From Part-Time To Full-Time Fatherhood: A Tricky Transition

When my son was born in April 2017, I promised to become a full-time father until he turned five. I was so serious about this commitment that I sold our largest rental property to free up time. This property was supposed to be our crown jewel for my wife and my retirement plans. However, something had to give.

When my daughter was born in December 2019, I made the same promise to remain a full-time father until she turned five. Hooray for equality! That time is soon coming as she finally begins full-time school in September 2024. As I anticipate the transition from full-time to part-time fatherhood, I wanted to reflect on what it has been like being a full-time father for over seven years.

But first, some clarification on the difference between being a full-time versus part-time father.

The Definitions of Full-Time versus Part-Time Fatherhood

First of all, fathers will always be fathers, no matter what. However, just like with work, some fathers work part-time, and others work full-time. There is a spectrum of how we allocate our time to various responsibilities.

My definition of full-time fatherhood is when a father spends more time taking care of his children than he does on his job or other activities. For example, if a father spends 40 hours a week taking care of his three-year-old and 20 hours a week driving for Uber after his son goes to sleep, he is a full-time father. This father spends 60 hours a week between fatherhood and side hustling.

Conversely, a part-time father is a dad who spends more time on his job or other activities than on taking care of his kids. He might work 40 hours a week at an office job and then spend 2 hours with his kids after work and 15 hours a week with them on the weekend, for a total of 25 hours a week of child time. That’s a long 65 hours a week of work and childcare for this dad!

Both Types Of Fathers Can Be Great

Based on these two examples, it’s clear both fathers are doing a lot of work to care for their children and earn income. All fathers have what’s called a Provider’s Clock, where they are conditioned to provide to varying degrees.

It is also clear that being a part-time father is not a negative. Most dads work full-time to take care of their family. Meanwhile, spending 25 hours a week with their children is much more than the average dad in America spends with his children each week (~10 hours).

Obviously, if you’re a physically and mentally able father who doesn’t work much and doesn’t spend time with your kids, that will probably be viewed negatively. However, I don’t believe any father reading this site would choose to shirk both work and childcare responsibilities.

When you choose to be a father, you also choose to take on the vast responsibility of fatherhood. At the very least, all fathers will choose to go all-in on their work at the cost of spending time with their kids, or go all-in on childcare at the cost of making money. Both options may engender dad guilt as the father tries to find an ideal balance.

The average amount of time parents spend with their children per day in America and various developed OECD countries

Main Goal: To Give Men Permission To Be Full-Time Fathers

I know there are men out there who have considered being full-time fathers but are nervous about the transition due to financial worries and societal judgment. My goal is to give men permission and confidence to be full-time fathers if they want to.

Just look at this chart from the U.S. Census Bureau that shows only about 2% of fathers are stay-at-home dads compared to about 23% of women who are stay-at-home mothers.

I’m positive if fathers felt less financial pressure to provide and society was more accepting of full-time fathers, the percentage would be much closer to the percentage of women who are full-time mothers.

Be Who You Want To Be To Feel Whole

Times are changing, with more women attending college than men and more women earning higher salaries than men. Yet, partly because of the male ego, the number of full-time fathers has barely budged since 1994. Men still feel embarrassed to be labeled as having the hardest job in the world.

This lack of self-confidence is why you see men who proclaim FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) but never mention their working wives who provide income, retirement benefits, and health benefits. There is also a great fear of letting their wives stop working, given the financial implications.

Pretending to be something you’re not is a sad way to live. Being able to speak your mind and be who you want to be are some of the most powerful benefits of financial independence. This freedom to live one’s true self is also one of the best reasons for living in San Francisco, where there is a greater acceptance of people of all types.

Reflections on Being a Full-Time Father

For any current or future fathers considering staying at home to raise their kids, let me share some perspective on how you might feel as a full-time father during the first three years of your child’s life.

I use the three-year mark because most families have the option of sending their kids to preschool by then, although daycare is also a common childcare option.

For most daycare centers, infants can start as young as six weeks. However, more time allows for the establishment of a secure attachment with your child, complete healing of the umbilical cord, figuring out feeding and sleep patterns, developing a stronger immune system, and adjusting to a new life together.

1) There is no harder job than full-time parenthood

If you’re a new dad, the challenges can be overwhelming. From bottle-feeding and diaper changes to burping, napping, and constant dishwashing, raising a baby keeps you busy. The first year might also be sleep-deprived as your little one wakes up every two to four hours.

When I worked in banking, the hours were long and the stress was immense. However, there were always breaks where I could unwind over coffee, a meal, or a business trip. Attending conferences overseas was so much fun! Despite working ~60 hours a week, that still left 108 hours to sleep and do whatever.

In full-time fatherhood, the hours can often reach 12-14 hours a day, or 84-98 hours a week during the initial years. You can try to nap when your little one is sleeping, but there is no guarantee you’ll be able to sleep.

Meanwhile, the cost of looking away for more than three seconds could result in injury or worse for your child. From the paranoia of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) to drowning to slipping and bashing their heads on a table’s sharp edge, the stakes are much higher for a full-time parent if they aren’t doing their job.

If I miss a phone call from a large client, no big deal. I can always call my client back or email them. But there might not be any way back if you look away from a child.

Prepare for your limits to be tested repeatedly

If you want to be a full-time father, you must mentally and physically prepare for the ultimate challenge. Read as many books as you can about parenthood. Learn parenting techniques that require patience, understanding, and love. Get in the best shape of your life to keep up with your children’s endless energy.

The first three years will push you to your limits. We’re talking potentially 6 am – 9:30 pm almost every day. You will hear screaming, crying, and whining multiple times a day for over 1,000 days in a row. As a result, your nerves will fry. Get noise-canceling headphones to help you survive your days!

2) You will have a harder time fitting in and feeling welcome

When you take your little one to the playground on weekdays, you will likely be the only dad among a majority of moms and nannies. Based on my observations in San Francisco, roughly 40% of the primary caregivers are moms, 55% are nannies or au pairs, and 5% are dads.

When the women are chatting about feeding and and other childcare topics, you will likely not be included. Hence, you will have to make an effort to get to know the other moms, nannies, and au pairs if you’re looking to make friends. As your kid grows older, you’ll see them regularly due to weekly classes. Hence, it’d be nice to get to know them somewhat.

If you attend any Dad’s Night Out events, you may also feel embarrassed initially. While other dads discuss their careers and business trips, talking about your day with your children might feel awkward. Despite changing gender roles, there’s an ongoing machismo among dads that may make you feel uncomfortable.

You can either lean into your full-time fatherhood role or mention other work endeavors you are pursuing. As a father, you can’t talk about playing pickleball all day, as some moms proudly do. Instead, you must discuss some activity that provides value to society and earns money.

Took a while to be comfortable owning my status as a stay-at-home dad

For me, once my son started attending preschool full-time at age four in 2021, I told people I was a writer since I was working on Buy This, Not That. I could have said I was a full-time father, but I did not partly because I wanted to better fit in. I also didn’t want to make dads feel awkward for being part-time fathers.

Luckily, after about a year of being a stay-at-home dad, your confidence will grow. Instead of feeling out of place, you’ll embrace your role as a primary caregiver more strongly. As you wait for your confidence to grow, be proud of your status as a stay-at-home dad. Caring full-time for a vulnerable little one is a noble thing to do.

3) You’ll long to return to work for a break from full-time fatherhood

With no direct income coming in for your labor as a full-time father, you may feel more stressed at times, especially if your wife doesn’t earn much or doesn’t work.

As a result, you’ll frequently ask yourself when you should return to work. You’ll do the math regarding the cost of daycare/preschool versus the cost of not working in your career.

The temptation to earn while you are still relatively young will likely overwhelm your desire to remain a full-time father, so you will likely transition to part-time fatherhood once your child turns three.

At three years old, you may gleefully or reluctantly start sending your kid to preschool full-time. If you only have one child, you will then feel a strong responsibility to go back to work and earn again, even if your wife is working.

However, if you have multiple children, you will naturally want to offer the same amount of childcare as you did for your first child, if possible. Hence, with two children, you may end up gutting it out as a full-time father for six years. With three children, your full-time fatherhood role may extend to nine years.

After nine years of being a full-time father, you will have a difficult time going back to work that pays you a similar salary to the one you left.

4) You will often feel like you’re not doing enough as a full-time father

One of the most frustrating things about full-time fatherhood is that no matter how much you do, you will often feel like you’re not doing enough. I’m sure full-time mothers feel the same way, as there is an endless amount of providing to do.

For the first two years of your child’s life, you may feel like second fiddle to their mother. This may be true no matter how much time you spend with them. There’s something about growing a child in your womb for nine months and birthing a child that creates an unbreakable bond between mother and child.

You’ll feel daggers in your heart when your children choose to play with their mother over you. The more time you spend with your children, the more the rejection will hurt.

Thankfully, after our kids turned three-and-a-half, there was more of a balance of affection. So for full-time fathers out there who feel unloved on occasion, keep the faith that things will get better.

Your wife or partner won’t always feel relief or happiness

In your unique situation as a full-time father, you may often feel like you’re doing more than your fair share of childcare compared to other fathers. As a result, you might expect your wife or partner to feel happier and less stressed than other mothers.

Unfortunately, your wife or partner will still feel unhappy or stressed on occasion because there are endless childcare tasks she also needs to handle. If she also has a full-time job, her stress will persist since it’s hard not to bring work home. Her unhappiness and stress will bum you out because you hoped to relieve her from such burdens as a full-time father.

Additionally, your wife or partner may only know what it’s like to have a full-time father as a husband or partner and nothing else. Therefore, she may not appreciate your efforts as much as you expect, leading to mismatched expectations and potential conflict.

Full-time fathers must lower their expectations and remind themselves that being a father is a duty that doesn’t deserve special recognition. After all, they chose to be a father.

More importantly, full-time fathers may consistently overestimate how much they actually do. This overestimation of care was my biggest blind spot as a father.

Despite being a stay-at-home dad, my wife still does way more than I do. I have the luxury of not having to handle nights, which is a blessing because our kids are terrible sleepers. When I want to nap after lunch, I can, because my wife is always home. Additionally, we had the tremendous help of Silvia, our au pair, during the pandemic.

5) Witnessing your child’s milestones will make your efforts feel worth it

At this point, you might think being a full-time father sounds like too much work. Thankfully, witnessing all your child’s development milestones is the greatest return of all.

You will witness everything from your baby’s first babble to their first rollover. Amazing! Then, around eight months old, you’ll be so proud when your child finally sits up on their own. At around ten months old, nothing will be as exhilarating as seeing your almost-toddler crawl to you for the first time. And then, when they stand at around the one-year mark and start cruising along the sofa, you will have the biggest proud dad moment ever.

Each milestone you witness will erase your doubts about giving up your career and income. After about ten sessions of trying to teach my son how to bike, hearing him scream with joy, “I can do it!” was priceless. The amount of satisfaction I felt seeing his triumph was worth more than any year-end bonus I made on Wall Street.

Now imagine during bedtime when your child, out of the blue, says, “Thanks for spending the day with me, Daddy. I love you.” That’s when you feel a wholesome type of priceless love.

Being a full-time father can be priceless
November 2022, 5 years old, the moment I let go, it was sheer joy for both

If You Want To Be A Full-Time Father, Try It Out

Embracing the role of a full-time father comes with its fair share of challenges, but you’ll likely find it a rewarding decision.

Yes, your family will probably have less money with one less working partner. I gave up many income opportunities to stay at home. At the same time, I found ways to generate supplemental income through Financial Samurai and my books. You will rationally find a way to earn on the side as well if you want to.

For older parents, becoming a full-time father is also a great way to make up for lost time. One of my biggest regrets was having kids late. By spending more time with them before they leave the house, you can compensate for your late start.

Sometime around ages 10-12, you’ll no longer be their superhero as they’ll prefer to spend time with friends. Therefore, you have about 10-12 years to be a full-time father before this opportunity fades away.

If Full-Time Fatherhood Is Not For You

If you decide during your journey that full-time fatherhood is not for you, you can always transition back to being a part-time father. Being away from the workforce for one to three years isn’t too long, considering that many employees return to graduate school for two years and often come back with higher-paying jobs.

This mindset also gave me the courage to retire early in 2012 at 34. I reasoned that if early retirement didn’t suit me or if I needed the income, I could have easily found another job at age 35, 36, or 37.

With the rise of consulting opportunities, you can gradually shift more of your waking hours toward work and less toward childcare as your children grow older.

For instance, once my daughter started attending preschool three days a week in fall 2023, I devoted more time to writing for Financial Samurai and completing my second book with Portfolio Penguin.

The Satisfaction That You Tried

Unfortunately, you are unlikely to feel happier as a full-time father due to the amount of work, stress, second-guessing, and patience involved! However, once your kids attend school full-time, you will feel satisfied knowing you tried your best.

In addition, how cool it is that your wife can never criticize you for not being there for the kids or doing enough around the household for the rest of your life! Whoo hoo!

Our children will one day go off on their own, leaving us to ponder how quickly time flew by. Hopefully, one day as adults, they’ll appreciate their childhoods and all the time we spent with them. When that day comes, you’ll realize all your effort was worthwhile.

With my transition to part-time fatherhood in September 2024, I need to fill the 40-hour void with more productive work. Approximately 15 hours a week will be dedicated to writing for Financial Samurai, and five hours will be set aside for my sports hobbies, leaving me with 20 hours a week to generate active income.

This active income is crucial to supplement my passive investment income and cover my shortfall in desired living expenses. It also serves to renew my sense of purpose now that my fatherhood responsibilities have lessened.

Earlier this year, I experimented with part-time consulting, but it didn’t work out as planned. The workload exceeded the agreed-upon 20 hours per week. Nonetheless, this experience has provided me with valuable insights into what to seek once I have more free time.

To all the men out there aspiring to be full-time fathers, give it a go! Don’t worry about societal judgments. Ultimately, follow your heart and pursue what holds true meaning for you. Your kids will grow up faster than you know!

Reader Questions About Fatherhood

Are there any other full-time fathers out there? If you’re currently a part-time father, have you ever thought about transitioning to full-time fatherhood? What’s holding you back?

How do you reconcile the fact that by the time you might want to be a full-time father, your children may already be in school full-time and more interested in spending time with friends?

Do you think there’s a better hybrid approach for fathers to balance childcare and income generation effectively?

Recommendation If You Want To Be A Full-Time Father

If you’re looking to become a full-time father, try to get laid off with a severance package instead of quitting your job. This way, you’ll have a financial runway to be a full-time father without as much financial anxiety. 

My bestselling book, How To Engineer Your Layoff, teaches you how to break free from a job you no longer like with a severance package. Use the code “saveten” at checkout to save $10.

How to engineer your layoff - learn how to negotiate a severance package and be free

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