Picture a stay-at-home dad (or, SAHD). What comes to mind?
If you're tempted to describe an overweight, bald, lazy man who sits around drinking beer and watching sports all day, you're sadly not alone. Similar to the belief that stay-at-home moms sit around watching soap operas and eating bon-bons, SAHDs are plagued by misconceptions. It’s unfortunate that the world we live in still discounts and undermines the value of domestic work and family.
One of the most significant social trends in the last 20 years has been the rise in the number of SAHDs. In the United States, this number has reached 1.9 million and accounts for 16% of the stay-at-home parent population, according to 2015 U.S. Census data. Our culture continues to shift away from the ridgid gender roles of past generations, which is made evident by women expecting more involment from dads — and dads stepping up to the challenge by willingly taking on the primary nuturing role in their children’s life.
After speaking with a few SAHDs at my son’s school, I found there are a few shared pet peeves felt by these fathers. Here are the misconceptions they most want to see end:
Every SAHD I spoke with told me that when they meet someone for the first time, they're asked, "Where is the mother?" and "Are you babysitting?" This is a parenting stereotype where it's automatically assumed that a father would only be with his kids if he was "babysitting." That, as a male, he wouldn’t be taking a genuine interest in spending quality time with his children unless he'd been directed to. Yes, most kids are watched by women, but this did annoy the dads, as they felt it was demeaning.
Whoever said that staying at home to look after children and the home was easy? Anyone who has experienced taking on the primary responsibility of caring for children knows it's more than a full-time job. Handling school obligations and social schedules on top of the domestic responsibilites of managing a household is a workload that is never done, and I don’t know anyone who has successfully balanced both. Anyone who believes that SAHDs are lazy must never have been in in a stay-at-home position themselves.
Why can’t a dad be the chief caregiver of his family by choice? Who says women have first dibs on this role forever? Times are changing. If we consider military families, we can easily see this shifting social trend. As more military dads return from tours from the Middle East and elsewhere over the past 10 years, they are joining the ranks of SAHDs. While on active duty these dads may be deployed from one to three years and be sent on multiple deployments, resulting in spending years away from their children. It’s no wonder that more military fathers, once they leave the armed forces, are choosing to stay home, having felt they’ve missed out on a significant amount of their children’s life.
Just because a dad chooses to stay at home doesn’t mean he isn’t earning an income. Technology and the internet mean that working in traditional offices is no longer an absolute, or even the norm. According to Global Workplace Analytics, work-from-home positions among non-self-employed workers have grown by 115% since 2005, which is nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the workforce. Additionally, the digital population engaged in virtual, remote employment, telecommuting and flextime has grown immensely, with 45% of U.S. employees working from home, according to a 2015 report by New Jersey Institute of Technology.
So, just because a dad doesn’t go into an office doesn’t mean he isn’t working. Several dads I know have arrangements with their company so they can be on calls before, during, and after their children’s school schedules. Other dads I’ve spoken with engage in virtual work that is project-based so they can work at odd hours that don’t conflict with school schedules. It’s a juggling act, but they make it work.
SAHDs have my full respect, as they are a force to be reckoned with. They're capable of doing everything a mom can do and just as well; they just do it differently.
Valerie Lynn is a Traditional Feminine Healthcare Expert specializing in Postnatal Recovery as well as author of The Mommy Plan, Restoring Your Post-Pregnancy Body, Using Women’s Traditional Wisdom and an upcoming cookbook in the fall of 2017 - Healing Meals: Simple Recipes for New Moms. As a former strategic business consultant Valerie lived in Japan, Malaysia, U.K., Australia and Indonesia. Her consulting practice in New York City supports expecting families, and both public and private companies, by creating individualized 6-Week & Beyond Post-Baby Recovery & Recuperation Plan incorporating postnatal new nutritional needs, personal care and activities.