The Real Reason My Husband Is A Stay At Home Dad

Why Is My Husband A Stay At Home Dad?

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.

Why My Husband Is A Stay At Home Dad
The thing hanging around his neck is a wound vac.

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.

Why My Husband Is A Stay At Home Dad
This is “Rodrigo” – we got him when my husband first got sick, and he’s still used frequently today. He grabs things off the floor when my husband can’t bend down.

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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33 thoughts on “The Real Reason My Husband Is A Stay At Home Dad”

  1. Your family’s story is such an inspiring one, Liz. It sounds like such a tough journey, but you’ve had such a great perspective on it every time that I have read it.

    My wife works part time as a reading interventionist (elementary school reading teacher) with plans to go back full time now that our youngest is almost two. She stayed home for about a year or two when my oldest of three kids was born. The decision there was really to adjust to life with a new kid. We paid for that year with medical school debt, which wasn’t the smartest decision looking back. But I’ve always told my wife I would support her in her career (or in the decision to stay home) no matter what. I want her to have a meaningful life and she is so skilled at teaching, I could never ask her to stop.

    I see patients get component separation abdominal repairs all of the time. It is a big surgery, and we often put thoracic epidurals in these patients for pain afterwards because of the size of the incision. I hope that your husband is doing better now! And I find it neat to see how far spread the wound vac has become since it was created by one of the docs where I went to medical school.

    Thanks, as always, for sharing your story!


    1. chiefmomofficer

      Thanks TPP. He’s actually doing very well now-if you didn’t pay close attention you would think he’s just an ordinary guy in his early 40’s. The lingering issue is that he still has difficulty bending over to pick things up off the ground. And the wound vac was very helpful, albeit painful and a pain to deal with (especially once he came home).

  2. I have been the stay at home spouse and I currently have a stay at home spouse. I stayed home for three years after my daughter was born 15 weeks early. She was medically fragile for a long time and required lots of extra care those first few years, above and beyond what’s typical for the infant/toddler time. While I was home we went ahead and had our son as well.

    Staying home was a struggle for me; I love my work and have a masters degree in my field. When my daughter was stable, I went back to work and we had a standard two-working-parents life for about a year. Then a combination of things led to my husband wanting to try his hand out – he was burned out at his job, but not likely to find better/better-paying work in our city, I had a good paying job that could support all of us, we had always talked about sharing that kind of opportunity before we had kids, and then our childcare situation fell through. He’s been home almost two years now, and we are all happy. We joke that he is retired; it’s hard to picture him going back to full time work. We don’t need the money. I like my job and we are on track for me to retire in my late 40s. He is now planning to homeschool our kids since he’s there anyway. Having one parent home has always made our family life less rushed, less stressed, just generally happier, but I’m glad I’m not the one at home anymore.

    1. chiefmomofficer

      I’m with you-I often joke I would make a terrible stay at home parent. I have an MBA, enjoy what I do, and love to stay busy. Whenever I’ve been out on maternity leave I’ve been itching to get back to work by the time it’s done. Having a stay at home spouse does relieve an awful lot of the stress and craziness that comes with both parents working. 😃 My husband will likely find some kind of work when the little guy is off to kindergarten, he enjoys the relationships he builds with other adults at work. He was really bummed to have to leave his last job, and still keeps in touch with his former coworkers. But he certainly makes a much better stay at home parent than I ever would

    2. How cool LMM! Husband has (semi seriously?) talked about wanting to homeschool kids when they are a bit older … I’m not so sure about that, but I’m all about having options!

  3. It is good to know that he is good now and your situation is stable. Have no experience with being a stay at home dad but I could imagine that there is a social pressure. I think for some reason people can accept that there are stay at home moms, but not sure about stay at home dads. It is even worse if that concerns the dad in question. To be honest I would not mind that at all 🙂
    Our family of four lives on a single income which is mine. It is not by design, just life made it this way. Wife went on maternity leave five years ago when we were expecting our older daughter. When the year passed (in Serbia 12 months of maternity leave is granted for employed women) we decided that she will not get back to work as it was neither well paying nor fulfilling. Also, call me overprotective or trustless, but I was not confident with the idea to put her in a nursery (because I have seen the options) let alone pay for a stranger to look after her (which would have been the same amount my wife would be able to earn by the time) so the obvious decision was that she stayed at home with her. Our younger daughter was born and she is now at home with both of them (except when the older is attending kindergarten). We are lucky that we can live happily on my income even if that slows down our finances. A sacrifice I am happy to take and every time I see them playing and smiling at home together I am reminded that this was a good decision.
    Just to make the story whole, I would do the same in a reversed situation. If that would make sense financially that I stay at home and she go back to work I would be ok with that. Also, I have been at home with the girls every now and then when she had a program and I honestly say that her job as a stay at home mom is far harder than mine.
    I wish all the best to all of you!

  4. I always appreciate your candor in sharing your life story – personal finance really is personal. My husband is between jobs right now and we are trying to figure out the right solution for our family. He is looking for full-time jobs but also considering freelance work which might let him be a part-time SAHD. It would be nice to have his income again, but there is also tremendous value in having him home to take care of things around the house. Money and time really are a tradeoff.

    1. chiefmomofficer

      They sure are a trade off! It really is a highly personal decision, and sometimes you don’t really have a choice at all. Best of luck to you & your husband in making your decision!

  5. I think that is one of the very best things about living below your means–it gives you choices. Your husband really needed to stay home and recover after his surgery, and you could do that because you live frugally. I’ve met so many people who tell me they “have” to work but really don’t want to. It breaks my heart for them, because inevitably they want to stay home with kids and feel like they can’t. But sometimes, I don’t think we look at our choices objectively enough–do you have to live where you live, drive brand new cars, have a boat? I know that because I stayed home for 7 years, Mr. ThreeYear was able to work harder and earn promotions at work, because he didn’t have to worry about the kids or the house. I don’t know if that was your case but it sounds like it might have been. I’m so glad your hubby’s doing better now, but what a tremendously scary and stressful few years your family had. Wow.

    1. chiefmomofficer

      Yes it’s totally true. If we had hit this point with credit card debt, student loans, car loans, a huge mortgage, etc. then we would need his income. Sometimes you really can’t afford to stay at home, or go part time, because of circumstances beyond your control. BUT sometimes you can’t afford to because of the choices you’ve made. I prefer to live substantially below our means even on one income, to give us a big buffer in case life happens.

  6. So glad you and your husband are on the other side of that septic shock nightmare.

    I am not married nor do I have kids so obviously I support only me, myself and I. However, my boss’ sister and her husband are doing something similar to you. She is a very successful salesperson and he is better at home economics so they embraced it. Now their whole family benefits from that choice! Kudos to you for finding a solution that seems to likewise benefit your family.

    1. chiefmomofficer

      That’s awesome! I love hearing stories of families who have done what we’re doing, because I don’t really know anyone else in real life who’s doing kt

  7. My wife stopped working about two years ago as she felt she was missing the kids growing up. She then missed the purpose of work, so after six months she started her own business. She makes good money but only works about ten hours a week so she can continue to spend most days with the boys. I’m not sure what the future holds for her, but so far we’ve adjusted to whichever the situation.

    1. chiefmomofficer

      What a great compromise. Love that she found something to do that’s fulfilling from a work perspective but also leaves plenty of time to be with your boys

  8. DadsDollarsDebts

    You can plan but not predict life…sorry you all went through this. It is brutal but one of the main reasons having your financial ducks in a row is key!

    1. chiefmomofficer

      Heck yes! It’s like you were talking about over on Think Save Retire today. Bad things happen, but when you’re financially prepared, it’s easier to deal with

  9. We went the SAHD route in 2015 when baby #3 was coming 12 months after baby #2. Having 2 kids in daycare was ridiculous, we couldn’t imagine trying to pay for 3. I work a crazy schedule as an Emergency Department Physician and need lots of flexibility for a job that I can’t be late for or call in sick to. My husband didn’t LOVE his job and made much less than me so it was an obvious solution, although not easy. Now, three years later, we LOVE our lifestyle, flexibility and have found many ways that this is the best thing for our family and our kids. My husband is a leader in a local SAHD group and we have found so many other men in our community who are staying home.

    1. chiefmomofficer

      I think the value of having a SAHD to succeed in a career with odd hours, or travel, can’t be understated. Most childcare is 8 hours, costs extra for over that time, and finding overnight/weekend care is almost impossible. Love that your husband stayed at home and you guys love it. I know it gives so much more flexibility and less stress than both parents working.

  10. Thanks for sharing! My husband became a SAHD just before our daughter was born; he worked as an aircraft maintainer and I’m a nurse practitioner. It didn’t make sense to have both of us working long, crazy hours for income we didn’t really *need*. We assumed that when the kids were older he’d go back to work, but we ended up homeschooling instead, which is amazing. Since my work is flexible and I do a lot at a distance (teaching online) we have an awesome flexible schedule that lets us travel, etc… and we still have a good savings rate. And people STILL ask when my husband is going to “get a job”. That is a huge frustration for me – but having one spouse at home is really awesome when it works out.

  11. Amongst my physician friends, stay at home dads are the rule rather than the exception. I’m glad that society is slowly recognizing that genitals don’t determine parenting skills and enabling more families to choose the working arrangement that works for them.

    1. chiefmomofficer

      I love “genitals don’t determine parenting skills”-it’s so true. I don’t know anyone in my real life who has this kind of working arrangement but that could be because I work in the corporate world rather than a doctor one.

  12. My husband is also the stay at home parent after being medically discharged from the military – 2 spinal surgeries by age 32 and living with chronic pain. He has a fun cocktail of drugs to take daily and we also have one of those picky up sticks… He was so ecstatic the day I brought it home on a whim.

    Unlike you, I was the stay at home parent and he was the sole breadwinner. At that time we had a 1yo and a 4yo (now 3 and 6 with another on the way).
    So we made the decision for me to start a new career from scratch and it’s been working out fairly well. He can be there for all sick days, school/daycare drop offs and pickups etc as a normal work day for me is 11.5 hrs away from home. It gives him time for rehab and to tinker with ideas of what will be his ‘next big thing’ in a post-military life. That’s been really important for his mental health.

    We feel fortunate in some ways as he receives a small invalidity pension so is effectively being paid to be at home. I’d trade it away for his health back though.

    Once all children are in full-time school, I have no doubt we’ll be re-examining our situation. I hope to start my own business (in the same industry as I’m currently in) so I can work school hours and kill my commute, and no doubt by then his tinkering will have resulted in some type of income earning ‘thing’.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and keep up the great work with this blog 🙂

    1. chiefmomofficer

      I hear you, a normal day for me is also 11-11.5 hours. Doing school drop offs, pickups and daycare arrangements for that kind of timeframe is difficult. I find it amazing how you transitioned from a stay at home parent to the breadwinner to help your family. We also plan to reexamine things once the little guy is in full time school, as an extra income would be handy for sending our oldest off to college.

  13. Sounds like you took an incredibly hard time/experience and made the best of it. I don’t have any kids but I doubt I don’t often hear parents regretting having extra time with them.

  14. I think it’s interesting that in today’s modern world where women are gaining respect to do anything a man can do that you need to justify why your husband stays home with the family. I think the most important points you made are that this is what works and provides the best situation for your family and that you live below your means which allows you this flexibility and opportunity.

    Kudos to you and your husband for an outstanding job parenting and best wishes to him on Father’s Day!

  15. Wow Liz! That period sounds rough on you and your family and am glad you guys have been able to work it out in the best manner possible.

    I think it takes a lot from all sides to be able invert conventional gender rules and this made for a truly inspiring read!

    1. chiefmomofficer

      It’s one of those situations where you need to come together as a family and do what needs to be done.

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