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Published September 24, 2012, 11:33 PM

Moorhead man says decision to stay home, raise kids has benefited family

When Dawn Willett first suggested to her husband that he quit his full-time construction job and stay home and take care of the kids – a newborn and a three-year-old – he was a little taken aback.

By: Pamela Knudson, Forum Communications, INFORUM

When Dawn Willett first suggested to her husband that he quit his full-time construction job and stay home and take care of the kids – a newborn and a three-year-old – he was a little taken aback.

“I didn’t know if I could do it,” said Shannon Willett of Moorhead.

Now, seven years and a third child later, he has developed an appreciation of the traditional role of women that few of his male peers share.

“It can be very noisy sometimes,” he said. “The boys fight from time to time. There are long days.

“But the good days definitely outweigh the mentally stressful ones.”

While it’s become more unusual for women to stay at home to care for their children, it is far less common for men to take on that responsibility.

“I definitely have a different perspective,” he said. “It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had.”

The full-time dad to sons Lincoln, 10; Holden, 7, and Greyson, 3, admits to a twinge of self-doubt when he assumed full-time parenting duties, thinking “like I should be doing the providing,” he said.

“It’s 180 degrees different from what I thought I’d be doing.”

‘Safe environment at home’

When Willett was employed in construction, work would sometimes take him out of town for a week at a time, leaving all the family responsibilities on his wife’s shoulders. She works full time as technical manager at John Deere Electronic Solutions in Fargo.

“I just didn’t want to be gone from home,” he said. “My wife’s pretty busy at work.”

The deciding factor for the family was Holden’s severe allergy to peanuts and asthma problems.

“That played a big role in (the decision),” Willett said. “We wanted to provide a safe environment for him at home.”

He and Dawn had serious reservations about placing trust in a daycare, especially after learning that a 3-year-old girl in daycare had to be rushed to an emergency room a few times due to an adverse reaction to dairy products.

Early on, being a stay-at-home dad was not easy, Willett said. He “had to figure everything out.”

“There were some long days and long nights. Some days were stressful – taking care of the baby and the other two would be arguing about toys or whatever.”

But his relationship with his sons is “very close,” he said, “and I hope that carries through (to adulthood) because of all the time we spent together.”

With Willett at home full time, his wife can “do her job 100 percent,” he said, “and know the family is taken care of.”

Dawn, who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of North Dakota in 1998, has begun working on a master of business administration degree at North Dakota State University.

“She decided to go for it,” he said. “It would be hard or impossible for her to do that if I was working too.”

It also means that Willett can take his sons to their after-school activities – like Lincoln’s first year of football practices – which extend into the evening.

“If I was still working construction I wouldn’t be home by 5 or 6, especially in the summer,” he said. “It’d be more like 9 or 10.”

Willet knows from personal experience how parents’ jobs can impact a kid’s life.

“My dad worked construction,” he said. “Work took him out of town quite often. He missed out on a lot of our activities.”

Willett’s dad endorsed his son’s decision to stay home with the kids.

“He said, ‘I’m glad you’re doing this,’” Willett said. “From the first day I told him, he thought it was a good idea.”

Others’ reactions

Willett’s family and friends were also generally supportive.

His mother and mother-in-law “were the two biggest supporters of the transition,” he said. “They were very happy I decided to stay home” especially because of Holden’s allergies.

“Everyone was pretty much behind it, for the most part. I was referred to as ‘Mr. Mom’ a few times.”

But that didn’t bother him.

“I’ve got a pretty good sense of humor.”

He doesn’t, however, have much humor when it comes to one of his tasks: washing clothes.

“My biggest pet peeve is the endless amount of laundry,” he said. “I don’t mind the other stuff. I just don’t like laundry. It just seems like it never ends.”

His choice to stay at home has strengthened the family, he said. “It’s kept us closer as a family.

“We have supper together every night. The boys help with setting the table.”

During the week, when he does the cooking, he said, “I don’t get too wild, not a lot of experimenting or exotic dishes. But most times the plates are empty, so it can’t be too bad.”

Finances

“You end up giving up income and some things financially. We don’t drive spanking-new vehicles,” said Willett. “But, as my wife said, money comes and goes, but kids … it’s just nice to be home with them.”

On the flip side, he and his wife have saved “a ton of money,” about $1,000 to $1,200 each month, in daycare expenses, he said.

Willett has plans to return to the workforce in a couple years when his youngest son starts elementary school. He’d like to drive a school bus for the first few years so he can be off in the summer when his kids are out of school.

“There’s opportunity out there,” he said.

Although the family lives on one paycheck, there are advantages when vacation planning rolls around.

“It’s easier to work around one work schedule than two,” he said.

Best part

Being there for the “firsts” and just spending time with his children are among the biggest rewards of his role, Willett said. He witnessed his kids’ first steps and first words.

“My wife was actually kind of jealous,” he said. “She said, ‘I envy you, to get to experience that stuff.’”

Since deciding to stay at home, Willett has remodeled the house “top to bottom” and built a new garage.

This past summer, he built a new deck and worked on landscaping.

Because they’re a little older, “the boys could help out,” he said, without Dad having to worry about them getting hurt.

He said, “I hope that, for my boys, it’ll be the best situation in the long run.”

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