Times have changed. Although most fathers still are bringing home the bacon, now more of them also are cooking it, feeding it to their hungry kids and cleaning up the mess.
Recent statistics show there are more fathers staying at home with their children than ever before. An article in Christianity Today (Fall 2000) places the numbers at nearly 2 million, four times more than in 1986.
Kathryn Mueller, director of the gender studies minor program in the sociology department at Baylor, says households with stay-at-home dads are the fastest-growing family type. And although they are a diverse group, they all have one thing in common, she says.
"All have wives working outside the home for the majority of the day, and they are responsible for the time spent in taking care of the children," Mueller says. "Many dads devote their entire day to raising their children, while others conduct their business at home. Some hold night jobs and care for the children during the day."
In the last decade, society has become more accepting of the increasing number of women in the workforce. More men are getting laid off than women, and many times the wife earns more money. Recently, more women than men have graduated with master's and bachelor's degrees, Mueller says. These factors, coupled with the current economic recession, have led to an increasing number of parents avoiding day care and staying home, she says.
At-home dads do the same household activities as at-home moms, Mueller says. They feed, dress and play with the children, but there is no true role reversal. When the working mom comes home, she tends to move back into her traditional roles -- helping with dinner and the bedtime routine. At-home dads also still tend to fulfill the traditional male roles at home, such as maintenance and yard work, she says.
"Another difference is that dads are more likely to seek help, information and support via the Internet than moms, as demonstrated by the increase of Web sites, chat groups and online newsletters targeted at this group," she says.
In order to be considered a child's primary caregiver, a parent must be home the majority of the day with the children, while the other parent economically supports the family. Mueller says this has prompted a debate over how children are affected if the primary caregiver is the father.
"According to a recent study at the University of Texas, the more time dads spend with their children, the less behavior problems reported by mothers," she says. "Other studies reveal that children who spend increased time with their fathers have higher verbal skills and academic achievement than children who do not."
According to a 2003 study conducted by Parents magazine, these children also seek out both parents for comfort, a difference from the usual attachment to the mother. Fathers provide more physical comfort and mothers provide more emotional comfort, the study reported.
Although there appear to be several advantages of having the father stay with the children, these men often are criticized by those who value more traditional gender roles, Mueller says. "As a society, we need to support dads in an effort to be more involved with their children. Dads should be expected to be equal partners in parenting."
Top ten things Stay-at-home dads hate to hear:
1) What are you going to do when you go back to work in the real world?
2) Wouldn't it be better for the kids if the mother stayed at home?
3) What do you do with all your spare time?
4) Who wears the pants in the family?
5) Oh, so you're Mr. Mom?
6) That's a nice mommy wagon you drive.
7) What does your wife think about you not working?
8) How can you stand to change diapers all the time?
9) Do you miss the security of having a job?
10) What do you mean you didn't get a chance to finish the laundry?
Source: Slowlane.com, "Don't Call Me Mr. Mom!" by Buzz McClain, October 2000.