Photo Credits: Brian Kendall, Tamara Reynolds, and Rebecca Stickler
Stay-at-home dad: It sounds like an idea for a sitcom. Yet there's a sizable group...
Although there are no exact statistics on the number of fathers who elect to stay home to take care of their kids, James Levine, director of the Fatherhood Project at the Families and Work Institute in New York City, puts the figure at around 300,000 -- and growing, he emphasizes. But far more interesting than the number of SAHDs (yes, they even have their own acronym) are the answers to why these men are choosing this line of work, why now, and what it ultimately means for families.
"The decision is largely a function of the times," says Robert Frank, Ph.D., an assistant psychology professor at Oakton Community College in Skokie, IL, and author of Parenting Partners. "Two reasons come up the most: This generation of parents is more reluctant to place children in daycare, and many wives are making more money than their husbands."
This nontraditional arrangement is not without its ironies. Only 30 years ago, the feminist movement rallied against the notion that raising children was the only job for women; they took to the workforce in droves, striving to have both a career and a family. Now that women, the majority of whom are working mothers, have a significant foothold in the workplace, more and more men, who perhaps saw what their own mothers went through in trying to "have it all," are choosing childrearing as a full-time occupation.
There are smaller ironies too. Many stay-at-home dads speak of feeling shunned by their female counterparts (sound similar to what women entering male-dominated professions encountered in the early days?), devalued by their own gender (remember the "mommy wars" of the '80s?), and generally isolated and invalidated (ever hear of the kaffeeklatsch?).
The wives of at-home dads have had to make some adjustments as well -- from enduring "pity parties" from neighbors who think their husband can't hold down a job to feeling twinges of jealousy when their toddler runs to Daddy for comfort. What's more, research shows that these women don't play the equivalent 1950s role of the detached working dad to their husband's June Cleaver. They willingly take on parenting and household responsibilities in the mornings, in the evenings, and on weekends, Frank says.
And in yet another one of those little ironies, Kyle Pruett, M.D., director of the Child Study Center at Yale University and author of Fatherneed, reports listening to stay-at-home fathers of newborns discuss how lonely they felt and how their brains were turning to mush -- "all the things we've always called maternal ambivalence," Pruett says. "It's proof that these emotions have nothing to do with gender -- and everything to do with the job."
For this story, we heard from nearly six dozen at-home fathers. Here, three share the challenges -- and joys -- of the daddy track.