Stay-at-home dads were an oddity when I was a child; thankfully, this is changing.
My father retired at the age of 62 and since my mother was 15 years younger, only 47 at the time, she decided she would return to the work force. Maybe it was the prospect of spending every single hour of the day with my retired dad that sent her running to the want ads, but I think it was more that she sincerely wanted to go back to work. I was 15 at the time and needed very little active parenting, but my brother was 10, intellectually disabled and needed a considerable amount of parenting. My father fully embraced his role as a stay-at-home parent, cook and cleaner. On Sundays, he would look through the coupons and grocery store advertisements and construct a menu for the week based on the best deals he could find. Our meals took a sudden turn for the better, and I often came home from school to the smell of freshly baked bread, cookies and pies. He even made pasta from scratch!
While my father was taking care of my brother and whipping up culinary delights, my mother was working at a job she loved at a florist’s shop. She had been a teacher before she had children, but the florist’s job served her purpose of getting out of the house, doing something creative and earning some money of her own. Both of my parents were so much happier when they switched roles, and I often wondered how things would have been if they had lived in an era that would have allowed for the role reversal from the beginning.
My parents were ahead of the times in the 1970s, and although it is still not the norm, more and more couples are choosing to have the father stay home with the children. There are no clear-cut statistics on the number of stay-at-home dads, but sources estimate two million dads in the United States are the primary caregivers for their children. Several changes factor into the growing numbers of fathers choosing to be the at-home parent. As opposed to earlier eras, women are no longer being socialized to believe their only choices are mother, teacher, nurse or secretary and are entering higher- paid careers, which enables them to be main financial source for the family. It is also becoming more acceptable, even expected, for men to share in domestic duties, including child care.
My daughter and her husband thoughtfully considered all the options before my son-in-law decided to drop to part-time work and be the main caregiver. My daughter is very career-oriented, loves her job and is the main earner. Looking at finances to outsource child care and the advantages for their child to have a parent at home convinced them that the best choice for their family was to have my son- in-law as a stay-at-home parent. It has worked out well with him happily taking care of the baby and the home. My daughter enjoys coming home to a home-cooked meal most nights and more importantly, she has the peace of mind knowing her baby is in a safe, happy place with his dad. Because I take care of my grandson while my son-in-law works, they also avoid the high costs of child care, which can be crippling for young couples that are often still paying student debt.
I talked to one man that has been a stay-at-home dad for six years, and he loves the role. One phenomena that he reported was how everyone raves about how fantastic it is that he does the childcare. He says tasks and activities that women do all the time with no praise–taking the kids to school, going on field trips and cooking meals–merit wild acclaim for him. Apparently, there is still a double standard. When I was at the pediatrician’s office with my daughter and grandson, I noticed there were several men there solo with their children, and I realized the fact I noticed them points out the bias in my expectation of gender roles. I would imagine my daughter’s generation has a more fluid concept of male and female roles, or better yet, no task assignment based on gender.
Every family has a unique situation and must look at all the factors: financial, quality of life, long- term career plans, aptitude and what is best for their family, before deciding what path to take. What works for the first year may not be what works once the kids are in school, so flexibility is important. Stay-at-home dads were viewed as an oddity when my dad made that choice in the 1970s, but I’m happy to see it becoming more popular and accepted now. Children need to be loved, nurtured and cared for: a challenging and rewarding job that doesn’t require double X chromosomes.