As more men call themselves stay-at-home dads, they redefine for both men and women what it means to stay home with kids. Men have learned a lot from watching women struggle with home life. The super-woman syndrome of the 1980s has squashed the desire to juggle committed parenting with a sixty-hour workweek, and Rolling Stones lyrics about Valium as “mother’s little helper” do not fall on deaf ears; 24/7 with kids for eighteen years is too hard.
So today’s stay-at-home dad probably has some kind of work outside of the kids. He might not be earning much money, but he has the wisdom of generations before him to know that the money isn’t what matters. Ted Castro is a stay-at-home dad with his daughters, Giselle, six, and Claudia, eighteen months, while his wife, Nicole Faulkner works full-time managing a genetics lab. But if you ask Ted, “What else do you do?” he’ll say, “I’m an artist.”
Since the onset of feminism, stay-at-home moms have been incensed by the question, “What else do you do?” as if being home with kids were not a full-time job. But today, few people question how difficult and full-time taking care of kids is. So stay-at-home dads welcome the question. “I think the question really means, What did you do before you had kids?” says Castro. “Everyone went through a certain amount of schooling. So the question really means, What was your other choice?”
Castro’s other choice was making stained glass. After a degree in fine arts and an apprenticeship, he built up a business making stained glass commissioned by architects. Now he “makes only two or three pieces a year,” but he still calls himself a working artist.
After at least a decade of feuding between stay-at-home moms and working moms, the argument about which is better is dissipating. And in part, this is because men add a fresh perspective to the decision-making process. For dads, staying at home is not so much political as practical. “It just grew that way,” says Castro of his family setup.
In fact, most men do not set out to be stay-at-home dads. They just want to make sure they get to spend time with their kids. A survey by American Demographics revealed that eighty percent of men ages 18 to 39 said that a flexible job to accommodate kids takes a higher priority than doing challenging work or earning a high salary. The new stay-at-home version of dad is how they reach this goal.
On web sites such as slowlane.com, which cater to dads who put family first, stay-at-home dad and work-at-home dad are used almost interchangeably. And it’s a gray area as to how many hours per week a dad needs to work outside the home to disqualify himself as an at-home dad. (Stay-at-home dad Jeff, for example, designs stay-at-home dad apparel and operates the store that sells it.) Most significantly, though, the dads don’t seem to care about that number.
Some people will say, “Big surprise. Men staying at home with kids is just like men vacuuming — they do the living room and bedroom and never get to the kitchen and den before they get distracted.” But others will see a synergy of the sexes: Just as women in the workplace show men how life can be better there, men at home show women a few means of improvement as well.
So both men and women can benefit from learning how to create a life that is conducive to the new stay-at-home and accommodates a new sort of work.
1. Think part-time. Lisa Levey, Director of Advisory Services at Catalyst says, “Usually you have to earn the opportunity to work part time. Work at the same company for a while, and develop a certain niche. Over time, you can craft something that will work for you.” She would know: For years her husband has worked an abridged work schedule so he can be home with the kids.
2. Aim for high-level. “We have in our mind that lower status or lower paying would be easier to balance, but this is not the case,” says Phyllis Moen, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota. “If you think you are taking a job that would give you more time, talk to people in that job.”
3. Save, save, save. Castro buys clothes at thrift shops and even frequents garbage dumps. “I got a Concept-II Rowing machine off the street,” he says. “I’ll never pay for a piece of exercise equipment again.”
4. Have faith. “People say my husband is so lucky,” says Levey, “But he negotiated and made compromises. Fear dominates the work world now. People need to push back and try to get what they want.”