Lessons From Stay-at-Home Dads
John Lennon made it cool. Michael Keaton and Eddie Murphy played it for laughs. Any way you cut it, men who leave the paid workforce to raise their kids are gutsy non-traditionalists. And their numbers are growing. At last count there were an estimated 2.5 million stay-at-home dads in the United States alone.
Who are these modern marvels? According to Dr. Robert Frank, author of Equal Balanced Parenting and The Involved Father, the average stay-at-home dad is 38-years-old, married and lives in the suburbs. The most common reasons for assuming this role: His wife made more money and the couple didn't want to put their children in daycare.
"For us, the decision was a no-brainer," says Andrew Krill who stays home with his twin boys, while his wife, a retail executive, commutes to work each day. "My wife's earning capacity is far greater than mine, and we both think it's important to have a parent at home.
"When it comes to bread-winning, I've taken a support role, so that my wife can excel in her career," adds Krill, who formerly worked in the retail industry and as a bond salesman. "Yet I also recognize my duty to lead our family...and I do, both financially (by handling all bills and investments) and spiritually."
Joe Battaglia, who assumed primary care duties of his 4-year-old daughter after being laid off from his job as a computer programmer, finds his new life rewarding but isolating.
"Socially, it can be awkward," he confesses. "My daughter and I aren't included in many neighborhood playgroups and activities. And when I've tried to initiate play dates, moms have seemed reluctant to entrust their kids to a man's care. Once I called a woman with a 4-year-old son to see if they would like to get together with my daughter and me, and she told a friend I was hitting on her!
"To make matters worse, many of my guy friends don't understand my decision or how much work it can be," Battaglia adds.
Not only do stay-at-home dads take care of the children and perform domestic chores like running errands, cooking and doing laundry, they also perform the traditional male roles of yard work and home and car repair. Despite all they do, many are met with condescension, even insults. At websites such as stayhomedads.com, slowlane.com, and daddyshome.com, you'll see reports of taunts like "pansy," "wuss" and "Why don't you get a job like a real man?!"
More often, though, it's covert. One man lamented he'd never felt so emasculated as when a group of women in the supermarket parking lot stood snickering as his 2-year old hurled a package of pantyliners from a bag he was loading into his minivan.
No, this lifestyle is not for everyone, Battaglia acknowledges. But he doesn't regret his decision and encourages all fathers to become more involved in their children's lives.
On the whole, it appears that's where our culture is trending. A report by the Council of Contemporary Families found American men do more housework and childcare than men in any of the other four developed countries surveyed (France, Italy, Germany and Japan).
And it's paying off. Research from the Center for Successful Fathering in Austin, Texas, shows that kids who spend increased time with fathers benefit from higher grades, greater ambition, fewer anxiety disorders, and a reduced risk of delinquency or teen pregnancy. Another study found that children with actively involved fathers score higher on verbal skills and academic achievement and that working mothers are more involved with their children when the father stays home than when their children are in professional daycare.
Jim Petersen, a father of three school-aged children, says the arrangement has helped him develop an amazing bond with his children and grow as a person. An active networker among stay-at-home dads, Smith says he has yet to meet a wimp (though he ran into several at the office where he used to work). "Being a stay-at-home dad hasn't meant abandoning my masculinity. It's made me a stronger, better man."