So why is your husband a stay at home dad?
It’s a silent question that I see in many peoples eyes when they find out my husband stays at home with our three sons (14, 10, and 3). Sometimes I’ll get a “it must be nice” or “you’re so lucky!” Most people want to know why, but they’re too polite to ask.
Since this coming Sunday is Fathers Day, I thought it would be a good time to share this story.
Whatever you think the reason is, you’re probably not exactly right.
Reader, it’s complicated.
The TL;DR version is that his septic shock came back to haunt us just months before our youngest son was born. After a complex surgery, and given my career, we decided it was best for him to stay at home.
The longer version is more interesting, I promise.
Buckle up buttercup, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Just like life.
He’s Not Disabled, Unemployed or Retired
I want to get this out of the way right at the start. My husband isn’t disabled in the sense most people talk about disability. He doesn’t collect Social Security Disability, or any private disability payments. In fact he’s never collected a dime in disability.
He’s also not unemployed in the traditional sense of someone laid off and looking for work. He became unable to work and had to leave his last job, and hasn’t looked for a new one since.
And he’s not retired. There was no lawsuit, no big payday from the doctor or hospital after he almost died of septic shock six years ago. He didn’t one day decide to retire after we achieved financial freedom, with his wife still working like Joe of Retire by 40 or Carl of 1500 Days did. I don’t consider us financially independent yet, so I don’t think of his as retired. Although I suppose it would be better for my brand if I did.
The Real Story – How My Husband Became A Stay At Home Dad
My husband and I have juggled a number of different working arrangements over fourteen years as parents. The constant has been that I work a full time corporate job during the day, on normal corporate hours. I do after-hours work and work on weekends occasionally, sometimes traveling for work, but those needs fluctuate over time.
He, on the other hand, has:
- Worked full time during the day, when we first married
- Done full time third shift once our oldest son was born
- Experienced part time evenings and weekends, because caring for a toddler all day and working full time third shift is hard as heck
- Worked full time second shift, leaving for work when I came home
- Been laid off when his workplace closed in the Great Recession – two months after I started my MBA
- Been unable to work after almost dying
- Worked part time early mornings loading packages for a major company
He had to leave that last job three years ago, only months before our now-three year old was born.
He couldn’t work anymore.
His abdominal wall had failed, a remnant of the extreme damage caused by sepsis and likely aggravated by loading heavy packages. He would need extensive reconstructive surgery, and couldn’t work. His insides were spilling where they aren’t supposed to go, also called a “giant abdominal wall hernia“.
What Is An Abdominal Wall, And Why Would It Fail?
I’m not a doctor, so this is just my layperson understanding – bear with me. Perhaps one of my doctor friends can provide more info in the comments.
Your abdominal wall is basically the muscles and tendons in your abdomen that hold your organs and intestines in place.
When my husband had his emergency surgery at 8 AM on a Sunday night, to repair a staple in his intestines that had come out, he suffered from infection. This is obvious from the fact that he went into septic shock. Sepsis is basically your bodies response to an overwhelming infection, and septic shock is sometimes called “multiple organ dysfunction syndrome.” That just means your organs shut down and stop working.
But even after he was over the worst of sepsis, he suffered from a number of abscesses and an E-Coli infection. And some other things.
Infection weakens your abdominal wall. As does repeated surgeries – he had three total.
His second surgical wound, which was basically his entire abdomen, had to heal open due to the infections. It was closed using what’s called a “wound vac“, which is a vacuum that slowly closes your wounds. I did not know those existed before all this happened, and if you didn’t either, now you know something new.
It’s the combination of infection, the surgeries, and the way he had to heal from the emergency surgery that caused the eventual issues with the wall.
So, He Can’t Work and Needs Extensive Reconstructive Surgery. Now What?
So there I was, about six months pregnant with my youngest son, and now my husband had to leave work. He wasn’t happy about it. He really enjoyed the work and the people, had been feeling much stronger, and liked being productive. But it just wasn’t safe for him to continue to work and cause more damage. We began the rather lengthy process of finding a surgeon who could safely perform the complex reconstructive surgery.
He stayed at home after the little guy was born, and finally had the surgery when Alex was six months old.
Before the surgery, I jokingly told the surgeon that my husband would be “a mess” inside, and afterwards he told me I was right. It took seven hours to perform the reconstruction, and a week stay in the hospital.
After he came home, he couldn’t lift anything over ten pounds for about a month. This meant no lifting the baby, who by this time weighed somewhere between 15-20 pounds. Family came to help care for the little guy, drive the kids to activities, and generally help around the house while he recovered. Visiting nurses also came to the house for a week or two, to make sure he was recovering OK.
It was a very difficult time, although compared to the issues when he went into septic shock, was easier to deal with.
Becoming A Stay At Home Dad
After a few months, he recovered. And we needed to decide what to do next.
My husband has worked in manual, blue collar jobs for his entire adult life. Now that wasn’t an option.
All the jobs he’s ever had require heavy lifting. Heavy lifting caused the damage, and although it was repaired, we didn’t know if more would cause additional damage. Not only that, but he does still face some physical limitations in that he can’t easily bend over and pick things up off the floor.
By this time, my career was picking up. I had wrapped up my MBA about two years before all this happened. I was occasionally traveling for a few days (or a week) at a time for work, meaning his working would be a huge PIA. There was a baby in our lives again, meaning constant care was going to be required for at least five years.
We had always lived below our means, meaning that we didn’t need a second income. We could still save, invest, and meet our financial goals even if he didn’t work. Yes, we could meet them faster if he worked, but we could still get there eventually.
So we decided together he should become a stay at home dad, at least until the little guy went off to kindergarten.
- It was safer for him
- I earned more than enough to support the five of us
- It gave me more freedom to accomplish my goals and dreams – and to increase my income
- The little guy would get to have a dad at home all the time
- Someone would always be there for the older boys – to greet them at home, get them to activities, and the like
Would I Change Anything? Hell Yes – And No
If I could go back in time a little over six years ago, I would obviously change the course of events that led to his septic shock. A different surgeon, a different hospital, me being able to recognize the signs that things were going badly – any of those could have changed things.
But in life we don’t get to change what’s happened – only react to it.
No one’s yet invented that time machine that could take me into the past. So I, and my family, can only move forward.
We don’t get to choose our own story, many times. Both bad and good things happen, and all we can choose is how we react to what happens.
In this case, we took what was a bad situation and turned it into an overall positive thing for our family.
Always living below our means, consistently saving and investing over decades, was what led to this being a decision we could make. Many people who have always lived paycheck to paycheck, at or beyond their means wouldn’t be able to make this kind of choice.
Yes, it would be easier to reach our financial goals if he went off to work.
But we’re happy with our choices right now.
I Want To Hear From You!
If you have a stay at home spouse, how did you make that decision? Or do you wish one of you could stay at home, but it’s something you’re still working towards? Let me know in the comments!
And Happy Fathers Day.
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