I was blown away by the many great comments on yesterday’s post on stay at home dads.
Across my platforms I had a lot of feedback, and i was going to write something else today, but several themes kept emerging from the comments, so I thought we could talk about it a little more.
A few women said that they would hate the idea of a stay-at-home dad, because it would make him effeminate and would emasculate him and they’d lose respect and attraction for him, but that was definitely the minority.
I’ll start with this great story that encapsulates so much of what goes into decisions that couples make:
Following fertility struggles, when I finally got pregnant, my husband floated the idea of him staying home with the kids instead of me. I am the Mom, I just assumed I would stay home! But his logic was sound:
– I’m a teacher, which is an amazing job for a parent. I’m home for a year with the baby on maternity leave, I’m home every evening and weekend, I can pick them up from school, and continue working after they are in bed.
– He is a paramedic, which is a high stress, dangerous job that requires shift work and an incredible tax on mental health
– I hate laundry, cleaning, etc
– He enjoys the instant gratification of ‘it wasn’t clean and now it is’.
– I need grown up interaction to be a balanced human
– He is quite content to enjoy quiet
– when I had our first, he was making more money, but we knew that would shift as I had more earning potential.
– there was MUCH higher likelihood he would get hurt at work than me, and if we lost his income, it would take years for me to get back into teaching
– my pension is way better
So I took the 8 months off with my son, and the first year with my daughter. He got better parental leave than I did, so he took his leave as well to bridge the rest of the year home with our son. I still breastfed both kids for a year, and exclusively bf both for 6 months.
– he dropped to part time and worked Friday nights only for a while.
– Now that the kiddos are older he works more, but still part time so there can always be someone home with them.
– He gets to go on field trips, and be one of the “hot lunch ladies” at their school.
– he took our daughter for a manicure this week. When she was little, he took her to the hairdressers for a lesson on doing little girl hair, which they all thought was adorable.
– we both cook
– he still does the stereotypical gender role things: car repair, garbage, lawn care, BBQ-ing, etc. I do Christmas, birthdays, homework, vacation planning, etc.
– his buddies are all jealous of him. He gets play time, nap time, cuddle time, etc.
Here’s the thing: we are both leaning into the skills that God has blessed us with, and that positively impacts our children. They get a Dad who is not burnt out, mentally healthier, loves to engage with them. They get a Mom who is demonstrating how you can have a career and a family, who also has to make sacrifices to be a good Mom, but has an amazing support system allowing her to learn and thrive in her career.
Now, there is an element in her story that many people brought up: It makes sense for the woman to stay at home in the beginning.
Only women can breastfeed!
As a Canadian, we easily do what the couple here did–have the wife take a year long maternity leave first, and then have the husband stay home after that. We get a full year of maternity leave (it can be stretched out to 18 months if you choose, but the money doesn’t change; it’s just stretched out). In addition, dads can take up to 40 weeks of paternity leave (though together they can’t each take it). Many couples have her take 9 months, and then he tops up an extra 3 months.
As an aside, I just have to say, when I read about American maternity leave policy only getting 2 weeks, or 6 weeks, or even being thrilled with 12 weeks I get so, so sad. I seriously tear up and can’t handle it. At 12 weeks Rebecca wasn’t even healed yet from the delivery. The baby still isn’t sleeping through the night. To me, proper maternity leave is a human rights issue. We’ve had year long maternity leave in Canada since before Rebecca was born (I took a year off of my Master’s program then), and I know Europe and the UK have similar programs. I honestly feel so, so badly for American moms. I honestly can’t imagine. I just can’t.
And there’s another element too: they were able to afford for the dad to stay at home.
This couple both had well paying jobs, so it worked. I understand that this isn’t the case for everyone, and many of you need two full-time incomes. This post isn’t meant as a judgment on that, but rather a plea that we allow people to do what works for their family, rather than trying to slot everyone into one mold.
In fact, as we shared in The Great Sex Rescue, we found that ACTING OUT traditional gender roles did not impact marital satisfaction one way or the other. But as soon as you believed that gender roles were assigned by God, bad things start to happen. So it’s not that traditional gender roles are wrong, but feeling as if there is only one way to do family and get God’s approval does hurt people.
That’s something else that came up in the comments: People enjoyed finding creative solutions to work/child care:
My husband was stay at home dad for several years. He was not at all emasculated or threatened by me earning $ for our family. He is by and large a very blokey kind of guy. It was the best thing ever for us. He brought a different element to our home, bonded with our kids, taught them to be adventurous. He also learnt about the mental load of running the house, became a far better partner, and gained lots of respect from me and our kids. Allowing me to advance my career for that few years while he explored new options without the burden of just earning an income have lead us both to a place where I can work in a fantastic part time job and he has a new full time job he would never have been able to get without those years of SAHD. The only down side we found was judgement from some church friends who assumed the dynamic we had was “unbiblical” and emasculating….
My dad was a cop and my mom a doctor. It made sense for dad to stay home with me when I was little, and he did a great job. I’m very thankful for those years with him. And even more thankful that he was secure enough in himself and his relationship with Mom to be able to make that decision for our family. He has always been our protector and provider, even when it wasn’t by producing income.
The best scenario I saw was a married couple I’m friends with. she took one year off, then her husband took one year off, then they both dropped to part time. I was blown away by this, which saddened me, coz it shouldn’t be that mindblowing.
In some ways this last scenario is what Rebecca (my daughter who is often on the Bare Marriage podcast with me and who was co-author of The Great Sex Rescue) and her husband Connor plan on doing: everyone working part-time so that they both can enjoy time with the kids.
Right now Connor is mostly working full-time for me (he’s working on a huge migration for the blog when we rebrand soon) and Rebecca is home with Alex. But Rebecca and I (and Joanna, our other co-author) have a book deadline of September 1 for our moms of daughters manuscript. So Connor’s been switching his work hours so he still works 8 hours a day but he doesn’t start until 10 or so, and he gets the first few hours with Alex. And he says he’s so much happier starting the day with his son.
When you can juggle something like that, it’s great! When Katie was a year old and Rebecca was 3 1/2 Keith finished his residency in pediatrics, but we were waiting for a job to open up in his home town. So for six months we each worked part-time. I earned the same as him because I was doing database programming, and those six months were some of the most fun of our lives. We were each doing important and challenging work, but we were also each getting time with the children. And the girls loved it.
Unfortunately, all too many churches don’t acknowledge that the stereotypical way of doing family is not the only one.
It’s clear that most people believe that doing what works for you as a family is best. But if churches don’t start acknowledging that this is a good thing, then more and more couples will head for the door, feeling unwelcome.
My husband has been the one cooking, cleaning, and doing the majority of care for our toddler since he lost his job shortly after she was born. And I am the breadwinner with the career job for now. He’s not felt that he fits in at churches, since stay at home dad issues are never addressed and few other men are in that position. He’s been wanting stay at home dads to be acknowledged & affirmed at our church for a long time.
One of my closest friends has this arrangement – she is the primary breadwinner, and he stays home with the kids. He’s a licensed MFT who had his own practice – but this choice made the most sense financially and for other reasons for them, and both of them are happy with this arrangement, particularly while their kids are very young. When they first made this decision it was quite unusual for our church community – but most people were generally supportive. However, they did also have multiple people confront them to say they were not making a “biblical decision” and express concerns about her husband. So apparently those people would not only agree that having a stay at home dad isn’t as good as having a stay at home mom – but would further suggest that God doesn’t approve of situations with stay at home dads.
This is a side issue – but I’m honestly so tired of people using the word “biblical” in front of nouns (biblical womanhood/manhood/decisions, etc.). In my experience this is primarily a way for people to say that their opinions are God’s opinions, and therefore disagreeing with them/their interpretation is disagreeing with God. It’s manipulative and in some cases spiritually abusive, and I would love to see that language dropped out of Christian vernacular altogether.
The reason I walked away from my old evangelical church was because my husband ended up being a stay-at-home dad. When we got engaged, my pastor called us into to talk to him and said he had concerns, one of which was that my husband didn’t seem career oriented and wasn’t in a place to provide for a family, in his opinion. He said that while there’s “nothing wrong” with a man staying home with children, it’s not truly God’s path.
Fast forward 3 years later when we had our first child, and both were sort of in between careers. It was terrifying, but I started praying. I used to pray specifically for my husband to find a job, but then I switch to praying that God would provide for us. When my son was 6 weeks old my old boss called me and offered me one of two full-time positions available in that workplace.
I don’t need a paradigm of conformity to tell me I’m doing God’s will. My husband has been an amazing father, has contributed to the home in more ways than being solely a homemaker, and we’ve been able to make a true partnership. It just irks me that some would see that as a sin.
Side rant; we need to get changing tables in all men’s bathrooms!
It really was interesting reading the comments and seeing how many people were finding creative solutions, or were supportive of stay-at-home dads. The culture is definitely changing.
I just hope that the church as a whole wakes up and starts supporting families, and not just judging them. And remember that “the church” isn’t just elder’s boards and pastors, but us as people. How do we all treat families who find a different work/child care balance than we do? Maybe we should all ask ourselves that!
What do you think? Would a stay-at-home dad be welcome in your social circle? Would a working mom? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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