Mr. Mom is Dead, Reports the Wall Street Journal

“We are seeing the masculinization of domestic tasks and routines”

There may be cause for celebration in daddom. Lance Somerfield, of NYC Dads, shared this article from today’s Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Mom is dead.

At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade. In his place, research shows, is emerging a new model of at-home fatherhood that puts a distinctly masculine stamp on child-rearing and home life.

At-home dads aren’t trying to be perfect moms, says a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Instead, they take pride in letting their children take more risks on the playground, compared with their spouses. They tend to jettison daily routines in favor of spontaneous adventures with the kids. And many use technology or DIY skills to squeeze household budgets, or find shortcuts through projects and chores, says the study, based on interviews, observation of father-child outings and an analysis of thousands of pages of at-home dads’ blogs and online commentary.

Love that last line. The noise dads have been making amongst themselves for over a decade is getting corrective attention by mass media outlets and, more significantly, social scientists.

Kyle Pruett, a leading child-development researcher and co-author of a 2009 book, “Partnership Parenting,” says…[parenting] differences, typical for many couples, can benefit the children. Dads’ hands-off style tends to instill problem-solving ability, while the more engaged style typical of mothers often instills a sense of security and optimism, he says. (He cites cultural conditioning; the same behavioral differences show up in same-sex couples, he says.) Over the long term, having an involved father is linked in research to better self-control in children, less risky behavior and better grades, says Dr. Pruett, a clinical professor of child psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.

The number of at-home dads are increasing, but it’s still a slight percentage:

the Census Bureau counted 189,000 last year, up 78% from a decade ago. But men still comprise only 3.6% of all at-home parents, fostering a sense of isolation for some. One father in the Journal of Consumer Research study lamented that when he took his kids to public parks, “moms would talk over me as if I was not even there.”

Acknowledging a difference in parenting styles—and the benefit of the differences—is great, even if it does conform to gender stereotypes. At least those stereotypes are showing competencies for both genders, instead of shortcomings. For more on what we’ve been seeing on this trend, check out this piece, which might need a new title: What They Don’t Know: The Dads Movement Has Never Been Stronger.

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About Robert Duffer

Robert Duffer (www.robertduffer.com) is the editor of the Dads & Families section of The Good Men Project. Winner of the Chicago Public Library's writing contest, his work appears in the Chicago Tribune, MAKE Magazine, Chicago Reader, Curbside Splendor, Time Out Chicago, Chicago Public Radio, Annalemma, New City, and other coffee-table favorites like Canadian Builders Quarterly. He teaches creative writing at Columbia College Chicago and lives in the suburbs with his wife, two kids, and their minivan. Follow @DufferRobert, Google+, facebook.

Comments

  1. Tom Matlack says:

    Amen Robert. Keep up the good work. It is paying off!

  2. Thanks for the mention! Always great to work with great journalists who get the big picture and display the nurturing, capable, confident dads as opposed to taking a step with the doofus dad. Also, great to see an article like this published in a month other than June!

  3. Finally! This article completely nailed it on what we at-home dads have been saying for years.

    One thing I will add is that the numbers of at-home dads are grossly undercounted. There are a lot more than 189,000 at-home dads. Most estimates are around 2 million. I argue that it is closer to 7 million using a report from the Census that 32% of married fathers are the primary caregiver of their children.

    The Census defines “at-home dad” as one who is out of the workforce for a year. The fact is, most men who call themselves at-home dads actually work freelance or part-time and are thereby not counted. There are a lot more of us at-home dads than almost anyone realizes.

    • That would include me, Al. Great point, the numbers are incomplete. Tough to quantify the # of dads who do work full time and are involved, same for mothers. It’d be nice to see a study as vast as a census but with more comprehensive research on work and domestic duties. Has to be greater for both genders than in decades past.

    • This made me curious as to what the Census definition of at-home mother is, does anyone know?

    • Al, did some poking around in response to Tamen, first thing I saw was this bit from the NYTimes in August 2012: “In the last decade, though, the number of men who have left the work force entirely to raise children has more than doubled, to 176,000, according to recent United States census data. Expanding that to include men who maintain freelance or part-time jobs but serve as the primary caretaker of children under 15 while their wife works, the number is around 626,000, according to calculations the census bureau compiled for this article.” Still seems underreported.

    • wellokaythen says:

      “The fact is, most men who call themselves at-home dads actually work freelance or part-time and are thereby not counted. There are a lot more of us at-home dads than almost anyone realizes.”

      And there are millions more dads who work FULL-time and are full-time parents. They may be the primary childcare providers and still work 40 hours a week. They may not count in the “stay at home” category, but they face many of the same issues. That dad you see in the park may or may not be a SAHD, but many of the mothers there will treat him the same, either way.

  4. Icelander says:

    The study written about here also has a lot of interesting things to say about fathers parenting style:

    http://stagedreality.wordpress.com/2012/11/04/men-dont-mother-the-cached-version/

  5. great read.
    i was surprised the number of at-home dads was so low at just 3.6%

  6. The problem with the census numbers as truth are many as it only captures a portion of all that males do to help raise children.
    Let’s take Cliff for example, a robust, affable 17 year old at Oakland High school, who just got a scholarship to play football at San Diego State. Over the course of the 4 years I have known Cliff, he has dutifully helped to raise his two younger sibs, bringing them to football practice everyday, while his mom works two jobs.

    It is a role that is the norm for many young men in the hood, but like the chore conversation the information used to to compile stats and write policy is incomplete and fairly biased. This role is a tradition in poorer communities, even if dad is home because often, if he can, he is working two jobs too. Football practice is a dumping ground for some parents who work and have kids who play football.
    One has to wonder, if all of these single moms are working, who running the house? To be fair, if the oldest sib is girl she is likely to pull childcare duty as well. No pressure for Cliff, who NEEDS to earn a scholarship to go to college, work part time, and be a father to his younger sibs. The myth is that single moms in the hood get no help. not true. I think one of the things of critical importance that fathers bring to the care and raising of kids is a new perspective and new ways of being. One thing I noticed is that fathers at home tend to be more relaxed, generally speaking than moms.

  7. So at the very least it seems that this research shows that it might not be such a good idea to put so much effort into actively keeping dads out of the lives of their children.

    Good going on the article guys!

  8. Thanks for sharing this here :)

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