That’s the number of married fathers who, according to the 2011 U.S. Census, act as the primary childcare provider for their children. While many still consider mothers to be best-suited to rear children, today’s fathers are facing a whole new world – one where they are in charge of the household.
“My wife enjoys calling me ‘Mr. Mom,’” said stay-at-home dad Sean, father of an 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. “I take it as a term of endearment.”
It’s dads like Sean who truly feel the ever-changing perceptions surrounding fatherhood, childcare and gender roles. To him, these role reversals are a necessary – albeit unexpected – part of their family dynamic.
“When I lost my job, I tried to see it as a new beginning,” said Sean. “My wife took on the role of breadwinner; right now, my biggest challenge is accepting that. My contribution to my family is to now help shape the kids and take care of the house rather than support it financially.”
Though some men find it difficult to adjust to such role reversals, others see their newfound purpose as only natural.
“Honestly, I haven’t paid much attention to people’s perceptions,” said temporary stay-at-home dad Matt. “The biggest thing I’ve learned from this experience is that unless you’ve experienced it for yourself, you truly can’t understand, so people’s perceptions really don’t matter to me.”
“I get a lot of ‘How do you do it?’ comments, especially from women,” said Bo, single father of 10-year-old daughter, 9-year-old twin sons and 7-year-old son. “Most women I talk to seem to think that it’s too tough of a job for men to handle. I get the impression that they think I need a woman to help me.”
Society’s skepticism is but one of the many hurdles dads like Sean, Matt and Bo must overcome. Financing child support, balancing daily routines and disciplining strategies also top the list.
“For me, it’s been about balance,” said Sean. “I’ve had to find the balance between being the disciplinary figure in the home to the one that the kids turn to for help.”
“I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve relied on my wife up until this point to handle things with the kids,” said Matt. “So, finding myself the one responsible for the daily routines and needs has been difficult. There’s a loss of freedom that’s tough to swallow – I can’t make plans on the fly like I could before. Everything has to be thought out and planned for ahead of time.
“Getting help with child support is a large hurdle for me,” said Bo. “There’s a perception in society that men should be the only ones to be held financially responsible for their children, but that’s simply not true.”
Childcare costs can be a real struggle, especially for single parents. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that it costs $241,080 to raise a child to the age of 18 – that number doubles or triples if you have multiple children and no, it doesn’t include the cost of college. That’s a lot of dough for one person to raise.
And yet, stay-at-home dads experience something many can’t – the joy of watching their children through every step of life. Caring for children, no matter if you’re a man or a woman, is certainly a labor of love.