Don’t Call Him Mr. Mom: Stay-At-Home Dads Are Growing in Numbers
The idea of a father staying home and caring for the children used to be really rare. So rare, in fact, that an entire movie was based on the premise that a dad, if forced to stay at home while his wife worked, would totally bungle the operation, and the baby would end up eating cold chili from a can.
But today, the concept is not only more common; researchers are actually seeing more dads voicing a desire to be the parent that stays at home.
A 2011 Boston University study of fatherhood found that 53 percent of fathers said if their families could live comfortably on one income, they would consider being the primary caregiver. The same study found that in homes where the father stayed home or worked from home, the families were quite happy with the arrangement.
“Most of the men we spoke to felt that their families had thrived as a result of having them at-home full-time,” the study stated.
And even though it’s relatively new, it’s gaining in popularity. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that the number of stay-at-home or work-from-home fathers has risen substantially in recent years, up to 2 million in 2012, almost doubling since 1989. Fathers also represent a growing share of all at-home parents — 16 percent in 2012.
The arrangement also has the added benefit of helping mom’s career, too, the aforementioned Boston University study found.
“Fathers perceived the impact on their spouses’ work experiences to be overwhelmingly positive,” the researchers wrote. “They asserted that this arrangement allowed their partners to have flexibility and increased focus at work, and diminished their worries about the quality of care that their children were receiving while they were away.”
Kimberly Jordan, whose husband, Matt, is the primary caregiver for their children, ages 9 and 12, couldn’t agree more.
“We’ve been doing this 12 years,” Jordan said. “What I’ve learned is I could not have been so successful in my career without this arrangement. It’s a comfort to know that when I’m traveling, someone reliable and who truly cares for my kids is watching them.”
For some, transition results from trying to keep their family together in one place. As was the case for the Luke family.
Taylor and Colin Luke live in Greenville, Texas, with their children — Oliver, 5; Owen, almost 2; Ben, 14; and Hannah, 16. For the Lukes, the decision for Colin to be a work-at-home dad started with the family’s unwillingness to uproot and move to Austin when Colin’s office moved.
“We were not ready to relocate as a family but still wanted to remain at the same company,” Taylor said.
Colin began working at home, and over time it became clear that working from home actually allowed him to take on more and more of the family responsibilities because his hours were more flexible.
A year later, the couple says, they’ve learned how to balance work and home life more efficiently.
“We’ve also discovered that it’s not as easy and convenient as it may sound. Toddlers and conference calls do not always mix!”
The Jordans, who now live in Anchorage, Alaska, said, the decision became obvious for them well before their first child was even born.
“Before my oldest son was born, we had sticker shock from daycare fees,” Kimberly said. “My husband didn’t love his job and was stressed anyway, so he opted to stay home and has been home as the primary caregiver ever since.”
Even though being a stay-at-home dad is becoming more widely accepted, being a pioneer among friends and peers can have its hurdles, the National At-Home Dad Network, a group formed to help fathers navigate the relatively new territory of being the primary caregiver, points out.
“While the number of men choosing to stay home with their children has more than doubled in the last 10 years, at-home dads still have many difficulties finding and connecting with other at-home dads,” the organization said.
Kimberly Jordan said she believes the divide has a lot to do with the fact that fathers may be less likely to reach out for help and guidance from a support network.
“Dads aren’t as social as moms, but they need outside interests and support networks, too,” Jordan said. “This can be hard to do because dad groups aren’t as prevalent as mom groups, but stick with it!”
Many at-home dads also struggle with the social stigma that surrounds men being the primary caregiver.
“Sometimes at work-related parties, the conversation can stop when people ask what Matt does,” Jordan said. “But other times, we get a ‘That’s really cool! Wish I had that arrangement!’ response.”
Colin Luke said that one of the hardest parts of being the one that stays home is balancing being a productive worker while also being an attentive father.
But all of the fathers agreed there are also great things involved with being an at-home dad.
“Not missing out on my children’s lives and seeing their accomplishments daily!” Colin Luke said. “I can see them grow and do life and not just get a nightly recap. I’m also able to make adjustments in my schedule to see my two oldest who live in Allen participate in karate or school functions.”
And for Matt Jordan, the best things are that his sons get to see their mother be powerful and dominate in her career, and they get to experience a sense of pride by seeing her achieve her goals.
If you’re considering embarking on the journey of a stay-at-home or work-at-home dad, the Lukes recommend a game plan before you start.
“Make sure there is a clear plan of responsibilities, but keep an open mind that the plan is subject to change daily,” they said.
If you and your spouse are mulling over the idea of dad staying home with your new baby, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance offers a class for all expectant dads who want to brush up on their baby-care skills, whether they plan on staying home or not. The course includes a primer on first-aid for babies, too.
“This class is valuable because it helps new dads get involved with their babies from the start and ask questions in a comfortable environment, with just fellow dads-to-be present,” said Tina Gist, director of women’s services at Texas Health Alliance. “Having a baby is an adventure, both exciting and scary for mom and dad.”
New and expecting moms and dads are also encouraged to attend the “Happiest Baby on the Block” courses taught at Texas Health Resources University, conveniently located on the campus of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. The course explains the popular and effective methods of Dr. Harvey Karp, a nationally renowned pediatrician, child development specialist and assistant professor of pediatrics at the USC School of Medicine. It leads parents through methods that help babies sleep better or help parents more effectively soothe a fussy baby. One of the other things parents learn? Why fathers are often the best baby calmers in the family.
And if you are a stay-at-home or work-at-home dad of a toddler, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano offers Toddler Time, a group for all parents to bring their 12- to 24-month-old children to play while they get to connect with other parents, and even learn something new from the occasional guest speaker.