3 Myths About At-Home Dads

It happened again yesterday.  While updating my information at my doctor’s office, I had three things said to me that totally typify the common response to what I do as an at-home dad.  Once I negate all of these “myths” for whomever I am talking to, they begin to see a little differently.  If I have to do this for each person that I meet, one person at a time, it is worth it for all of the dads out there doing what I do.  Here are the three myths of the at-home dad and why they are dangerous for families.

We Are “Unemployed”

I was updating my information at the doctor yesterday when the receptionist came to the question about my employment.  I’m not sure why they need this information, but I assume they have some reason to ask for it.  She asked if I was still with Tractor Supply Company, and I said, “No.  I’m an at-home dad now.”

“So, you would say you’re currently unemployed?”

“No.  I’m an at-home dad who is not looking for a full-time job,” I replied, “Do you have ‘homemaker’ as a category?  Can I pick that?”

If a woman stays at home with her child, she is considered a “homemaker.”  I know there are a lot of women who hate this label, but it’s really not that bad.  The home is the one place in the world that the ones you love are supposed to feel safe and loved.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of creating that kind of environment?

If a man stays at home with his child, it is assumed by those outside of his situation that he is unemployed.  This has as much to do with the current economy as it does with the aging stereotype that the man needs to be the breadwinner.  The good news is, as the economy improves and unemployment among men decreases, this assumption will become less prevalent among our younger generation.  But I do fear that we will be stuck with the male-breadwinner stereotype for at least another decade.

The male-breadwinner stereotype is dangerous because it is not always the best situation for the modern family.  There are more and more situations where a woman can make more money than her husband because she is more qualified or because there are more opportunities.  There are also plenty of cases where the man is better suited to be the primary caregiver for his children.  There are a lot of women who really want to work because they enjoy it, and yes they love their children to death, but they don’t necessarily have the urge to be “motherly” all day long, and that’s okay.  In the current economy, there are a lot of instances where the jobs available to the man of the house are extremely limited, and having his wife go to work is the better temporary option until the economy improves.  The bottom line is that the old stereotype doesn’t work anymore.  We are outgrowing (or evolving beyond) the male-breadwinner stereotype, and it would benefit everyone to start thinking outside of those boundaries.

The second reason the male-breadwinner stereotype is dangerous is because it puts an unnecessary emphasis on money.  We all know that money doesn’t buy happiness.  We all know that family is supposed to be the most important thing in a person’s life.  Why don’t we live that way?  Why are we still comfortable with dads being absent from the family in order to earn enough money for us to live outside our means? When you say that a man must be a slave to his job to provide for his family, it isolates half of the leadership of the family unit and gives him a competitor for his top priority.  What I mean is that a lot of men have a difficult time with divided loyalties.  It is very difficult to be the dad that you want to be for your family and still be everything your employer is asking you to be on the job.  The work-life balance is extremely difficult, and if we could free men from that, it would probably help improve families in general.  If we could get dads to value family above money and possessions, and if we could get corporations to see families as valuable instead of an excuse to miss work, we could begin to strengthen families everywhere.  I realize this may seem like a pipe dream, but this is something I passionately believe in, and I will continue to write about it as long as this blog exists.

We Are “Mr. Mom”

My conversation with the receptionist at the doctor’s office continued.

“No.  I’m an at-home dad who is not looking for a full-time job,” I replied, “Do you have ‘homemaker’ as a category?  Can I pick that?”

“Oh,  you’re Mr. Mom!” she said as if she thought she understood me.

I smiled and said, “Nope. I’m just dad.”  I think she thought I was being rude.

Everyone loves the idea of dads at home in aprons doing chores.  It’s supposed to be funny, right?  It’s not.  The stereotype (and comedic portrayal of said stereotype) of Mr. Mom is also dangerous.  Thinking that at-home dads should be like mom in proxy is ridiculous.  We are dads.  We might have a list of things that mom wants us to do around the house, but the bottom line is that we are going to have our own style of parenting.  Even the notion that every mom parents in the same way is ridiculous, so how silly is it to think that dads parent in the same way that moms do?

This stereotype also feminizes the role of dad.  It leaves out all of the benefits that a child receives from their father being involved in their life.  Those benefits vary from family to family, of course.  I like to compare parents to apples.  For example, if you take a Granny Smith apple, a Golden Delicious apple, and a Red Delicious apple and put them all three on a table, you still have three apples on the table.  One is known for its tartness.  One has a softer, yellow skin but is deliciously sweet.  And the Red Delicious has a balanced sweetness with an incredible crunch.  They are each amazing in their own way, but they are all apples.  The idea that a dad staying home with his child must behave like a stereotypical “mom” caricature is really limiting in the very same way that saying the household chores are for women is incredibly limiting.  It would be like biting into a Red Delicious and expecting it to taste like a Granny Smith.  We’re all parents.  We all try to work together to make our homes run smoothly.  If we can get away from the stereotype that at-home dads are supposed to be like moms, that frees dad to be just what he is supposed to be – a great dad!  He doesn’t have to fit anyone’s definition; he just has to love his kids, do what is best for them, and take care of his household in any way that he possibly can.

We Are Babysitting (aka We’re Incompetent)

After my doctor’s appointment, I went to the lab to get some routine blood work done.  Again, we needed to update some information in the system, so I was at the receptionist’s counter for a few minutes.  I had my daughter up in my arms, and the receptionist asked my daughter, “Is daddy watching you today?”

“Nope. We do this every day. I’m an at-home dad,” I said as she gave me the look of surprise that is so common when I say this phrase.

I had another conversation today with a mom at the local library, and she made the comment that her husband wanted to be an at-home dad but “he would probably just sleep all the time.” Really?  Why are women (and sadly, some men) not convinced that a man can acquire the same parenting abilities that a woman can when given an equal opportunity to do so?  I will admit, it took me a while to get a good routine going with my daughter, but now we are on auto-pilot and barreling full speed ahead.  I had quite  a learning curve since I spent the first year of my daughter’s life working seventy hours a week.  There was quite a bit to learn!  But once I caught up, I was able to find my own parenting “groove” so to speak.

What I do is called parenting.  It’s the most important job in the world.  Why?  Because I have the power to make or break the future for this innocent child.  It’s true. I could be a terrible father and cause my child all sorts of future issues, or I can be a great dad that is full of love, advice, discipline, grace, acceptance, guidance, forgiveness, fun, etc.

I know not all men feel this way, but that is probably because somebody is not expecting them to.  It is a reasonable expectation for my wife to want me to be a good father.  It was part of what she liked about me before we got married.  Because I love her, I am willing to meet her expectations. If nobody expects a man to be a great dad, then what is he most likely to do?  Not be a great dad.

Ladies, if you don’t expect your man to step up and be a good parent, he never will.  If you are a mom reading this, I want you to stop making excuses for dad.  Don’t let him off the hook.  Don’t cover for him by not expecting him to be a great father.  Work your womanly magic that made him fall in love with you in the first place, and work with him to get back on track.   Start expecting him to be more involved.  Get him up to speed, and help him get more active with your kids.  Encourage him to take charge of planning family activities each week.  Encourage him to spend quality time with each of your kids.  It is not an easy transition for him, but if he loves you, and you begin to make that an expectation (remember, be reasonable), then hopefully, he will rise to the challenge and meet that expectation.

If you’re a dad reading this, I expect you to be a good father!  Stop making excuses.  Stop believing the stereotype.  Step up, and do the manly thing – take care of your family by being a great dad.  Get involved with your kids.  Take over some of the household chores.  Work together with your partner to make your house a home.  Work with other men to end the myth of the incompetent father.  Don’t tell your co-workers you have to “babysit” next time mom is out of town.  Tell them you are spending quality time with your family and there is no place on earth you’d rather be.


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