Sciencewomen

Why doesn’t the Daddy just stay home?

I’ll pick up on a comment thread from the last post, in which I argued that whether women with high earning jobs and high earning partners were “opting out” or being forced out missed the fact that many women with high-earning jobs are financially supporting their families and can’t afford to even contemplate “opting out.”

Randy asks:

Why don’t husbands opt out to help wives? I have seen it done. and again, there is little reason why folks can’t survive on one income (in one of those incomes is coming from decent tenure track job)


Off the top of my head, I can come up with several reasons why husbands might be *much* less willing than wives to “opt out” or even take time off from their careers to help with familial responsibilities. And I think those reasons mostly have to do with cultural conditioning.

Our society is still very much of a patriarchy and many men were not raised to consider full-time family work a desirable option or even a possibility. In the patriarchal world view, women take care of babies, while men bring home the bacon. Even if the woman is bringing home the bacon, the man may still feel the need to contribute to the bank account rather than the baby rearing. Adding to that, if raising children is traditionally women’s work, many men do not have the confidence or even the interest in taking on those responsibilities. They’d rather work outside the home because they are afraid of failing at or being bored with being good dads and homemakers. Work in the home is not valued, economically or societally, in the same way that work in the workplace is valued. So men may see staying home as diminishing their personal worth. I’d bet that the above reasons explain why most of the men who could afford to “opt out” don’t. (One or more of these reasons are admittedly why Fish continues to work.)

Even if you’ve got (or are) an enlightened husband who places a high value on family work, taking time off from a man’s career to take care of family is seen as an aberration by potential future employers. Imagine being a man in an interview and trying to explain a 10-year gap on your resume (2 kids, 5 years apart, home until kindergarten). I’m guessing that the penalties for work gaps are even higher for men than they are for women. Why? See the patriarchy referred to above.

Some husbands do “opt out” – give up their careers to take care of their family. And they can be stupendous dads and partners. But it is not without cost for them, as Rebecca notes in the comments:

To answer Randy’s question, there are men who do opt out to help their wives. My husband is a stay-at-home dad, and we live comfortably on my income.

I think he faces more discrimination in his chosen vocation than I do in mine (computational scientist). When he goes out in public with our son, he is bombarded with advice, like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Sometimes people praise him for “babysitting” his son. There’s a woman in our neighborhood who was so horrified that he’s a stay-at-home dad that she stopped speaking to him after she found out.

A lot of men think he’s lazy. I suspect that my mother-in-law thinks he’s mooching off my goodwill. Most of the working women whom I tell about our arrangement think it’s awesome, and most of the men feel threatened. He hasn’t tried to join any playgroups yet, which is probably a good plan, because stay-at-home fathers are commonly shunned by stay-at-home mothers.

Basically, he sticks out like a sore thumb for defying society’s stereotypes, and he pays for it whenever he leaves the house. I can understand many men’s reluctance to stay at home, because it’s unpaid, unglamorous, non-prestigious work. But, the more men do it, the easier it will be for the next man to do it too.

So add fear of being socially ostracized to the list of reasons men might not want to “opt out.”

While in theory, if the woman is bringing home the bacon, the man could fry it, in practice that’s far from the case for most couples. In the end, the women are still working two jobs – one that brings in a paycheck and sustains the family economically and one that keeps the family functioning – fed, clean, and happy. No wonder we’re so tired.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike
    March 5, 2008

    My wife makes more than I do as a professor. We have discussed my staying home to raise out kids in the future. When we talk to people about this, women seem to get very offended at the idea that a man would be a stay at home dad. My mother-in-law is horrified at the idea as are most of our female friends. The men we talk to about this just say something about me having a sugar momma. While both reactions are bad, I prefer the immature reaction of most of the men over the sexist reaction of most of the women.

  2. #2 Becca
    March 5, 2008

    I realize it’s counter-culture to be a stay-at-home Dad. Heck, it might even be *subversive*.
    That’s one of the best arguments *for* it, imo. Doesn’t make it an easy choice, but it’d be good for a lot more families than are currently choosing it.
    My Dad stayed at home for most of my childhood and even homeschooled me (You think stay-at-home Moms are hostile to stay-at-home Dads? I think watching your Dad be the only Dad in homeschooling gatherings time and again* is excellent preparation for being a woman in science).
    That said, even our family (as odd as we were) might not have done it if we hadn’t been forced to get by on my Mom’s paycheck alone during my Dad’s illness. I think one of the biggest obstacles is people actually seeing how the finaces work for a sole female ‘breadwinner’- when you *have* to make them work, it’s easier to make the change.

    *as an aside, if the male O-chem professor homeschooler friend of ours ever reads this, please know that I think my Dad was tickled pink to meet you [I know I was], but that it was also a change from his earliest homeschooling parent experiences of being the only male.

  3. #3 Dlanod
    March 5, 2008

    I am a stay-at-home dad to a 17 month old. There was no question who would be the stay-at-home parent as my wife makes more than twice what I do. She is also more prone to cabin fever than I am. This is one of the most rewarding, most tiring, most irritating and most challenging jobs I have ever had.

    I have opted to work half-time from home and am fortunate to have a great relationship with the small company I work for. Both our families are very supportive of our arrangement.

    My son and I tried out a few playgroups last summer, but he was still a bit young to interact with the other kids and I definitely felt out of place with the mothers I was encountering. Part of it was because I was the only man there, but the greater part was that I am an older parent (47) and I was, on average, twenty years older than most of the mothers. I was closer in age than their parents. We’ll try more playgroups as the weather gets warmer.

    I don’t think that I have experienced any outright hostility about being a stay-at-home dad, but we do live in one of those left-leaning communities.

    From a more immature stand point, taking a cute baby for a walk is even better than having a dog. It’s amazing how many attractive young women come up to interact with him. It doesn’t hurt that he is a shameless flirt. I should have thought of this when I was 20 years old and single!

  4. #4 randy
    March 5, 2008

    fine, let husband work, use his entire income to help pay for needs of raising chile (hire a full time nanny for instance). Husband gets to work, you get some time. Money=time (if you have money)

    response to mike: I too have seen professional women to be more offended by colleagues husband choosing to stay home.

    “patriarchal societies” don’t change unless you change them.

  5. #5 ScienceWoman
    March 5, 2008

    “patriarchal societies” don’t change unless you change them.

    I agree, but you asked why my husband (and other men in similar situations) doesn’t stay home. I answered. Even if neither of us likes the answer, that’s what it is. It would help if more men werelike Rebecca’s husband and Dlanod who are not afraid to buck expectations and force other people to examine their own preconceived notions.

  6. #6 Carrie
    March 5, 2008

    My husband works part time, and has since our first was born 9 years ago (I am also the high wage earner, more education, etc partner). For us, this has been the perfect compromise between the SAHD (and all the social implications therein) and the rat race of two full-time working parents. My dh takes the kids to the Dr, goes on field trips, stays home when they are sick (he has better leave than I do too :-)). He goes grocery shopping and takes the car to the shop. He also goes surfing or running while the kids are in school so that *I* can go running when the kids are out of school.

    Even with that (he IS working), he still gets flack for the SAHD thing at times. Mostly from his family. And *I* get flack too (from both families) about how I’m not doing the proper job of taking care of my husband and children because I’m not the one buying the groceries, etc. It’s been a great situation for us, but people just have a hard time accepting situations outside of the norm.

    FWIW, I think social pressure really isn’t a good reason for a dad NOT to be a SAHD. And, basically, I wouldn’t let my husband use that as an excuse for me to become burnt out.

  7. #7 LAH
    March 5, 2008

    Since beginning my tenure-track position last fall my husband has stayed at home with our infant son. His transition from full time professional to full time caregiver has been challenging for all of us. Moving to a new place and leaving our support network behind was difficult. However, he has sought out new venues to meet others and, contrary to the posts here, has been admired by stay-at-home moms for his decision. He has also faced some of the discrimination that Rebecca mentions in her post, especially by my extended family members. Fortunately, we are now settling in and truly enjoying our new roles.

    What resonates with me from Sciencewoman’s comments is that I, too, am still tired. Although I have a progressive partner who is giving it his all at home, I find that my training since childhood to run the household is not easily passed on to my husband. I continue to feel the burden of family management- are the bills paid, the doctors appointments made, the social calendar filled, the thank-you notes written? Chores are fine – it’s easy to split up chores equitably. But the “second shift” is also a state of mind.

  8. #8 Kjerstin
    March 6, 2008

    We’re having a huge debate about this in my country right now, after a government committee suggested that parental leave should be split in three equal shares: One for mum, one for dad, and one for them to divide between them as they see fit. It’s been very interesting to follow the debate and see how threatened many women feel by the prospect of having what they consider their rightful time with the baby taken from them. Many mothers clearly feel they’re the only ones who can take proper care of their baby. It’s also interesting to see that those most in favour of the 3-share-model (or so it seems from the media) are the couples who have already tried out sharing the parental leave more equally between them.

    So far the noise reached its maximum when a biology professor chimed in and said that it’s an evolutionary fact that women are just better caretakers, and it’s no good arguing with biology…

  9. #9 WHY CORNER
    March 6, 2008

    The tradition always comes in-between. And how can one dare to ignore the society!

  10. #10 single mom-prof
    March 6, 2008

    The argument against Dad staying home also applies to working female science-moms, to wit— 40% of first marriages end in divorce. Then who pays the bills and how?

  11. #11 expat
    March 7, 2008

    These last two posts have been some of my favorites. Again, thanks, Sciencewoman.

    I�m American, living in a Southern European country and finishing my PhD in a science field. I�ve been here for several years now, and I often find myself thinking about these things. That is, in the States what I experience as direct, overt sexism seems more subtle than things I confront here, on a day to day basis. However, social policy directed towards easing family life and womens� lives is far more advanced here (legally mandated, paid maternity and paternity leave, subsidized daycare, early childhood education, subsidies for people who care for dependents, whether or not they are children, a universal, national health care service, etc. etc). I think many of these things involve sexism and patriarchy, but also an American view on how one should live life, and our belief in the inherent good of hard work.

    What�s interesting to me is the way that many Americans recoil when such policies are mentioned as viable possibilities. It�s as if we think that if you can�t manage all the incredible economic and family demands yourself, you are obviously not working hard enough at it. We approach welfare in a similar way – obviously poor people are [insert stereotype here]. What we don�t think about is that we�re almost never fully “on our own”; we have families, friends, neighbors, coworkers who, to a greater or lesser extent, form networks who help each other to manage in many different ways. That is fully acknowledged here, and the role of the government is seen as an extension of that network and societal fabric.

    Just what is “working hard enough”? Why would it be a bad thing to have universal day care, for example? Try as I might I can�t see arguments against it.

  12. #12 Pascale
    January 13, 2010

    There are also major issues with discontinuing a career and developing health problems, at least in the US. If you later want or need to return to the work force, you may be uninsurable.
    There’s a lot of stuff we could learn from the Europeans, @expat…

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