"Don’t Let Your Husbands Be a Stay-At-Home Dad" (Time Magazine, May 7, 2014) is an inflammatory headline if I’ve ever seen one.
What is Time implying? That men shouldn’t be the primary caregivers? That it hurts their masculinity? I wondered if Time's foray into the parenting discussion was so successful last time with their controversial "Are You Mom Enough?" story that they wanted to give it another go.
Then I read the article. But the story's not about men at all. It’s really about how raising kids is expensive and difficult to do on one income and that leaving the workforce makes it difficult to get back in down the road. It just so happens to be written by a pregnant woman who earns more than her husband and is contemplating how they are going to manage as parents.
She’s not wrong—raising kids is expensive, and leaving the workforce is difficult. Being the primary breadwinner is stressful (just ask my husband!). But those things are not gender-related. As our workforce changes, and the expectations on men is loosened, we see more stay-at-home dads.
A new study from the Pew Research Center in the US shows that 16 percent of parents who are at home are fathers. One-fifth of the fathers at home are there because they want to be—not because the economy has forced them to choose that role (a number that is up from five percent in 1989). However, this is still in sharp contrast to the 73 percent of women who are the primary caregivers because they want to be.
I expect that the number of men who choose to be a stay-at-home parent will continue to rise. And that's a great thing. It shows that our strict definition of gender and what it takes to be a good parent is loosening. We see it everyday—men with babies strapped to their chests, men kissing boo-boos, men doing the school pick-up.
I love that my kids don’t differentiate between asking a father or a mother or a caregiver for a playdate. They don’t assume that it’s the mother’s job to manage the schedules (although studies have shown that even working mothers usually do more of the administrative work of parenting).
Stay-at-home dad used to be shunned at the playground. I used to see posts from moms asking if they should send their kids on playdates to the homes of kids with stay-at-home dads. I think those things are getting easier for the dads who are at home (although that is my perspective and I would love to hear from some dads on this!)
How couples choose to manage who stays home and who works is a deeply personal and individual decision. And for many families, it's one that changes and evolves over the years with their family.
Time can try and get people up-in-arms over their controversial headline, but it won’t change how families make their decisions.