Stay at Home Dads

I remember a significant amount of peer pressure and questions surrounding my decision to return to work on a part-time basis versus returning to my full-time position as manager.  Some people even questioned why I would want to go back to work at all when my son was under one-year-old.

Luckily for me, when I started back to work I got to “job-share” with another parent who was technically the “stay-at-home parent,” and we joked that he was my “work husband” and that we not only job-shared but “child-care-shared” as well—to my mind, it was a perfect arrangement.

What shocked me was NOT the controversy surrounding my private decision to return to work only a few days a week. It was, rather, the incessant teasing that my poor “work partner” experienced.  It was as if it was “open season” on his masculinity—he was targeted for being the primary caregiver to his two boys.

Watching him being repeatedly teased about “who wears the pants in the family” — both at home and at work — opened my eyes to a subject we rarely discuss: stay-at-home dads.

By the way, his answer to “who wears the pants” was always, “Actually I wear shorts, and my wife left early this morning before the boys and I got up, so I have no idea what she was wearing, would you like me to call her?”

It wasn’t uncommon for me to receive a text enquiring if I was wearing pants, so he could answer those ever-persistent daily questions from staff and clients—playing with the invention of me as his “work wife.”

How to Own the Non-Traditional Family Unit

Unfortunately, when we see dads out shopping with the kids, or going to parent and tot classes many of us think, “How delightful that Dad is giving Mom a break today.” The number of stay-at-home dads  (SAHDs) is growing. According to Census Canada, the number of SAHDs has doubled since the 1970’s. Now whether this trend is due to economics; or that Mom enjoys her career; or that it makes sense for your family for some other reason—at the end of the day, it just has to work

One of the most challenging things for dads is how their community of peers, older male community members and friends like to make jokes about who the leader of the family is.  After all, nowadays we all know it’s the children!   It’s worth posing the question “Are there enough parent and tot programs?”  (As opposed to mom and me programs, mother’s morning out programs, etc.)  As a SAHD, it can be a real challenge pushing into a community program peopled by young mom’s and their babies—no matter how killer your cookie recipe!  (Although everything helps!)  Creating more inclusive language around parenting programs and resources can create a more comfortable place to meet each other for all parents—providing interesting possibilities, perspectives, and connections for our children, and contributing to building our community.

Last time I looked, all gender identities were able to parent, and there are no gender-based criteria involved in being a great domestic engineer.

Similarly, a working mom has to be prepared—when she goes to those school and team events to watch her children—to stand into her role with confidence. “Yes I work full time to support my family,” and “No, that doesn’t mean: “ that I miss out, or that I’m uncaring, nor that my partner is a ”Good Dad” and I’m the “Bad Mom.” It means that the family is being cared for financially, and the children are happy and healthy, and it works, just like it can work with mom at home and dad at work, or when both mom and dad have to work.

The Financial Warnings of the effects of the Man staying home versus the Woman

Here’s an interesting quote from Time Magazine from May 2014:

We know that women already pay a price for taking a leave of absence from the workforce. Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book, Lean In, that “Women’s average annual earnings decrease by 20 percent if they are out of the workforce for just one year…30 percent after two to three years, which is the average amount of time professional women off-ramp from the workforce.  Research suggests that the penalty may be even greater for men who temporarily exit the workforce. One study found that dads who left work for even a short period to cater to domestic matters earned lower evaluations and more negative performance ratings at work than women who opted out.

When I first read the article title, “Don’t Let Your Husband be a Stay-at-Home-Dad” I thought it was a tongue-in-cheek rant, but it turned out that it wasn’t a light-hearted article, and in my opinion, it has a strange, almost threatening tone to it.

On which basis, I have to ask: “What?” and “Really?”

Maybe ‘Performance Ratings’ and ‘Reward Recommendations’ were not affected for women because we receive less recognition to begin with? And the men’s performance reviews may have been affected because we still talk in terms of traditional roles instead of parental responsibilities? Whatever the case,  “scary” news headlines will only serve to cast doubt on a couple’s private decision regarding creating a viable, responsible, healthy family unit: a decision which is in every family and community members’ interest to support, whatever arrangements are settled on by an individual family— Stay-at-Home-Dad or no.

FamilySarah Cosman