Parenting: Making room for stay-at-home dads



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A father of five is petitioning Amazon to change the name of its service called ‘Amazon Mom.’ This stay-at-home dad says it’s “odd” that the company only acts as if moms are the caregivers of a family. VPC

When my son recently asked for a play date with a classmate, I told him I’d talk to the boy’s mom at school dismissal.  But the next day, the boy’s dad came to get him from school.

“I’ll just wait until next week,” I thought to myself, assuming his mom was busy or his dad had the day off. Either way, I felt funny asking him about plans. When I continued to see the dad at pick-up the next week I wondered if he was between jobs or worked from home. All of my assumptions would turn out to be incorrect.

Despite the current focus on female empowerment and gender equality, many of us still find it hard to get rid of traditional ideas about parenting roles.  We assume dads go to work and moms raise the kids, and while we’re happy to embrace the reverse, we often make assumptions based on what we’re used to. It was 35 years ago that Michael Keaton played an unemployed dad who was forced to stay home with his kids in “Mr. Mom,” and though much has changed since then, men still face the presumption that staying home with their kids while their wife works isn’t a role they’d choose. So what’s the truth about stay-at-home dads?

Kimberly Agresta is a licensed clinical social worker and co-founder of Englewood’s Agresta Psychotherapy Group, where she counsels mothers and fathers on a range of parenting issues. From her personal and professional experience with stay-at-home dads, Agresta says there are many misconceptions surrounding their role.

“Most of the time when a dad is home with the kids it’s a financial decision,” Agresta said, noting that in 40 percent of today’s workforce, women are the primary breadwinners. “With the cost of child care being so high it just makes more sense for one parent to stay home rather than to pay that money, especially if the husband isn’t earning so much,” she said.

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Because the traditional stereotype of men being the financial provider for their family persists, stay-at-home dads still face judgment. “Even for dads who choose to stay home, they find that people come up to them all the time and ask if they’re looking for a job and when they’re going back to work,” she said. “People assume they don’t want be at home but that they have to be at home.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth, Agresta said. “Most of the time men love being stay-at-home dads. They embrace it and they say they’d never change a thing. It’s a great experience for them.”

In addition to assumptions about their employment status, Agresta noted, stay-at-home dads are often shunned by moms in their community. “When these dads are out with their kids at the playground or at a school event, a lot of men feel that they’re not included,” she said. “I think a lot of moms are just not as comfortable being around men in the child-rearing way and they don’t know what to talk to them about, so they’re not as welcoming.” Though moms may be less inclined to involve a dad in their conversation than another mom, Agresta said stay-at-home dads want to be included. “They’re definitely open to it.”

Stay-at-home dads also face assumptions about their parenting abilities. “If a dad is out and about and one of his children is having a meltdown, they find other women want to help them, like, to show them the ropes of what they should be doing,” Agresta said. “People assume they don’t know how to handle it, and they’re not viewed as equals in terms of parenting.”

Stay-at-home dads usually take on all the responsibilities stay-at-home moms do, Agresta said, noting they do all or most of the cooking, cleaning, school lunch-preparing and chauffeuring, and they’re in charge of their kids’ schedules. Even so, moms often bypass them as the contact person for their children. “When a mom calls the household of the stay-at-home dad for a playdate, they tend to call the mother, not the father, to arrange it,” Agresta said.

Finally, Agresta explained that stay-at-home dads often face many of the same emotions that stay at home moms do. “Stay-at-home parents struggle with the same loneliness and boredom, whether you’re male or female,” she said, adding that men, like women, also experience occasional feelings of being unfulfilled and unproductive.

“In most cases, stay-at-home dads have made a conscious decision to stay home,” Agresta said, citing a recent Pew Research Center study that showed that only 35 percent of stay-at-home dads are home due to illness or disability. “That leaves 65 percent of dads who are choosing to be there, and they’re happy to be there,” she said. The same study showed 16 percent of households are now run by stay-at-home dads.

“Because there are so many more stay-at-home dads now, they have a lot of support amongst each other,” Agresta said, noting that there’s a national at-home dads network that provides education and support. “Private practices sometimes run parenting groups for dads and they can also search online for support groups in their area,” she said.

Though we’ve come a long way since the days of “Mr. Mom,” we still have a way to go. From putting changing tables into men’s rooms to securing paternity leave for dads, fathers still struggle to be accepted as primary caregivers. But today, there are no rules for who should earn the money and who should drive the carpools – it’s whatever works for each family. And though in my house, I’m the one who stays home with the kids, I’d like my husband to know this: Anytime you want to swap your convertible for my minivan, I can make that happen.

Contact Jackie Goldschenider at [email protected]

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