For the first 18 months of my son’s life, my husband was the primary caregiver. I had a higher earning potential, and went back to work after only four weeks of maternity leave. However, filling a non-traditional gender role in a very traditional state proved difficult for my husband. As a family, our arrangement was questioned, and, even though the SAHMs invited him to playgroup, he didn’t feel comfortable with their talk of breastfeeding, and other “woman” issues.
Photo by eastbayjay via Flickr
Eventually, after a period in which we both spent an equal amount of time as caregivers, I became the primary caregiver when I started working from home. However, that didn’t stop me thinking about the growing number of stay at home dads in our society — especially when my brother became one — and their challenges:
Like SAHMs, many stay at home dads have difficulties with isolation, and there aren’t as many support groups for them. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2010, there were an estimated 154,000 stay at home dads. It seems like a lot — until you try to find more stay at home dads in your area.
Glen Craig, the blogger responsible for Free From Broke, is a stay at home dad. He points out some of the difficulties involved: “There are a lot of moms who stay home and know each other, that’s not the case with dads, at least in my area.”
There is a growing number of stay at home dads online, with a number of bloggers sharing their stories. As a result, some of the feelings of isolation can be alleviated. But it is still a challenge nonetheless.
Another issue is respect. Because traditional gender roles dictate that women care for children, there is often the implication that men are incapable of doing an adequate job. “People don’t think you can handle it,” Glen says. “I get that look like I’m in way over my head, or I’m offered help way too quickly. Nothing wrong with offering help, but it feels like I’m only offered help because they think I can’t handle it.”
He also finds that some people discount his contributions. “Not that it’s horrible, but I’m really kind of tired of the whole, ‘Oh, you’re doing the Mr. Mom thing’ remark.”
As more men take on more child-rearing roles — even if they aren’t primary caregivers — respect is more likely to come. But it does take time for social attitudes to change.
When my husband stayed home, we were constantly justifying our decision as a family. In our area, the assumption is that if you are a man, you are the primary breadwinner and the woman is the primary caregiver. Indeed, where I live, it’s quite common for men to go to school and work, while women stay home and act as primary caregivers, even if they have higher earning potential. (Even now, people who have known us for years are surprised that I’m the primary breadwinner in our family.)
Our decision to have my husband act as primary caregiver while completing his undergraduate degree, while I worked, drew a great many odd looks. While not everyone would choose to our situation (there are considerations beyond mere earning potential, of course), it worked well for us, and it was frustrating to try to explain to others that we were doing what worked for us.
Deciding who should stay home is something that each family should figure out based on specific factors. Financial considerations should be taken into account, as well as the emotional situation, and your unique family goals. Unfortunately, there are still a great many challenges faced by stay at home dads, including opposition (in some cases) from family members who judge the decision.
What do you think are challenges facing stay at home dads? How do you decide who should stay home?