Although there is not much research on how many men in the United States are stay-at-home fathers, a Pew research report from five years ago found that two million fathers were not working outside of the home, and the National At-Home Dad Network believes there are some seven million dads who are the primary caregivers for their kids. As more women enter the workforce, keep their jobs well into motherhood, and sometimes, become the primary breadwinners, some dads decide to stay home to offset the costs of childcare, or just spend time with their children. Whatever the case, being a stay at home dad is a wonderful thing, one where you get a front row seat for — and play an enormous role in — your kids’ development. But with this, some dads report, come a lot of comments and assumptions about their role as primary caregiver — ones that occasionally suck. Here, seven dads chat with Fatherly about the most annoying assumptions people make about their roles, and why it needs to stop.
That I’m Not Manly
I think that generally the population doesn’t know how to react when I say I’m a stay at home dad. Between meeting fellow parents or my wife’s coworkers, everyone says something generic like “Oh, that’s nice.” On top of that awkwardness other men then try to see how “manly” you really are. Luckily for me I happen to enjoy listening to sports podcasts while taking care of the house so I can talk football with the best of them.
— Joshua, 33, California
That I Don’t Have A Schedule
The most annoying aspect of being a self-employed dad is that many people confuse the idea of not having a fixed schedule with not having any schedule. Sometimes friends and family expect us stay-at-home dads to be available during regular business hours, for long casual chats on the phone, trips to the airport, or other things you would never dream of asking from someone with an office gig. Yes, there are many gorgeous Tuesday afternoons when I am out running in the park, and rainy Mondays when I can sleep in. But there are plenty of nights when I am up working until midnight. I’m not complaining because I love what I do. But there are a host of other things I end up doing — from laundry to food shopping to various favors and errands — that a dad with an office job might never be expected or asked to do. Since I’m home, I do it. The benefit of course, is I get to spend way more time with my son.
— Dimitri, 52, New York
That I’m The Babysitter
I hate when people refer to me taking care of my son as as “watching” or “babysitting.” I’m not getting paid to do this, we are a family, and we are home together when my wife goes to work because it makes sense for us economically. People also assume that I’m home chilling out with my feet up. There’s so much to be done around the house. Grocery shopping, preparing meals, cleaning up after a toddler, laundry, etc.
— Joshua, 36, Maine
That I’m Some Hero For Taking Care Of My Child
There are some direct comments — it’s almost a cliché to be frustrated with comments when I’m taking care of our daughter. People will say stuff about how I’m doing this great service by taking care of my kid. But there’s no reason that childcare shouldn’t at least be equal between my wife and I. But mostly, the comments aren’t direct, but they’re an attitude that’s extended towards fathers. It’s a generational difference. I have noticed that the people who bother me the most are grandmothers. Grandmothers are always approaching me and offering unsolicited advice. It’s funny. As a father taking care of his kid alone, I’m somehow both above the job, and I get pity or gratitude that I am somehow responsibly caring for a kid, but I’m also beneath the job, as in, there’s an assumption of absolute incompetence on my part.
— Stefan, 36, New York
That I’m Some Bumbling Buffoon
The way most stay at home dads are portrayed in popular media and advertising causes my eyes to roll. On television shows and movies, we are hatefully sarcastic, with a never ending stream of witty quips and jokes about how terrible our lives are. Commercials paint us as bumbling buffoons who need our hands held, otherwise insurance companies need to get called to assess the damage. This job is complicated and can be frustrating but most of us figure out how to healthily navigate it day by day. Unfortunately, that is not commercially profitable to portray. It just reinforces the stereotype that men should not or do not want to be staying home.
— Tony, 37, Minnesota
That Taking Care of the Kids Is a “Cushy” Gig
It’s the general surprise that gets to me the most, as though it’s a shock to hear that a dad is the one staying at home. It’s so backwards. I love being the man caretaker of my kids and really consider myself lucky for being able to do it. My friends, however, will often rib me when we go out about how cushy I have it and how nice it must be to wear sweats all day. They have no idea how much work goes into taking care of kids by yourself all day. Like I said, I love it. But it’s definitely work. Most of my friends are all conference calls and board meetings. That’s a different world.
— Travis, 39, Michigan
That I Need to Double Check Everything with the “Lead” Parent
People just seem to not get it. They don’t seem to mean anything by it, but there’s this ingrained thinking that it should be a mom and not dad that takes care of the kids. For instance, if I go to the dentist with the kids, there’s always something said, like “maybe mom can schedule their next appointment” or “maybe mom can confirm the next visit.” It makes it feel like, even though I’m with them, I’m not the decision maker or “lead parent.” It isn’t done on purpose — and my wife don’t subscribe to this narrow thinking — but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.
— Charlie, 41, Florida