Ideals and Standards are Good Things

Having spent 15 years as a stay-at-home-dad, I feel confident in my opinion that it was not the ideal situation. I did a perfectly good job of homemaking, and my wife did an excellent job of providing for the family, but ideally, our roles would have been reversed. I would’ve been more fulfilled than she was by providing for our family. She would have not only been a better SAHM than I was a SAHD, but she would also have been more fulfilled by it. As for the kids, well they didn’t have to worry about my helicopter parenting. However, maybe they would have been better off with a parent that showed up on time to awards assemblies, participated in the decoration of the classroom for the Christmas party, and didn’t ask to be put on the ‘do-not-call list’ when they went off to science camp in fifth grade. They’re all great kids so we will never know for sure. At least not until they finish therapy.

Don’t get me wrong, our solution worked. My wife’s career was better regarding opportunity and compensation than mine would have ever been. Not to mention she could do in 40 hours what would take me 65. She managed to be home by 6:00 PM nearly every night. She made it to practices, plays, performances, teacher conferences, games, and art shows. Honestly, I would not have prioritized those things. I would have prioritized work. I would not have made half as many of those events as she did. Strategically, my staying at home made perfect sense. We maximized our time with the kids and our income. It worked for us, but it still wasn’t ideal, and that is okay with me.

We wanted to provide what the ideal of the ‘stay-at-home mom’ promised. While perhaps not as nurturing or attentive, we offered that safe, loving person and the structured, stable home that the ideal represented. We wanted to provide our kids with the ideal dad, like Ward Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) or Jim Anderson (Father Knows Best). Ward and Jim were hard-working providers, caring dads, loving spouses and even-handed disciplinarians who were always home in time for dinner. Our kids saw the hard work, the care, and the love and even got dinner with mom. However, even after cooking dinner, I still had to handle the discipline.

Whether it be gay-parents, step-parents, poor-parents, working-parents, divorced-parents, single-parents, mixed-race parents or mixed-religion parents, your chosen parental solution can work, and work very well, even if the situation is less than ideal. However, all of these types of parents would do well to strive for the ideal. The ideal, the standard, the benchmark defines our purpose and gives focus to our actions. Less than ideal doesn’t mean the solution isn’t a good one; it means that it doesn’t meet the intentionally unrealistic standard to which we aspire.

Ward and Jim didn’t change diapers or cook dinner. They provided an idealized example of a cultural ethos; that the in-tact, nuclear family, came first. They demonstrated the impact and importance of having a nurturing mother and a strong father. They represented a deep and abiding commitment to marriage and family. Today, Ward and Jim might be married to each other, and raising children in a world where men change diapers, cook dinner and fetch their own slippers. Still, ideally, Ward and Jim should make their marriage and family their priority, just like their namesakes did 50 to 60 years ago. It’s the gold standard.