I am a full-time working mom, and my husband stays home with the kids — this was not our original plan. We both intended to work, but one of our children requires full-time care. We tried public school; that proved not to be a viable option. So, here we are — a family of the 21st century with a working mom and a stay at home dad facing the stigmas and the added burdens as a family with such unconventional roles.
Dr.Bronwyn Harman, BA(Hons) MA BA(Psych) PGradDipPsych DPsych, a Senior Lecturer (Psychology) at Perth University, reports that a challenge for stay at home parents is the feeling of social isolation. In addition to this, Men in a stay-at-home-role face suspicion in the community. She says that this suspicion presents itself in unsolicited and condescending advice from mothers on how to parent. Through her research, Harman powerfully reflects, “In one respect, I’m grateful to society for looking out for children but not every man with a child is a pedophile, we’re treating them too suspiciously.” She continues that this reinforces the idea that mothers are the only ones who know how to parent — “making stereotypes stronger.”
“I’m grateful to society for looking out for children but not every man with a child is a pedophile.” — Dr.Bronwyn Harman
My husband is in a position where he feels that he needs to justify his role. As a working mom, I very much relate. Some feel my priorities are not in order by not being home with the kids, and my husband is less of a man because he is. Why do we feel the need to justify both of our roles?
Mental Health and the Stay-at-home Parent
Under appreciation and isolation exasperate a challenging situation, with stay-at-home parents reporting more depression, sadness and anger, says a Gallup study. More societal recognition of the difficult job of stay-at-home parents may help address this.
Examining stereotypes that magnify this lack of social recognition versus reality shines a light on how worthy stay-at-home parents are of more generous support.
Stereotype #1: Stay-at-home parents have plenty of free time
Many would argue this is the opposite. Stay-at-home parents need to work around children’s schedules with limited (if any) flexibility, especially in their early years.
Working parents have schedules, too; they need to uphold professionalism and be prompt for meetings. Still, many professions afford some flexibility that if you are late once, the effects may not be detrimental.
There may be exceptions on both sides, and circumstances change with years and professions. Can we agree that time-management is challenging and demands schedules for all, regardless of role?
Stereotype #2: Stay-at-home parents are limiting their potential or even wasting their education
Let’s take a look at the skills deployed by parents and the reflective professions where the same skills are evident: nurse, teacher, counsellor, architect (you should see the driftwood forts my husband has constructed), chef, chauffeur, family photographer, Pediatric dental assistant, occupational therapist, costume-designer, etc.
The list speaks for itself.
Stereotype #3: Stay-at-home parents are entitled, and they don’t know how “good they’ve got it.”
How often do you consider that stay-at-home parenting may not be “a choice”? Have you considered the sacrifices to make such a dynamic possible?
For us, my son had prolonged seizures. No care providers could support his complex needs; we had no other option. We had to adjust our budget, selling items around the house to make ends meet. It was a bumpy road, and we got a few flat tires on the way. That’s “how good we’ve got it.”
Even if life circumstances do not dictate such a need, and there are “no sacrifices” en route, the dynamic is a personal choice. Choosing to be a stay-at-home parent is a choice to be respected, as is the option to be a working parent.
Choosing to do what is best for your family is admirable. It really is that simple. There is no judgement needed.
Mental Health and Stay-at-home Dad
A Google search on “statistics depression and stay at home parents” leads to a plethora of search results, including:
- “Stay-at-Home-Mom Depression is Real- And You’re Not Alone”
- “Why Stay-at-Home Moms More Depressed, Angry and Sad, Study Says”
- “7 ‘Shoulds’ That Feed Stay-a-Home Mom Depression”
Sure, there is a place for gender acknowledgements and nuisances. Still, the continuous assumption of female homemakers is impacting worthy stay-at-home dads.
There is further emphasis on gender roles, as reported by one stay-at-home dad. “I think the most hurtful thing that I saw was someone I was friends with posting an article that said stay at home dads were sinners because men should be the breadwinners of the house.”
Even in the Cambridge dictionary, a breadwinner is not only defined as “the member of a family who earns the money that the family needs.” The definition continues, “Men are often expected to be the breadwinner in a family.”
These gender stereotypes only add to already challenging mental health situations — as we reflected earlier with social isolation (perhaps further magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic). As a society in the 21st century, we can do better.
Reflecting on numerous Tide commercials: boys are playing, their clothing decorated with patches of dirt and grass strains, they race into a house — bringing their dirty laundry to an adult female, who is perceived to be their mother — amplifying the gender stereotypes.
However, the media are evolving.
The advertisement below shows a clear example of this. There is a concerted effort to expand the narrative. With media supplementing a broader perspective, instead of affirming it, there is hope that this will support the normalcy and admiration that should be seen in this role, regardless of gender. In-turn, this may help lift the stigma remaining due to historical practices from which many societies have evolved.
With this becoming more “normal,” will stay-at-home fathers feel more valued in their role?
As a result, will this lessen the mental health considerations and the gravity of the “sacrifice” that gender stereotypes glorify? Maybe.
There may always be some sacrifice; that is life. That is also a dynamic that is seen on both sides of this unconventional family.
The impact on mom
Working mom guilt. First-hand, I can tell you this is real. It is real and amplified by the perception of the father’s role. Just as I want to have my husband honour and value his role as it should be, I need to do the same.
There are sacrifices on each side. Notably, the ever-elusive “perfect work-life balance” is undoubtedly far more attainable with one caretaker is home. For that, I am grateful.
Being absent as my children are growing up, knowing this is time I will never get back, weighs heavily.
From this space, I am incredibly appreciative of the time we do enjoy together. We are undoubtedly experiencing a quality over quantity scenario in the time we spend together. Quality or quantity of time — this is something I need to appreciate more often.
The societal pressure exists that “We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.” Does this same expectation weigh on fathers? I have never heard the saying, “We expect men to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.”
I have never heard the saying, “We expect men to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work.”
Circle back to the gender stereotypes, and the longer we consider them, we realize how present they are. We learn how much they penetrate and negatively influence our society.
The truth is we can do better.
The “reverse gender roles” have helped out so many families. The National At-Home Dad Network estimates at least 1.4 million dads stay-at-home to care for children in America — and growing. Further, the 2011 US census reports that 7 million fathers are the primary caregiver for their children.
Dad’s choosing to be the stay-at-home parent is on the rise, and it is a trend set to continue.
Asking stay-at-home dad’s what is the best thing about being a stay-at-home parent: for your child’s benefit? for your own benefit? for your partner’s benefit? for the benefit of your family? Here is what they had to say:
- “Teaching, caring, helping, and spending more time with (my children). I wouldn’t change that for anything.”
- “(For myself), I’m finding more time to pursue other dreams and goals, and I’m also finding ways to actively reduce stress in my life.”
- “My wife works from home, so we spend more time together. I am also the gatekeeper to her office so the kids are kept under control while she is on calls and in meetings.”
- “(As a family), we have more flexibility with our time. Work-life flexibility is probably becoming one of most important benefit to people who are working, and having me at home allows us all to spend more time together as a family. It allows me to monitor what my kids are doing all day, also. I feel like we have eliminated stress from our kids by having me at home, and I know it benefits my wife.”
And, mothers are not harming their children by working.
A study from Harvard’s Business School shows that the children of working mothers fare better by some measures than those raised by stay-at-home moms. As the words form on the computer screen, I recognize they might feed into the challenges faced by working and stay-at-home parents.
It is difficult for each and every role, no matter how we look at it. That is the truth. And while my family may be unconventional, the dynamic works for our situation, so who is society to judge?
Who are we to feed into such judgements when we know what we are doing is what is best for our family?
Suppose the unconventional family is one that is striving to support the best interest of their children. In that case, I want to be an unconventional family — don’t you?