SAHDs face specific challenges that demand a network of care and understanding.
American family life had traditionally been a matter of the man going out into the workforce to provide for his family and the woman either staying at home to take care of the kids or working herself to bring in a second income. This has been so strong a pattern that the term “stay at home dad” is a relatively new one to the vocabulary that describes modern family life. And while this is becoming a stronger trend than ever, there are some unique challenges that stay at home dads face.
Just How Common are Stay at Home Dads?
The simple fact is that stay-at-home dads are actually a bigger part of American family life than at any other point in the American history.
Recent research from the Pew Trust, which makes a point of looking into these kinds of trends, found that the number of stay at home dads, as of 2015, hit the 2 million mark. This is slightly down from the 2.2. million found in 2012, but still represents some of the highest figures ever for this group — the number has doubled since 1989. As a matter of fact, as of last year, 16% of all stay at home parents were dads.
Now, granted, there are some dads who stay at home because of unemployment or because they are too ill or disabled to work. However, the number of dads who are staying at home just to care for their kids is also growing. In 1989, only 5% of at-home dads fell into this category. Now, this numbers was quadrupled to 21%.
Despite the fact that the numbers of at-home dads caring for their kids are growing, however, there are some specific challenges these dads face.
Challenges Facing Stay at Home Dads
Being a stay at home dad isn’t easy, and there are some specific challenges that can make it harder.
According to the Pew research, stay-at-home dads face many of the same disadvantages as many stay-at-home moms.
For one thing, at-home dads have less income than their working counterparts and are less likely to have a high school diploma. As a result, while 8% of working dads live in poverty, around 50% of at-home dads do (this is even higher than the number of at-home moms in poverty, which clocks in at 34%).
At-home dads also potentially face challenges in regards to age and health: they are more likely than at-home moms to suffer from disability and illness and also tend to be older than their female counterparts. These issues can put an extra strain on what can already be a difficult or unconventional situation and being at home with kids or being the only at-home dad at events like play dates can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.
There are more subtle challenges which stay-at-home dads face, challenges of social perception. Stay-at-home dad Jeff B., in his Esquire article “10 Insults I Hear as a Stay at Home Dad”, notes that family, friends and even strangers have made comments such as the following to him:
- “It must be nice not to work.”
- “Are you looking for a job?”
- “Is your wife pissed off that you are the at-home parent?”
- “Seriously, you change diapers?”
Jeff B. disputes these and other intended or unintended insults in his piece, noting that he himself deliberately retired from his job several years ago to look after his two daughters after he and his wife had discussed the matter and decided it was the right thing to do. And he still believes this, as he believes that he is making an important contribution to his family life by staying home with his children.
What Can Be Done
Because of these many challenges, dads across the country are banding together in support groups, such as the National At-Home Dad Network, a group dedicated to advocacy, support and education for dads who are staying at home to raise their children. One of the main goals of groups like these is also to dispel the myths that still surround this new style of dad. The At-Home Dad Network notes frankly that, “We believe that a father’s masculinity is not diminished by caring for his children. Rather, we believe that he is never more of a man than when is is being an involved father….In fact, we believe that stepping away from the full-time workforce to raise one’s children can be the most valuable and meaningful way a man can provide for his family.”
Support groups like the At-Home Dad Network will hopefully be able to spread the word about the important — and increasing — role that at-home dads are playing in American family life and also clear away the misconceptions that still persist around this type of fatherhood. Hopefully, with continued advocacy and education, there will be more support for men who make the decision to go against societal expectations in order to do what they feel is right by their children.
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