I’ve been a stay-at-home Dad for over thirteen years. When I started this gig, the year was 2004 and I was certain I would soon witness the beginning of a seismic shift in parenting roles. Well, the year is now 2017 and from where I sit, the golden age of the stay-at-home Dad feels like it may never arrive.
Are there more of us taking on the role of primary caregiver each and every year? Absolutely, but we are still a very small minority. Sometimes, I see a misleading headline that catches my eye: “The number of stay-at-home Dads in the U.S. has doubled in only five years.” That actually sounds very impressive until you read the rest of the story and the actual percentage moved from 2.5% to 5%. Yes, the number has indeed doubled, but no, it’s not exactly the seismic shift that I’m looking for.
My wife was recently at a conference about diversity in the workforce, and the topic of parental leave came up. One woman bemoaned the fact that very few men are taking advantage of using at least a portion of the one-year government-mandated parental leave. When a man at the conference announced that he actually took four months off from work to stay home and take kids, he received a huge ovation.
My question is, why are people still reacting this way when a man announces he’s going to take care of children full-time? Why is it still such a big deal? Why does the idea of a man staying home to be primary caregiver seem so extraordinary? Why haven’t attitudes about child rearing roles dramatically changed in the last thirteen years?
Another story from that conference may shed some light. There was a CEO who spoke up about men taking parental leave, and mentioned that he was initially “on the fence” about allowing it at his company. He was concerned the man taking the leave wouldn’t actually be parenting… rather he would be “off golfing somewhere”. Really? He actually thought a new father was planning to use his parental leave as some kind of scam, some ingenious way to take a four-month paid vacation. Would anyone ever think that of a woman taking maternity leave? Of course not, because taking care of kids has historically been the job of the mother.
Over the years, I have heard the phrase “semi-retired” to describe my current job description more than once. The most recent time it came up was while I was at a hockey game few years ago and it got me thinking. If a guy stays at home, there is a perception that he must be living on easy street. So much so, the term “semi-retired” is routinely tossed around. Now, think about this. Have you ever heard a stay-at-home mom described that way? I certainly haven’t and I wouldn’t dream of trying it. As a mini-social experiment, I dare anyone reading this to try it just once. Just blurt this out to the next stay-at-home mom you meet:
“Hey, how does it feel to be semi-retired?” Then, get back to me and tell me exactly what happened next. I have a feeling it would not end well.
So, what is the solution? How do we change these outdated attitudes? How do we achieve a dramatic shift in child rearing roles? Will we ever see a 50/50 split between men and women staying home? Unlike the days of yesteryear, modern fathers can indeed change a diaper, feed their kids and get them ready for bed. But, ask if they want to do it full time and you’ll get very few takers.
This is unfortunate, because if there ever was a time for men to leave the workforce and join the battle on the home front, that time is NOW. I have a theory that men actually have an easier time than women when it comes to being the primary caregiver, and it has nothing to do with competence or effort. Rather, it has everything to do with the lower expectations society has of men’s ability to pull it off. If simply announcing you took four months off to take care of kids gets you a robust round of applause from complete strangers, imagine the response you’ll get for doing it full-time, for over a decade!
Trust me, a man doing the exact same job that a woman has been doing very well for decades, centuries, hell – EONS is still, somehow, inexplicably, a big deal.
Unfortunately, until it seems “normal” for a man to stay home with children, that seismic shift I’ve been waiting for… that golden age, will simply have to wait. I only hope it’s not another thirteen years before I see it.
Oh, and before I forget, Happy Father’s Day to all of the Dads out there! Parenting is the greatest joy in life and we all deserve to be recognized for helping transform our tiny humans into the next generation.
(If you have any interest in downloading and sharing a press release promoting my book Dad@Home: Fully Domesticated this Fathers Day weekend, please click below.)