Recently I happened across a blog entry by Penelope Trunk aka “The Brazen Careerist”, titled “My Own Marriage and the Stay-At-Home Dad Myth.” It was definitely thought provoking and anything that stops to make one think, in my mind is a good thing.
Is the concept of the happy Stay-At-Home Dad doing the laundry, shopping, schlepping the kids, etc, a true and accurate generalization or is it, as Ms. Trunk would say, a “myth”? Obviously, the discussion bares a lot of significance, given the topic of our film and the emphasis on the extreme version of involved fathering: SAHD’s.
I can honestly report that the majority of Stay-At-Home Dads I have met and spoken with are satisfied with their work. Is it possible that only the happy, contented ones are open to talking about it? Possibly, although I certainly have talked to some that are unhappy with the arrangement. Being an at-home-dad, just like an at-home-mom, is something that some people shine to while others don’t. It really has to do with one’s personality, what one values as fulfilling and one’s outlook on the world.
For many men or women, the idea of tossing out one’s career dreams and ambitions to the wind, because one’s partner is making more money, can be quite upsetting. The cultural messages to excel in the marketplace can exacerbate this. So, for dads and moms at home to be working on a side project, is a way of maintaining one’s identity outside of being a parent – something, personally speaking, that can be essential to making the situation work. I think this holds for many moms and dads alike.
The only difference is that being an SAHM is more culturally accepted (albeit with its own degree of negative perceptions) than the SAHD. At-Home Dads are also more isolated because there are fewer of them, they feel shunned by society as a whole, they often feel apart from other moms – and if there are other home-making dads around, the mutual commonality of being at home with kids that works so well between women, doesn’t translate quite as well for men.
The bottom line is that our culture does not make it easy for families to cope, given all the conflicting messages we’ve been told. We’re all still so caught up with antiquated gender roles that don’t necessarily have a place in our own personal lives.
The other part of the equation is: what is best for kids? The way I see it, the more involved both parents can be their children’s lives, the better. What dads and moms each bring to the table are unique and mutually enriching for the kids (and themselves in the process.) And from everything I’ve read and the experts I’ve spoken to, it’s fairly clear that both parents are equally able to care for their kids – although they may do so very differently.
Going back to Trunk’s assertion that the happy SAHD is a myth – let me say this: It may very well be for some people, but for others this role could be a very meaningful, fulfilling experience – something they’d never considered in their lives before children. Better that we promote this new design of dad and pave the way for others considering becoming SAHDs than to get stuck on outmoded, limiting cultural models of what dads can and can’t be – something Trunk’s “myth” back-handedly supports.