Today, there are more stay-at-home dads than ever. Estimates vary, but the numbers have been on the rise for decades.
Some recent reports say there are about 7 million men in the United States that act as primary caregiver to their children, with between 2-4 million of them being SAHDs (stay-at-home dads).
Still, there’s a shocking sentiment shared by more people in the United States and beyond than you would think. Few say it in such clear terms, but it’s obvious what people are thinking.
Stay at home dads are losers, pathetic, and lazy.
Is it true? Without a shadow of a doubt, absolutely not!
Though being a SAHD is a brutal job in many ways — isolating, lonely, and far from being universally accepted by society — the research is crystal clear that kids can greatly benefit from this reversal of gender roles.
When kids get more time with their dad, they have better outcomes in life, and seeing their father participate in things like dishes and laundry has an amazingly positive impact on young girls. And though it’s difficult at times, dads who stay at home often report greater levels of fulfillment and personal satisfaction, not to mention stronger relationships with their partner.
Let’s dive into the research a bit and talk about why being a stay-at-home dad is meaningful work.
How society views stay at home dads
Being a dad who’s not the breadwinner of the household is more socially acceptable than it was 50 years ago, but we have a long way to go.
The word that keeps popping up if you research the topic is stigma.
There’s a collective attitude our culture has about SAHDs that’s far from complimentary. Though many people understand the decision logically, they can’t help but judge it harshly.
Being any kind of stay-at-home parent is hard, but here a few challenges specific to dads:
Men are judged by career and financial success (and SAHDs have none)
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, once said in an interview: “We demand end expect professional success from men. It’s optional and even threatening from women.”
Despite how common it is, studies show everyone gets a little uncomfortable when the mom or wife of the house makes more money than the husband.
Now factor in a stay-at-home dad who has no source of income at all and multiply the tension by 1000.
Money, career success, and personal achievement are core elements of how we judge a man’s manliness and, more or less, his worth.
A lot of SAHDs report feeling inferior to or looked down upon by their male friends who compare salaries, work perks, and promotions.
(And that’s to say nothing of the criticism from family members with old-fashioned ideas of gender roles.)
People assume SAHDs are stuck, resentful, bitter, or worse: lazy
It’s not clear at this point which one is seen as being worse:
Wanting to be a stay-at-home dad or being forced into it.
Both seemingly reflect poorly on men who, for one reason or another, stay home to take care of the house and their children.
An anonymous dad on reddit writes that his friends assume he could get a good job that would more than pay for the kids to go to daycare, so he must be lazy or content not to work.
On the other hand, a lot of men in stay-at-home roles are met with confusion:
“Surely, this gig is only temporary, right? You’re looking for a job? You’ll be back on your feet soon? You must be going nuts!”
It’s seemingly unconscionable to a large sector of people that a man would willingly volunteer to be the one to raise and care for his children.
It’s a ridiculous notion, but extremely pervasive.
Even when having dad stay home is an overwhelmingly positive choice for everyone involved in the family, research finds the decision still provokes tension and social discrimination.
SAHDs and SAHMs aren’t always on the same page
Being a stay-at-home dad is tough, but at least stay-at-home moms will understand the struggle, right?
Not so fast.
A lot of dads report finding it difficult to make connections or even playdates with stay-at-home moms, often feeling like outcasts at events and school functions.
Even among parenting groups, the stigma is powerful.
The sociologist Scott Melzer recently told The Atlantic that “Parenting young children, in general, can be a very isolating experience.”
“And the men I spoke with feel that’s especially the case for them because their numbers are small, and many of them felt marginalized, or even distrusted and feared, by moms.”
3 science-backed benefits of stay-at-home dads
Attitudes toward stay-at-home dads aren’t just harsh, they’re unfounded.
Having the father stay at home with the kids is becoming increasingly less of a last resort and more and more a decision that benefits the entire family — most importantly, the kids.
Research finds that instead of defaulting to having mom stay home just because “it’s the way things have traditionally been done,” more and more men are choosing the SAHD life after conversations with their partners, examining finances, and carefully considering the decision.
In other words, more and more couples are finding out that stay-at-home dads can be a really good thing.
Here are a few research-backed benefits to the SAHD life.
More dad-time is almost always a good thing for kids
In my guide to how to be a better dad, I compile a bevy of research that suggests the more involved dad is, the better outcomes children are likely to have.
Kids with hands-on dads:
- Have better, stronger, and healthier romantic relationships
- Do better in their careers
- Score higher in IQ tests
- And on and on
(Of course, children of single moms or lesbian parents are far from doomed. But when kids have an absent or unengaged father, there tend to be negative consequences.)
The unfortunate reality is that working dads, especially sole breadwinners, have less time to spend with their kids.
There are plenty of great working dads out there who show affection, help with homework, and get involved with school activities.
But based on the research, it’s easy to see that the extra exposure and bonding time SAHDs get can only lead to good things for the kids.
Here’s a fascinating research nugget: When dads are more involved with dishes, laundry, cleaning, and other housework, they inspire their daughters to dream bigger and have more ambitious career goals.
Just saying you’re all for gender equality and equal opportunity isn’t enough. When mom works and dad does the dishes, little girls can actually see it in action and internalize that anything is possible.
Dads parent differently, and it’s a refreshing change of pace
You don’t have to be a clinical psychologist to see that dads and moms often have drastically different parenting styles.
Dads have their own way of doing things.
They play rough. They worry less. They let the kids take more risks. And their first instinct is to encourage problem-solving and curiosity rather than to offer comfort.
These things are all crucial to a child’s development.
Mom’s strengths as a parent are important, but so are dad’s. And the idea that dad should be off earning money and spending just a few spare minutes in the evening with his children is just so damn harmful — all just so he can keep his masculinity intact.
Think of everything those kids would be missing out on.
According to research done by Dr. Kyle D. Pruett, “a father’s active involvement with his children, from birth to adolescence, promotes greater emotional balance, stronger curiosity and a stronger self of self-assurance in the child.”
It can make dad (and mom) happier in the long run
It’s heresy to some people, but here’s the truth:
For a lot of men, being a dad gives them more satisfaction and fulfillment than any career possibly could.
The current generation of men has improved what fatherhood looks like in so many important ways, including showing more affection, playing with their kids more often, and saying “I love you” more frequently.
(See more in my list of fatherhood statistics.)
But perhaps the most overlooked sign of progress in the modern dad is his willingness to give up a pay raise, promotion, or his career entirely in the interests of his family.
In fact, as the number of stay-at-home dads has grown over the years, so has the number of working men who wish they could stay at home with the kids.
Now that’s powerful.
Fun fact: Lots of SAHDs report their new role has improved their marriages since it gives them more empathy into the struggles moms face day-in and day-out and leads to a much more democratic distribution of housework.
Stay-at-home dads aren’t lazy. They aren’t pathetic. They aren’t losers.
They’re doing the most important job on the planet in the face of extraordinary stigma and judgment.
They share many struggles with stay-at-home moms, but have a few unique ones of their own that make the job extra tough.
It’s not opinion or politics. Science and research have definitively shown that having a highly engaged father gives kids a massive advantage in life over their peers.
And how can you be more engaged as a dad than to be the primary caregiver?
Before you go, check out some of my other favorite dad posts like:
Thanks for reading!