Time to Take Stay-at-Home Dads Seriously

There’s also been a noted shift, particularly in the past five years, with respect to gender norms surrounding work and care and fathers wanting to be more involved. In 12 per cent of Canada’s two-parent families in 2011, it was the men who stayed home while their wives were the breadwinners. More men are also taking parental leave – 13 per cent in 2011, up from nine per cent in 2004. Further, some 21 per cent of single-parent families were headed by men in 2011.

Academics have considered this development in different ways. Some scholars believe men choosing to stay home may point to growing equality in the labour market. Still other scholars suggest that stay-at-home dads signal the deconstruction of gender roles. And some academics even argue that stay-at-home dads are actually mothering. When it comes down to it though, Canadian parents are thinking about their kids, not contemplating gender deconstruction or feminist theory. Statistics Canada reports that 81 percent of parents who return to work after parental leave would stay off longer if doing so were more affordable and that over 80% of Canadians prefer to have a parent at home.

Although the nature of fatherhood is shifting, with more men taking parental leave and staying at home outright, there is a discomfort festering and some societal biases surfacing about the “new parenting” dad behaviour, with the “norm” dad behavior, which was often slotted into activities like hockey practice and bonding in the tool shed.

Despite our evolving gender roles, the ever breaking of glass ceilings, are we somehow still hard-wired to see men as the provider? The answer, most probably, is yes. Though we might like to think that our roles as men and women have become fluid enough to swap Mom for Dad and vice versa, I’m not sure it’s quite that easy. While stay-at-home fathers may get applause for their enlightened self-confidence, cultural respect is another matter.

A 2013 Pew Survey found 51 per cent of respondents said children are better off if their mother is at home without a job. Just 8 per cent said the same of fathers home without paid employment. Like their female counterparts who become at-home parents, men who make this decision face a number of obstacles and challenges, perhaps to an even more pronounced extent than their female  counterparts. Research suggests that feelings of social isolation and stigma regarding the role of at-home parent are even greater for men than women.

According to David Worford, STAY-AT HOME DADs researcher, the Top Three Misconceptions About At-Home Dads include:

  • He is not masculine
  • He is baby sitting today.
  • He is not motivated.




According to Boston College Centre for Work and Family study (2012), one father commented:

when takes his infant son out Women come up to me and say, ‘Can I take your kid?’ or, ‘Do you need help?’” he says. “If my wife was in that situation, no one would ever come up to her and offer help. People mean well, they’re not doing it to be malicious or rude, but it displays the {entrenched} values.

Several of the men had hopes that they would meet other parents through these groups, but found it much harder than they had anticipated:

I was just really surprised at how I would go to playgroups and how I would try to talk to folks and really felt like I wasn’t making a connection with people and people would invite each other over to their homes and I wasn’t getting those invitations…It was just this very strange sensation of not being welcomed. I don’t know whether it was because the stay-at- home moms themselves felt uncomfortable with a male there… I’m not really sure what it was …and it hit me hard in a way I never expected.

Another father commented:

When I go out with the kids, people always say, “Oh, so you’re babysitting the kids today?” Or “Oh, it’s daddy’s day,” or “You must have the day off from work,” or something like that. They assume that I work somewhere and this is just this random day that I happen to be with the kids.

What society needs to recognize and appreciate is that these men did not define themselves or decide what role they would play based on gender, but rather on their competencies and the needs of their family as a whole. They are dedicated, motivated and loving parents. These men, and others like them, are forging a new path for what it means to be a successful father; and in doing so, are modeling a world of possibilities to children, securing the meaning of family, and expanding the definition of masculinity.

Thank you!