Tuesday, April 3, 2012

3 Myths About At-Home Dads

It happened again yesterday.  While updating my information at my doctor's office, I had three things said to me that totally typify the common response to what I do as an at-home dad.  Once I negate all of these "myths" for whomever I am talking to, they begin to see a little differently.  If I have to do this for each person that I meet, one person at a time, it is worth it for all of the dads out there doing what I do.  Here are the three myths of the at-home dad and why they are dangerous for families.


We Are "Unemployed"

I was updating my information at the doctor yesterday when the receptionist came to the question about my employment.  I'm not sure why they need this information, but I assume they have some reason to ask for it.  She asked if I was still with Tractor Supply Company, and I said, "No.  I'm an at-home dad now."

"So, you would say you're currently unemployed?"

"No.  I'm an at-home dad who is not looking for a full-time job," I replied, "Do you have 'homemaker' as a category?  Can I pick that?"

If a woman stays at home with her child, she is considered a "homemaker."  I know there are a lot of women who hate this label, but it's really not that bad.  The home is the one place in the world that the ones you love are supposed to feel safe and loved.  Who wouldn't want to be a part of creating that kind of environment?  

If a man stays at home with his child, it is assumed by those outside of his situation that he is unemployed.  This has as much to do with the current economy as it does with the aging stereotype that the man needs to be the breadwinner.  The good news is, as the economy improves and unemployment among men decreases, this assumption will become less prevalent among our younger generation.  But I do fear that we will be stuck with the male-breadwinner stereotype for at least another decade.

The male-breadwinner stereotype is dangerous because it is not always the best situation for the modern family.  There are more and more situations where a woman can make more money than her husband because she is more qualified or because there are more opportunities.  There are also plenty of cases where the man is better suited to be the primary caregiver for his children.  There are a lot of women who really want to work because they enjoy it, and yes they love their children to death, but they don't necessarily have the urge to be "motherly" all day long, and that's okay.  In the current economy, there are a lot of instances where the jobs available to the man of the house are extremely limited, and having his wife go to work is the better temporary option until the economy improves.  The bottom line is that the old stereotype doesn't work anymore.  We are outgrowing (or evolving beyond) the male-breadwinner stereotype, and it would benefit everyone to start thinking outside of those boundaries.    

The second reason the male-breadwinner stereotype is dangerous is because it puts an unnecessary emphasis on money.  We all know that money doesn't buy happiness.  We all know that family is supposed to be the most important thing in a person's life.  Why don't we live that way?  Why are we still comfortable with dads being absent from the family in order to earn enough money for us to live outside our means? When you say that a man must be a slave to his job to provide for his family, it isolates half of the leadership of the family unit and gives him a competitor for his top priority.  What I mean is that a lot of men have a difficult time with divided loyalties.  It is very difficult to be the dad that you want to be for your family and still be everything your employer is asking you to be on the job.  The work-life balance is extremely difficult, and if we could free men from that, it would probably help improve families in general.  If we could get dads to value family above money and possessions, and if we could get corporations to see families as valuable instead of an excuse to miss work, we could begin to strengthen families everywhere.  I realize this may seem like a pipe dream, but this is something I passionately believe in, and I will continue to write about it as long as this blog exists.

We Are "Mr. Mom"

My conversation with the receptionist at the doctor's office continued.

"No.  I'm an at-home dad who is not looking for a full-time job," I replied, "Do you have 'homemaker' as a category?  Can I pick that?"  

"Oh,  you're Mr. Mom!" she said as if she thought she understood me.


I smiled and said, "Nope. I'm just dad."  I think she thought I was being rude.

Everyone loves the idea of dads at home in aprons doing chores.  It's supposed to be funny, right?  It's not.  The stereotype (and comedic portrayal of said stereotype) of Mr. Mom is also dangerous.  Thinking that at-home dads should be like mom in proxy is ridiculous.  We are dads.  We might have a list of things that mom wants us to do around the house, but the bottom line is that we are going to have our own style of parenting.  Even the notion that every mom parents in the same way is ridiculous, so how silly is it to think that dads parent in the same way that moms do?  

This stereotype also feminizes the role of dad.  It leaves out all of the benefits that a child receives from their father being involved in their life.  Those benefits vary from family to family, of course.  I like to compare parents to apples.  For example, if you take a Granny Smith apple, a Golden Delicious apple, and a Red Delicious apple and put them all three on a table, you still have three apples on the table.  One is known for its tartness.  One has a softer, yellow skin but is deliciously sweet.  And the Red Delicious has a balanced sweetness with an incredible crunch.  They are each amazing in their own way, but they are all apples.  The idea that a dad staying home with his child must behave like a stereotypical "mom" caricature is really limiting in the very same way that saying the household chores are for women is incredibly limiting.  It would be like biting into a Red Delicious and expecting it to taste like a Granny Smith.  We're all parents.  We all try to work together to make our homes run smoothly.  If we can get away from the stereotype that at-home dads are supposed to be like moms, that frees dad to be just what he is supposed to be - a great dad!  He doesn't have to fit anyone's definition; he just has to love his kids, do what is best for them, and take care of his household in any way that he possibly can.  


We Are Babysitting (aka We're Incompetent)

After my doctor's appointment, I went to the lab to get some routine blood work done.  Again, we needed to update some information in the system, so I was at the receptionist's counter for a few minutes.  I had my daughter up in my arms, and the receptionist asked my daughter, "Is daddy watching you today?" 


"Nope. We do this every day. I'm an at-home dad," I said as she gave me the look of surprise that is so common when I say this phrase. 


I had another conversation today with a mom at the local library, and she made the comment that her husband wanted to be an at-home dad but "he would probably just sleep all the time."  Really?  Why are women (and sadly, some men) not convinced that a man can acquire the same parenting abilities that a woman can when given an equal opportunity to do so?  I will admit, it took me a while to get a good routine going with my daughter, but now we are on auto-pilot and barreling full speed ahead.  I had quite  a learning curve since I spent the first year of my daughter's life working seventy hours a week.  There was quite a bit to learn!  But once I caught up, I was able to find my own parenting "groove" so to speak.


What I do is called parenting.  It's the most important job in the world.  Why?  Because I have the power to make or break the future for this innocent child.  It's true. I could be a terrible father and cause my child all sorts of future issues, or I can be a great dad that is full of love, advice, discipline, grace, acceptance, guidance, forgiveness, fun, etc.

I know not all men feel this way, but that is probably because somebody is not expecting them to.  It is a reasonable expectation for my wife to want me to be a good father.  It was part of what she liked about me before we got married.  Because I love her, I am willing to meet her expectations. If nobody expects a man to be a great dad, then what is he most likely to do?  Not be a great dad.

Ladies, if you don't expect your man to step up and be a good parent, he never will.  If you are a mom reading this, I want you to stop making excuses for dad.  Don't let him off the hook.  Don't cover for him by not expecting him to be a great father.  Work your womanly magic that made him fall in love with you in the first place, and work with him to get back on track.   Start expecting him to be more involved.  Get him up to speed, and help him get more active with your kids.  Encourage him to take charge of planning family activities each week.  Encourage him to spend quality time with each of your kids.  It is not an easy transition for him, but if he loves you, and you begin to make that an expectation (remember, be reasonable), then hopefully, he will rise to the challenge and meet that expectation.

If you're a dad reading this, I expect you to be a good father!  Stop making excuses.  Stop believing the stereotype.  Step up, and do the manly thing - take care of your family by being a great dad.  Get involved with your kids.  Take over some of the household chores.  Work together with your partner to make your house a home.  Work with other men to end the myth of the incompetent father.  Don't tell your co-workers you have to "babysit" next time mom is out of town.  Tell them you are spending quality time with your family and there is no place on earth you'd rather be.

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What other stereotypes do you face as an at-home dad?  What about at-home moms?  Is there anything here that you face as well?  What myths do you find yourself refuting as an at-home mom?  What steps are you taking to become a better parent?

24 comments:

  1. Couldn't agree more. I've faced all 3 of these myths and they piss me off every time. I guess I just don't see what's so damn hard to understand about my situation.

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    1. I try to think about other people's situations that I might make assumptions about, but I usually try to avoid assumptions when I can. You would think that people would learn to avoid assumptions altogether, but we don't. As sophisticated as we are, humans can be dumb creatures sometimes. Thanks for stopping in!

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  2. Exactly my point on Twitter the other day. I heard two different DADS reference what they were doing as "babysitting" and my blood started a slow boil. Why in the world would you downgrade your role as parent to one of babysitter? One of my Twitter followers made a great point about the difference between having a "father and a dad" shaping how some men view their role. I guess it could but I'm still perplexed (probably because I grew up with a "dad" and one who had a much more flexible schedule than my office-bound mom did so he and I spend LOTS of time together.

    Great post Matt!

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    1. Thanks for following! I hope we can continue to move the conversation FORWARD, each in our own way. It is going to take both MEN and WOMEN to get these stereotypes to disappear. Women need to expect more from their men, and men need to live up to their calling as fathers AND train their sons to do the same.

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    2. Here here! You are exactly right! Dad's are not babysitters they are parents!

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  3. I think we also need to shake the idea that being unemployed isn't okay - for men and women. We look at it as a shameful thing. But in reality, if you're unemployed and are able to be so, that means your spouse is bringing in enough to support your home - which in this economy, is AWESOME. It's more of a shame when both parents have to work and the kid spends all day under a laundry basket in a daycare. When someone says "so you're unemployed?" The answer is "YES." Parenting isn't your paying job - again, that focuses on the money too much. Parenting is just what you do! It's not a job, it's not a hobby, it's just what you do. I forget the term that he government uses, but it was a term for parents not seeking employment. Anyway - that's what you are.

    Again, I think the real problem is that we look at "unemployment" as a bad thing - because typically up until now, if someone was unemployed, it meant you needed help. But in this economy, if you can afford to be unemployed, you should wear it loud and proud! Or, at least come up with another snarky response like "well, that's your term for it, yes."

    But, you're dead-on about the whole homemaker thing...women can be homemakers because we've pigeonholed them into it. Men can't because who could EVER imagine a man taking care of a home?! That's fuckin' crazy talk.

    Good article, Matt!

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    1. Zach, my article was already feeling a bit long-winded, so I intentionally didn't go there. I think the stigma associated with unemployment is a nasty one, and it could take up several more blog posts. For the purposes of this article, I wanted to focus on the assumption that all dads out at the grocery store in the middle of the day must be unemployed. Thanks for bringing it up, and I hope that we can move that conversation forward someday as well.

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    2. Definitely. I realize you can't JUST take on the stigma of unemployment too. Unfortunately, though, it's all connected. But, that's what we're here for - our sites are all ongoing conversations, not just single speeches. We're all interconnected and constantly talking, and because of that, the culture - and hopefully society's perceptions - will evolve.

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  4. Found this blog linked to in another blog...

    I hear everything you're saying, and agree wholeheartedly. Get the word out there!

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    1. Thanks for clicking over! Glad you liked the article.

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  5. I'm not a stay at home dad but it rings true for me too. I've been asked the 'Is daddy watching you today' question too and it is irritating because my role as a parent is just as important as my wife's role. And needs to remain specific, as you said. Kids need their DADS as much as they need their moms.
    Good article Matt.

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  6. Matt - we had a similar discussion over on my site when I wrote about "Proof Why Men Were Hunters."

    To kind of update you on it, I experienced everything you wrote about in this article during my five days with my wife out of town. My answers were a little different than yours - I don't do all that everyday - but I really understand where you're coming from. As I had mentioned, my article was written tongue-in-cheek, but I think the combination of doing daily activities with my girls that my wife usually does and reading the responses to my article (yours included) really got me moving in the direction of parenting, not being there. I don't believe I was a bad father before, but I'll admit that I did live by more of an old-school approach - the one I grew up with and that has obviously still propagated into modern day thinking.

    In short, thanks for helping to change my mindset even more. My relationship with my kids is stronger now (just after five days) and I feel better as a man. Keep on fathering!

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    1. So glad to hear that! Keep doing what's best for THEM and you will never regret it. Very glad to have "met" and (to some degree) inspired you.

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  7. EXCELLENT post! I think I'll be sharing this A LOT! :) Thanks for entering my Chick-fil-A contest too! At this point you will receive all the free meals since you are the only one entered. For some reason my readers don't like giveaways. Doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I always like to get something for free. Shan@FamilyBringsJoy

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  8. Perfectly said, Matt.

    However, you have to take into consideration someone’s cultural. I’m currently residing in the Middle East where, fathers are expected to be providers, while mothers are tasked with raising the family. No matter how hard you try, this cultural difference will never change.

    I guess you could say I’m the “odd man out” in their world.

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    1. I understand that there are extreme cultural differences around the world. Change is never fast, especially when trying to change thousands of years of cultural expectations. But I wouldn't give up! Dr. King didn't give up when people told him he couldn't change the culture. It cost him his life, but change eventually came. Hopefully, you can make a difference where you are.

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  9. I love this- I'm coming by way of DailyBuzz Moms- I have several friends who were former Engineers and military men who chose to stay home to care for the kids- Just as some moms are not as maternal, there are some dad who are highly paternal (in the best sense of that term)- the arrangement worked well for their families! Love this!

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    1. Great! Glad that you were able to find me. Those Daily Buzz Moms people are pretty great. Now if I could only get them to change the name to Daily Buzz Parents...

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  10. What a great post. My husband and I share the childcare equally both doing 2 days (and together at weekends). He does things completely differently to me and our son benefits from the differences in our styles. I think some mums unintentionally stand in the way of allowing their husbands to be great dads by not giving them the space to do stuff for and with their kids.

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    1. YES! I agree 100%. When given the same amount of support and education, a father can care for a child just as well as a mother can. The only things we can't do are give birth and breastfeed. Thanks for the comment!

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