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In December of 2012, I became a Stay-at-home dad (SAHD). While I expected certain difficulties in the transition between being a full time worker and a SAHD, there are issues I didn’t see coming. Most of those issues surround the relatively small number of dads who stay at home compared the the number of moms who do the same. What was once a shoddy premise for a lame 80s comedy is now reality for at least 1.5 million American families. The number of Stay at Home Dads (SAHDs) have doubled in the past decade. Despite this growth, men make up only 10 percent of the total Stay at Home Parents (SAHPs).
People Think You Are Unemployed
Due to the fact that we are so driven to “produce” (in the most capitalistic definition possible), many in our society have a hard time dealing with SAHPs. The work done by SAHPs is work. The care of children is a service that others frequently pay for in the form of daycare, so why is it categorized as anything less when people take care of their own kids? While our society does not have a mechanism for directly paying people to care for their own children, the least we could do is offer SAHPs the courtesy of considering their work “a real job.”
I am both a SAHD and an adjunct faculty member, so I am quite busy. I work for 3 universities and currently teach 2 classes. Two days a week, I teach 3 in-person college classes. For each in-class hour, there are at least 2 hours of work outside of the classroom. Additionally, at any given time, I am teaching one to 3 online courses. By my estimates, I do my teaching work for at least 36 hours per week, and that is higher during heavy grading periods. A full time worker who gets paid lunch breaks works somewhere around 36 hours. However, that person likely receives healthcare and other benefits, that I do not.
On the 3 days of the workweek that I am not teaching, I estimate that I have 10 hours of contact time with my daughter. Assuming that my wife and I share that responsibility equally on the weekend, I have 5 hours of contact time on those days (But, honestly, my wife is such a good mother, she likely picks up way more than half of the kid work when she is home). That comes to about 40 hours of childcare work per week, in addition to my 35 hours of teaching per week.
I get the distinct impression that many SAHDs are loner types who are completely content being left alone. However, that description does not fit me or my daughter.
In short, I have at least 2 jobs, and I am never not working. When she is at preschool, I am teaching. After bed time, I am grading. When she is awake, I am either actively taking care of her, or cleaning up after her.
People Don’t Think You’re Up For The Job
While sex “discrimination” against men this has been grossly overplayed by certain (nonsensical) elements on the internet , the sexism facing women is almost incalculably worse than that facing men . However, SAHDs do face a degree of sexism. Thanks to characters like Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin, our society possesses a strong cultural meme of fathers as incompetent buffoons, who are not capable of caring of their own children.
In a study of attitudes toward both traditional parents (working fathers and stay-at-home mothers) and non-traditional parents (working mothers and stay-at-home fathers), Brescoll and Uhlmann found that both working mothers and stay-at-home fathers are disliked more often than their traditional counterparts. Furthermore, stay-at-home fathers are disliked more often than working mothers (2005). In other words, of the given combinations, stay-at-home fathers are disliked most often. There is reason to believe that part of the acceptance of working mothers over stay-at-home fathers can be attributed to the relative newness age of the SAHD phenomenon (Data from the period shows that women who worked were similarly disliked in the 80s). Thus, there is reason to believe that as time passes and more fathers choose to stay at home, the role will become less stigmatized.
All SAHPs know that it can be really lonely. Sure, you are spending all your time with your kids, but there is a distinct difference between the company of children and the company of adults. Even when I take my daughter to public areas, many other SAHPs are either too busy watching their kids, or they are not interested in talking.
From my personal observations, I get the distinct impression that many SAHDs are loner types who are completely content being left alone. However, that description does not fit me or my daughter; we are both aggressively social people. One powerful way of fighting this loneliness is forming or joining play groups. However, the relative newness of the phenomenon of the Stay-at-Home Dad can get in the way of dads and their kids from joining play groups. Luckily, my daughter and I have been accepted into our local stay-at-home parents community group. However, I am afraid there are other SAHFs who have not been so lucky. The key is to reach out. Talk to those people surrounding you in public kids spaces. With any luck, you will make some friends, and hopefully you will find people who share this weirdly beautiful career of being a Stay-at-Home Parent.
Jeremy Baker writes and edits for Parenting Snack Mix.