How This Mom and Dad Swapped Roles at Home to Achieve Balance for Their Family of 6

How I Parent explores the ins and outs of modern day parenting with moms and dads from all over the world, who are raising their own unique families and sharing their best advice and most heartfelt lessons with PEOPLE. Want to be a part of it? Email what makes your family so special to howiparent@peoplemag.com.

How I Parent
Photo: Scott & Theresa McCluskey

Name: Scott & Theresa McCluskey

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina

Occupation: Theresa is an associate vice president of sales for a top consulting firm and Scott is a stay-at-home father.

Family situation: We are married with four kids: Wes, 5, Leah, 5, Kate, 10 and Owen, 12. Scott is the full-time parent who stays home with the kids, while Theresa works full-time for about 60 hours a week.

Parenting “philosophy” in a sentence: We believe children should be raised with structure and discipline, and that we should lead by example.

How I Parent
Scott & Theresa McCluskey

What was your journey to having the family life you have today?

Theresa: We met on Aug. 11, 2001, on the dance floor. Then after dating for five years, we got engaged and then married on Aug. 5, 2006. Once we were married, we both really wanted to start a family.

We always discussed how we wanted to be super-involved parents when we had children. We ended up getting pregnant on our first try and our oldest son is now 12. As our family began to grow, I was working at FedEx Services and was primarily in charge of the kids, while Scott was in nursing school. That was a really hard point in our marriage but as soon as he finished school, we decided we wanted another child.

Our second child was a girl born in 2009. On paper, we had this perfect family structure, but in reality, we were both gone 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and super tired, super strapped for money. It was a lot. I decided to ask to transfer locations for my work, so after two-and-a-half years of negotiating with my company, we moved to Charlotte in 2011 to help simplify our lives.

How I Parent
Scott & Theresa McCluskey

We wanted to raise our kids the way we truly wanted to, not just based on money and not just based on what everyone else was doing. That's when things started to change and I started working from home, while Scott was working full-time in the ER. We had a nanny, but I was home a lot. During that time, I would look at our family photo and feel like something was missing. I wanted to try for another child, but Scott was done at that point.

Scott: At the time, Theresa was dead set on wanting more kids but I was like, 'We have a boy, we have a girl. We're kind of set. Let's not mess up the dynamic.' We went back and forth to the point where I ended up saying, if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. If by November you're not pregnant, we're never going to have this conversation again. We're going to move on. As fate would have it, Theresa got pregnant with twins.

How I Parent
Scott & Theresa McCluskey

By the time we had moved to Charlotte, I had been working in hospitals for nearly 20 years. With all the stress going on at home and Theresa being pregnant with the twins, and then already having two other kids ... it was just, I don't know. I wouldn't call them panic attacks but my level of stress and anxiety was through the roof all the time.

Once the twins came, we decided that I would go down to part-time. Then when Theresa was traveling for work, I kept on having to switch shifts so I eventually went down to being on-call. Things were still tough for us so we took a minute to reevaluate everything so Theresa could take bigger strides in her career, which made it easier for me to take a step back and focus on the kids.

How I Parent
Theresa McCluskey

Theresa: Now, I usually start my workday between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. It's almost all video chat if I'm not traveling. My home office is in one of the twins' nurseries, so Scott painted the room for me, put a treadmill in there and hung up all of my awards and pictures.

I'm on calls all day long so I'm super protective of my time. I tell people that between 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., I'm a mom and I try to decline as many meetings as I politely can between those hours, and then I'll work again when the kids go to bed, which is around 8 p.m. Then I'll finish up around 10 p.m.

Scott: For me, my day starts in the morning with my younger kids. We get up, get their lunches ready, get them out of bed and helped them get dressed. Then I drive them and some of our neighbors' kids to school every day. I try to be on the road by 7 a.m. so once we're out of the house, it gives me a little more time with them to just talk.

How I Parent
Scott & Theresa McCluskey

Once I get back, my older son has been getting himself ready so I make sure he's all set for school and we watch a little bit of the news together. Then, he gets on the bus at 8 a.m. He's in middle school. After that, I start cleaning up and I make Theresa breakfast every morning. There's also a long to-do list that needs to get done, so I work on that and fit in some time to work out.

By 2:30 p.m., the younger kids get home and I set up snacks and start their homework. My older son gets home around 4:30 p.m. and then we're usually off to their after-school activities. My daughter's involved in cheerleading and tumbling. We have piano some nights and basketball on others. The twins are starting art classes and football, so we have a ton of stuff going on in the evening. A good portion of my day is spent driving around. I also make dinner every night (shout out to Instant Pot).

Theresa: This has been the best thing for our marriage because I am so grateful that Scott takes care of so much during the day so I can focus on my job. I get to have an amazing day at work and then focus on being a mom at night. I get to hang out with my kids because Scott makes it so easy all day for me to do that. Very rarely do we have evening doctors' appointments or evening emergencies or tons of paperwork to fill out because he already did it all.

How I Parent
Scott & Theresa McCluskey

I don't know if every marriage gets to experience this type of partnership or appreciates it like we do because once we were blessed with the twins, we committed to changing our entire dynamic. I try to work super hard because I have six dependents and now I think, How much money can I make so that they're all super comfortable?

Scott: I agree with Theresa. We've been through it all so now we've reached a place where we both understand our roles as parents. I went from taking care of people in the hospital to taking care of my family at home, so it's my job to make sure that if they're sick, I go pick them up from school. If there's an appointment, that's all me. That's my job right now, so there's no, "Oh, can you go do it," unless for some reason I really, really can't. But there's very few and far between of that.

I never thought I'd be a full-time dad. That never crossed my mind growing up or during my early adult years, but it's awesome. For example, last night, we got everything done — we did homework, had dinner, cleaned up — and I got to spend time shooting hoops with my son at 6 p.m. in our driveway. Our schedules allow us to enjoy family time in ways we couldn't before. Theresa gets to be at the park with the kids and we get to be fully present with them because everything else got done during the day.

How I Parent
Scott & Theresa McCluskey

How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?

Scott: My parents got divorced when I was young and then my dad and I had an off-and-on relationship. Eventually, it just kind of took a dive. My mom got remarried and my stepdad has been around since I was in high school and he's an amazing guy. As for my biological dad, he's not in my kids' lives or anything like that, my stepdad is. That's why it's important for me to make sure that my kids know that I'm here for them. At any second of the day, they can depend on me.

Theresa: My dad was an every-other-weekend dad, and after work he didn’t have a lot of energy for us. When Scott and I became parents, we knew we had a chance to do it right, so we both commit ourselves to do the best we can every day.

What’s your favorite thing about parenting?

Theresa: I love parenting because I feel like I'm enjoying my childhood all over again. The holidays are so much fun with kids. I love living through their excitement and energy about St. Patrick's Day, for example, when they ask when the leprechauns are going to come and if Daddy is going to make the toilet green again. I love all of that.

How I Parent
Scott & Theresa McCluskey

Scott: I love watching them glow and smile when it comes to the holidays. I love playing sports with them and just being there. They just make you feel like a kid again sometimes.

Theresa: We're not going to sugarcoat it. Scott is exhausted at the end of the day. Even with them being in school, he's physically exhausted by the time they go to bed.

Scott: One thing that Theresa says all the time is, when we meet new people, they always ask me when I'm going back to work.

Theresa: They think he can't find a job ... They feel sad for us and I get really defensive because there's no way anyone could do what he does for our four children. I do feel like we're seeing more parents in our situation because of all that comes with parenting, and although he's kept his nursing license, we have no intention of him going back right now.

How I Parent
Theresa McCluskey

What’s the hardest part?

Scott: When they're all having a meltdown at the same time. We've got one going through puberty. We've got twins that are both 5 years old that are dealing with their 5-year-old things. It can get tough balancing everybody's emotions all at the same time as well as the schedules that go along with everything.

Theresa: The biggest challenge for me is making sure that this dynamic that we've created helps nurture our kids to grow up to be good people who are able to get jobs and are kind to others. When we had our first two kids, we didn't have balance in our lives. We were just doing what we were supposed to do to get a bigger house and a bigger car and nicer this and more that. Now, we realize there's only so much you can make and do, and then you have to stop and play with the kids. I feel like we've finally found balance and it's a great feeling.

How do you keep your active kids energized and full of imagination?

Theresa: They're different ages with very different and unique interests that range quite a bit so I like to leave out art supplies so they can spend time on crafts. We also let them play outside often. It's truly amazing what a bored child can come up with.

How I Parent
Theresa McCluskey

What's the best advice you can share with new parents?

Theresa: Trust your gut. Follow through with what you think is best, not what everyone else is doing.

Scott: Make time for yourselves as a couple. I know it's hard for some people but make time for yourselves so you can talk about other things outside of the family.

What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?

Theresa: I would want my kids to say that I am a kind, patient, loving mom, but that I also inspire them to go after whatever they want to do — whether you're a woman or a man, there are no limits.

Scott: I want my kids to be able to say that their dad was always there for everything — every runny nose, breakup, whatever the case may be. They can always count on me for anything.

Editor's Note: This interview was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home orders began.

Related Articles