Mr. Mom? When thrust into the role of stay-at-home dad, one husband has to make peace with his masculinity—and the new dynamic in his marriage. BY FRANCINE KIZNER
Photo courtesy of Mitch Newman
Mitch Newman and his daughter Alexa
Mitch Newman, 46, and his wife Wendy, 41, had an incredible fantasy of how raising kids would be. Then reality struck. "It wasn’t like the stories I’d see on Oprah, where dads just loved being home all day with their kids," says Mitch. "I personally don’t believe men are wired to be stay-at-home dads." Or, he concedes, maybe it’s his lack of planning and clear boundaries that made things more difficult for him in the beginning.
Mitch and his wife both planned to be home a lot during their now 2-year-old daughter’s first years. They both wanted to be very involved in raising their first child, and they idealized how life would be in their new family. But when Wendy’s coaching business took off, and she had to travel more, Mitch was thrust into the role of stay-at-home dad for his infant daughter, Alexa. He kept his own relationship coaching business very part-time, and started winging the whole dad thing.
Mitch started feeling resentful of his wife and daughter. "There was an element of denial that I was a stay-at-home dad," he says. "I kept thinking things would shift and my wife’s practice would slow down, but it didn’t."
And it’s not like he expected a traditional marriage in the first place. But with this new situation blurring the male-female dynamic in his household, he had to face some unexpected challenges. "It calls into questions what it means to be a man," he says. "I had to ask my wife for money. I felt like an unappreciated housewife."
As a relationship coach, he never expected to face these sorts of problems in his own marriage and had to try to put things into perspective. "Men want to be respected, and women want to be cared for," Mitch says. "But my wife wasn’t feeling appreciated for her job and her money… I wasn’t feeling respected or appreciated."
And after caring for their young daughter all day, Mitch was often too tired to want to spend time with his wife in the evenings. "I wanted a quiet moment, and she wanted to talk," he says. "Everything for her became about work and everything for me became about our daughter and our house." And this disconnect also affected their sexual relationship—as in, it was close to nonexistent.
At one point, Mitch and his wife were surprised that their daughter wasn’t kissing them like other children her age would kiss their parents. And when he thought about it, he realized that his daughter never saw him and Wendy kissing. How would she know that it was a way to show affection? "It’s so easy to let things slip," he says. And that realization led to a turning point in their relationship.
"The pressure of being great parents is a great way to force yourself into a divorce," says Mitch. "Couples drown, and I sensed that we were heading down that path." He and Wendy started creating more time for themselves to connect with each other. They would hire a babysitter or stay up a little later. They also started taking more time for themselves—going to the gym and going out with friends—which helped bring more balance to their lives.
Mitch also credits his sense of humor about the whole situation for helping him get through the tougher times. But what really helped him put the importance of his relationship in perspective was realizing that "All of a sudden, your child is off and running and they will leave you behind. You need to have time alone as parents, or you’ll be in for a big shock when you get your life back."