Stay at Home Dad – or “Mr. Mom”?

by TTMK on February 23, 2012 · 12 comments

Have you ever seen the movie “Mr. Mom”? It’s a good look at old-school views of stay at home dads, using what is an outdated term.

It’s a movie that’s almost 30 years old, and from what was a different era. In this movie, a guy loses his job and ends up staying home with the kids while his wife keeps working. Okay, that part might actually sound very much like a common scene today. However, what struck me in watching that movie was how the stay at home dad was seen as a bumbling idiot around the house, totally inept and ill-prepared to spend his day caring for young children.  That’s such a 1983 perspective!

Or, is it?

I would like to think that people are more open-minded to the idea that in a relationship, a man can stay home with the kids if a couple chooses to do things that way. Clearly, there are some people who have this arrangement, and it works well for them.

However, while the practice is obviously becoming more frequent and accepted, there are some very traditional views on gender roles out there. This came to mind as I recalled a conversation with someone who talked about a woman with whom he worked.  The woman was apparently going through a divorce. She had done well in her career and was a senior executive. Her husband, apparently, was a stay at home Dad.

The guy I was talking to, discussing the unfortunate news of what was happening, remarked something to the effect of “You could see that coming. Can you blame her?”

The unstated comment was: he wasn’t making any money, while she was making a lot. Therefore, of course she would get frustrated with her husband and her situation.

The guy said it in such a matter of fact manner, as if it was an obvious conclusion. It was one of those very infrequent times where I was totally taken aback by what the guy said.   Not because I was then (or am now) a stay at home father. Rather, because I thought the guy’s view was so, well, 1983.

My own opinion about the subject is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with couples who choose to have the guy stay home with kids, or be the secondary earner. If that’s what works for them, who can argue?

Now, clearly there are some people who are better than others at being a stay at home parent. Frankly, as a guy, I can admit that there are some guys I know that would truly be inept and clueless in terms of caring for a young child. Utterly clueless.  However, that’s just some guys. Many guys are totally capable of being fantastic primary caregivers, and really value playing the role of SAHD and putting forth all the work involved with it.

Like I said, I’m not a stay at home father. However, I think it’s absolutely time to stop negatively perceiving those men that take on this role. Also, it’s time to stop critiquing women who play the role of primary breadwinner in these relationships.

Of course, I realize that many people do believe strongly in strictly traditional gender roles, and might completely disagree with me.

What Do You Think?

  • When you hear about a situation about a man being at home while a woman is the breadwinner, what are your initial, instant thoughts? Please share your immediate, unfiltered impressions!
  • Do you think that it’s time that perceptions of these arrangements should change?
  • Would you embark on a life journey with this arrangement?

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Well Heeled Blog February 23, 2012 at 9:43 am

I think things are changing, and society is becoming more accepting of stay at home dads. But if you look at the absolute numbers, the number of dads staying home are a small fraction of all stay at home parents. In today’s economy, I’d say it’s very difficult to have one parent stay home unless the other parent is earning a lot of money, you are used to a very frugal lifestyle, or you live in a very low cost of living area. My ideal scenario would be for my partner and I to both have challenging, engaging careers where we are paid a good compensation, and for us to contribute both monetarily and in other ways to the household. I don’t think it SHOULD matter who makes what, but it might.

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TTMK February 24, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Well Heeled – It is tough for people to live on one income, especially if they live in higher cost of living areas. Things are different in today’s environment versus that of a prior generation. I agree that it shouldn’t matter who makes what, in the big picture. Many will probably disagree, whether or not they want to admit it. Thanks for the comment!

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Michelle February 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the male staying home. I’m going to be the “breadwinner” in my family most likely, and he will be the stay at home dad.

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TTMK February 24, 2012 at 11:26 pm

Michelle – sounds like a modern view you have! It’s getting more and more common for the female to make more than the husband.

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Emily @ evolvingPF February 23, 2012 at 10:18 pm

1) I don’t really think twice when I hear about a stay-at-home dad. While I grew up in a household with a stay-at-home mom, two of my parents’ best friends from college had a marriage where the husband was a stay-at-home dad and the wife was a super successful executive. So it doesn’t seem very strange to me.

2) I basically think that whatever works for a given family is their own business and fine by me. I remember from some social sciences class in college that the most important thing for marital satisfaction is for a husband and wife to agree on what their roles should be, despite what their actual situation might be. As in, the couple who wants the wife to stay at home but she is forced to work is likely to have higher satisfaction than a husband a wife who disagree on who should stay at home.

3) It’s not impossible but I don’t find it likely. My husband and I have already agreed to prioritize his career over mine and we would like to leave the option open of me staying at home while we have infants.

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TTMK February 24, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Emily – you make a really good point about how our experiences from childhood – even if not related to our own specific family – can shape our views on things as adults. I think many of our views are a product of our history and experience, though who knows – some might be innate? As for your social sciences example, that’s actually pretty interesting when you think about it. It’s apprently not what actually happens that matters most, but whether or not the parties agree upon what should happen based on views on roles. Interesting!

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Hunter - Financially Consumed February 24, 2012 at 8:49 am

Great topic. You’re right, perceptions are changing to a more accepting position on men taking a secondary economic role in the household.

I’m a stay at home Dad, have been for 10 years and I’ve had my share of ups and downs. I’m always busy and create an active schedule to ensure everyone in the house is developing, me included. Since quitting my finance job I’ve earned a masters degree, among other accomplishments.

Do I sound like I’m trying to justify my self-worth? Maybe, I’m guilty of that. I do become overwhelmed with a sense of inferiority at times because I’m acutely aware of social perceptions. Most people will be ok with this phenomenon, but exclude us from social networks. The truth is that most people are very uncomfortable with this and they simply don’t know how to deal with it. It has been an isolating experience from that perspective, and I think my kids have suffered as a result, with fewer play dates compared to their peers. Other kids can’t come over and play at our house because I’m a man, and it’s considered weird for kids to play at friends houses when only the Dad is home…like we’re all sexual predators or some crazy reason like that.

I’ve had to work hard to build my social networks outside of the Moms groups. I ride bikes with the ‘guys’ on weekends where it doesn’t matter what you do, and thank God for blogging.

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TTMK February 24, 2012 at 11:41 pm

Hunter,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic.

What I find really interesting is that essentially, while many people might be okay with it, they apparently act somewhat differently. It seems to be a case of people saying one thing, and perhaps intellectually meaning it, but actually doing something else. What I’m sorry to read is that people have provided difficulties with play dates and have shown such a noticeable lack of comfort/trust in a guy watching kids. That’s really annoying to me, I have to admit! It isn’t fair to you (or kids) at all, and seems to be ridiculous. I can appreciate your candor in sharing your thoughts.

Anyway, I think anybody that looks down on what you’re doing is incredibly foolish and possibly hypocritical. Actually, while staying at home as a father is happening more often, you’re still going against the grain. In reality, the difficulties you encounter that many people might not acknowledge – like kids activities, playgroups, etc – make what you’re doing impressive. Maybe a generation from now it won’t seem as impressive, which would probably be more fair.

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Pam at MoneyTrail February 25, 2012 at 10:16 pm

I think any stay at home parent, mom or dad, deserves a lot of respect. It is a job that is full of joy and precious moments. However, it is also a 24/7 job that requires you to be nurse, teacher, chef, counselor, housekeeper, and taxi driver.

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TTMK February 25, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Pam – yes, it’s work and deserves respect. Sometimes people don’t get that respect when in that role, and the stay at home Dad may get some extra negativity due to perceptions that he “should” be a financial provider.

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Nicoleandmaggie February 27, 2012 at 8:25 am

I’m an academic. For the most part we don’t get to choose where we live. This can be very disruptive for significant others. Additionally, most academic women marry highly educated men (the opposite is not as true– most academic men don’t marry highly educated women, although it’s probably a higher % than in the general population).

So when a man is willing to sacrifice his career to his wife’s, I think, How nice. So many guys have hang-ups about needing to be the breadwinner. That’s not to say that there should be one-sided sacrifice of any sort in a marriage, as we talk about in today’s post, but it is nice when a couple is able to work things out without being bound by the burden of conventional gender stereotypes.

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TTMK February 27, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Nicoleandmaggie – I agree that it’s nice when a couple can work things out. That’s the goal for most, and hopefully people find a way to succeed at it. Also, thanks for sharing those interesting observations about academia.

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