Wait… what? I know what you’re thinking: “didn’t this guy just post a blog with the exact opposite argument just a few weeks ago?” I most certainly did. I simply needed a bold, provocative headline to grab your attention! Relax, it’s called CLICKBAIT people, and if you’re reading this, then it obviously worked. But the story doesn’t end there. Just to be clear, yes I do think us dudes have an easier time of managing stay-at-home parenthood. But sometimes being a a dude in a profession dominated by women can kind of suck.
Despite a slow but steady increase the number of men staying home to become the primary caregiver, I still find there aren’t many people like me out there. That’s something I’ve learned very quickly after starting my life at home. Lianne was part of a “mommy group” when she was home with Abby for the first six months. Did I inherit her spot in this little club? No, I did not, but I’m not so sure I ever wanted it. It’s not easy to be the only guy in a large group of ladies, but that’s the situation that I have found myself in time after time.
Most stay-at-home moms have a built-in social network of other moms that can be called upon for childcare, play dates, coffee dates, or simply for empathy. Most stay-at-home dads don’t get that experience, and I think that leads to isolation. That’s not to say that all moms are doing their best to exclude me because I’ve made some pretty good friends over the years. It’s actually more my issue, as I’ve never felt all that comfortable navigating through that world. It seemed other moms would hang out and chat after our “Music with Baby” classes, exchanging stories and phone numbers, while I would quickly pack up my little Abby and get the hell out of Dodge.
My brother and his family have lived overseas for quite a while and were part of the “ex-pat community” wherever they lived. Usually, that meant the husband worked, while the wife hung out with other similar wives. My sister-in-law told me a story about one couple who broke the ex-pat mold. The wife was the breadwinner, so the husband was the one hanging out with a group of women. He was eventually accepted as one of the gang and found the entire experience to be fascinating, garnering him incredible insight into the lives of the fairer sex. His group of girlfriends would eventually divulge their secrets, and he ultimately became somewhat of an expert on inter-marital relationships. He was one of the few husbands out there who had an in, and actually knew what a woman meant when she said that “nothing was wrong.” As interesting as that may seem, I never strived for that experience.
I remember hanging with a group of moms at the playground after pre-school was let out. I knew all of them well enough, and was actually fairly comfortable chit-chatting, but now and then the conversation would turn to a subject matter not appropriate for all audiences. I would check out when the topic became “lactation related.” It was at times like that I would wonder what it would be like to have a gaggle of guy friends, all full-time parents.
One of my best friends is leading a parallel life to mine, but 2,000 kilometres away in the great state of Minnesota. I’ve known him my entire life and, like me, he is a stay-at-home dad. Instead of marrying a lawyer, he married a doctor and has two kids and shares many of my experiences and struggles. He once told me about a group of men that his wife had found out about. They were all stay-at-home dads who met in a park once a week for a giant play date. They were also complete strangers, but, at the urging of his wife, he agreed to meet up with them. I asked him how the “Dads Date” went and if he was going to go back the next week. His answer was short and sweet, “Nah, they all seemed like a bunch of nerds.”
It would be great if my old pal lived in my hometown, as it would be nice to have someone to shoot the shit with and swap stories. We do chat a fair bit on the phone, and we’ve been on several joint get-togethers involving both families, but it would be that much better to have another guy who has walked a mile in my shoes right here in Calgary.
I’ve actually met a few other stay-at-home dads over the years, either at school or other extra-curricular activities, but I never felt any connection or urge to make any of them a new buddy. I think most guys know pretty damn quickly if they want to hang with someone or not. This raises an interesting question about the differences between how men and women who stay at home interact with other parents. Are women more likely to “suffer fools” for the sake of ensuring their kids have an active social life? Maybe. I’ve chatted with a couple of stay-at-home moms who have described painfully awkward afternoons with women they barely knew, all so little Suzie can play barbies with little Sara. I think there’s more of an expectation that women should always accept those play date invitations, or risk being forever labeled as rude, snobby or not family-friendly. I don’t think men face nearly the same scrutiny, and to be honest, that was huge relief. It’s not that I was anti-social or unable to handle interactions with new people … I was just lazy and sometimes couldn’t be bothered with the time and effort that comes with scheduling friendship-time for my daughter.
My lack of integration into the preschool mommy circles also meant that my kid didn’t get nearly the amount of play dates as other kids, and this would lead to me getting an earful from an angry four-year-old girl. When your child is barely out of toddlerhood, play dates are not of the “drop off and take off” variety. You actually have to stay and chat over coffee while the kids play. Being a dude meant the invites were few and far between. Most of the blame was squarely on my shoulders, as I was making zero effort to put myself out there and squeeze my way into a new social clique.
It turns out, while sometimes I feel alone, I’m not alone in feeling … alone. A study published in Contemporary Family Therapy journal suggests that stay-at-home dads are less likely to network or volunteer in their community and were less involved with activities outside the home. Fewer fathers socialized with other stay-at-home parents and would often describe themselves as an outsider. The study also showed that stay-at-home dads are also less likely to find other men who stay at home to share experiences and may prefer isolation to socializing with stay-at-home moms. Because the stay-at-home dad is still a fairly new phenomenon in our society, the study says they find fewer opportunities to network with people with they can identify with. All of this begs the question – why are so many of us stay-at-home dads wandering all alone, out in the wilderness when we could be building a village with other moms? The study suggests its findings could be attributed in part to the way men are socialized to be independent and able to handle things on their own. If you ask me, I think a lot of men are just too damn lazy to make the effort. Or maybe that’s just me?
So, it may not seem like a huge downside, but literally feeling like the odd man out can be the most challenging part of my job. The good news is that as time goes on, it has definitely become less of an issue. Either I’m feeling more accepted, or perhaps I’m just putting myself out there more often.
So, do stay-at-home-Moms actually have it easier? Nope, but I made you click.