There are about 2.2 million stay at home dads, nearly double since 1989, according to the Pew Research Center. The Center defines at-home fathers as 18-69 year old men home and unemployed, but the National At-Home Dad Network takes issue with this definition because it doesn’t count men who stay home by choice. The stats did reveal, however, that dads responsible for child care increased from 5 percent in 1989 to 21 percent in 2012- a sign of changing times.
Jeff Bogle wakes up at 6:45 to make two breakfasts and two lunches for his daughters. After he drops the girls off at school, he straps on his hiking boots and loads his backpack for his 4-mile hike in preparation for 84 miles across England. His afternoons are for multiple loads of laundry. After waiting in the pick-up line at school, he starts dinner and waits for his wife. After dinner, they snuggle and watch baseball while the girls feed virtual animals. And this is just Tuesday at the Bogle house.
“I can’t even imagine going back to a real job,” declared stay-at-home dad Jeff Bogle, from Exton, Pennsylvania. “Hopefully I’ll never have to do anything professional.”
Leila Rupp, professor in women’s movements at UC Santa Barbara says there has been a push toward breaking down gender expectations for a while. “It’s happening now not because of a deliberate attempt by women, but because men want to”, she said.
“I voluntarily came to this nine years ago,” Bogle admitted. “I get to be an involved dad every day. I’m consoling when something terrible happened at school and snuggling on the couch at night.”
The new at-home dad
“Masculinity is male approval of other men”, said Jack Harris, professor of anthropology and sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “Some families still believe man is the only provider and decision maker, but this is changing”. He continues his thought, “The first men did it. It was unusual, but now we have large numbers of men making the choice because they want to be nurturing parents.”
Chris Bernholdt, a stay-at-home dad and writer for Dadncharge, believes the more acceptable stay at home dads become, the more we will begin to see.
“Groups like the National At-Home Dad Network help men embrace the role by connecting them with other stay at home dads and providing an online community for support,” Bernholdt revealed.
It’s important for men to have other men. “If men support each other, they find themselves in playgroups, Gymboree’s and gymnastics”, Harris confirmed.
“If they know other dads that are staying home, they can operate with a different mental template,” stressed Eileen Boris, professor of labor studies at UC Santa Barbara. “But if they don’t know other dads, they either think of themselves as unique or they’ll feel bad.”
Support groups used to be mom-centered with one ‘Mommy and me’ class after another, but the labels are changing. Bernholdt is involved on the parent-teacher board at his daughter’s preschool. The language used to be ‘mom-helper’, but now it’s just parent.
“We have to look at the opportunity side of things and the message for men,” Harris cautioned. “They are liberated, fuller people. This isn’t to say there isn’t power struggles. We still carry a burden of gender, but we’re negotiating the role.”
Bogle’s wife has an opportunity to just be a mom when she comes home after work, while he takes on the chores as a gift to her for allowing him to stay at home. Mrs. Bogle loves her role, but even she knows it’s highly unusual. And when she explains her situation to her coworkers, they can’t believe how lucky she is.
The Bogles want their daughters to grow up watching a female breadwinner and a content father. It sets up their children to have better family lives and to expect better traits. They are pleased the cultural views are changing.
“It’s made a difference in the way other people view me when I’m at playground or in the domain of mom,” Bogle claimed. “The normalization in media, pop culture and daily life has affected the way the world sees what I do. They say, ‘There’s another parent. He’s in love with his kids.’”
Traditional dads at home
Bernholdt believes that culture has changed the definition of parents seven-fold because families have altered their expectations of work.
“In my father’s generation, the expectation was that you work,” Bernholdt said.
Boris points to the Children of the Great Depression, a book by Russell Freedman, that shares perspective from fathers in the fifties. During the Great Depression, many men lost jobs and had to stay home with children. Some were frustrated not being breadwinners. Their children watched unhappy fathers stay at home, and it wasn’t attractive.
“The impact was to reinforce gender division when they see these unhappy dads,” Boris explained.
Bernholdt insists that even today, at-home fathers living in conservative areas, are ostracized because of the historical perception of men. Too many people still believe that if a man doesn’t work, he’s not doing anything all day. He hopes the number of stay at home dads can grow and outweigh a generation of men seeking tradition, because it has an impact on his children.
Ironically when Bernholdt’s 11-year-old son was in kindergarten, his friends were planning their futures. Many wanted to be Spiderman and firefighters, but not his son. He wanted to be a stay at home dad!
“What I’m doing is making an impact on him.” Bernholdt explained. “He’s seeing there is a choice. If he finds a partner who wants to be the main earner, staying at home is an option. Men can do almost everything a mom can do. There’s no difference. We’re all just parents.”
Stay at home dads aid in child development
Bogle gives his children opportunities they wouldn’t have without him at home, like living out childhood. Some parents rush kids to adulthood because it’s easier to have capable younger kids, but Bogle appreciates the ability to foster the spirit of childhood.
“It’s enabled my children to be children for longer, partly because of my role and because I love childhood,” Bogle said. “My 12-year-old is still a kid. She knows she can talk about the election, but she still carries around a stuffed animal.”
Still, many believe that men just aren’t capable of being maternal.
“Biologically, it’s difficult for dads to feel able to nurture because dads don’t carry the baby for nine months”, said Pamela Smock, research professor in women’s studies at the University of Michigan. “In a conventional marriage where dads work, the pattern extends. But if a dad is thrown into child care full-time, he will learn”
Smock believes men are only inept child care providers because women step in too quickly to correct their mistakes, but that stay at home dads learn to control the situation on their own.
For Bernholdt and his wife, they discovered early they were missing out on their children’s lives by both working. When the family moved to New York, Bernholdt resigned as a high school teacher to stay home.
“My salary as teacher was paying for child care,” Bernholdt explained. “I could be home and we wouldn’t be throwing money away”.
Bernholdt’s wife now has the opportunity to advance her career and know he is holding the house down. She’s had time with them, but it’s Bernholdt’s turn to watch them grow up. Doing so, has enabled him to feel a lot closer to his children now. His 11-year-old son is still more open with his mom, but Bernholdt knows their relationship is stronger now that he is staying home.
That’s how I look at it,” Bernholdt said. “It’s an opportunity to have all this time with them”.
Bernholdt’s website is dedicated to empowering parents with the knowledge and creativity it takes to raise children. He promotes, encourages and supports dads who feel they can’t be the dad in charge.
“I show them they can,” Bernholdt asserted. “A lot of stay at home dads may think they don’t have the skills to do it. My site is aimed at how easy it can be. While there will be challenges like any other job, you learn as you go along.”