How Do You Handle Being a Stay at Home Dad in a SAHM World?

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:

Lack of Support

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.

Respect Issues

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.

Deciding Who Should Stay Home

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?

About the Author

By , on Dec 6, 2011
Miranda Marquit
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

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Leave Your Comment (7 Comments)

  1. I think stay at home men of the world should UNITE! I write about this on my site. We should fight the stigma, and fight for equality!

  2. There’s still a stigma attached to men staying at home with children because we, as a society, still don’t respect childcare as a valid occupation. I have hope for the future, considering the fact that the offensively stereotypical movie Mr. Mom came out 30 years ago and in one short generation SAHDs are starting to be accepted. By the time my son is a father, I hope that he will feel he and his family have many different choices available without feeling unnecessary social pressure.

  3. Jonathan says:

    I think that whoever stays at home, it should be a shared decision. For me it would always be about what was best for my partner and I would support her in any way that I could. I quite like the idea of being a stay at home dad, but I note your concerns about the lack of support groups for men

  4. Kevin Mzansi says:

    Bravo for making the decision to do what works for your family versus what everyone thinks you should be doing. Stay-at-home parents rock, whatever their gender!

  5. I stayed at home for 3 months earlier this year when our baby was born. I loved it and I’m working on being able to do that full time soon. The Mrs. likes working and she can’t be a SAHM.

  6. Kolton says:

    I am not even close to becoming a dad at this point, but I have chosen to make money online to able to stay at home and be with my kids in the future. Whether or not my wife stays at home or works, I would like to be with my kids at home as much as possible. I have plenty of time during retirement to travel!

  7. I work out of the house, writing and managing our rental houses. My jobs are so flexible that taking care of our 2 boys is fairly easy. Because they are in high school and middle school I usually do my work when they are at school.

    Now, my wife works full time again, but when the boys were younger, she quit her job to devote her full attention to being a mom.

    Then, when she was sure that I wouldn’t forget to pick them up at school (which only happened infrequently), she returned to work and passed the baton off to me.

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