Stay-at-Home Dad Stigma?

No matter what your gender, being a stay-at-home parent has its benefits and, of course, sacrifices.  But does it carry a stigma?

For full-time moms, we know that common misconceptions and undervalued domestic work can lead to certain kinds of discrimination from society.

“People assume I’m not educated when they find out I’m a stay-at-home mom, like I didn’t go to college,” says one mom from upstate New York, who also happens to hold a PhD.  People also think she’s lazy, she says, and that she just sits around all day while her husband, a scientist, earns all their money.  As she says this, she’s simultaneously entertaining her energetic 5-year old son with one arm, while feeding her infant son with the other. Watching their family is a bit like watching a chaotic, 3-ring circus– and it occurs to me that this Mom probably hasn’t had a chance to be “lazy” even once in the last half-decade.

But do stay-at-home dads suffer the same kind of treatment?  I suspect not.  For them, it turns out there are other kinds of challenges — and even stereotypes — that aren’t so fun, either:


Your Actions Get Scrutinized 

“It would be easier to be part of this community if everyone could forget that I’m a guy,” says part-time writer and blogger, Christopher Michel, who’s also a full-time stay-at-home dad for his 18-month old daughter.  In Parenting Magazine he describes how he cringes every time someone of his sex does something questionable, like when a fellow dad urinated in public while his kid played on the playground, or like when the male music teacher jokingly hit on the Moms in the play group they all attend.

“My gender tends to do the pervy stuff. Men—men who hang around playgrounds—must be watched in case they’re pedophiles, public urinators, or creeps. I feel like I need to make extra clear I don’t fit in that group,” he says. And so while the Moms don’t necessarily grab up their children and run from him every time he makes a playground appearance, Christopher does feel the need to prove to his new neighbors that he’s a normal parent, just like them.  It’s seems to be a built-in double standard: because even as stay-at-home dads get complimented for the same exact work all parents do, (with common reactions like, “Aww, how cute!” and “You’re such a Saint”), it’s not hard to imagine how these same Moms are watching you closely out of the corner of their eye just the same.

You Don’t Have as Much Peer Support

The number of fathers who are full-time caregivers in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the last 10 years, but considering stay-at-home dads are still well within the minority, they simply have fewer peers and role models to relate to.  If the ‘Mommy’ Blogosphere is any indication, women fall back on a larger network of friends and fellow Moms whom they can look to for support and advice.  But it’s likely a very different story for men.  “I do know a couple of other stay-at-home dads, but we don’t really talk about these issues,” says Jesse Greenspan, a stay-at-home Dad in Brooklyn, NY. He thinks it has to do with the fact that he and his fellow stay-at-home male friends think of this as a short-term commitment, like a tour abroad or a work assignment that will only last a relatively short time.  “In my case, I’ll probably try to get back to work more or less full time when [our daughter] goes to pre-school,” he says.  And when that happens, he may face yet another type of discrimination:

Back-To-Work Flack 

For men who leave the work force for months or even years at a time to take care of children, a gap on their resume could make it extra difficult to get hired again.  Explaining what they were “up to” for a few years — when what they were “up to” was exclusively running a household and raising children — is a burden women deal with less, considering family leave is far more common for females.  Michael Zorek, a stay-at-home dad for 11 years, told the Huffington Post that he’s been having trouble finding part-time work again now that his kids are older, and it’s not just due to the recent recession. “I would advise anyone making the choice to stay home now, to not stay home completely, to keep their hand in,” he says. The implication being that the working world moves on without you — and conservative employers may not be as sympathetic when it’s a man on the other end of the interview table.

Photo courtesy of: Pixabay/CaucasionChildDadDaughter

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