If you’ve been noticing a few more dads pushing strollers these days, you’re witnessing a rising trend in today’s families. According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, which analyzes U.S. Census Bureau data, nearly 21 percent of the 2 million stay-at-home dads (SAHDs) note the main reason they are home is to care for their home or family—nearly quadruple the 5 percent of dads who cited the same reason back in 1989.
Whether they are home caring for a newborn, a toddler or school-aged kids, these men have decided to make childcare a fulltime career while their partners earn a living outside of the home. As these men go up against societal norms, their choice does not come without its challenges.
Hurdles to Jump Through
As any stay-at-home parent knows, taking care of a child full-time isn’t just about learning how to change diapers or manage a meltdown. For some men like Will Culp of the National At-Home Dad Network, an organization that has been connecting dads across the country for almost 20 years (www.athomedad.org), there’s a bit of a learning curve involved. “Most SAHDs never took home economics or early childhood development classes, so we are learning on the job with resources designed for mothers,” he explains. His own training consisted of a three-hour infant CPR course, two years before he would become a SAHD.
In addition to perfecting their caretaking skills, fathers may experience a sudden bout of loneliness and a sense of not belonging that is different from mothers. “There is isolation and social stigma for men who don’t work,” he adds. “Moms aren’t going out of their way to talk to us because they have other moms to chat with.”
For Pat Jacobs, a former restaurant manager who decided to stay at home with his child, he decided to reach out to a college friend who was also a SAHD. “We started communicating more and more every day…and decided to document our experience for our children,” he says. Their blog, Just a Dad 247 (www.justadad247.com), not only served as a place for leaving memories for their kids, but it also “helped each other through our daily grind. If, in the process, we could help another SAHD find advice, humor or resources, we would be ecstatic,” he says.
From the blog, Jacobs found several groups of SAHDs, including the National At-Home Dad Network, the City Dads Group and several Facebook groups. “By utilizing these organizations, we have found more and more places and people to turn to for support and information,” he notes.
For SAHDs in need of a similar social outlet, Culp suggests joining or starting a playgroup, even reaching out to other dads through a shared activity. “I’ve coached youth soccer and t-ball, which helps put me alongside other dads that are comfortable around children,” he says. “The secret is not to hide behind a hobby or part-time gig. Proudly proclaim that you are a SAHD, and it will normalize your experience for others; act ashamed of the role and they will likely avoid you.”
Debunking the Stereotypes
Jacobs also believes that being proud of your decision helps remove the stigma often attached to SAHDs. “Being a stay-at-home parent is selflessness on Red Bull, with a sidekick of a double espresso,” he quips. “Parents are doing what’s right for their families, and the misconceptions will hopefully go away with the generation we are raising.”
Of course, there isn’t a stay-at-home parent who can’t benefit from a little down time, and this holds true for dads as well as moms. “Our dads groups has a regular dads’ night out events where we get together without the kids,” says Culp. “We see a movie, go bowling, watch a game…whatever it takes to refocus and get perspective.”
And when the going gets rough, don’t forget to remind yourself why you made this choice in the first place. “Remember that you are doing what’s best for your family and no matter what anyone else says of thinks, your family is what is important,” says Jacobs.
“And if someone calls you Mr. Mom or remarks that it must be mom’s day off, let them know you’re just a dad, doing dad stuff, like you do every day.”