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Stay at Home Dad Doing It Wrong?

When the Stay-At-Home Parent Is ‘Doing It Wrong’

By Amalah

Dear Amy (my own personal Carnac the Magnificent),

I discovered your brilliance in the early days of my pregnancy (to the point where I became lost for days in an archive time-warp on your blog). I always find the advice you give helpful and I think you have amazing perspective. You’re my answer-lady. I’m hoping you can dispense some of your amazing wisdom onto me.

My beautiful baby boy turned 9wks old this week, which marks my return to work. I’m lucky enough that his father is home the three days that I am currently working (he works the other days in the week), so my little man still gets to be with someone that I know loves him. I was so excited when we realized this would be the arrangement, although we don’t really have the finances for any other option.

When it got near time for me to head back to work I started paying close attention to how my son and his father interact, and I started to make the sad observation that daddy seems to be under the impression that he needs to be swaddled constantly and that if he is making any kind of noise something is wrong and he needs to be swaddled tighter to go back to sleep. Then when I was explaining my son’s feeding schedule to him he said “I don’t understand why you have him on a schedule he should just eat and sleep whenever he wants to.” The only schedule my son is on is food related, other than that he sets his own schedule for the day as far as naps and playtime, so I just asked that he stick to as close to feeding times as possible.

I really wanted to tell him exactly what to do with the baby, but at the same time I want them to figure out their own process and what works for them. I figured I would give it a few days before I said anything and hope that he was noticing baby’s cues regarding sleep/playtime. I also didn’t want to sound like I was giving a vote of no confidence when nothing negative had transpired yet. Unfortunately, as I suspected, when daddy watched him the last few days he said that all he did was sleep all day. Because of this my little man wanted to be active during the night. This caused to two sleepless nights for me – which I am NOT used to. My son has been a solid sleeper since day one, 4hours in the beginning, then up to six, and now he goes 8ish hours. I’m a tired mess today and I’m worried if I don’t address the issue it will just get worse.

I know that this all breaks down to a communication issue, but I don’t know how to ask him to change without sounding accusatory. If anyone else were watching him during the day (babysitter, mother in law, etc) I would just come out and say that they’re not doing what I want, and that would be the end of it. I know my son, and I know that he loves to play after he eats, that he loves the itsy bitsy spider, that he likes his bouncer more than his swing, and that if you attach a toy bar to his rock ‘n’ play he’ll talk to it for an hour straight. Most importantly I know that he needs his time to be awake during the day, so that he can learn and grow and SLEEP at night. How do I let daddy know all of this without making it sound like everything has to be MY way, and without sounding like I have no confidence in him as a father?

-Suddenly Sleepy

I would approach the nighttime sleep problem as a SHARED problem, because hey, Daddy’s probably not a fan of the wide-awake-baby either, right? Daddy also has some responsibilities during the nighttime wakings too, right?

If not, give him some, ASAP. Just because you’re away from your son during the day does NOT mean you need to be the Solely Responsible On-Call Parent at night. (Just like if you were the full-time SAH parent and then turned that role into a round-the-clock duty because your partner is the one who gets up for work and needs their sleep and blah blah blah.) If you’re nursing, give Dad the fetch-and-change parts of the routine. Otherwise, divide the wakings evenly. You get the first one, he deals with the next, whoever isn’t getting ready for work in the morning gets the final early morning one, etc. Or something! Not only is this completely fair, it will make sure that Daddy understands that hey, this is HIS PROBLEM TOO. And perhaps he’ll also see the pattern you see: the days he lets the baby sleep all day are the days that turn into the sleepless nights. Hmm!

I would not just blurt out to him — as tempting as it may be — that you KNOW exactly what the problem is because you KNOW your son and you KNOW this parenting business thoroughly and you KNOW your diagnosis is correct. And it probably totally IS correct, but…nine-week-old babies are notoriously unpredictable sleepers. Even ones who have “always” been good sleepers. Sometimes they just have crazy, wide-awake nights for no reason because they’re slowly becoming more alert and slowly coming up on the first Official Sleep Regression, that usually occurs sometime between 12 and 16 weeks old.

However, yeah, Occam’s Razor definitely could apply here: Daddy is letting the baby get his days and nights mixed up, and needs to dial back on the day swaddling and give the baby some time to just…be awake. Though I admit my husband AND I have been totally guilty of doing the same thing: Nine-week-old babies aren’t necessarily the most interactive of beings, so sometimes it’s hard to know what you’re actually supposed to DO WITH THEM ALL DAY. You don’t want to be that asshole shoving flash cards and Mozart CDs in their faces, so you get stuck in this endless loop of feeding and trying to get them to sleep.  Feed and sleep, feed and sleep. Rinse and repeat.

Eventually you figure out that the baby playgroups are more for your benefit, or bust out the jogging stroller for a mutual change of scenery. Then you maybe start running errands or checking your email while the baby amuses himself on a playmat for awhile, and then slowly start figuring out how to structure your days. But it can seriously take awhile.

So while I understand that two nights of no sleep are no picnic, I would definitely try to remember that there IS a learning curve to the stay-at-home parent thing. (And yeah, let’s imagine if your roles were reversed and you were reading a letter from a working dad who doesn’t understand why his wife can’t get the baby on a decent schedule already.) Dads DON’T BABYSIT, so don’t treat him like one. Because he’s not a hired professional caregiver; he’s a first-time parent muddling through on instinct, just like the rest of us.

I’m NOT saying just let the problem continue, but approach it as neutrally as you can, avoiding the UR DOING IT WRONG accusations (which I know is the whole reason you wrote, because you want to avoid that). Keep it light and maybe question-heavy, like it’s a Mystery You Must Solve Collaboratively:

“Man, what is going on with his sleep these past couple days? Do you think the baby’s getting his days and nights reversed? I’ve heard that can happen. Let’s Google it today.”

“Huh. These links all say the same thing: Keep the baby awake for longer stretches during the day, no matter what. HA! This one says to run the vacuum cleaner around him. DO THAT ONE, THE FLOORS ARE FILTHY ANYWAY, SMILEY WINKING EMOTICON.”

That sort of approach, combined with shared responsibilities at night, should hopefully nudge him into figuring out that the all-day naps aren’t ideal. Also some more time — more than a couple mere days — to find his footing and confidence as a stay-at-home dad. I imagine that might even be even tougher than a mom making the adjustment, as he’s a rarer occurrence at the playground and might not yet be plugged into the vast supportive web of dadblogs and message boards and all the stuff we moms turn to for advice and tips and virtual company.

My husband and I agree on all the Big Stuff when it comes to our children, more or less, but we still have different styles and react differently to certain things. We’re not identical stand-ins for each other. And yet we had to learn how to communicate our differences to the other without sounding judge-y or accusatory. Usually we do it via books and links, in a “hey I read this, it says to try such-and-such when that happens, instead of what we’ve [SUBTEXT: YOU] been doing” style. But that’s just us. Give him time, give yourself time. You just went back to work and are in the midst of a huge transition yourself, so it’s completely understandable to be mildly freaking out about your childcare arrangement, no matter how ideal it may be in the long run.  You’ll both figure all of this out, I promise.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • JenVegas

    May 21, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    My kid is 1 1/2 and I am totally with Amy on this one. Be subtle. Be non-accusatory. Keep it about “we” and he might be more open to changing how he is handling things.
    Caveat being that SOME people are just more sensitive than they should be and it won’t matter how you put it, they will accuse you of being “accusatory.” 
    But that never happened to me at all, nope. 

  • cc

    May 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    You have to be careful how you say anything.

    On the flip side if someone ever said “While mom was watching the baby” as if I was a babysitter, I would take it pretty personally.  I know my husband gets irritated when he takes the kiddo out to the grocery store and people say “Aww, daddy’s babysitting?”  No.  Daddy’s not babysitting..he’s parenting.  Just like mommy when she’s alone with him.

    I think you have to address it as you BOTH need sleep…or you want to get on the same page so you’re providing the baby with consistency when you’re not together (as in, when you’re alone with the baby, you want to make sure you’re doing the same as him).  Because those are both valid thoughts.  If you, in any way, approach him with any “my way” or “I know the RIGHT way”…I think he’ll take it hard.  I know I would if my husband came home in the early weeks when we had our first baby and tried to “correct” my behavior.  

    • Jimmy

      May 22, 2012 at 8:07 am

      Thank you!  I’m a stay at home dad and I get the “oh, daddy’s day to babysit” a lot when I’m around town.  I know it’s new for people to see the dad as stay at home parent, but it still gets under my skin.  

  • Ya Chun

    May 21, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    I would recommend both mom and dad read a bit about why babies fuss and cry – it’s not always a ‘bad’ thing that NEEDS stopped. Look into RIE or child-led. Crying is communicating – not just tired or hungry but maybe even bored. Always using the “S’s” might be getting him settled, but that might not be what he is asking for.

  • Karen

    May 22, 2012 at 1:37 am

    9 weeks is definitely this blah blah, no-man’s land between a sleepy newborn and an actual infant you can interact with. I am actually pretty bad at playing with an infant (my husband is really good at it) and so 9 weeks is when I started doing a lot of walks in the stroller. Also, doing tummy time with my kiddos or having them lay on a mat and dangling toys – that sort of “exercise” would really tire them out and then I could have some time to myself while they took a good nap. Good luck!

  • Jimmy

    May 22, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Ditto the points about sharing night duties, and also about approaching this subject with caution.  Everyone has a day job, either at an office or taking care of the kid.  It’s not exactly fair that only one person should get night duty – and I think it leads to resentment rather quickly if that’s the case.  As to approaching the subject with caution, it is a very difficult conversation to have without getting personal.  I’ve been in your husband’s shoes, and I know that I get very defensive when my wife criticizes the way I do things as a stay at home parent.  

    No matter how we father’s try, we are not mothers.  We can be on the same page all we want, but there are limitations and some things will necessarily be different.  For example, my wife was able to push certain limits because she had the silver bullet of nursing to lean on if all went to crap.  As dad I don’t have that to fall back on, so I necessarily approached problems differently than she could.  

    The other thing worth mentioning is that you don’t really know what your husband is doing with the baby while you’re at work all day.  What he communicates to you at the end of the day is likely just the big points, less a lot of the details that are blurred by the stresses of raising an infant.  

    As a way of keeping my wife up to speed and involved while she was at work we created a google document that I updated and she could read in realtime online.  You can see what I mean here:

    We had a lot of night-time sleep issues, and this log helped keep track of what was actually going on in the daytime vs what we remembered and conveyed later.  It turns out our parenting memory is a bit crap, and this log did a lot to help us remember what actually happened on a day-by-day basis.

  • Olivia

    May 22, 2012 at 8:59 am

    My husband stayed at home with our daughter for her first 1.5 years. I remember him complaining that she didn’t have any kind of nap routine so his days were totally unpredictable. This was really tough for him because he was also working on a master’s degree at the time. I did my best to keep my suggestions for creating a nap routine neutral and always finished with, “But you are the one effected by this so it’s up to you.” He never did get her on much of a schedule, but it was his choice.

    Now I’m going to be the one home with a baby and a 3 yr old for the next year, so we’ll see how it goes.

  • liz

    May 22, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I don’t think it’s gotta sound accusatory, why not just say,

    “Hey honey, let’s see if anything works to tire the baby out during the day so that maybe he’ll sleep at night. Do you think that putting him in his bouncy seat for a while might work? Or have some tummy time on the floor? Because I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted.”

  • AmyRenee

    May 22, 2012 at 11:29 am


  • AmyRenee

    May 22, 2012 at 11:31 am

    Does he have his 2 month checkup soon? If so, ask the ped about it, then come home and say “the doctor says we should swaddle less during the day and give him more floor time, then maybe he’ll sleep more at night”. “The doctor says” works better with my mother & MIL, maybe it will work with your husband?

  • Christina

    May 22, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Hmm, I’m not sure why it’s so difficult to have a frank conversation about this w/your husband. Is he overly sensitive? Are you overly harsh? If not, then this shouldn’t be something you need advice on. Or, the flipside is that if you DO need to write in about how to talk w/your husband, maybe it’s time you to talk with a professional about communication. This is the tip of the iceberg on things you’ll need to do together for your son.

  • camille

    May 22, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    I could have written a very similar question to Amalah about 1 and 1/2 years ago when I went back to work, leaving my husband as a first-time stay-at-home dad to our son. My husband and I have very different (but complementary) personalities and approaches to problems and parenting. I struggled with letting go of control over what happens during the day. Ultimately you have to because frankly, it’s his call. I’ve learned to discuss the big issues (and I’d say sleep is totally a big issue) using a team approach like Amalah suggests above. Everything else? Let it go. Stay at home dads have it rough enough as it is, without any real peer or community support. Letting your hubby figure out his own style of parenting can be so fun to watch, even if it’s completely different from your own. Our house is always a mess, and there’s not much of a schedule. I bristle when I hear how often they grab lunch at McDonald’s and hoo-boy are there some “interesting” ill-fitting, non-matchy outfits. BUT, there’s a ton of rough-housing, and playing outside, getting muddy in the creek, and field trips to different parks around town. My toddler knows all about turtles and salamanders and worms and bugs from his dad (hearing an 18 month old say salamander is a-dorable). My husband has done a beautiful job raising him, and I know full well that I would have done it COMPLETELY differently, but in the end that’s okay.

  • A

    May 23, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Unfortunately, especially with the first kid, it’s hard to know what to do on a lot of fronts, especially sleeping. You’re basically shooting in the dark and hoping something works. Cut your husband some slack. It’s hard giving up the control over what happens on a day to day basis, but you either trust him or you don’t. I stay at home and it’s really hard not to be resentful if my husband comes home and says things like “what did you do all day?” or “can’t you get that baby to sleep through the night?” Um, no. If I could, I would. My 3 kids were all lousy sleepers until they turned 2, then they sleep like rocks.

    That said you should be able to talk through some ideas of what to do to solve your problem, just be supportive. I like the idea of talking to the Ped about it and seeing if that can get you two on the same page.

  • Lisa from Rock-a-Bye-Baby Gifts

    May 24, 2012 at 7:30 am

    I would really struggle, being a control freak, and probably just blurt it out. At least that way it is out in the open and can be dealt with. Probably not the most tactful way but it’s what I would do.

  • Liz

    May 24, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    A good tool for both of you might be an app you can use on your smartphones and/or ipad, if you have such devices. 

    We use one called BabyConnect ($5 I think) that tracks EVERYTHING! Sleep, nursing/bottles (including which boob you nursed on last and for how long), diapers (including wet, BM – if the BM was large, what color, what consistency, etc.), medical stuff like shots and growth (including what percentile your baby falls into), activities like bath time, baby’s mood, you name it. It allows you to make notes, too, like “doesn’t like the bouncy seat today”, which gives the away-from-home parent an update on baby’s day, as well as what works when fussy, etc. since you can consult the notes to see what worked yesterday, what the new favorite toy or song is, etc.  Plus it gives comparisons (like baby slept 8 hours by X time yesterday, compared to 7.5 by the same time today, and 7 day averages) AND charts these over time! So you can look at baby’s sleep over the month, say, and see what patterns are there and modify based on this data. 

    HE CAN’T ARGUE WITH DATA! It’s a totally neutral way to look at your baby’s sleep and play time and make changes. Either of you can use your smartphones to look at and update the info. too, so if he’s out and about, he can put in the stroller nap or whatever.. 

    This is what we use and my baby is 7 weeks old. Though I try to faithfully record nursing sessions/pumping sessions, sleep is what we use this for most. It’s helping us get our daughter on a better schedule, for sure, as I have this handy timer telling me I need to keep her up for another 20 minutes so that she’s up for an hour between naps (or whatever). Last night she slept from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., woke up for a diaper change, nursed some more to ‘top off’ for the night, then slept from 9:30 until 7:30 this morning! I don’t know if it will last (ha!) but it’s a start! 

    “Look  at this great app I found, babe, this should help us keep track of so much and take the pressure off of us to remember all this and write it down!” 

    And fyi, I often feel the same way, that my husband is “doing it wrong”, so I know the feeling! 

  • Karen

    November 30, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    No one else has a problem with the perspective that playing Mozart or using cards makes you an asshole?

    • Isabel Kallman

      Isabel Kallman

      November 30, 2013 at 6:58 pm

      Karen (or is it Liz? or Lizzy?), I guess you’re the only one so far. FYI, every time you leave a comment, your IP address is recorded next to your comment. (no matter what email address or name you chose to use). With a press of a button, we can see every comment you have ever left using that IP address.

      • Both

        December 6, 2013 at 5:44 pm

        I use both to keep them active. Thanks though for your reply. It made a lot of things clear.