QUALITY TIME ALL THE TIME

Stay-at-home dads relish chance to care for kids

2013-06-16T00:05:00Z 2013-06-17T05:52:05Z Stay-at-home dads relish chance to care for kidsBy MARY PICKETT mpickett@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Jourdan Guidice admits there are days when caring for his two young sons can be stressful.

Sometimes Russell, an active 3-year-old, wants to go outside to play just at the time

that 11-month-old Owen is crying because he needs a diaper change or is hungry.

Not that Guidice is complaining.

“I love to be around with them,” he said.

“It’s not just a mom job,” he said about his full-time parenting duties.

Several other stay-at-home dads in Billings echo Guidice’s sentiments, adding that the rewards of raising their children far outweigh the hard work.

The men, who feel lucky to be able to stay at home with their children, say their experience has given them a healthy respect for parents who both must work full time.

Guidice, 38, and his wife, Jessica Cozzens, grew up and met in Billings.

Guidice worked in public accounting in Portland, Ore., for eight years while Cozzens was in medical school and a residency.

Married in 2007, they moved back to Billings in 2010, when Russell was 4 months old.

They decided even before their oldest son was born that Guidice would stay home with their children while Cozzens worked as a family medicine physician.

“I always wanted to stay at home (with the children),” Guidice said. “I had it in the back of my mind when we got pregnant.”

His wife liked the idea, too.

As hard as it is to be away from her sons, “it helps knowing they are with a person who loves them as much as I do,” Cozzens said.

As good as the situation is for the family, it took some time for Guidice to adjust to caring for one and then two young children.

“I thought it would be all roses and happiness with the kids,” he said.

He soon learned how much work it would be.

“Patience is number one,” he said about the traits a parent needs. “Flexibility is another. Not everything goes according to plan.”

He has not only grown close to his sons, he has been there when they took their first steps and spoke their first words.

Electronics has made it possible to record those important moments so Cozzens can share them, too.

The family doesn’t watch a lot of television and wants the boys to be active. When weather permits, Guidice takes the boys to a nearby park to play.

The couple also uses cloth diapers, something that would be impossible if the children attended day care.

Cozzens also doesn’t have to get the children ready for day care early each morning before she heads to work.

Guidice is starting to teach Russell preschool skills such as the alphabet, numbers and coloring. Russell has taken music classes, swim lessons and gymnastics. Guidice looks forward to coaching his sons’ sports teams.

He also cares for another toddler several days a week, which gives Russell a playmate.

When Cozzens gets home after a long day, she enjoys spending time with the children while her husband may work on the lawn or around the house. Some weekends, he goes fishing when she is home.

As much as he enjoys being at home, Guidice is planning for the future when his children will be in school.

Earlier this year, he started to do some clients’ taxes from home while the children are napping.

He’s keeping up with tax law, so by the time his kids are in school all day, he can work full time.

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Cory Heggem, 37, recently started working two days a week as a mental health therapist in private practice, after being at home with his children for several years.

His daughter, Carolyn, 6, is in kindergarten and his son, 2-year-old Otis, is in preschool the days his father works.

After living out of state for several years, Heggem and his wife, Julie Kelso, moved back to Billings for Kelso’s job as a psychiatrist.

Because Heggem didn’t have a job when they arrived, he decided to stay at home with Carolyn, who was then a baby.

Both Heggem and Kelso had gone to Rocky Mountain College and have family in Montana and Wyoming.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Heggem said about being a stay-at-home dad, but “it’s more work than I thought it would be.”

Until he went back to work, he also did so much of the cleaning and cooking that, three years after they moved to Billings, Kelso still didn’t know where the vacuum was stored.

But the hard work has been worth it.

Not only has Heggem enjoyed getting to know his daughter, he can carry through with child rearing practices he feels are important, such as establishing a routine so Carolyn could take naps on schedule and sleep through the night.

Rather than hurt his career, staying at home with the children has made him a better therapist, Heggem said.

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Being at home with his 20-month-old daughter, Harper, has changed Nate Benfit’s life.

Benfit, 31, is with Harper during the day while his wife, Barb, works full time at Meadowlark Agency as operations manager.

She cares for their daughter in the evenings and weekends when he’s working part-time jobs at Uberbrew and as a disc jockey.

Even though Benfit gets “zero sleep,” he loves spending lots time with his daughter, a luxury many of his friends working in the oil fields for several weeks at a stretch don’t have.

Raised by a single mother, he has committed himself “110 percent” to being a good father to his daughter.

He’s learned a lot, including how to fix his daughter’s hair in pigtails and that he has more patience than he ever thought possible.

He’s also become a much more sympathetic, empathetic and nurturing person.

But he said the best part of fatherhood is the joy she brings to his life.

“When she yells ‘Daddy,’ it’s music to my ears,” he said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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