The Misunderstood Stay-at-Home Dad
He’s at the playground, surrounded by other parents, yet he feels alone. Each time he attempts to talk with the moms at the park, they migrate away from him. He thought his stroller and loaded down cargo shorts would indicate that he, like them, just needed to get out of the house with his young child. He’s a stay-at-home dad.
Many people assume that a man at a park must be dangerous. Stay-at home-dad (SAHD) Alex Mustico of West Grove, PA, has had to deal with this assumption: “A couple mothers were sitting around chatting, while I was on the other side of the park, watching my kids play. I noticed all of them looking at me and speaking in hushed voices. They must not have seen me arrive with my kids and thought I was some stranger watching their kids play. It wasn’t until I called my daughter over to talk with her that I was able to see relief rush over their faces.”
Breadwinner vs caregiver
Dads get questioned about their roles as primary caregivers because SAHDs still seem uncommon, but their number has been growing as family dynamics change. Sociology professor Dr. Beth Latshaw conducted a count of SAHDs in 2009 and estimated their number at 1.4 million. Unlike the U.S. Census Bureau and Pew Research Center, who don’t count men with any income as SAHDs, Dr. Latshaw included dads who stayed with their children during the day and worked nights or weekends to make ends meet.
The changes to traditional parenting roles have empowered more women to stay in the workforce while their spouses keep things under control at home. Unfortunately, society often perceives a man who stays home with his children as less masculine because he is not the primary wage earner.
Erik Bashford of Wilmington, DE, says, “At first when I told friends and family about being a stay-at-home dad I was asked ‘What else are you going to do?’ It made me self-conscious about not contributing financially to the family.”
Josh Levs, author of All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses and How We Can Fix It Together, notes, “Some people still hold on to a backward idea that there’s something inherently feminine about being an at-home parent. These stigmas act as gender police, pushing women to stay home and pushing men to not only stay at work but to keep working for more and more hours.”
Jeff Bogle of Exton, PA, gave up a career in finance to stay at home with his two girls. He says, “My kids are still kids in part because they’ve had a dad there with them all the while, which has been especially helpful as they’ve grown up and have come home from school with hurt or confused emotions that we could deal with right away.”
Millennial dads see staying home as a more feasible option than preceding generations. Ben Mullen of Pottstown, PA, says, “As millennials we’re lucky, and better at our relationships with our children, because our parents were part of the first generation to really start parenting as a team instead of the ‘classic’ parenting model of mom being the one at home raising the kids. Our generation is going to see a lot more growth as far as childhood development and a positive change in the family structure because of it.”
The experience of Steve Bloch, a SAHD from Haddon Township, NJ, may indicate a positive trend in society’s view of dads as primary caregivers: “When I go out I see no difference between a SAHM or a SAHD. I see parents actively invested in their children and dealing with any problems as they arise.”
Levs urges, “It’s very important for today’s at-home dads to be loud and proud about it. And for women and all of society to support that. Children should grow up seeing real equality both at home and in the workplace. And that includes seeing society treat moms and dads as equal parents.”
Chris Bernholdt is a stay-at-home dad. He blogs at Dadncharge.com.