Ultimate Guide To Understanding Stay-At-Home Dads


For a long time, we as a society have been trying to overcome the negative stigma that has plagued stay-at-home moms. Although a mother staying home with her kids and being a homemaker is considered the more traditional route, many women do face controversy. Stay-at-home moms will frequently get asked what they do all day or when they are planning on going back to work. There is often an insinuation, whether it is conscious or unconscious, that their work isn’t valued in the same way that a “real job” would be.

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Historically, the role of a stay-at-home parent was considered to be the “feminine” job and the man was expected to be the financial provider for his family. While this family structure may work great for some, it’s no longer the norm, and it typically relied on a hetero normative worldview. The truth of the matter is that taking care of kids all day and keeping up with the household chores is exhausting work that moms or dads can do.

Related: What Device Allows Dad To Breastfeed?

Caretaking & Homemaking Is Real Work

Now that there is a rise in working moms, there is a growing trend of stay-at-home dads. Unfortunately, this means that there is a massive increase in the stigma surrounding stay-at-home dads. On top of the typical judgments that a stay-at-home parent may receive, fathers are also working against the societal pressure to be the breadwinner. So, instead of asking if stay-at-home dads should be working, the real question is: Why doesn’t society recognize caretaking and homemaking as real work?

How Many Stay-At-Home Dads Are There?

Traditional gender roles for men and women are changing. Women are now pursuing more meaningful careers, and men are becoming more comfortable with the caregiving role. Because of economics, couples are being forced to make non-traditional decisions. The Center for American Progress has reported that:

“42% of mothers were sole or primary breadwinners, bringing in at least half of family earnings. Nearly another one-quarter of mothers—22.4 percent—were co-breadwinners, bringing home from 25 percent to 49 percent of earnings for their families.

These statistics reflect the importance of women’s earnings and how pivotal their role is in their family’s economic stability. In 1967, 49% of mothers were stay-at-home mothers, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, that number has been steadily dropping over the years and was only 23% in 1999. Currently, more moms are beginning to stay home again and about 29% of mothers stay home today. Interestingly enough, there is actually no clear data on the number of stay-at-home dads in America yet. This is because the Census Bureau doesn’t even define that category!

However, a Pew Research report found that 2 million US fathers with children in their household were not working outside the home. This data assumes that these dads were caregiving for their kids. But, the National At-Home Dad Network believes there are 7 million fathers that are primary caregivers based on the 2011 US census.

The point is that being a stay-at-home dad is a growing trend despite the societal stigma surrounding it. This could be due to fathers wanting to spend more time with their children, or the more difficult economic times.

The Pressure Men Face To Go Back To Work

While gender roles may be shifting, public attitudes toward stay-at-home fathers and stay-at-home mothers still differ.

  • About half of Americans (51%) think a child is better off with a mother at home, instead of being in the workforce, according to a 2013 Pew Research Survey.
  • Only 8% of Americans say a child is better off with a stay-at-home father.

This creates a problem in our society and to combat this lopsided view of parenting, the National At-Home Dad Network holds an annual convention to:

“Bring primary dads together from across the country for professional development as dads who embrace parenting as their most important job, to network with other active and involved dads.”

A feminist named Gloria Steinem is saying:

“The deepest change begins with men raising children as much as women do and women being equal actors in the world outside the home.”

Parenting Pay Gap

In the spirit of honesty and transparency, it’s important to discuss the inequalities that men face when it comes to raising a family. Men on average do get paid more than women, and it’s easier for men to work their way up in a career. A Harvard Kennedy School study found that parenthood does affect starting salaries, promotions, and perceived dedication to the workplace.

Interestingly, mothers were recommended a 7.9% lower salary than non-mothers, which was 8.6% lower than the recommended starting salary for fathers. Mothers were also held to stricter punctuality standards than non-mothers and could have fewer late days before no longer being recommended for hire.

What If Men Want To Stay Home?

When it comes to men in the workplace, the opposite occurs. Fathers were offered a significantly higher starting salary than men without kids. Fathers were perceived to be more committed to their jobs than non-fathers, and fathers were allowed to have more late days than childless men. This is likely reflective of the deeply rooted perception that men need to “provide” for their families financially.

Therefore, with more babies comes more responsibility at work. However, this also creates immense pressure for fathers to prioritize their careers over time with their kids, when that’s not necessarily the role they want to be in.

These gender roles are ingrained in us from the time we are very little and true equality will come when there is a choice: when men can equally choose to stay home with children and women can experience complete equality in the workplace.

Pattern Leave For Fathers

The gender bias around parenting is obvious to anyone who looks for it. Men are rewarded in their careers for having kids while women are either punished or remain stagnant. However, many companies do provide some maternity leave for women who have a baby. Very few companies offer paternity leave for fathers. Countries like Sweden and Portugal have mandated fatherly leave from work, but America is far behind on this.

According to New America’s article on gender equality, it’s reported that the average father takes about one week of paternity leave, while most mothers take around eleven weeks. This has drastically different effects on the employer and contributes to the inequality that exists. When men are forced or pressured to go back to work so soon after having a child, they lose out on critical baby bonding time.

If fathers choose to take more paternity leave, or even stay home with their child indefinitely, they tend to face strong social backlash. Luckily, the more men who choose to do what’s best for themselves and their families, the easier it will be for others to make those decisions going forward.

Can Fathers Be Good Stay-At-Home Dads?

The National Academy of Sciences finds that new fathers’ brains adapt to becoming more maternal. Men in primary care roles become hypersensitive to their baby’s verbal and physical signals. This is due to increased activity in certain areas of the brain. Before now, this brain activity was only seen in moms. However, that could have been because moms were typically the ones staying home with their kids while the father was working outside the home.

In studies that looked at heterosexual participants, they found that mothers had heightened activity in their brains’ emotional processing regions. While the Fathers’ brains showed increased activity in their cognitive circuits which help them assess the baby’s physical needs. However, the study went a step further and analyzed the brain activity of gay fathers.

The study found that men who raise kids with no female involvement actually mirror the brain activity that’s typically shown in the mother and the father. Their emotional circuits were just as active as the mother’s, and they showed the same cognitive circuit changes that the heterosexual fathers had.

On top of that, a Psychological Science study suggests that Dads who help with household chores are more likely to raise daughters with bigger aspirations.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In light of all of this information, one thing that can be done is to simply encourage people in our society to do what makes them happy. It shouldn’t matter if something is unconventional or not “normal.” The goal is for everyone to strive to live the life that they want. If a woman wants to work her way up in her career, she should be given the same opportunity and treatment as a man. If a father wants to stay home with his kids and take care of a household, he shouldn’t be belittled or considered less of a man because of that.

Just because others choose to live lives that are different from yours doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do in our society. But, by continuing to have these conversations about unconventional topics, we are paving the way for a brighter and more inclusive future.

Sources: Center for American Progress, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Pew Research, National At-Home Dad Network, 2013 Pew Research Survey, Harvard Kennedy School, New America, National Academy of Sciences, Psychological Science

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