Triangle Stay-At-Home Dads Embrace Fatherhood
Mornings in the Worthington home don’t appear unusual. There are early wake-ups, breakfast table chats, a few morning chores and a shuffle off to school. Ian and Ann run a tight ship, and their household reflects the kind of planning and teamwork most parents dream of. But when 3½-year-old Dax jumps in for the ride to preschool, it’s Dad who’s driving.
About a year after Dax arrived, Ian left his job as an online presence manager, and he and Ann found they “were managing to maintain a stable lifestyle with only one income,” Ian says. Now as a full-time stay-at-home dad, he says, “Our son is happier, our marriage is stronger, my wife is happier, I am happier.”
A similar situation unfolded in the Kline household, where James, a professional project manager in health care information technology, and Michele, a product manager for wastewater treatment systems, discussed their work-family balance while Michele was pregnant with their son, Tyler.
“It could have gone either way,” James says. “My wife and I had strong careers, but mine was more demanding of time. After crying in the parking lot after meeting with day care facilities, we decided someone should be at home for the first few years.”
The Klines decided James would be the stay-at-home parent while their son was young. Now his days are packed with meal preparation, art projects, errands and playtime. And he says he’s better for it.
“I have much more tolerance and patience in this selfless position,” he says. “I’m much more adaptable … and after meeting so many fathers [and] kids from all walks of life, I’m much less judgmental.”
According to a 2012 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of stay-at-home dads in the U.S. (i.e., dads who serve as the primary caregivers in homes with children younger than age 15) is 176,000, doubling the figure from 10 years earlier. It’s a steadily rising number, no doubt, but it’s still a small sum compared to the slowly declining number of stay-at-home moms: approximately 5 million in 2011, down from 5.1 million in 2009 and 5.3 million in 2008.
The fact remains that stay-at-home dads are in the minority – the vast minority – when compared to their female counterparts. But some dads say there’s more to the story than numbers, that even fathers who don’t fit the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of “primary caregiver” are giving more to the role than ever before. For these dads, it’s a new generation of fatherhood, one in which men, whether primary caregivers or not, are increasingly active participants in their children’s lives. These fathers are leaning into their roles as parents and, in doing so, reshaping society’s image of the nuclear family and the boundaries established within it.
Contribution and controversy
When Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Leaning In, hit shelves, it fueled a heated discussion about women’s role in the workplace and whether “leaning in” at work is necessary for women to break gender barriers and climb the ranks of corporate business. It’s a debate rife with controversy and one that’s been brewing for decades, but Sandberg’s personal push toward success is not a new phenomenon limited to women in the workplace. In a way, men are facing similar challenges in the domestic sphere, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of controversy there, too.
“As hard as I work in caring for our son and our home, as hard as I see my other stay-at-home dad buddies grinding it out, people still think stay-at-home dads are goofs, don’t know which end the diaper goes on – that we just sit around and do nothing all day,” Worthington says. “While I recognize that the stay-at-home dad isn’t yet statistically half of the parents out there, it’s irritating to see ads that do show dads showing us as idiots.”
In Worthington’s experience, media representation doesn’t reflect the reality of fatherhood today. “Every single dad I have met has taught me something about being a better parent,” he says.
It’s long been touted that marriage is a partnership, but studies show that the old adage is far truer today than in years past. A recent report by the Pew Research Center found that, although mothers and fathers haven’t surpassed the other in terms of traditional roles, their responsibilities are overlapping more than ever before. Men are doing more child-rearing and housework (Pew reports fathers spending more than double the time doing housework today as they did in 1965, from four hours a week to 10; mothers have gone from 32 hours per week in 1965 to 18 today), and women are doing more paid work outside the home, yet the balance is still a struggle. Fifty-six percent of working moms and 50 percent of working dads reported finding it difficult to balance work and family.
Despite more fathers taking on household duties and mothers working outside the home, Pew reports that only 16 percent of adults say it’s ideal for a child to have a mother who works full time. As Worthington and Kline point out, those preconceived opinions run deep.
“I’m incredibly proud to be a father, even more so to be the at-home parent,” Kline says. “We’re an up-and-coming group that deserves respect, and I’m working hard to promote the at-home choice and provide a positive role model for all dads.”
What does ‘leaning in’ look like?
The fact that they’re in the minority among at-home parents isn’t lost on dads such as Worthington and Kline. And as any stay-at-home parent can attest, the job, though worthwhile and fulfilling, can be lonely. Sometimes support can make all the difference.
In addition to the support they receive from their wives, Worthington and Kline both find encouragement and camaraderie among fellow fathers in Triangle Stay at Home Dads, a group with more than 170 members, including 20 “very active dads,” according to Kline.
“It’s against the nature of men to ask for help, but when we all are in the same situation, it makes it easy,” he says. “There are always dads [and] kids that have been through what we’re approaching.”
Worthington agrees. “The community and camaraderie of the Triangle Stay at Home Dads bring an element that is uniquely understood,” he says. “The dads in our group fully understand the ebb and flow of being a full-time homemaker and primary caretaker.”
Although these men are both “full-timers,” as Worthington calls it, they’ve noticed a shift in fatherhood across the board during the past 20 years.
“Today, I feel that a man who is an involved parent is more evenly balanced as a person in that he must investigate, manage and develop all aspects of himself,” Worthington says.
“Tradition was: come home, eat, read paper, kiss to bed and repeat,” Kline adds. “Now dads in general are more engaged during the day via email, pics and flexible workplace arrangements. We have several dads in our group that work at home, own their own businesses or work flexible hours to spend time and socialize during the day.”
Kline’s advice for fathers who are reaching for more active participation in their kids’ lives is simple. “Involve them in everything you do,” he says, “be it changing light bulbs, planting a garden, reading the paper or cooking. Even if you watch TV, do it with them and discuss. Just being there when a child asks a question is more important than having the answer.”
Katrina Tauchen is a freelance writer, editor and mom who lives in Durham. She blogs at splashofsomething.com.
By the Numbers
176,000 fathers are stay-at-home dads in the U.S.
626,000 U.S. fathers are primary caretakers, including dads who work part-time or freelance jobs while their wives work.
5 million mothers are stay-at-home moms in the U.S.
1.7 million dads are single dads in the U.S., out of 70.1 million total estimated fathers.
15 percent of single parents with primary or sole custody of their children are men, approximately.
16 percent of American families have a full-time working dad and a stay-at-home mom.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau Profile America Facts, Pew Research
Social and Demographic Trends
Triangle Stay at Home Dads
In addition to dads-only events such as skeet shooting, beer-tasting and ball games, the group holds events for the whole family, such as monthly brunches and quarterly picnics.