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  • Katica Roy

If Stay-At-Home Dads Were The Norm

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Gender equity is not synonymous with women’s rights. We’d be leaving out half the story if it was. Men.

Gender equity impacts men, not only because men currently hold the majority of leadership positions, but also because many men aspire to change their role in the world.

Working Fathers Want to Stay Home

Working fathers want to stay home. In fact, 48% of them would prefer to stay home with their children.

The reality, however, is different than their desire. Dads currently account for 16% of all stay-at-home parents, and 6% of U.S. households with children under the age of 18 have stay-at-home dads.

So while 48% of working fathers have expressed a desire to stay home, we know they receive a boost at work when they have children. The opposite is true for women, despite the fact that 40% of households with children have breadwinner moms.

Clearly, being a stay-at-home dad is not the norm, nor are we close. But what if it were? What would it take to get there?

Priority 1: Change the Attitudes

Before being a stay-at-home dad becomes the norm, we must first redefine what it means to “be a man” in our society.

“Being a man,” according to experts like Michael Kimmel, means fitting into the “Man Box.” This box narrowly defines what is acceptable for boys and men with rigid expectations that marginalize men who don’t fit the stereotype of what is perceived as being “real men.”

We must also normalize the efficacy of fathers as stay-at-home parents before reaching gender equity in parenthood. Here’s what that means.

Americans’ attitudes about fathers being on par with their mothers as caregivers is almost equal: 45% say mothers and fathers do equally well at caring for a new baby, and 53% of the 59% of Americans who believe children do better when one parent stays home believe it doesn’t matter if that parent is mom or dad.

However, when we compare the attitudes of Americans towards mothers as caretakers versus fathers, we find that fathers do not fair well.

Only 1% of Americans believe that fathers do a better job than mothers at caretaking. More discouraging is the fact that, of the 59% of Americans who believe children do better when one parent stays home, a meager 2% believe that children are better off when the stay-at-home parent is dad.

Attitudes are the first step towards creating a new definition of the stay-at-home parent and closing the 24 point gap between fathers and mothers that choose to stay home.

Priority 2: Combat Stay-at-Home Dad Syndrome

Stay-at-home fathers face an uphill battle navigating the perceptions of what their role should be in their children’s lives.

According to 41% of Americans, fathers should be the breadwinners of the family. That’s compared to 25% for mothers.

The loneliness of being a stay-at-home dad is palpable, leading to isolation and identity challenges that can manifest in depression and anxiety.

In my home state of Colorado, stay-at-home dads were 14% of all stay-at-home parents in 2014. That’s a negligible 26,659 of a total population of 5 million.

The National At Home Dad Network was founded in 2006 to combat this loneliness. Their mission: to provide support, education, and advocacy for fathers who are the primary caregivers of their children. These networks are creating a new narrative of fathers as primary caregivers.

Combatting the loneliness of being a stay-at-home dad goes beyond changing the narrative. Our-stay-at home dads crave community, too. As a small part of the stay-at-home population, stay-at-home dads have few folks to talk to about the challenges of putting your career on hold for a family. This isolation is magnified by primary caregiving as women’s work and therefore devalued.

One of the best ways to combat these challenges is by connecting with other stay-at-home dads to create a sense of community and connection.

For instance, stay-at-home dads can create dad groups that volunteer together at schools or nonprofits. It provides a sense of connection, allowing them to use their collective skills for good in the broader community.

Priority 3: Envisioning the New Norm

What happens when we normalize being a stay-at-home dad?

First, the U.S. economy gets a boost. We know that if men took on a larger share of work in the home, the U.S economy would be better off. If we allocated labor in a gender-neutral way and people made better use of their time and skills, output per hour would increase 5.4%. More stay-at-home dads is the smart thing to do.

Second, a father’s different parenting style instills problem-solving abilities in children. Dads tend to parent with a hands-off style, which, over the long-term, results in better self-control in children, less risky behavior, and better grades.

Third, increasing father’s involvement in his children’s lives leads to better outcomes. Dads can provide a special type of care that mothers often do not provide. The value of diversity is important in raising happy, healthy children.

Bottom line: Men run households differently than women, and that diversity is good for everyone.

Creating a New Reality for the Next Generation

To enable the 48% of fathers who would like to stay home, we must change both our belief of what it means to “be a man” and collectively invite men into becoming the primary caretakers of their families. It also means recognizing that we can leverage the capacity and capability of our female labor base, especially the 40% who are breadwinning moms.

Our new reality will be one in which we value the diversity men bring to running households and raising children — children who are better problem solvers. Plus, it’ll come with a boost to our economy.


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