeley does have 1-hour increments of childcare at the gym two three times a week when we are in Dublin. She will start creche (an English and Irish word for daycare) in August and will go two days a week. We thought it would be great for her to get more socialization since she is now 2-years-old and it will give me a little break.
What was the most difficult part of the transition to the being the primary care giving parent? Why?
I’m going to cheat and give two things that were difficult.
First was giving up a career that generated income. I was at the peak of my career with my company and making a nice salary. It was hard to walk away from that and the work that I did. I had a hard time coming to the realization that I would be the primary caregiver and not getting paid a salary.
I was looking up jobs in Dublin on-and-off, which was ridiculous because of all the other things I had on my plate, and it just don’t make sense for me to work.
One of the big reasons we moved to Ireland was to have the ability to travel in Europe. If I had a job, I wouldn’t have the freedom to travel whenever I wanted and that would defeat the purpose of the move. I realigned my mental state pretty fast. When you are the one who needs to take care of a toddler for 11 hours straight, you have got to be focused on their needs.
The other difficult part is: how the heck do I keep Berkeley entertained!? We are the parents who don’t let our kid watch TV. It’s just a choice we made and it just so happens we don’t own a TV. Trust me, I love TV, but no need to own one in Ireland when I’m not into Irish sitcoms and they have an annual TV tax here! Berkeley and I had some battles early on when we were cooped up in our temporary housing. It was a small apartment and we don’t have many toys for her. I realized pretty fast that I needed to be creative about how to keep her entertained. We would go to different parks, find free museums and just run errands together. The more we went out and did things the happier she is. The tough thing for me was that if it’s raining and cold, we still had to get out of the apartment or house every day because we would go nuts. So I was walking or jogging a couple miles to get wherever we needed to be. Like any parent, I still have a lot of days where I’m at a loss for what to do that might be new or keep her entertained. Fortunately, we have enough parks, gyms, and other locales to keep her happy.
What was your biggest worry or concern with taking over the responsibilities?
I would be terrible at it and that it wasn’t for me. When we were in Austin, I thought I was a pretty solid Dad. I took care of her on my own, we went out to eat with her and hung out with friends. But when you go from what we had in Austin to being the primary caregiver, it’s a HUGE transition. I was great at playing and tickling, but I’m not the greatest at cleaning, doing laundry, and cooking. So that was an enormous adjustment for me. And, honestly, I sucked at it for the first couple months. I had a couple freak-outs, stressful moments early on, but being able to vent and talk through things with Becky really helped.
Being a stay-at-home parent is a job, and so that is how it’s being treated.
I’ve made mistakes and now I’m learning from them every day. And I’m not giving up. We threw out the ideas of me going back to work sooner than expected or putting Berkeley in day care full time. I don’t want to do either since that is not why we made this decision to move and become a one-income family.
That’s the end of Part 1. Please read next week, where we’ll cover what surprised him when he took over as the primary parent, the biggest cultural changes he’s noticed, some advice for other couples who might undergo a similar change in roles, and the travel they’ve done in Europe!