What to make of the stay-at-home Dad?

alison gordon's picture

"Stay-at-Home Dad" is a loaded term. As I don't know any personally, I have to be honest in that the initial feelings I have when I read or hear someone mention it is intrigue. Though I admire them like any hard working parent, so many questions spring to mind....

Why does a man want to give up his career prospects (or maybe he doesn't, but has little choice)? Why does a woman want to head back to full-time work and miss out on the early years of her children growing up, or perhaps she doesn't have a choice either (or maybe she just loves her job)? What is the social network of a stay-at-home Dad (are males accepted in mothers' groups)? Has someone taken the initiative to start some fathers' groups, or has the "trend" not yet gained enough traction?

Having lots of friends with children allows me to suggest answers to some of these questions for myself. Perhaps it is easier for the father to put his career on ice for some time, or maybe he just wants to spend more time with his kids! Perhaps the mother earns more money and it makes more financial sense for one to stay at home and the other to work. Yet it doesn't stop some of us from quietly asking ourselves that knee-jerk question when we see a Dad playing "Mum" - why are they doing it?

The interesting thing is that when you canvass general opinions on the topic, while probably not on purpose, it nearly always relates back to the mother. It is great that the father stays at home so the mother can have a life outside of her family, it is disappointing that the mother would rather go to work than be with her kids during the day, it is great that the father is happy to stay at home but why did the mother have kids if she didn't plan to look after them....and it goes on.

Of course these sorts of assumptions spring from personal experience and society's expectations of what the roles of a mother and father should be. Though many of us like to consider ourselves modern individuals of the 21st century, it will always be difficult to remove the traditional idea of "family roles" from the public eye.

But like any minority group - how do you dispel the myths and should you have to explain yourself for doing things differently?


The stubborn disparity

The stubborn disparity between male and female earnings can be almost entirely explained by the career breaks which women take to rear children. With educational achievement and many professions now dominated by women it will become ever more economically rational for men to stay at home to look after the children while the woman goes out to work. Economic rationality does not trump biology though, families tend to happen because the woman wants a child and for all the professed eagerness 0 and ever greater economic necessity - to get back to work afterwards, the presence of a baby in a woman's life inevitably means other things start to come second. There was a much hyped 'new man' phenomenon a few years ago which existed largely in left leaning colour supplements and I don't think there's much chance of a revival. Millions of years of evolution which sent men out to fight each other and kill mammoths while the women stayed at home, built social bonds and looked after the children run deep. Ironically it is the evolutionary based better communication skills of women, and the eclipse of physicality in the workplace, which creates both the economic drive for men to stay at home and look after the children and ensures that it will never work. Women may say they want a man who is as comfortable changing a nappy as a car tyre but the reality is often different. Society is increasingly feminised, if not infantalised in its nature, but if 'house wife' has long been a dirty word then it has not yet reached a stage where 'house husband' has become anymore acceptable. It's a guy thing.

what is the stay at home dad ?

The stay-at-home dad is as much a myth as the stay-at-home mum and neither can be a generalised term that means one thing. A stay-at-home mum, from my experience can be a mother who runs a business from home, works while her children are at school or sleeping but is still around to do the "kids stuff" like nappy changing, attend playgroups or perform pre-school or daycare drop off and pick up. Like wise, the stay-at-home dads that I know.

The stay-home-dads i have been in contact with have often decided not that they will give up work to spend time with their kids, but that they will restructure their work so that they can do it from home in order to allow their wives to hold more traditional working hours outside the home.

Most of the stay-at-home dads i know have worked incredibly hard as young men to build their own businesses and have made them successful enough to be able to make the choice to run these from a home office and therefore take on the role of the stay-at-home dad along the lines of the definition above.