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Stay-at-Home Fathers

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Topics: Family, Gender role, Men, Role
For as long as human behavior has been documented there have been strict ideals of the different gender roles in parenting. These hunter and gatherer derived gender roles have basically defined what the correct social roles for men and women are. “According to Katherine Macklem (2004), women’s participation in the labor force has created a work verses family dilemma.” (Brannon: 327). This makes sense but is only the half-truth. Men’s changing participation in child caretaking and homemaking needs to be addressed as well. According to U.S. census data there were around 5.5 million stay-at-home parents in 2006 and only about 159,000 of them were fathers. Though this seems a bit lopsided, the number of stay-at-home fathers has grown over 60% since 2004 (Randall: par 5). How does this alarmingly growing number of stay-at-home fathers feel about their lives, and why is the number growing so rapidly? If the number of stay-at-home dads has risen so drastically in the past few years they cannot all be miserable. “Some experts argue that significant change has occurred, especially in allowing families greater flexibility when deciding which parent will care for the children.” (Baladauf: par 12). Although social and economic norms have recently been changing tremendously, the belief that raising a child is a mom’s job rather than the job of a parent is still predominant. Dr. Aaron Rochlen conducted a study of over 200 stay-at-home fathers in order to find how they felt about their role in the family and society. “The results [of our study] offered a very positive representation of changes in gender roles and parenting.” (Randall: par 10). Rochlen also found that more people are doing what makes them happy and determining what is best for their families rather than worrying about the expectations of society. This University of Texas study measured success by taking into account life satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, and levels of distress. The most significant variables Rochlen found were social support, parenting confidence, and masculinity conformity. Fathers who received support from their spouse, family, and friends experienced high levels of psychological wellbeing and relationship satisfaction. Fathers who felt confident with their parenting skills seemed much happier. Of the happy dads, ones who encouraged their children to develop independence and fathers who felt the most comfortable being nurturing and affectionate showed the highest degree of life satisfaction (Randall: par 12). An interesting and seemingly obvious conclusion of this study was that stay-at-home dads who had higher conformity to masculine norms had lower levels of life and relationship satisfaction and higher distress. Mark Trainer wrote on the subject of being a stay-at-home dad in “Odd Man Out,” an article in The Washington Post, “In these past years, I’ve found my place in a world that surrounds me with people – who find it very, very odd that it is I, not my wife, who’s picking up the kids at preschool and carrying the snacks.” From this another question arises; how does one become a stay-at-home father? In a Belgian study Laura Merla found three main factors that lead to the position. If men’s attitudes towards their work are negative because of disappointing working conditions, job instability, or low career prospects they may distance themselves from paid work and look for other sources of self-fulfillment (Merla: 119). Men were found to leave their jobs if their paid work prevented them from being the fathers they dreamed of being, and in a few instances “at-home wives’ willingness to start working [that] pushed them to reconsider their own investment in paid work and childcare.” (Merla: 121). Most families hold a view that at least one parent should stay home. Studies of stay-at-home dads are becoming more popular now that fathers staying home are common. This is good for finding a larger size of samples, but as of now most studies have lacked randomly drawn samples. This has resulted in the over representation of white, middle-upper class, well educated fathers and families (Merla: 129). Still it is nice to see primary childcare responsibility shifting, be it slowly, from a mother’s role to a parent’s role. And more stay-at-home dads may mean more families defining their own flexible and less restrictive family and gender roles.

Work Cited

Baldauf, Scott. "More stay-at-home dads drop baby bottles for briefcases." Christian Science Monitor 89.83 (1997): 1. Academic Search Premier. 27 Apr. 2008.

Brannon, Linda. Gender: Psychological Perspectives. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2007.

Merla, Laura. "Determinants, Costs, and Meanings of Belgian Stay-at-Home Fathers: An International Comparison." Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, & Practice about Men as Fathers 6.2 (2008): 113-132. Academic Search Premier. 27 Apr. 2008. <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=31413682&site=ehost-live>.

Randall, Kay. " Stay-at-home dads’ psychological well-being gauged in new study | The University of Texas at Austin." The University of Texas at Austin - Web Central. 29 Apr. 2008 <http://www.utexas.edu/features/2008/fathers/>.

Trainer, Mark. "Odd Man Out." The Washington Post 15 Apr. 2008: HealthF1, F7.

Cited: Baldauf, Scott. "More stay-at-home dads drop baby bottles for briefcases." Christian Science Monitor 89.83 (1997): 1. Academic Search Premier. 27 Apr. 2008. Brannon, Linda. Gender: Psychological Perspectives. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2007. Merla, Laura. "Determinants, Costs, and Meanings of Belgian Stay-at-Home Fathers: An International Comparison." Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, & Practice about Men as Fathers 6.2 (2008): 113-132. Academic Search Premier. 27 Apr. 2008. <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=31413682&site=ehost-live&gt;. Randall, Kay. " Stay-at-home dads’ psychological well-being gauged in new study | The University of Texas at Austin." The University of Texas at Austin - Web Central. 29 Apr. 2008 <http://www.utexas.edu/features/2008/fathers/>. Trainer, Mark. "Odd Man Out." The Washington Post 15 Apr. 2008: HealthF1, F7.

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