The number of dads who stay home with their children has doubled since 1989. While mothers still make up the majority of stay-at-home-parents, an increasing number of fathers are joining the ranks. However, the public generally places less value on fathers who stay home, than mothers who stay home. A poll conducted by Pew research found that respondents believed that children are better off with their mother staying home.
Why is there less support for stay-at-home dads?
Men in our culture are often portrayed as being incompetent in the household. On TV dads are goofy, fun-loving and utterly useless (that is until they go do their important man-work in their offices). Studies show that fathers in the media are rarely portrayed as nurturing figures. They are the butt of all the parenting jokes. It is rare for male teenagers to do any babysitting, while childcare jobs are standard for young women. It all comes down to this: as our society has progressed (slowly…) toward more gender equity, more fathers are staying home to raise their children and our culture needs to embrace that.
Reshape how you think about fatherhood
Both me and my husband work, but because of the way our schedules are he has been the primary stay-at-home parent for the past two years. The inappropriate comments he heard started even before our daughter was born. People often made the assumption that he was clueless about pregnancy or labor or babies. Comments didn’t stop after our child arrived. Strangers who saw him in public alone with the baby would ask if he was babysitting, or if he was “mister mom for the day.” Even friends sometimes make subtle comments insinuating that he is not as competent at parenting as I am.
So much of our perception of fatherhood has been shaped by negative media portrayal. Mothers are not inherently better or more important parents but we have all been conditioned to think they are.
How to be more supportive of stay at home dads
1. Parenthood is not an exclusive club
While there are aspects of parenting that are fairly female exclusive, and it is still crucial to have a mom-centered community of support, dads need a community too. Wherever possible, dads should be included. To be more specific, we still need mom blogs and a community of women with whom we can share our women-struggles or speak freely about birth experiences. BUT playgroups and family support pages don’t need to be gender specific.
2. Be mindful of what you say to fathers
If you see a father out with children don’t assume that its a special occasion. Don’t make comments that would insinuate he is babysitting, or that mom would be doing things differently.
3. Remember that being home with a child is work
Just because dad is at home with the kids doesn’t mean he isn’t contributing.