There was a fleeting moment, soon after our first daughter was born, when my husband and I considered the option of me going back to work full time while he stayed home with her. But I didn’t want it… then. I wanted my share of at home time and couldn’t picture our life with me as the working parent. It seemed unfair, or not right. So I stubbornly stayed underemployed even though I had better job prospects at the time, until eventually my husband found employment: employment that meant moving our small family, and de-stabilizing my career. Looking back on that moment, I wonder what things would have been like if had seen then what I see now: that stay-at-home dads are an amazing asset to women with children who are invested in their chosen career.
I write this article partly as a warning to young women: You have been inundated with images of what a mother is and what a father is. Looking lovingly at your first baby, you may not, like me, be able to picture yourself handing over the job of primary caregiver to your partner. But in these hormone-flushed days of so many firsts, take a moment to choose the patterns that you fall into. Remember, you write your own story.
Years later, when our kids were 6, 4, and 6 months I was to working full time while my husband took the remaining 5 months of his parental leave. Over the years of juggling work and family life we experienced many different configurations of jobs and parenting, but this was the first time he had ever been home full time with the kids while I was out full time at work.
It was fabulous.
Of course, it was wonderful that I could wake up and go to work in the morning without getting three kids ready for daycare and come home in the evening to dinner and happy, well-parented children. But there was more than that: I believe that the disruption of normative gender roles had a positive impact on our whole family. Suddenly my son no longer thought vacuuming was “a girl’s job.” Areas of the house that I had neglected, or jobs that hadn’t been my strong suit, got fixed up. When it was hard and my husband was worn out and exhausted at the end of the day, it was, quite frankly, validating. And on days when our youngest son reached out for him, when he glowed knowing he was the main-man of this precious bundle, the one who understood his needs and wants better than anybody, that was pretty cool, too.
Stay-at-home dads are good for their partners, and good for their sons and daughters. It’s good for the dad’s, too, to live for a while seeped in the knot of love and unproductiveness that is caring for an infant. I contend that stay-at-home dads are also good for our society and culture as a whole, whether they’re there part time or for the full length of their children’s upbringing.
There are the obvious reasons: sexism, unfortunately, is still a thing, and it’s good for boys and girls to see men in nurturing roles. But there are also slightly more subtle things, expectations that live just under the surface: that my kids school always calls me first, even though we put my husbands number as the primary contact. That the specialist my son sees doesn’t understand my problem with having non-emergency appointments scheduled 48 hrs in advance. That during summer holidays all the men spontaneously make a plan to go on a hike somewhere and somehow what’s left is all the women and all the children.
Maybe if the schools, the doctors, and the dentists all dealt with a more equal mix of moms and dads, expectations would be different. Ways of valuing and expectations around the role of stay-at-home parents would evolve. Stay-at-home dads would bring a breath of fresh air into the whole arena of stay at home parenting.
If we value professional parenting, and we value gender equality, stay-at-home dads are the missing link.
These are just a few in what is a long list of reasons to praise stay-at-home-dads. If you’re thankful for a part time or full time stay-a-home dad in your own family, share in the comments below!