Stay-at-home dad stigma marginalizes the family unit as a whole
When I became a stay at home dad, I hadn’t considered myself to be a novelty or having a stigma as I’ve learned that some people have. Rather, I feel quite old fashioned and natural – the way things used to be when I was growing up. Yes, when I was a kid, it was all moms – the fathers working during the day – but I don’t really think much about who worked and who doesn’t in my own situation.
A lot of people ask my wife what I do for a living. Heather has a successful career that she enjoys, in addition to being a fully engaged mom like no other. Still, she brings home the bacon, and even does the shopping where she brings home even more bacon. She answers the question quite matter of factly. “He’s a stay at home dad.” She usually gets one of three responses:
1) Oh, so he’s unemployed. He’s looking for a job?
2) Really? Um, he doesn’t like that, does he?
3) Oh, that’s wonderful!
The latter response is genuine but rare.
When other moms ask me what I do for a living, I say “I’m a stay at home dad.” I usually get one of three responses:
1) I’m shunned and frowned on as they are sure that I don’t know what I’m doing, and they keep their own kids away from me
2) they treat me extra special – showing support and encouragement with a hint that I probably need help from them
3) they think nothing of it at all and welcome me to their clan of “moms”
The latter response is genuine, rare, and almost always after they’ve seen me with Maybelle several times, not realizing that this was my full time job – yes, they’ve observed me as a parent and approve.
I joined an active Dads Group here in New York City that’s got all kinds of fathers, including a nice contingent of stay-at-home dads, not because I think being a stay at home dad is unique, but because it is an excellent parenting group that has gatherings which are beneficial for my child’s age and development. The “parents” in this group talk a lot about the issues that all parents face – schools, nutrition, sleep, behavior, whatever. So when I
attended my first NYC Dads GROUP Meetup with Maybelle – a play date at a water spray/playground, I was a little surprised when I noticed that the group was also an advocacy to defy a stigma that perhaps stay at home dads have today even in this modern world of role reversals. I was uncomfortable with this unwritten agenda at first because I don’t consider what I’m doing a role reversal at all. I am a lucky parent that gets to be with my child 24/7, something that is unique here in New York City regardless of whether it’s the mom or dad who’s doing the child-rearing. It’s as old fashioned to me as it was when I was a young child in the 60’s being brought up by my own mom during the day.
But the thoughts go further than this for me. The people who see me during the day with Maybelle see only a small part of the whole parental picture. I’ve stated that Heather is a fully engaged mom like no other, and what my cohorts during the day don’t see is our family makeup in general and how both of us are parents more equal than not, regardless of who spends the day with Maybelle.
Yes, I spend quite a few more hours with Maybelle than mommy, but the combined parenting team, Heather and I provide, is more significant than the time each of us spends separately. This seems old fashioned, thank goodness, and we’re quite lucky to be set up this way. It also downplays my role as a stay at home dad. What I do while Heather is at work is only a fragment of our family unit, and I try to enlighten the folks who share time with me during “business hours” that there is more to my fatherhood than what they see. Those who get it become our friends, and in the end, we become groups of families who form a community for our kids to be brought up in. This is different than focusing on myself as the primary caregiver.
The family unit is a more important consideration, I think, and it’s with this regard that I set out each day and do my part while enjoying the fortunate situation that I’m in.
When Heather or I get one of the common, baffled or negative reactions to being a stay-at-home dad, I just remind myself that what I’m doing is nothing new or special, and that our whole family is just lucky to be able to have the arrangement we have.
—Photo by scalespeeder/Flickr
—This article originally appeared at NYC Dads Group
—Author Stuart Krasna is a full time stay at home parent and lives in New York City with his wife Heather and their daughter Maybelle. In addition to being a daddy, Stuart also likes to play the banjo and go running in Central Park. Before becoming a parent, Stuart worked in a beige cubicle in an office building.