I have grown to like the Vice President Rueben’s character since the hostage crisis began. He has taken the role of host and has taken the initiative of ensuring the comfort of his guests. As he takes on tasks that are usually left for females, he slowly realizes all the work that is required in maintaining a clean, comfortable and organized home that prior to this incident, he has only ever left these worries to his wife and servants. Rueben easily made this discrimination towards the girls and Roxanne when he immediately questioned them about cooking, a skill, which Roxanne easily admitted that she lacked. This stereotype towards women also applies to men lacking the skills that women have, like Rueben doubting Thibault’s ability to cook.
With the changing values of modernization, our society has been experiencing greater gender equality in the workplace and the household as women continue to gain more independence and freedom in pursuing their dreams, and the line between masculinity and femininity roles become blurred. The idea of stay-at home dads (SAHD) challenges the traditional values of patriarchy. In the past, fathers are expected to lead, provide, and protect the family while the women stay home care for the children, keep the house clean and make home-cooked meals. But we are seeing more women taking over this role now. What other factors influenced, other than the growing gender equality, brought on this shift? Furthermore, I began to wonder about how the role of SAHD affects family dynamics in America compared to other countries.
Firstly, how do the men end up with this role? Certainly, there are circumstances that may dictate that they stay home, whether it’s out of willingness, lack of choice or both. Petroski and Edley et al examines these factors by taking a more personal approach to explaining the issue. Petroski stays at home to care for his son while he wrote his doctoral dissertation while Edley appreciates the value of her husband willingly moving for her job and caring for the children while she works. By choice, the fathers become the primary caregiver because the child desires a parent’s presence and the mother has a higher salary. By force, the fathers may have experienced multiple corporate layoffs or are unable to get employment.2
Statistics show that the number of SAHD has doubled since 1989. In 2010, a peak number of 2.2 million SAHD were reported here in America. This can be attributed to the end of the recession that lasted from 2007 to 2009. In this survey, the fathers were also questioned about the reason behind their newfound mantle. The US Census Bureau reports in a survey that stay at home dads are made up of: 3
- 23%that cannot find a job
- 21% that care for home or family
- 35% that are ill or disabled
- 22% that are in school/retired/ other
Petroski and Edley et al argues that “men can be just as effective at taking care of their families as women, despite societal views of ‘normal’ and acceptable performances of gender roles.” Looking at the percentages listed above from the survey, I realized that despite such reasons these fathers are quite admirable. Most of them are accepting this gender role switch and breaking stereotypes for the sake of their family.2
So how does this switch in roles affect the children? SAHD becomes a very important role because they become a constant presence to their children. From the viewpoint of the child, I believe that there is a great deal of difference in their growth and development when they have a parent to come home to, who give them the support and guidance they need to grown up into a upright and confident adult free of these gender discriminations our society holds. Mitchell et al from the Institute of Marriage and Family in Canada reports that the longer adult work hours are affecting the childrens’ development. Although this study was done in Canada, I believe that it is self-evident in any study and to any family with children that children will want to spend more time with their parents. Mitchell et al reports studies that demonstrated, “Time with fathers contributes to cognitive development and social competence through physical play. A study of children whose fathers accounted for 40 percent of their care found that these children scored higher in cognitive development, possessed a greater mastery of environments and demonstrate more empathy.” Studies have also found that there is a decrease in performance and development in the case of both mothers and fathers being away for work for long periods of time. 1 Watamura et al did a study in the Child Development journal that reports children (especially infants and toddlers) staying at daycares throughout the day produce higher levels of stress-sensitive hormone cortisol than children who spend their day at home.4 Overall, I believe the literature is finding positive effects in having a stay at home dads or mothers.
I believe that more than anything, this is about compromise and doing what’s best for your family. Family can sometimes mean sacrifice, but at the end of the day, this may be the best decision the fathers make because the children will still benefit from the presence of a responsible adult and role model. Furthermore, it allows them to have the time to bond, be present and has a more active role in their children’s lives. An example of lived experience is from Edley’s brother-in-law (Drew). “As part of the whole, Drew knew that he was doing what was right for his family. He was able to spend both quality and quantity time with both his children.”2 If there is ever a better definition for it, this is true fatherhood.
I gained a better understanding of SAHD but I also found that there’s more I’d like to research. In the Canadian study I found, they mentioned that fathers get paid leave, much like mothers do for maternity leave.1 I would like to find other countries that provide fathers with the same benefits to allow them more time with family. What other benefits do they receive? Where are SAHD most prominent? I also realized that my research here quite differs from the information I gathered about Japan because my findings only indicated that the men there highly prioritized their work over their families. There is a growing group of NEETs in Japan who consist of young people with “no education, employment or training” contributing to unemployment rates in Japan. What specific socioeconomic factors affect these families in other countries?
- Mitchell PJ. Stay-at-home Dads. Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. 2008; 48.
- Petroski DJ, Edley PJ. STAY-AT-HOME FATHERS: MASCULINITY, FAMILY, WORK, AND GENDER STEREOTYPES. Journal of Communication. 2006;16:3-4.
- Livingston G. Growing Number of Dads Home with the Kids. Pew Research Center.
- Watamura, S., Donzella, B., Alwin, J., Gunnar, M. (2003). Morning-to-Afternoon Increases in Cortisol Concentrations for Infants and Toddlers at Child Care: Age Differences and Behavioral Correlates. Child Development. 2003; 74(4):1006-1020.