Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why Being a Stay At Home Dad Is Good For My Daughters (And My Son)

In an earlier post, I commented that I would address the issue of why being a stay-at-home dad is not an emasculating experience for me.  Considering my most recent post (if you were one that chose to read it), I figured this might be a good time to come back to it.  I also recently read a couple of articles that I thought complimented the topic and would be worth sharing/commenting on.  Lastly, March also happens to be Women's History Month, and some of this post might seem as though I'm heaping a lot of compliments on the female gender.  I will refrain from not saying that is not unintentional (unpack that grammatically incorrect statement).  Please note that I am not doing this to impress my wife.  I'm actually doing it to impress her friends, because as Brian Kelms points out, the better you look to your wife's friends, the more attractive you look to your wife.  

The first article I read was about why being a working mom is good for your kids, and it was shared via social media by a high school classmate of mine.  She is a successful attorney, and with her husband, welcomed their first little one last year.  I'm certain that as the time approached for her to return to work, she likely wrestled with a lot of the same questions and concerns that probably almost every working mom struggles with - to return to work or stay-home.  The article claims "scientific reasons to be a working mom" by citing some studies that seem to support that fact.  I'm sure you could find a number of articles that claim "scientific reasons to be a stay-at-home mom", but since we live in a society where mothers with children under six years old have the lowest labor participation rate, I found this particular article interesting.

The other article I read was about how a man took the lessons he learned being a clerk for a Supreme Court Justice (a pretty serious gig for anyone in the legal profession) to being a stay at home dad immediately following his clerkship (and having probably just as demanding of a boss).  This one was forwarded my way from a good friend who read it and thought of me (Thanks, Katie!).  This article has a ton of great content and really good stats, which I won't regurgitate here.  But I will point out Mr. Park's observation of the novelty of his decision, and subsequently my decision, to be a stay-at-home dad.  He points out that despite the number of stay-at-home dads nearly doubling over the last two decades, only 21% of stay-at-home dads claim they actually made the decision to stay home with the kids because they wanted to, as opposed to 73% of stay-at-home moms.  Only 3% of the almost 2 million stay-at-home dads have a college degree.  That was him, and that's me (I'll discuss in a later post how I feel my college degree actually helped me make the decision to be a stay-at-home parent).  I also happen to live in relatively conservative Central Minnesota, in a congressional district that elected, and re-elected three additional times, Michele Bachmann to represent its constituents.  Not really a bastion of progressive ideology like New York City, DC (where Mr. Park resides) or even Minneapolis-St. Paul, so I'm thinking I'm kind of an anomaly around these parts.

That's okay though, I've never considered myself to be much of a "manly" man by prevailing societal stereotypes.  In fact, throughout most of my life I've been in the gender minority.  After my parents separated, I spent most of my adolescence with my mom and older sister, which undoubtedly played a significant role in my development.  My wife was the second of four girls in her family and had no brothers.  Sure, I went to an all-male college, but it was partnered with an all-women's college just down the road, where I actually had my student employment position (as the only male in the office).  I returned to work at this all-women's college, (where I was still the only male in the office), five years ago before I left to stay at home with our kids.  I've been in the gender minority for almost every single job I've had.  Going into the ultrasounds for our first two kids, I knew we had to be having girls.  My entire life up to that point had been filled with women and copious amounts of estrogen.  I often joked that if we had a boy, I'd have no idea what to do.

This is not to say that I didn't have close relationships with other men or male role models growing up.  My ring finger is longer than my index, and I can also grow some pretty healthy facial hair, so I'm thinking my testosterone levels are probably adequate.  I've just never seemed to be drawn toward things that are often considered stereo-typically "male" - I never played football (I actually played volleyball in college); I don't drink beer (but I will consume most any whiskey, except scotch - that stuff is terrible), my collection of tools (or "utensils" as you may have heard me reference them before) is minute; and I've never fired a gun.  Ever.  The only time I've ever been in a fistfight was in high school, and it was my best friend and staged (likely in attempt to prove our "manliness" - he was and still is considerably more manly than me).  If "The Man Show" was still airing, I doubt I'd ever be featured as a guest.

I'm well aware of the stigma that can often go along with being a stay-at-home dad.  I've read plenty of articles and books on it.  So far I've been pretty fortunate in that I've not had to deal with much of it yet.  Yes, I'm the only guy at story-time, and I'm sure I get a few strange looks when I'm navigating the grocery store aisles during the middle of a "workday" with multiple kids in the "race-car shopping cart".  I've been called "Mr. Mom" and "Daddy Daycare" more times than I can count.  Some dads find it offensive, but I'm lucky to be able to shrug it off with minimal emotional detriment.  I feel a lot of things as a stay-at-home dad, but emasculated is not one of them.

So, here is why I think being a stay at home dad is good for my kids.

For My Girls:

In the article about why being a working mom is good for your kids, one of obvious reasons was being a role model.  As the article points out, "it's good for young girls to see their mothers be independent and professionally engaged."  I couldn't agree more.  Not that a stay-at-home mom is any less of a role model to her kids, but when we live in a society that doesn't celebrate and encourage women's professional growth and development as much as we should (and compensate them appropriately), watching your own mother advocate for herself professionally is pretty powerful stuff.  I was able to see this first-hand with my Mom when she went back to work.  

Charles Barkley has said some profoundly stupid things in his life, but he got it right when pointing out that parents are the most influential role models for their kids.  Isla has already told us that she wants to be a doctor like her mommy so she can help people.  How cool is that?  It's like we're living in our own "Doc McStuffin's" episode!  Okay, Jess is a pharmacist, but she's still a doctor, even if she only makes me refer to her by that title.  Titles aside, my wife is a perfect example to our girls that you can work hard, pursue your passion, and be highly regarded for the work that you do, no matter what that is.  There are millions of incredibly intelligent and determined women for my girls to look up to, and we're fortunate to have over 2,000 of them just two blocks from our house.  But having a mom to look up to like my wife, the coolest person they know, is hard to beat.  

I also hope that as my girls grow up, they expect enormous support from their significant others to pursue their dreams, especially if those significant others are men.  It was not a condition that I be a stay at home parent for my wife to be successful at her job.  We could both easily be career-focused, but I'm guessing the stress of this might put unnecessary strain on our home-life.  I've never felt like I've sacrificed my career dreams so my wife can pursue her own (partially because I don't feel I have much in the realm of "career dreams", sh...don't tell my parents).  My wife is the breadwinner in our family, and that will likely always be the case.  It's not beneficial for me to harbor resentment about this or feel like I'm not being the "man of the house".  It's my job to figure out what I can do to support our family and the life that we've built together.

And don't make me out to be some sort of "martyr".  Each day we do what we need to do, to be where we want to be.  Or as our old daycare provider told me (immediately after I told her that she would be losing our business), "you need to do what you need to do, to be the parent you want to be."  My wife did not force me to stay at home with the kids, just like she did not force me into the content of my last post.  This was a choice that was consciously made by me, and she has supported that decision (both of those decisions actually) in earnest.  If our girls one day get married (at like 40) or are in a committed relationship, I hope they will have those same expectations from their significant other.  I want them to see their careers or vocations just as worthy of pursuing as their partners; no matter their gender, the pay scale, an arbitrary title or how society views it.      

For My Son:

If a mother can be a great role model for her daughters, I think she can be an even better role model for her son.  For him to see his mom work hard and be successful, despite the sexist climate we continue to live in, will hopefully be a great motivator for him.  What I hope he will learn from my decision to stay home is that it is perfectly acceptable to take the "non-traditional path" if that is what he feels called to do, or if what makes the most sense at the time.  I also hope that he realizes that people, especially men, are not measured by the size of their paycheck or what they do for a living.  I hope he understands that the decisions he makes in life only have to be justified to himself and the ones he loves, and if he is not making decisions in the best interest of those parties he needs to do some reassessing.  Sometimes the things that might be in the best interest of those parties might not be too glamorous and seem relatively mundane.  But that business still needs to be taken care of, and if he is the right person for the job, I'd expect him to recognize that and do his job.

He obviously can't understand it now (maybe he'll get it in a few months), but I also hope that my being a stay at home parent will be a wake-up call for him as a member of the currently dominant gender.  Having spent years working in higher ed, I've long heard about what Philip Zimbardo calls the, "demise of guys".  It can be tough to see by looking at the current leaders of our country (both on the public and private spheres), but in nearly every respect (save self confidence, of course) young boys are getting their asses handed to them by girls - grades, college acceptance & degree completion, civic engagement, and generally acceptable social behavior.  Sooner or later, hopefully much sooner than later, our society will finally catch up with this phenomenon, and we'll see considerably more women in CEO and public leadership positions.  Iceland, consistently one of the happiest countries on earth, seems to have beaten us there already.

I don't say this because I like to male bash, or because I really want to look good to my wife's friends.  I say this because for too long, men (myself included), have had increasing success because we , as my good friend Tago once put it, "won the gender lottery" when we were born.  This is not to say that millions of men haven't had to work hard to get where they are, but if we were women, undoubtedly we would have needed to work harder.  I'm not concerned that if my son doesn't work hard he will end up like his old man.  I'm concerned that if he doesn't work hard, he won't have the opportunity to be as successful as his mom.  Honestly, I was a little relived when our first two kids were girls, because I personally see the future as brighter for them, despite the male-dominated society we currently live in.  I've been able to see this first hand by being surrounded by a number of very intelligent, driven and caring women leaders; friends, family, and former colleagues.  Undoubtedly, Gus will look up to his older sisters, and as much as I don't like to admit it, I looked up to mine.  Her hard-work and successes, and ability to remain happy along the way, were great motivators for me.  I can only see Isla & Havi's successes as being motivators for him too.  Even if it is just in attempt to show them up, something I was never able to do to my sister.                

Above all, as parents we want our kids to be happy.  Truly happy.  Sure we'd love them to be doctors or lawyers or millionaires so they can take care of us when we get old and decrepit.  Selfishly we want them to do amazing things so we can brag about them to everyone when we get old.  Hopefully my decision to be a stay-at-home parent at this point will show that doing "something amazing" can take on all kinds of meanings.  That can mean being a doctor to help people get better, or being the best Mac & Cheese "cooker" in the house.  We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our passions and our indifferences.  Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or a working parent you'll likely feel some regret either way.  Instead of losing sleep over the regrets, take comfort in the fact that the love for your kids will show through in your actions.  As long as those actions are done with love.

Logistically, it makes more sense for her to practice on me.
I have bigger toenails.


  1. Love this article Jon! Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  2. Love this article Jon! Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

  3. Jon, we applaud you. What a fantastic article! We share your exact situation and wrote a children's book and maintain a blog as well. We are Latino which adds a whole new realm to the word 'non traditional' ...maybe we can collaborate!