How a Father is Growing a Stronger Relationship With His Daughter
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How a Father is Growing a Stronger Relationship With His Toddler Daughter

Becoming a stay-at-home dad can be difficult in the face of a strong mother-daughter relationship. Here, one dad shares his story.

Updated April 22, 2024

As a working dad, the best part of my day was coming home to my daughter, Adley. It’s very cliché, but it was the moment I craved each evening.

When Adley was born, I worked as an investigative reporter at the NBC affiliate in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The pandemic had just begun a few weeks earlier, but my workday hadn’t changed much. I was going in at 9:30 a.m. and coming home around 6:30 p.m. This left me around an hour to spend with Adley before she went to bed. It wasn’t much, but I cherished every moment.

My wife, Katie, runs a social media marketing company and works from home. We had a nanny, but Katie would take breaks to breastfeed or just come say hi throughout the day. A perk of her job I wasn’t lucky enough to have. That was the dynamic for the first year of Adley’s life. It helped create an incredible connection between mother and daughter, one that I’ve marveled at as it continues to grow. I never really considered how that relationship impacted me until I decided to leave my job in July and become a stay-at-home dad.

How Our Family Dynamic Changed

We moved to Miami, Florida, to be closer to my wife’s family, which gave Adley and me a whole new playground to explore. Ironically, south Florida is full of a lot of playgrounds. We would spend the day together, doing everything and having a blast all the way through. But come 5 p.m., when my wife finished work for the day, the first word out of Adley’s mouth was always “mama.”

It often went a step further with her getting angry and throwing tantrums when I would step in to help with dinner time or play when my wife needed a break. I was frustrated. Truthfully, I still am. I’ve chosen to give up my career to be with you full-time. But as soon as mom gets home, I’m Ringo Starr while she gets to be John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison wrapped into one!

Not fair.

Evolution Explains a Tough Pill to Swallow

I’m slowly beginning to accept this is not a slight toward me or my parenting, but a very natural, evolutionary connection mothers and daughters share. The State University of New York psychology professor Glenn Geher wrote about this phenomenon for Psychology Today. He pointed out that all-female parenting groups were common in “ancestral human groups.” Geher also referenced studies showing women as far more likely to hold babies at a young age than men across all cultures.1

I initially read these studies with skepticism thinking they were prejudiced against fathers. I understand that isn’t the case, but it felt like a slap in the face to stay-at-home dads everywhere! Then I read a modern-day example that got my attention.

In 2017, The Economist examined the time parents in 11 developed countries, including the United States, spend with their children. Over the last 50 years, the time together doubled. For fathers, the change was drastic, jumping from 16 minutes a day in 1965 to 59 in 2012. It also increased for mothers, going from an average of 54 minutes per day to 104.2 That means women still spend nearly twice as much time with their children as men. The numbers show a society doing a better job building relationships with their families. That’s great news! But it’s unmistakable. On average, mothers have the upper hand for a reason.

Growing Our Connection, Despite Evolution

Every situation is different, and I certainly don’t judge my relationship with my daughter, Adley, based on one large study or how things have always been done in the past. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be a stay-at-home dad! It’s easy to focus on your own situation when feeling slighted. I left my job for you, Adley. WHY DON’T YOU APPRECIATE ME? Of course, this misses the point.

Expecting a 1-year-old to be appreciative is silly, impossible, and counter-productive. It also doesn’t take into account the change she’s experiencing. For the first year of her life, Adley only saw me in the mornings before I went to work and right before bed. She saw her mom those same times and periodically throughout the day. When I began staying home with her, the dynamic changed, which took time to adjust to. I imagine she wondered in her toddler’s brain, “Why is dad still here?” a few times.

Ultimately, I’m proud of the relationship Adley and I have grown. We spend hours playing, going on long walks, and learning together. While she’s reciting her ABCs, I’m learning how to connect with her and teach her in the most effective ways. Evolution says I will never have the same kind of bond with Adley as her mother. It’s a tough pill to swallow. But today, I’m okay with that. My focus is on being the best dad I can be and building the best relationship possible.

I’m far from perfect. There are still days when I lose my cool or raise my voice, and that’s probably not going to change. It also naturally leads to wanting the parent who is not frustrated with you. While mom may be number one, I’m happy being 1A. But you better believe I’m still fighting for the top slot, evolution be damned!

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Aaron is a stay-at-home dad for his 2-year-old daughter, Adley. Before taking the leap, Aaron spent 12 years as an investigative reporter working for TV stations across the country. You… Read more

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