According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 105,000 stay-at-home dads in the United States. The census bureau defines the stay-at-home dad as a man who is not in the labor force primarily so that he can care for family members while his spouse works outside the home. Stay-at-home dads currently care for 189,000 children in our country.
I have a problem with stay-at-home dads. There, I said it.
I realize that my opinion is decidedly unpopular. I am constantly reading and hearing about how wonderful stay-at-home dads are. We must support them. They are so dedicated to their children, so supportive of their wives’ careers. We should congratulate them on their enlightened decision to care for their own children. The dads in the articles sound perfectly wonderful—princes with aprons. The problem is that I have never met a real prince, and I’ve never met a stay-at-home dad like the ones we see extolled in women’s magazines.
I am bracing for the barrage of hate mail from dads, but here’s the unvarnished truth: Stay-at-home dads have got it way too easy.
The average stay-at-home mom is in charge of the home and the children. Home duties generally include cooking, cleaning, shopping, organizing social activities, coordinating home repairs, running all household errands, laundry detail, and oftentimes, managing the family checkbook. Child-care duties include feeding and clothing the children, supervising homework, chauffeuring children to activities, disciplining errant kids, handling family doctor and dentist appointments, volunteering at school and civic events, and, while the children are young, shouldering the bulk of the responsibility for midnight feedings and chasing monsters out from under beds.
I personally know five stay-at-home dads. All five take care of the children. For them, that means feeding them breakfast and making sure they are dressed and ready for the school bus. After school, the dads all collect their children and supervise their playtime until mom comes home around dinnertime. All five manage these duties quite well. In addition to handling the children’s morning routine, two of the five dads also are in charge of laundry. Two others cook, and one of those two also does the food shopping. One lucky reprobate does nothing else at all. Four out of the five dads have maids. I don’t know a single stay-at-home mom who has a maid.
It’s not the fact that they get away with doing less that really irks me. Let’s be honest, wouldn’t we all do a little less if we could? What bothers me is the praise that is heaped on men simply because they watch their own children for a few hours a day. In our society, we are so surprised to see a dad acting as parent that we consider that an accomplishment in and of itself. In short, we expect too little.
Several years ago, the elder of my two sisters worked full-time while her husband stayed home with their two small children. After a visit to their home, my mother lavishly praised my brother-in-law for providing “a lovely home-cooked meal every night” when my sister returned home from work. At the time of the visit, my middle sister was also parenting two small children. I don’t recall anyone ever praising her for feeding her family dinner. She was expected to provide a healthy meal. It was part of her job.
A dear friend whose husband is a stay-at-home dad complains that other mothers constantly tell her how lucky she is to have a husband who takes such wonderful care of the kids. What they don’t know is that when she returns home from work, he is “off.” He’s been with the kids all day and needs some time to be by himself. Meanwhile, she has to clean up the breakfast and lunch dishes before she can begin cooking dinner. After dinner, she cleans up the kitchen again, supervises homework, packs lunches for the next school day, and handles the bedtime routines of her three children. After they are in bed, she gets to relax in front of the television while folding laundry. On the weekends, she does the food shopping and errands and leads a Brownie troop.
Most of my friends who are stay-at-home moms have husbands. On occasion, I encounter the husbands at sporting events or school concerts. I have a hard time placing them with the correct children because I see them infrequently. They are at work. The stay-at-home dads also have spouses. I know these moms quite well because I see them all the time. They are on the soccer fields, in the supermarket, at the doctor’s office, the PTO meetings, and frequently are seen picking up takeout dinners when they are too tired or late to cook after working all day.
In politics, there is always a lot of discussion about gender equality and women’s roles in business, society, and even the Situation Room. Unfortunately, I’m not seeing much change here on ground level. Even when men take on traditional female roles, there is no equality. Now, I am sure that I will receive dozens of letters from men and women alike who will extol the virtues of the stay-at-home dads in their lives. Maybe they will even be truthful. But I think if the authors of those expected letters take a long, honest look at the division of labor in their own homes, there will be few indeed who can claim equality.