I remember several years ago talking to a stay-at-home dad at my daughters' preschool. He told me about how he lost his engineering job when his company got acquired, and in the same week his wife landed a new, well-paying gig for an accounting firm. His youngest had three years until he would be in school full time, so they ran the numbers and determined it made sense for him to make a career change. After joking about the initial feeling of emasculation, he willingly embraced his new role.
I actually would say that he was pretty damn good at his new job. In fact, he killed it as the primary parent. After watching him, I was the one that was emomulated (see what I did there? Emasculated/Emomulated.)
It's pretty typical nowadays to see dads playing an increasing role in their children's lives. The National At-Home Dad Network estimates the number of at-home dads who are primary caregivers for their children totals nearly 1.5 million. The 2011 census states that nearly seven million dads can be considered primary caregivers, meaning they are a regular source of care for their children under age 15. That's nearly one-third of all married dads.
Every day I see them baby-wearing at grocery stores, early to school pick up, putting in pony tails at gymnastics and even rocking it at the completely misnomered "Mommy and Me" classes. Some of these men stay at home, and some share the child-rearing load with their partners; but the most important factor is that more dads are understanding that childcare is difficult, important, and not only for moms.
What is particularly interesting is how men have redefined the "Mr. Mom" stigma. Instead of replicating the way their partner would provide care for their children, dads are parenting to their strengths -- not to society's preconceived notions. This is something us moms should note.
Here are a few things I've learned from some great dads:
Confidence counts. I would think you have to be pretty confident to be a stay-at-home dad -- or even the primary care giver -- in a world that still thinks a man's job is to be the breadwinner. The dads I know don't seem to be bothered by this, and they don't spend hours worrying about every little aspect of child rearing. They don't seek advice from blogs or Pinterest or parenting sites. They do the best they can and know that it's good enough. Point taken.
Hocus focus. I entered Trader Joe's the other day (by myself) at the same time as a dad and his three young kids. He had his list on his phone and was in and out of that store with his four bags of groceries before I even got out of the meat aisle. And his kids got lollipops for finding the monkey. He didn't waste time scanning labels, didn't get distracted by the samples, and barely was phased when his toddler had a breakdown because he wasn't getting muffins. He moved with laser-like focus. It was inspiring, but then I lost my train of thought while trying to remember if I needed eggs.
Guilt-free. Women feel guilt for working too much or not working enough or not doing enough with their kids or not cleaning the house or not cooking organic -- and the list goes on and on. The dads I know who are primary caregivers don't ever seem to wrestle with guilt. They make the most of their time and move on. I need me some of that.
Stay-at-home does not mean happy homemaker. I do not want to marginalize dads in any way, but most fathers I know who are primary care givers are not defined by the cleanliness of their house or the complexity of their meals. That's not to say dads don't work hard at cleaning and cooking and doing the laundry, but I've heard some rousing games of sock football or putting together a paper plane army sometimes gets in the way of polishing the silver. A former male colleague turned freelance writer/primary parent said this: "When my wife went back to work, our deal was to hire a professional cleaner to come in twice a month. I'm pretty good at picking up, but not so good at the details that drive her crazy. I do the cooking, grocery shopping, house management and child schlepping, and she does the dishes. I hate doing the dishes, so it works for us."
That being said, dads' hard work in the home should not go unnoticed. One study found that daughters of fathers who don't subscribe to "traditional" gender roles at home grow up to become women who feel confident to work outside of the house. And teaching our daughters that their opportunities are not limited should be celebrated.
Identity Crisis-less. I once shared a carpool with a dad who left his software sales job to take care of his four kids while his wife completed her residency program. He had the kids listening to The Beatles on the drive (no Kidz Bop for him), frequently took his whole brood ice skating (he was a former hockey player) and taught them how to code their own web sites. Dads have a way of being involved with their kids while keeping their identities, while most women struggle with this. When you like what you are doing, everyone enjoys it more. Which kinda is why dads can also be more fun -- even when they're doing the parenting every single day.