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Real Mr. Moms: 'Stay-at-Home-Dads Have It Harder!'

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Gina Kaysen Fernandes: We may think that SAHMs face a social stigma, but it is much more difficult for men. After all, "Daddy and Me" classes aren't exactly ubiquitous.

Stressed looking dad

On any given weekday, Michael Bailey pulls into an office complex for a meeting on a prospective project. As he enters the conference room, nothing seems out of the ordinary -- except for the infant car seat he's lugging that contains his 7-month-old son. "He's a very well-behaved baby," says Michael, who admits that toting his tot may appear a little unprofessional, but "it hasn't been an issue." Michael is part of a growing minority of stay-at-home dads who, for various reasons, are choosing to raise the kids while Mom earns a paycheck.

Michael is in between jobs and looking for work, but describes getting laid off from his full-time writing gig as "perfect timing." "Our youngest was too little to go to daycare, so it worked out nicely," he says. Michael is on his second stint as a SAHD; he previously lost his job in the notoriously unstable entertainment industry around the same time his first child was born three years ago. But this time around, he's taking care of two kids -- which makes the job doubly challenging. "You're literally divided in half trying to give equal amounts of time to each one," he says. When he finds himself knee-deep in laundry and tantrums, Michael has no one to commiserate with. "It would be great if there was a dad's club we could all go to," he says.

While SAHDs are becoming more common, especially in this time of high unemployment, these Mr. Moms remain an anomaly with few support networks. "I tried to start a dad's group, and got very little response," says Jay Brown, who has stayed at home with his two kids for the past six years. "That was a little disheartening. It's not like the 'Mommy and Me' groups on every corner."

Jay decided to quit working as an actor and farmer's market pickle salesman after the birth of his daughter. His wife had stayed home with their first child, but ultimately had more earning potential and decided to return to work after the birth of their second baby. Jay jumped at the chance to spend unlimited time with his kids. "At times it's maddening; at times it's alienating," he says. "But it's so worth it."

The dads who decide to trade in the desk job for diaper duty find that the road less traveled is a lonely one. "Emotionally, it's tough," says Jay, who felt rebuffed by the stay-at-home moms he met in kids' groups like Gymboree. "Maybe it was me, but you do get that vibe of, 'Who's this creepy guy with a kid?'" Aside from feeling excluded from playdates and moms' coffee-talks, SAHDs also face harsher judgment about their child-centered lifestyle than SAHMs do.

"There's a gender bias," says Bruce Sallan, a professional columnist, radio host and momlogic blogger who writes about parenting in his blog, "A Dad's Point-of-View." "Moms who stay at home are accepted; dads are not." Bruce finds that SAHDs are underappreciated and misunderstood. "There's a lot of lip service, but not a lot of validation," he says.

After 25 years in the television and entertainment business, Bruce ditched his executive job for full-time fatherhood. Raising his two sons became even tougher after Bruce went through a divorce. The boys' mother eventually walked away from her kids and left Bruce a single parent. During what Bruce calls "the dark days" of the divorce, he focused more on keeping his boys happy than on the housekeeping. "We'd do laundry when we wanted to and eat with our fingers when we wanted to," he says.

While the "mommy wars" may have reached a temporary ceasefire, it appears that many SAHMs are taking aim at their male counterparts. Bruce experienced open hostility from the mothers he encountered when he volunteered at his sons' school and joined the PTA. "They didn't want a guy in their group," he says. 'My attitude was, 'F*ck them.'" Another source of irritation for Bruce were the incessant questions about his plans to go back to work. "I am working," he snaps. "Just because I'm not earning a paycheck doesn't discount what I do."

As a token dad blogger with an international audience, Bruce frequently gets inquiries from other SAHDs looking for advice. The most common concerns are feelings of loneliness, isolation and the fear of losing custody. Bruce finds a sense of purpose in writing about his own experiences. "I wanted to make a positive impact," he says. He urges other SAHDs to practice patience when they're angry, and to never hesitate to say "I'm sorry." "Kids need to know that you're fallible and that you take responsibility when you've messed up," says Bruce.

Each father who shared his story said he felt lucky to have the chance to play such an influential role in raising his children. "I cherish this time, but I do miss working," says Michael, who confesses that he won't hesitate to jump back into the workforce when the opportunity arises. Jay, on the other hand, says that he's concerned about budget cuts impacting school programs and teachers, so he plans to stay at home as long as he can. "This is what I'm used to," he says. "This is what I do."

next: My 12-Year-Old Had Her First Kiss
14 comments so far | Post a comment now
sahdwiser May 19, 2010, 5:39 AM

I’m a sahd, and just want to say a couple of things:

1) thanks for the article! for the post part it’s a good representation of some of the struggles we go through. it’s very very important for us to have the support of mommies.

2) please please please stop using the term Mr Mom! I’m sure you don’t mean it this way, but it’s genuinely insulting, and projects the image of the bumbling dad from the movie. men who stay home to care for their kid(s) are no more Mr Mom than women who go to work are Mrs Dad.

Kevin Gainey May 19, 2010, 6:55 AM

I have to echo sahdwiser’s comments. Thanks for covering the struggles SAHDs face. But please stop using the term Mr. Mom. We’re dads. You can call us Mr. Dad, SAHD, home father, whatever, but don’t call us Mr. Mom.

Thanks again for the great article!

black iris May 19, 2010, 8:46 AM

I think stay-at-home dads have a false idea of how great it is for stay-at-home moms. We get pressured to go back to work and insulted, too. I think the bigger picture is that none of us are getting paid or protected with social security benefits, etc. Getting respect for the job and compensation/a safety net is the real problem in my view.

Jake May 19, 2010, 9:06 AM

How would one get compensation and/or a safety net as a SAHM/SAHD? Depending on how you look at it, you’re either working for your kids, or for yourself.

kmnk3 May 19, 2010, 9:34 AM

Personally, I refer to my SAHD as my house husband. He actually coined the term for himself & doesn’t mind being called that. Kudos to ALL SAHD’s!!!! I know its hard work but you are appreciated.

Chris Routly (Daddy Doctrines) May 19, 2010, 9:41 AM

@black iris - I am an at-home dad, and I know a lot of other at-home dads, and I honestly believe that not a single one of us has a “false idea of how great it is for stay-at-home moms”. We KNOW how tough it is, both as genuinely hard work and as isolating, often thankless work. If anything, I think we understand how hard moms have it better than any generation of men before us.

BUT we also know what a huge flood of resources are available for moms who want them. Books, magazines, classes, tv shows, playgroups, social clubs, websites — all great things, dedicated to specifically helping support moms as they try to be better moms… but dads are either unmentioned or literally unwelcome. We’ve learned to pick out the wisdom that applies for us too. It would be nice if dads-as-caregivers were not at best a parenthetical afterthought though, because dad-as-caregiver specific resources are few and far between.

Jackie May 19, 2010, 10:27 AM

Congrats to all you stay at home dads out there. What you are doing is difficult and not an easy job for anyone. Bravo!

Black Iris May 19, 2010, 1:44 PM

@Jake - stay-at-home parents are working for everyone by raising the next generation of citizens. Our work is a hidden subsidy for the economy. We provide quality care. Some quick ideas for protection/compensation:
tax credits for child care like other families
Social Security credits for our retirement
UIB for if we lose our spouse or they can’t work

Bruce Sallan May 19, 2010, 1:59 PM

Gina - great article but then again, I’m featured so I’m biased! Thanks for both quoting me so accurately and telling such a good story. I sort of wish you’d omitted my expletive! I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on my Facebook Page (“A Dad’s Point-of-View”) from men that have already read this and so agree that there’s a double standard out there. Very interesting and worthy topic!

Christina May 19, 2010, 2:34 PM

As a SAHM, I would like to let the dads know that there are some of us out there who make the effort to welcome SAHDs into our various groups. One of my close friends, one of the coolest and nicest men in the world, was a SAHD about 5 years ago, and was treated VERY poorly by not a few moms in our neighborhood. After seeing what he went through, I swore that when I had kids I would not do that to any parent, male or female. Now that I’m a parent, I belong to several groups through my local, and we’ve always made a point of welcoming SAHDs. In one instance, we invited a SAHD to join our group because we noticed that he and his kids were often at the Children’s Museum when our group met up. He seemed sweet, and lonely, and really what is the harm in being nice to your fellow human being? Sometimes we moms need to take that extra step. It’s not an easy job, regardless of your gender, and we owe it to each other to be supportive and encouraging of our fellow parents.

Black Iris May 19, 2010, 5:24 PM

Well, I think you guys are right that you have more problems with social isolation and things that are named “mom” instead of “parents.” Plus I’m sure there are people who look down on men who stay home with their kids.
My problem is that I get upset because in some of my social circles at-home dads are seen as cool and at-home moms aren’t. I’ll see at-home dads getting praised for doing such a wonderful thing and being equal parents, etc. Then at-home moms are ignored or talked to awkwardly because we’re throwbacks, not cool. I doubt being fawned over by fools helps you guys that much, but I sure wish I could be considered cool, too.

Chris Routly (Daddy Doctrines) May 19, 2010, 7:55 PM

That’s true. Dads DO get praised more easily for doing much less than moms, but I tend to see that as more of a sign of what a low bar has been set for what constitutes an involved dad. Honestly, often the praise can be more than a little condescending, as if we’re not just going beyond the call of duty but beyond our assumed abilities just because we change a diaper or cook a proper meal.

But I imagine a SAHM needs to be Super Mom to have what they do praised by other SAHMs.

Black Iris May 20, 2010, 9:46 AM

@Chris - That’s true. For me a lot of the double standard is actually coming from moms with paying jobs.

Kandis Flinn January 25, 2011, 10:02 PM

Some really fantastic posts on this internet site,thankyou for contribution.

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