5 Questions Stay-at-Home Dads Are Sick of Hearing
"Oh, are you babysitting today?"
Being a stay-at-home dad isn’t what it used to be. A man taking care of kids was once fodder for comedy or code for emasculation; it was rarely treated as a choice or something remotely acceptable. Times, thankfully, have changed. There are more stay-at-home dads now than there have ever been (for instance, a 2014 Pew research center study found that the number of American stay-at-home dads has doubled since 1989) and men everywhere are taking a more active role in parenting.
Yet, many stay-at-home dads are met with a litany of questions from friends, family, and random people in the park who seem to be confused by the arrangement. Some are well-meaning but minorly annoying; others are downright insulting. All tend to undercut the role and further stereotypes that men can’t be the primary caregiver. In fact, we spoke to a number of stay-at-home dads what they’re sick of hearing and their answers were strikingly similar. Here, then, are five things that all stay-at-home dads would like to stop hearing.
1. What went wrong in your life?
When you tell someone you’ve just met what you do for work, it’s generally a quick conversation. When they find out you’re a stay-at-home dad, however, people feel entitled to your life story, which they assume involves something going seriously wrong. “If you say you work in real estate or, I don’t know, do investments, people will say that’s nice and move on,” says Mark, a father in Brooklyn New York. “But if I say I’m a full-time dad, people ask a lot of leading questions. You can tell they’re trying to steer you into a sob story about how you ended up at home. But that’s not what happened with us. My wife liked her job better and had better insurance. That’s it.”
2. Do you need help?
As any dad who’s taken a baby on a solo outing will tell you, there are lower expectations for dads than moms. People will assume you don’t know what you’re doing, which, after a while, grates. “I am the primary caregiver,” New York City father of two Eric said. “I don’t come home and kiss the kids and kiss my wife and say, ‘Hi. How are things going?’ or ‘Hi, son. Let me help you with your homework.’ I was waking up and changing diapers. I could do it without even looking at it. People will look at me as I’m changing a diaper on the playground bench, offer me assistance, as though I’ve never done this before or if I didn’t know what I’m doing.”
3. Are you sure you can do this?
When New Mexico dad Devin decided to be a stay-at-home dad for his daughter, his parents accepted his decision. His wife’s parents, however, had hesitations. They are conservative and held traditional views about gender roles and were concerned Devin couldn’t properly care for a baby. “They told us men weren’t as nurturing and that a baby just needs its mom,” Devin said. “Especially since my wife is breastfeeding, they were worried I wouldn’t be able to give our daughter what she needed. They didn’t think I would be able to handle taking care of their granddaughter. Thankfully, as time has gone on and they’ve seen that I can and that our baby is doing well they’ve been just as vocal in support and expressing that they were wrong.”
4. Why would you need extra help?
Many dads who stay at home also work from home. Massachusetts graphic designer and father of one Bob puts his daughter in daycare part-time to work on freelance projects. “My daughter’s three and she’s pretty independent but still needs a lot of attention,” he said. “I can’t just lock into work mode while she’s with me in the room. I’m the primary caregiver and she expects me to pay attention to her when we’re together.” While he makes enough from the work to justify the childcare expenses, Bob says he gets pushback from relatives. “My in-laws think we should drop daycare and I should watch her full-time. But if I then we’d not only lose the money I’m making now but my skills would be out of date by the time I can look for full-time work.”
5. Oh, You’re Babysitting Today?
Grant, who lives outside Portland, has been frequenting the same park for nearly four years now. No matter what, while there, he says, he’ll get asked this question by moms, passersby, or other dads looking to get chummy. “I understand the impulse,” he says, “but god damn is it maddening to hear that from everyone. Just because I’m a dad strapped into a baby carrier or changing a diaper doesn’t mean to some people that I’m part time — they can’t fathom that this is my full-time life. And, for the record, it’s a great life.”