Stay-at-home dad by choice
Thereâ??s a quiet revolution taking place in Canadian householdsâ??one that we donâ??t hear a lot of discussion about. With more and more women in the workplace making equal or larger salaries than their mates, many men are trading briefcases for diaper bags. More than 100,000 fathers act as the primary caregiver for their children in Canada, and that number has jumped by a quarter in only a few years.
“Mommy!” A single declarative statement announces the new day in most households that include a waking toddler. There is seldom ambiguity–mommies have been on call for the morning rounds since time immemorial. At the Manders household, however, this timeless truth has been turned on its ear. In this family, the morning clarion call is “Daddy!” In fact, on a recent visit with Brian and Leslie Manders, Daddy was looking a little frayed around the edges–and a little saggy in the middle–from multiple sleep interruptions for seven consecutive nights while each of his three children waged their own battle with the latest flu bug. With 12- and 10-year-old daughters and a 5-year-old son, the Manders are well-seasoned in the art of child rearing, and their respective family roles are no more a point of discussion than is the question of who will get up with the kids in the night. Gender equity has long been a given in this family unit where household chores are shared and the day-to-day care-giving role is primarily Brian’s. A Relative Role Revolution There’s a quiet revolution taking place in Canadian households–one that we don’t hear a lot of discussion about. The question of evolving family roles is getting some attention in academia, though. Carlton University professor Andrea Doucet has spent a decade studying fathering and is about to release a new book this year, Do Men Mother? (University of Toronto Press, 2006) in which she explores the growing trend of fathers in primary care roles. In addition, a “national alliance of researchers, community organizations, and fathers dedicated to the development and sharing of knowledge on father involvement,” called Father Involvement Research Alliance, is sharing knowledge with researchers, policy makers, and the general public in order to influence programs and attitudes that specifically support fathers, including stay-at-home dads. Look online, too, and you’ll find a growing number of resources specifically for the stay-at-home dad (SAHD). There are chat rooms, comic strips, how-to books, SAHD groups, and even conventions all devoted to supporting and encouraging the role of fathers as primary care-givers. Men at Work–at Home What’s driving this quiet revolution? “With more and more women in the workplace making equal or larger salaries than their mates, many men are trading briefcases for diaper bags,” says Carlton’s Doucet. “More than 100,000 fathers act as the primary caregiver for their children in Canada, and that number has jumped by a quarter in only a few years.” Looking back to his beginnings as a stay-at-home dad Brian Manders says, “We thought, at first, we were just making an economic decision. When we were expecting Corin (their 12-year-old daughter), we recognized that of the two of us, Leslie had the ability to earn more outside the home.” Because Brian operates a small business from home, he was able to maintain a limited production schedule during the children’s younger years, gradually building up his workload as the kids became more independent. “With hindsight,” Brian continues, “it wasn’t so much economics as it was our determination to provide full-time care for our children; it was just the most sensible way to realize that commitment.” It’s Still Mrs. Mom, Thanks The fact that Brian stays home with the kids doesn’t mean, of course, that Leslie’s role as a mother has been usurped. Indeed, Leslie’s bond with the children is obvious as I watch Corin, Anica, and Bryce listen attentively as she patiently explains the complexities of the latest transaction in their game of Whoville-opoly. When there’s a conflict (an inevitability in Whoville), it’s obvious Mom’s a seasoned negotiator: her approach is respectful, patient, calm, and most importantly, successful. Everyone learns–not only how to become the Holiday Cheermeister who carves the rare Roast Beast, but also how to interact with mutual respect. The experts support my observation: in a SAHD family, the children actually reap the benefits of both a caring mother and a more involved father because working moms tend to spend more time with their children than do working fathers. According to Robert Frank, a professor of child development at Oakton Community College in Illinois, who has conducted studies of SAHD households, women were still able to form strong connections with their children even when they worked more than 40 hours a week. Don’t be Calling him Mr. Mom Does dad have to be a mom to be successful as a stay-at-home parent? According to Doucet, Mr. Mom is a misnomer for these SAHDs. “Dads are just as capable as moms at nurturing, showing affection, and being in-tune with their kids’ needs. They just do things a bit differently.” Dads, in general, are more apt to involve their kids in sports and outdoor or adventure activities. SAHD children, therefore, are more exposed to these kinds of pursuits while also benefiting from their dads’ inclination to encourage and promote independence by letting kids take risks, try new things, and learn from their mistakes more often. And because SAHDs are generally breaking new ground, it helps to possess a sense of humour. The job description is fraught with challenges for which there are few precedents and even fewer mentors. According to Leslie, Brian is naturally gregarious and easygoing; he was as comfortable serving tea into tiny tea cups when his daughters were young as he is waving the flags for his son’s smash-n-crash car races. Who Sacrifices? Even in our more egalitarian world, the question of who stays at home with the kids often turns into a discussion about which of the parents must sacrifice their career. Who will most easily reintegrate into the working world with that yawning gap in the resume filled by “full-time parent?” Interestingly, when the subject of sacrifice comes up in the Manders’ household, it’s Leslie who claims the mantle. In her mind, it was a sacrifice for her to be the breadwinner, the one who had to leave the kids at home to go to work. When asked the proverbial question, “What do you do?” Brian’s response is careful and considered. He prefers to reflect his true focus: that he is a committed husband and father who spends time with his three children, helps at their schools, serves on the school planning committees, and earns an income through his small business. Brian sums it up for both of them: “Our world is focused on instant gratification, but raising children to become self-sufficient, happy, and successful adults is a long-term investment that requires patience, consistency, and perseverance. That’s our responsibility and our real life’s work.” Resources for SAHDs Slowlane.com For plenty of online information, support, and humour, go to slowlane.com, billing itself as “the online resource for stay at home dads,” whose mission is:
Rebel Dad At rebeldad.com, webmaster Brian Reid, an at-home dad near Washington, DC, “aggregates news about at-home dads.” Reid describes his choice of name for the website: “It occurred to me that I’m at the leading edge of a social revolution (gender equity in the home!), and that Rebel Dads would be a good name for us guys.” Dadstayshome.com A friendly welcome is extended to all new SAHDs at Dadstayshome.com, a site that describes itself as “a hard-working bunch of teachers, engineers, motorcycle builders, construction workers, and many other professions who love our new jobs. Dads who visit this site will find “new dad tips,” money, cooking, and even beer-making tips. Father Involvement Research Alliance www.fira.uoguelph.ca/Home is a national alliance of researchers, community organizations, and fathers dedicated to the development and sharing of knowledge on father involvement. Stay-at-Home Dads–by the Numbers The proportion of single-earner Canadian families in 2004 with a stay-at-home dad is 10 out of every 100. In 1976, it was just one in 100 families. Source: Unpublished data from the Labour Force Survey, Statistics Canada The average father who stays at home to look after children is 42, and 17 percent of these dads have been at home for five years or longer. Source: Statistics Canada The sex of the Canadian breadwinner is shifting: In 1975, men brought home the family wages in single-earner families 96 percent of the time. In 2001 women were the sole earners in 27 percent of single-earner families. Source: Statistics Canada