Two articles about Stay at Home Dad’s hit the internet today, one of which delighted me, and one of which pissed me the fuck off. First this piece at the Atlantic by Olga Khazan (a writer I have enjoyed in the past btw). Entitled “The Rise of the (Poor) Stay at Home Dad”, Khazan’s piece leads with a look at a 1987 New York Times review of “THE NURTURING FATHER Journey Toward the Complete Man.” By Kyle D. Pruett. Dr. Pruett followed 17 New Haven families where the father was (at least at first) the primary caregiver. It’s a nice start and adds a new book for me to read and review perhaps. Khazan then runs down the now familiar (to SAHD Bloggers at least) numbers that show an increase in stay at home fathers from 10% in 1987 to 16% in 2012 according to a recent Pew study. Yay, we’re verrrrryyyy slooooowwwllly taking over the parenting world. And I guess we are better off than the guy in Dr. Pruett’s study who had this happen:
The prejudice that the families encountered is best demonstrated in the story of one father, whom the author calls Amos King, who gets a knock on the door after his wife, a nurse, leaves for work. With his 4-month-old son in his arms, Mr. King opens the door and finds a police officer and a social worker. They are responding to a report that a man is ”keeping” a young child in the apartment. The investigative duo are not satisfied until Mr. King shows them his son’s birth certificate and baptismal record.
So thumbs up for the march of progress! But after that Khazan steers her piece into some annoying and some infuriating territory. One interesting bit of the Pew study was that the percentage of fathers who, responding to the question of why they were staying at home, answered “caring for home/family” has risen from 5% in 1989 to 21% in 2012. Which sounds like good news right? Here’s how Khazan frames it.
That’s a somewhat positive storyline, but these dads’ reasons for being at home aren’t as uplifting. There has been a big jump in the number of fathers who say they’re at home primarily to take care of their families— it’s now 21 percent, compared to 5 percent in 1989. But Pew adds:
Still, the largest share of stay-at-home fathers (35 percent) is at home due to illness or disability. This is in sharp contrast to stay-at-home mothers, most of whom (73 percent) report that they are home specifically to care for their home or family; just 11 percent are home due to their own illness or disability.
In other words, mothers are still more likely to stay at home because they think it’s the best way to raise the kids; fathers are more likely to do it because they physically can’t work outside the home.
And that becomes the main focus of her article as she spends the next few paragraphs detailing all of the “negative” reasons a father might be the stay at home parent, as well as pointing out the disparity in public approval between stay at home moms (51%) and SAHDs (8%!!!!). Which is fine I suppose, numbers don’t lie (intentionally) and the number of dads who have joined the SAHD ranks unwillingly has certainly increased due to the recent economic upheavals. We’re grown ups, we can handle some unsettling data that show how far we have to go. But then Khazan reveals her own careless bias in this bit;
So while it’s encouraging that dads are increasingly playing full-time nanny, it’s clear that they’re not always doing so because they think it’s the best arrangement for the kids. And when dads do work outside they home, they are far less likely to spend their free time changing diapers and preparing mac-n-cheese than moms are.
Full time NANNY? Holy crap that’s condescending. Does anyone for a minute think that she would EVER describe a stay at home mother as a “Nanny”? Perhaps herein may lay the answer to that troubling 8% number above. The public isn’t taking SAHD’s seriously because the media is making conscious decisions to treat us less seriously! When some SAHD’s chimed in taking offense to that word choice Khazan replied;
I don’t really think that’s offensive. If someone was cooking full-time but wasn’t a chef, I’d feel equally comfortable saying that they were “playing chef.” I think we perhaps see it as pejorative because we see the job of “nanny” as pejorative, which speaks to stereotypes beyond the scope of this article.
Just for the record, Nanny is a job that you get PAID for. My role as SAHD is not at the moment a paid position. I can tell because I DON’T GET PAID FOR IT!
Thankfully a second article came to my attention that did everything I wanted the previous piece to do. “Don’t Call them Mr. Mom: More Dad’s Home With Kids Because They Want To Be” appeared at the Washington Post website this afternoon. By social issues reporter Brigid Schulte, the WaPo piece looks at the exact same Pew data and manages to craft a piece that is positive and encouraging about the SAHD phenomenon. First, she actually talked to one of us:
And they don’t want to be called Mr. Mom anymore. In fact, the growing At-Home Dad’s Network has been leading a campaign to get the term banished from the English language.
“Back in the 1980s, ‘Mr. Mom’ was a way to describe a man who was taking care of children, because that was seen as women’s work,” said Al Watts, president of the National At-Home Dad Network. “But now there’s been a great change in society. And there’s a great term for a guy who takes care of his kids. It’s ‘Dad.’”
I’ve talked about the At Home Dad’s Network before when I reviewed “Mr. Mom”. One would think that they should be one of the first places you would go for insight into us SAHD’s. Like the National Organization for Women would be for issues that affect women, but without the lesbian witchcraft abortionista agenda (/sarcasm.)
Then she does a very credidble job of highlighting the positive aspects of the Pew data. For instance, in the same place Khazan saw “reason’s that were not as uplifting”. Shulte sees;
At the same time, the share of fathers home because they themselves are ill or disabled has dropped from more than half of all at-home fathers in 1989 to about one-third. And the share of fathers who are home with kids because they’re in school, retired or for other reasons has dropped only slightly in the past 25 years, from 25 to 22 percent.
It’s the same numbers, but one author is seeing a glass 2/3 full and another is harping on the 1/3 empty.
Even better, Shulte looked into the science and (working on a crack reporters hunch I suppose) actually discovered that the above mentioned Dr. Pruett was not devoured by wild pigs in 1987 but is in fact still alive and still studying fathers!
The handful of researchers who study fathers say that the dearth of information available on fathers outside their roles as primary breadwinners extends to science as well. It was only in the past few years that scientists found that men, like women, have hormonal and neurological changes once they become parents. Fathers, too, produce prolactin, the hormone associated with producing breast milk, their testosterone levels drop and their production of the bonding hormone, oxytocin rises.
“We discovered that men produced these hormones by accident – by doing thyroid studies,” said Kyle Pruett, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center who has long studied fathers.
Pruett and a handful of others who study fathers have found that, contrary to the cultural view that mothers are key to child development and father’s providers and bystanders, involved and active fathers are critical. “Being an involved father changes him, his health, the nature of his relationships, his job satisfaction, his warmth. It changes the child, and improves the child’s chances for well-being and ability to deal with the kinds of everyday stresses in their lives,” Pruett said.
I don’t care what the good Doc says, If I start lactating I’m seeing my physician.
So all in all, faith in humanity is restored for another day. Thumbs up to the WaPo for solid reporting and supporting us SAHD’s in one area where we still lag, the court of public opinion. Thumbs down to The Atlantic, for insulting fathers (heck, all parents) who choose to stay at home as well as painting us in a depressing desperate light.
A big hat tip to the the fine fellows at the Dad Bloggers Facebook Group where this whole discussion started.
Featured Image Credit Blotz Photo Arts