With father’s day on the horizon, a recent study reveals an interesting choice more men are making — to stay at home with their children. According to the Pew Research Group’s June 5 report, “Stay At Home Dads”, there has been a dramatic surge in the number of men who are choosing to stay at home for the primary purpose of raising their children.
The study found that of the men who are currently not working outside of the home, 21 percent — about 420,000 — have chosen to stay home to care for their children, which is a 400 percent increase from 1989 when the stay at home dad figure hovered at 5 percent. This percentage change means 377,000 more men now are purposefully choosing to be at home with their children rather than pursuing a career.
- The Pew Research group distinguishes this group from men who are at home due to illness, disability, loss of job, or retirement.
Could this portent a change in the way men view childrearing and parenting? And is society starting to revisit long entrenched views that fathers should be the primary breadwinner with a career as their major focus?
Trevor Mulligan, a stay at home dad from West Los Angeles and a member of The At Home Dad Network and the LA Dads Group, two organizations which support and advocate on behalf of dads, made the choice to stay at home and raise his children four years ago when his first son was born, rather than pursue his career as an interactive art director. He now cares for both his four-year old and two-year old full time while his wife works outside of the home.
According to Mulligan, staying home was conscious decision made with his family: ”I wanted to be a stay at home dad. I told my wife before we got married, and she was all for it. Both my wife and I had a parent at home and we both agree that it is important. So I quit my job and have been loving what I do since my first son was born four years ago this month.”
Confirming Mulliganr’s resolution is a Boston College Center for Work & Family’s report , “The New Dad: Right at Home”: “Contrary to media reports about laid off fathers who re-invent themselves as full-time caregivers, most of the men we interviewed report that being a stay-at-home dad is a choice, not simply a reaction to an unanticipated job loss,” said study author Brad Harrington, Executive Director of the Center for Work & Family. The report concludes that stay-at-home dads are making a conscious choice and commitment to be home with their children to the benefit of their families, their wives’ careers, and their own personal fulfillment.
Decisions like Trevor’s have an immediate and foreseeable impact on children and marital partners. A father at home is great news for kids. An involved dad has an obvious benefit for children —contemporary studies show that a child with a loving, involved dad does better in school, experiences more positive social and emotional growth, more often avoids dangerous risk-taking activities and participates in more extracurricular activities.
Women too will benefit from more men being willing to stay at home. In an era where women “having it all” has routinely meant working a full time job and performing the yeoman’s share of childcare and household work, a partner who shoulders some of that work creates a more balanced marital partnership.
Although the president has urged balancing the pay inequity between men and women, and Sheryl Sandberg advises women to “lean in” in order to achieve success in the workplace, actual support has to be in place at home so that women with families who decide to pursue their careers can achieve those objectives. Without changes to the traditional family and workplace hierarchy, this simply won’t happen. Fathers being more active participants in their children’s lives, including sometimes being the stay at home parent, is a first step towards positive changes for women.
However, it appears cultural mores have not fully embraced the idea of men choosing to stay at home to be with their children: The Pew Report notes that 51 percent of people believe children are better off if their mother is home and doesn’t hold a job; by comparison, only 8 percent said children are better off if their father is home and doesn’t work.
Similarly, a Major League Baseball player, Daniel Murphy of the New York Mets, was recently lambasted on New York sports radio for taking two days paternity leave from baseball to be with his wife for the birth of their child.
Working families are still a work in progress in America. Later this month there is a White House Summit to focus on how to better support working families. But a positive first step might be when a man chooses to stay at home, it should not be assumed he is there just because he is laid off from work or viewed with surprise or reprimand. As Trevor Mulligan says, ”I chose to do this. Maybe we should celebrate when any parent is home with the kids.”