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Why Stay-at-Home Dads’ Marriages Get Better

Things are different now, but these men are happy.

Over the last few years, stay-at-home dads have taken on the role of “homemaker” in record numbers. A recent Pew Reseach Center report found that roughly two million fathers are not working outside of the home and the National At-Home Dad Network publicly claims that some seven million dads who are the primary caregivers for their kids. That’s nine percent of the 75 million or so dads with children under the age of 18 — according to the 2010 US Census. With more and more dads staying home, either with or without employment elsewhere, power dynamics in many households are substantively different than they were a generation or two ago.

For stay-at-home fathers, the transition to full-time caregiving often requires a fundamental reprioritization of goals. Raised in a culture in which professional success is often used as a proxy for personal worth, stay-at-home dads, confident as they may be, are still flouting gender norms. And that takes some fortitude. It also takes communication skills and the ability to work effectively with a partner. Talk to stay-at-home dads and you will hear one common refrain: It changed my marriage.

Here, five men who stay at home to take care of their kids discuss how that decision changed their relationship with their spouses.

Being Reliable is Easy When It’s Expected
I think my wife finds me a great deal more reliable now than before, and I feel much more useful. Not that I was lazy by any harmful means, but I was a huge procrastinator. My raging anxiety would hold me back on doing things on my own. Any task out of the ordinary or complicated, I would need to be walked through it step by step or almost done for me. The last thing my wife needed was a full grown man-child to go along with her three normal children. The responsibility of being home with the kids has given me is much more confidence and drive to do the things that need doing without the hand-holding. I am so much more confident and competent. To have yet another kind of solid foundation of trust in your partner has been a great improvement in our marriage. But I still hate going to the bank.

— Tony, 37, Minnesota

Flexible Schedules Decrease Strain
Working from home definitely helps.  My time is flexible, so I can send my son to kindergarten everyday.  I can even visit him during lunch break. My wife also has a flexible job, so we take turns taking care of our son. So we share our child-care workload more effectively, and we both know what it is like dealing with school, and even things like toilet training. I guess comparing to typical working dads, I can empathize more. That should help a lot. My previous jobs all require a lot of travel.  I can’t imagine the stress if my wife had to deal with everything alone for an extended period of time.

— Leroy, 53, Hong Kong

Unpaid Labor Still Has Pay-Offs
I spend a lot more time with my son, and I think that helps strengthen my relationship with the mother of my child. Michelle can see us how much love and attention I give to our son and she hears us laughing and is aware of the enjoyment we both get from playing together; so I think that helps her appreciate my role as a father. From a practical point of view, being a stay at home dad means that whenever she needs a break I can help by picking our son up from school or taking him to the park or giving him a bath or whatever. Because I have a flexible work schedule, I’m able to help out with laundry and food shopping and cleaning the apartment, as well as childcare. Lately, our daily routine has been that I go to our son’s bedroom a little before he wakes up so we have a little quiet time in the morning, and I feed him breakfast and get him dressed while she prepares his snacks and gets herself ready.  

— Dimitri, 52, New York

Teamwork Leads to Team Wins
We don’t think about our competing needs as much as we think about our collective needs these days. I also think that to both of our surprises, we’re both desperate for more time with our kid. That’s the part of parenthood and being a stay at home dad that I truly did not anticipate. I prepared myself for all other aspects of parenting: the repetitiveness, the difficulty, the noise, the wetness of it. But the part I had not anticipated was the joy. I think that, when I’m taking care of our daughter, my wife is jealous of it. And when she is taking care of her, I’m jealous of her. But that being said, we feel the other side. I think anything valuable, anything that really ever meant anything to me in my life, has required some amount of sacrifice. The sacrifice of time that I’ve made to my child is the most worthwhile use of my time that I can imagine. It has brought the most meaning, both to myself but also to our marriage. Our biggest joy is when all three of us are together. The whole strangeness and wonder of this thing we created together makes me feel much closer, and also more romantically in love with my wife.

— Stefan, 36, New York

Communication Improves (or Else)
My wife and I have noticed that our teamwork is a lot more present now. We were always very independent, have had our own personal goals, even as we got married. We’ve always supported each other in those goals. Before we had our daughter, it was a lot more individualized, though. We noticed that when we became parents, we could become overwhelmed. So then we started to talk about feeling that way. We’d take over for the other person. Our communication became so much stronger between us. I work from home. Our long-term goal — to spend more time together as a family — is why I started our family business. My wife will be able to come home as well very shortly. That will give us so much flexibility to spend time with a family. She appreciates that I worked hard to make things better for us.

— William, 30, Maryland