No More “Mr. Mom”!
In today’s day and age parental roles are constantly changing. Less than one hundred years ago women didn’t even have the right to vote. In 1976 only 4% of women in the United States were the primary income earners in their households, or “breadwinners”. In less than two decades that number quadrupled to 16%. While women entering the workplace in force is generally met with wide praise and acceptance, stay at home fathers are not.
With so many women becoming the breadwinners for their households, it’s only natural that the number of fathers who stay at home has risen as well. Even though educational and occupational realms are making leaps in bandaging gender stigmas, there is a significant cultural lag. Social culture has yet to accept the rare and mythical “SAHF” (stay at home father), and encounters with these beings are typically met with intense scrutiny and speculation.
It’s Nothing New
Historically, men have been “stay at home dads” for thousands of years. Prior to the Industrial Revolution it was common for fathers in farming families to stay at home to teach their children how to run and manage the farm. Child-rearing has been a community effort for most of social history. In remote countries around the world fathers can be seen parenting and guiding not just their own children, but others' as well. So why do we tend to look down on these fathers?
What the Numbers Say....
Exactly how rare are these “SAHF”s? Pew Research Center estimates that there are 2 million stay at home dads in the United States. However, there is a lot of speculation that the majority of this group were actually forced into this role because of job loss, educational reasons, or illnesses. If you subtract these cases, experts estimate that the number of stay at home dads who chose their role is between 214,000 and 400,000, a significantly smaller portion.
What’s Your WHY?
As it turns out the reasons why fathers chose to stay at home are huge in determining their satisfaction with their roles and their identity. As we all know, child raising and home making have always been socially accepted as the “feminine role”. Men who perform these roles often do so with their masculinity under intense scrutiny from the outside world. Studies show that families in which both parents decide to change traditional roles, the fathers experience significantly more satisfaction and are largely unaffected by stigmas than with those who are forced into it due to other reasons. Even so, some fathers do report as feeling “less of a man”. These kinds of men typically show a strong belief in the correlation between a man’s identity and their “work”. While raising a child is an all-time, ever-consuming job, many people simply do not see it as such.
Who’s to Blame?
While it may be easy to believe that stay at home fathers would receive the most slack from other mothers, this turns out to be far from the truth. A study performed by Aaron Rochlen showed that out of 207 men who were stay at home fathers, approximately half of them had experienced stigma induced incident. The biggest instigators of these incidents? Women.
Fathers reported feeling the most isolated at events or at parks with other stay at home mothers, and were often left to themselves. This social isolation can eventually lead to decreased satisfaction in their role, depending on the individual himself. Even well-meaning phrases such as “Mr. Mom” have a cultural significance as they simply re-imagine stay at home fathers as just another type of “mom”, leaving no room for masculinity in the role.
Parenting should not be seen solely as “mothering”. Additionally, studies also show that the more important a woman is in influencing the decision of her partner to stay home, the more satisfaction he’ll get from his role. (It’s crazy what happens when you support someone).
“Think of the Children”
Some people in favor of traditional gender roles may still argue that a woman is simply more adept at childcare than a male is. Recent studies have shown that this is untrue as well. Mothers and fathers were found to be both equally competent caretakers for infants and young children, with only biological differences. The idea that a man cannot be as good a caretaker as his partner is outdated and rooted in cultural norms and have spawned generations of emotionally distant fathers who felt that being seen parenting their children in public made them “less of a man”.
Let’s Start a Revolution
So how do we combat these stigmas that may be preventing fathers from staying home with their children? We talk. Yes, that means leaving your comfort zone and sitting down with dad who is always at the furthest bench in the park. It means encouraging your teenage son to babysit for the neighbors. It means encouraging and accepting ALL kinds of parents, regardless of their gender. How stay at home fathers are seen culturally impacts us all and without progression in the male spectrum of homesteading, women cannot experience true progression in the workplace.
by Hannah Clayton