In which I add some edits to this painful article.
What scene comes to mind when you envision a dad left in charge of his kids for the day? Is it a room with fresh crayon marks all over the walls, kids with food-smeared faces—nothing short of general chaos? While those tropes might be
funny fodder for bad sitcoms, they probably aren’t all that accurate funny, especially nowadays, when more and more some (cis, hetero) men are pitching in at home beginning to see the justice of equal division of unpaid labour.
In fact, fathers now perform 4.6 more hours of childcare and 4.4 more hours of housework each week than they did in in 1965, according to a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors. To put this in perspective, 1965 was before the moon landing, like, fucking ages ago, so this progress is not particularly notable. And dads say that involvement with responsibilities on the home front, particularly involving children, is increasingly important, as is finding a career and employer that will allow them to devote a significant portion of time to their family. In a study from the Boston College Center for Work and Family, 60 percent of the 1,029 fathers polled said that employer-provided, paid paternity or parental leave was important to them. This figure was significantly higher among younger men, with 93 percent of Millennial dads indicating that paid paternal leave was important to them.
While some fathers find themselves trying to create work schedules with additional flexibility, more fathers are assuming the role of primary caregiver. The number of stay-at-home dads has risen from 1.1 million in 1989 to 2.0 million in 2012, according to Pew. Why? For some fathers, they found themselves in the role due to circumstance: Temporary unemployment or disability can make dads the most logical option for childcare in a society without an adequate social support system. But some fathers are home by choice, and because of a shift in labor dynamics as women reach higher educational and career attainment. Still, while opinions and priorities may have seen some cultural shifts, the balance between work and home is still a difficult one to strike, as mothers have know for decades. The vast majority of fathers surveyed for the Boston College study took only two weeks off for the arrival of a new baby, a period of time that correlated strongly with the amount of paid paternity or parental leave provided. When asked how much paternal leave they thought was appropriate, the majority of men said somewhere between two and four weeks, with younger dads erring towards longer leave. And some men choose not to take the maximum amount of time off from their jobs, fearing that they’ll fall too far behind, or be seen as less dedicated employees; even though this has direct costs for their partners, who are then required to care for a baby alone while recovering from childbirth.
For Chris Tecala of Centerville, Virginia, who worked full-time in the audio visual field for a hospitality company, the question of
who should stay home with the kids whether one partner should stay home with the children, and if so who, was an easy one to answer, though we have not interviewed the mother of his children to ascertain her views. “My salary equaled the cost of the yearly daycare of two, non potty-trained infants, which was about $40,000 a year,” he said. “I would be working just for someone else to watch my kids and it just didn’t make sense.”
According to Pew, 24 percent of married women earn more than their husbands. The study also found that for married couples with children, women were the primary breadwinners in 37 percent of households, though these families are more likely to live in poverty and include many households in which the breadwinner wife is not highly paid. As women earn more than they have historically and seek higher positions in more competitive fields (where they battle glass ceilings, gender stereotypes, and a persistent pay gap) the decision of
who whether one parent should leave work to care for a sick child, or stay home altogether, has become less clear, especially given the decline of blue collar manufacturing jobs and the rise of male unemployment and underemployment.
Now Tecala, who stays home during the week to
watch care for his twin two-year-old boys, strikes a balance by working part-time for the same company during the weekends. Even once his boys are old enough to attend school, Tecala says he plans on continuing with a part-time schedule so he can “be there for them every step of the way.”
The decision to remain active in the professional world, albeit in a scaled-back fashion, for those whose skill set and employment prospects provide this option, is fairly common, says Will Culp of the National At Home Dad Network, especially for those who plan to reenter the workforce after the kids get older.
Dan Baldwin, a stay-at-home dad from Baltimore says that his family’s decision to rely on him as the primary caregiver was driven partially by finances, but also because of the lack of schedule flexibility at his former job. Baldwin used about seven weeks of paid leave thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act, but afterward, when he tried to discuss creating a more family-friendly schedule for his urban planning job, he said his employer offered up the equivalent of two days off per month. For his family, it simply wasn’t enough, he said.
So Baldwin stays home to care for his son, David. He says he plans on returning to the working world, once any children he and his wife may have are old enough to attend school, but even then, there will still be a focus on flexibility so he can do things like attend field trips and soccer matches. “I think that going into a new job, that would be one of the things I would look for—that would weigh heavily on my decision about where to end up,” he said. Once again, we did not ask his wife for her views.
Though they are the primary caregivers in their families, both Tecala and Baldwin make sure to note how involved their wives, both employed full-time, are in child rearing. “By the end of the day when she gets home, I like to have that break,” Baldwin says. “She’ll feed him dinner, give him a bath, and put him to bed. And that’s when I’ll get some cleaning done.” Tecala describes a similar scene in his home. In this area also, the wives’ views are silent. It sounds a bit like the wives do the worst part of the day’s parenting: bedtime.
But despite this scene of domestic
bliss and cooperation role reversal that remains based around post-war norms of how the labour is to be divided, if not who does the different tasks, it still seems as if a large portion of Americans don’t see stay-at-home dads and stay-at-home moms in the same light, which is probably because of misogyny and patriarchal capitalism but let’s not use those terms because they scare people. Another to Pew poll reported that, 51 percent of respondents felt that kids were better off with a mother who stayed home, and only 34 percent said that kids were just as well off if their mom worked. Those numbers change dramatically when you switch to the idea of a stay-at-home father. Only 8 percent of respondents said that children would be better off if their dad stayed home, while 76 percent said they’d be just as well off if their dad worked.
Culp says that these views, that deem that mothers are better suited to take care of the kids, contribute to flimsy pro-paternity leave policies at many organizations. “I think the bias against pro-paternity policies in the workplace starts with the notion that mothers are genetically better-suited for childcare,” he said, without mentioning the very real need for policies that enable women to recover from childbirth and establish breastfeeding before re-entering the paid workforce. ”As long as employers see involved fathers as an impediment to productivity, any change toward more progressive paternity leave policies will be met with resistance.” It is worth noting that the attitude that women are better suited to childcare is also deeply harmful for women, who often wish to remain in paid work after becoming mothers, and whose parenting is invariably judged more harshly than fathers.
While Baldwin and Tecala said that most people were positive about their family’s decision to
act as their child’s primary caregiver that they would be primary caregivers while their wives were the primary earners, both had stories of odd looks or curious reactions that they had gotten from strangers, mostly women. Tecala described a look of confusion that he gets occasionally when he carts his twin boys around the supermarket. I asked him if that type of reaction upset him. “At first it bothered me, but now I just kind of shrug it off and laugh,” he said. “I like to think that they’re just jealous that they don’t have a guy who’s willing to look after the kids like I am.” This was said as a joke, but it touches on a major issue for gender equality. There is an assumption that the default position is for women to care for their children, and that men who do caring work are a rare and enviable catch. In a more equal society there would be no confused looks, but self-congratulatory jokes wouldn’t feature either.
In some families, role-differentiation where one parent is “at home” and one parent is in paid work may be the best option. It is a positive step that this model now accommodates at-home dads and at-work mums. However, most parents express a desire to combine paid work with more family time. The challenge is for our economy to enable this, both through financial support such as paid parental leave, and through labour policies than actively normalise a shorter working week. In this regard, we haven’t come that far since the 1960s.