Dealing with parental stigmas.

In the event that you are a Stay-at-home Dad (Bully for you!) I’m sure that you are still trying to get your sea legs and work out all of the kinks. It’s not a science after all.

Have you gotten to the point where you’ve wanted to say “The hell with everything!” and run away screaming into the night? Has the irrepressible feeling that you are underappreciated around your own home become to feel like an albatross around your neck, slowly pulling you down into the ether? Have you thought about getting divorced because you can’t handle the adjustment phase?

It may seem like I am joking, but I’m not. There’s something inside the male persona that does not let them properly articulate their own feelings. There are a few shining stars who are able to do this and I admire them for it. But for the most part, men shut down completely if they have to talk about their feelings.

I’m no exception to this, are you?

Consider this the next time that you are thinking about walking away: While the phenomenon of dad’s who stay at home is relatively fresh, it has been argued that “divorce will become less harmful to children than it is today. Father’s who share the care for the children will feel a stronger attachment to their children and will be less likely to stop visiting or helping…” (Smith, p.49, 2009)

Still don’t think your presence has made a difference?

That’s all right. I don’t blame you. Anyone who says that they were completely prepared for being a stay-at-home parent (or just being a parent) is a complete liar.

I have long been of the opinion that the one thing that keeps transitioning from being a breadwinner to a stay-at-home Dad an easy right of passage is the stigma that is attached to it.

Gasp! Negative sentiments about a man staying at home with his children?

Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes! There most definitely is a stigma attached to being a Stay-at-Home dad. 

My first encounter with it was 5 years ago during the paperwork portion of renting our house. I was on the phone, talking to the woman who ran the rental office in an attempt to build a rapport with her and to galvanize the fact that my family and I weren’t hillbillies.

Then she asked me what I did for a living.

I told her that I was a Stay-at-Home Dad.

It was like someone had flipped a switch. She went from being all chummy and glad to having someone of solid character in one of her properties to a cold-hearted shell of a person. She couldn’t get off of the phone fast enough.

“…This myth, (that) Stay-at-Home Dad’s are dysfunctional parents who are so demoralized by unemployment that they are incapable of pulling their weight around their house” (Smith, p.58, 2009) is perpetrated by every member of society who has every given a man playing with his kids at the playground before noon a funny look.

Who’s to say if this stigma will ever be put in the ground?

While as a society we are constantly evolving and creating, there are just some things that won’t go away. Racism, ageism, sexism… Basically any sort of -ism. What adds insult to injury is the fact that these things, these -isms are all born of our personalities.

I’m just as responsible for this stigma as much as you are.

Consider this: 4 out of 10 mothers are the primary breadwinners in their families. Additionally, there are an estimated 143,000 Stay-at-Home Dads with children under the age of 15, worldwide (Stout, 2010).

While men being the caregivers for the children may be a relatively new twist that our society has taken it should also be noted that gender roles as a whole are starting to change. More fathers are starting to participate in the daily mechanics of their families (dropping kids off and volunteering at their school) than their predecessors. If you want further proof, you needn’t look any further than the diaper-changing table in the men’s room (Gill, 2001). Additionally, “more and more fathers are filing complaints with the federal EEOC claiming that their employers have discriminated against them because of their care giving roles… (Some) employers have wrongly denied male employees requests for leave for childcare purposes while granting similar requests to female employees… (This results in) men deciding that they want a work/family balance” (Smith, p. 76, 2009).

So by now, I’m sure you are wondering what all of this means? Facts are great but they aren’t going to help you through your daily family-balancing act.

This means that you are not alone. You’re not feeling feelings that haven’t been felt before. And you most certainly are not going through something no one else has gone through before.

It seems like a bitter pill to swallow but it’s not. If you’re having a hard time adjusting to not being the breadwinner, find someone who has gone through what you are going through and petition them for advice.

Not sure you want to do this for the rest of your life? Then find someone who has made a career of this and see what they think.

As our society continues to grow and evolve so will the number and nature of parents who stay at home with their children.

If your situation isn’t working for you, it’s up to you to fix it.

Sources Consulted

Gill, LIbby. (2001). Stay-at-Home Dads: The Essential Guide to Creating the New Family. New York: Penguin Group.

Smith, Jeremy Adam. (2009). The Daddy Shift. Boston: Beacon Press.

Stout, Hillary. (2010). When Roles Reverse: The Rise of the Stay-at-Home Husband. Retrieved from:   Today Parenting.

How I started as a stay at home parent.

For all intents and purposes, I can be socially classified as a ‘stay at home parent’. Here’s how I started out.

I came into this position by way of getting fired from my job. At the time, this stung a little bit since I had three children and a wife to support. Ultimately, my dismissal wasn’t that much of an issue because:

  1.  I knew I was going to get fired. Management was completely turning over the store. Anyone who had a negative thing to say about how things were going got the axe. If things weren’t that simple, the people who spoke up the loudest were set up to fail. I was one of those people.
  2. The plan that the wife and I had from the beginning was for me to be a Stay-at-home parent as soon as she finished school and got a job. As you can see, this as merely an acceleration of our plan.

She was so great about me getting fired. She had already known about everything that was going on. I think that some part of her thought that it was just a matter of time as well.

As a Stay-at-Home Dad, I had it relatively easy at first. My wife was completing her last semester of nursing school which necessitated her being home full time as well. The “hardest” part of my day was keeping the younger two kids occupied long enough while Mommy found a quiet part of the apartment to hole up and study in.

Keeping the house from looking like a bomb just went off? Piece of cake. Our apartment was a bit on the small side plus there were two adults there for most of the day. Keeping the kids occupied and happy? No problem! I completely loved being there for them. The title “Daddy” became synonymous with playtime and all around merriment. [I think that this was in large part a reaction to the type of father that I grew up with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “dad bashing”. My father was a good man and I know he tried but for myself (being the youngest of four by nine years) it was too little too late. As a result, when I became a parent myself, I came to the conclusion that the only thing that I really needed to do in order to be a successful parent was the opposite of everything that my parents did.]

Two months into my new job, the wife and I eventually made the decision that we needed to move in with someone until we got “back on our feet”.

As a man, this was a tough thing for me to do. I don’t care if it sounds cliché. Men are conditioned to provide for their family. It wasn’t until the move that the feeling of being a failure began to sink in. On some levels, I still have this feeling. Being the breadwinner and getting fired from your job is a rough thing to go through. It may seem impossible but  “even if it is forced on you by a layoff or any other external circumstance it (being a Stay-at-Home Dad) can only work as long as you stay in touch with the feeling that you are doing something important” (Gill, p.50, 2001).

By July, we’ve completely moved into my sister’s house and my job gets even easier. Now, there’s even less ground to cover and there’s a third adult! I hit the jackpot.

Within weeks of moving in, the wife found a job and things were pretty good. The hardest part of my life at that time was trying to figure out what got capitalized in “stay at home dad”. 

We stayed at my sister’s through the middle of November. After Thanksgiving break, we moved into our first house.

Then the honeymoon came to an abrupt and hellish halt. After the last few boxes were unpacked, the wife and I constantly butted heads on every little thing. There was no middle ground.

If you are a Stay-at-Home Dad, don’t get scared: this is perfectly natural. “Expect dads to do things differently from moms… Men and Women are different… Their differences should be recognized and embraced” (Gill, p. 50, 2001). Personally, I would take a fight about the type of soap in the bathroom any day than complete indifference. If you’re fighting at least you know that the other person cares enough to put in that kind of effort.

Don’t like fighting? Then communicate. Communicate like you have never communicated before. Don’t confuse this with giving in on every little thing. If your wife has some sort of hair-brained scheme about anything or something is not getting done to her liking at all do her the courtesy of hearing her out.

Seriously, stop what you are doing and give her your undivided attention. It might not be that wacky of a plan after all. She may be right about your ability to clean something properly. Or she may have gone completely around the bend, regardless, hear her out. If she’s wrong, then logically and politely shoot her down. If things give the appearance of going nuclear, COMPROMISE.

Find that middle ground.

That way everybody wins.

** Since we’ve been ‘on our own’, I have been practicing what I have been preaching and things have been great. Things may not get done on a regular basis or they may not get done to someone else’s liking but everyone is getting the respect that they need.

Source Consulted

Gill, Libby. (2001). Stay-at-Home Dads: The Essential Guide to Creating the New Family. New York: Penguin Group.