Every morning my sister and I would wake up to the clatter of bowls set on our dining room table. We would roll sleepily out of bed, hair sticking out in every direction, and patter over to our seats.
Our dad would get us ready, pulling my favorite 101 Dalmatians T-shirt over my head. He brushed my sister’s hair while she slurped up her Cheerios. He checked we had our packed lunches, buckled us into our car seats, drove us to school, and walked with us hand-in-hand to the classroom.
After school, we would run full-speed to latch onto him as he chatted with our friends’ moms. It never struck me as odd that he was the only dad standing there.
Stay-At-Home Dads Support Working Moms
While I grew up with the example of a breadwinning mother, as I got older I realized that my dad’s support enabled my mom to excel in the workforce. (She is also a badass in her own right, but that is material for another article.)
These days there is a popular push that mothers can “have it all,” creating the unhealthy and near-impossible expectation that they also “do it all,” from childcare to housework to crushing their careers. I can barely fathom the effort it takes to attempt to do all of that without significant spousal support.
In the second half of the 20th century, there has been a huge rise of women in the workforce, but the numbers don’t show a similar increase in men staying home to support them. More parents are choosing childcare in order to have dual income households, while the model of a solo mom breadwinner is still exceedingly rare. However, if more dads stayed at home, we might start seeing an increase of equality all-around.
The Number of Stay-At-Home Dads Is Increasing
Brad Harrington, the executive director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family, talks in an interview with NPR about the difference a stay-at-home father can make towards having a more balanced household.
“Nothing, probably, provides more of an opportunity for women to advance than an at-home dad, because when they know that the father is there, taking care of that set of responsibilities, then women are more free to pursue their own professional goals.”
Yet in a world trending towards more gender equality, the number of stay-at-home dads is still far from equitable, even after reaching an all-time high in 2017.
The gap is closing, if slowly, in a trajectory that gives me hope. Dads should be encouraged to take equal part in parenting duties to support their professional partners. Witnessing the support my dad provided emboldened me to dream big when considering my own aspirations.
My Stay-At-Home Dad Inspired Me To Dream Big
Stay-at-home dads don’t just provide support for their spouses; they are also a critical role-model for their children. Research suggests that daughters who have fathers who help out with housework like doing the dishes and laundry are more likely to have ambitious career goals.
In 1989, a few years before I was born, only 10% of stay-at-home parents were dads. I was one of the lucky few and I owe my career partly to my parents’ model.
If my mother had quit her job to care for us, I wonder if I would have picked such an incredibly difficult degree. Why work so hard if I might have to drop out of the workforce after a few years? I chose engineering as a major with the example of a mother as a successful breadwinner and a father helping me with my math homework at the living room table.
Yet for all the benefits that stay-at-home dads provide, they face the same downsides as stay-at-home moms, with an extra heap of societal disbelief on top.
The Downsides of Being A Stay-At-Home Dad
Stay-at-home parents (both moms and dads!) face numerous challenges. They have difficulty getting back into the workforce, they deal with loneliness and isolation, and they take on a full-time job of caretaking without being recognized with accolades or rewarded with weekly paychecks. In fact, Salary.com recently conjectured that a stay-at-home parent does the work equivalent to someone making $162,000 per year.
My dad didn’t fit in with all the moms at the park. He preferred to play guitar on the bench while we swung our little bodies across the monkey bars. He struggled to land a full-time job after stepping off the volunteer board of the local PTA (Parent-Teacher Association). These obstacles compounded on top of society’s doubts that he could raise us as well as our mother might.
A 2013 Pew Research Center survey revealed that 51% of respondents said children are better off with a mother at home, compared to only 8% who said children are better off with a father at home. This might make sense from a biological standpoint while the baby is breastfeeding, but these attitudes continue into childhood and beyond. Fathers have an enormous impact on their children’s development, so we should change our attitude when it comes to estimating men’s abilities to raise children.
While some people may be surprised that my dad did the laundry, I reminisce about giggling as he dumped the clothes fresh from the drier over our heads. I know that men are just as capable as women when it comes to raising children and making happy memories.
Feminism and Fatherhood
It is time to squash the stigma behind stay-at-home fatherhood. Parents should be lauded for the work they do at home, and dads encouraged to take an equal part. When daughters and sons witness equality at home, they are more likely to eschew the stereotypes that divide us at work.
Stay-at-home parents take on massive workloads for little thanks. So I want to take a second to thank my dad for everything he has done. Part of the reason I am an engineer today is that you showed me that men are just as capable of being coffee-makers and child-raisers. Thank you, Dad!