With the "Mommy Wars" dominating news headlines, it's easy to forget about the other half of the story - the male half, that is. In the endless debates between working moms and stay-at-home moms, the issue of men balancing family and career rarely comes under scrutiny. According to a report released this summer, stay-at-home dads have doubled in numbers since 1989. And many of these men stay home by choice. The report is American, but the situation is similar here: "In Canada in 2011, 12 per cent of fathers stayed home with children while mothers earned money, up from just 1 per cent in 1976, according to Statistics Canada." (Globe & Mail)
In our family, Daddy's been at home with our two girls for almost a year. My husband made the choice to pursue a new career after losing his job. It wasn't the plan that he become a stay-at-home dad forever, but we budgeted for at least 6-9 months. The fact that this may extend to 12 months and beyond doesn't bother us (much).
In contrast to the overwhelming majority of women who stay home, men don't normally choose to stay home and care for their children. Many of them are at home due to job loss or an injury or illness. The job loss my husband experienced was welcome - his work hours were grueling, and I often joked that from May to October I was a single parent. He worked early mornings, evenings and weekends. It wasn't a family lifestyle we wanted to maintain.
There have been challenges to having my husband be the stay-at-home parent, and many of them are related to the stigma we face. Although no one would say it to our faces, we get the sense that "getting back to work" is what men must do. Most women sigh and say "oh, you're so lucky," when another mother is able to stay at home with the kids. But society generally expects that fathers will need to find work again. After all, what kind of man could be satisfied with the life of a stay-at-home dad? I know my husband has certainly had his doubts, and has worried about his future career and our financial situation (which is actually pretty good for a one-income family!)
There's also my own internal struggle - trying to accept that it's ok for me to be away from my kids. And not only that it's OK, but that I actually prefer it this way. I've done it all in the past - stayed home full-time, worked part-time and worked full-time (even double full-time some months!). The happiest I've felt is working 2-3 days/week. I welcome that time away from my children to re-connect with my own goals and dreams, but it's lovely to have the extra days at home to play, bake, cook and (yes, on some days) pull my hair out.
As some wise women have pointed out to me, we're doing a wonderful thing for our girls. They've developed a strong bond with Daddy, and watch their Mommy go out to do the work that she loves. My oldest daughter gets to come straight home after school, and I know my youngest is learning so much with Daddy.
My husband chose to stay at home to make life better for our family, and I chose to go back to work to make life better for our family. Isn't that all that really matters? The only things I want my girls to believe about all this work/family hullabaloo are:
1) Their Dad rocks 2) Their Mom rocks 3) Gender roles be damned!