In one study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly in 2005, researchers from Yale University looked at the attitudes of our culture at large towards traditional and non-traditional families. The researchers defined traditional as a family with a working father and stay-at-home mother, and non-traditional families as families with a working mother and a stay-at-home father. The results of these studies were quite interesting, and they just go to show what some of the common reactions to stay-at-home dads are.
The researchers in this study found that people liked traditional families more, and that they expressed negative attitudes – usually very openly! – towards non-traditional families. Stay-at-home dads were somehow viewed as less-than by other people, and working mothers were not well-respected or well-liked unless they were working because of financial necessity rather than for personal fulfillment.
If you’re already a stay-at-home dad or have talked with people about the possibility of becoming one, this all probably seems like a no-brainer to you! It’s not at all uncommon for people to have a distinctly negative, know-it-all attitude towards stay-at-home dads. But then, of course, there’s the opposite extreme of those who paint you to be a hero just because you stay home with your kids. What’s a guy to do? Here are a few of the most common reactions to being a stay-at-home dad and what you can do about them:
The Hateful Reaction
When it comes to parenting, you simply can’t please everyone, nor should you try to. While every parenting decision from whether or not to breastfeed a child to whether or not to spank a child can come with hateful reactions from certain quarters, nothing seems to draw so many of these reactions as being a stay-at-home dad. (At least, that’s how you probably feel when you tell people that this is what you do!) Some people just don’t get it and never will agree with your decision.
The best way to react to this one is to ignore it! You don’t owe anyone else (not even your own mother-in-law!) a justification about why you’ve decided to stay home with your kids. If you’re getting a hateful reaction from someone you don’t even know, just walk away. In touchier situations – like when you’re dealing with family members – perhaps you can come up with a one-liner such as, “It just works better for us this way,” that you can throw in before you pointedly change the direction of the conversation.
The Effusive Reaction
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have those very liberal people who think that being a stay-at-home dad makes you a hero. While it can be nice to be praised rather than vilified for your current career choice, it can also be quite annoying because you know you’re just doing what’s best for your family and yourself at this particular moment in your history.
Dealing with those who think you’re a total hero for taking care of your kids can be tricky. Of course, you don’t want to offend them purposefully, but you might also want to just change the subject yet again. Again, having just a little something to say about your role as a stay-at-home dad and then changing the subject can be helpful.
The Advice-Giving Reaction
Part of the problem with our world’s perception of the roles of men and women is that people assume dads don’t understand how to take care of children by virtue of the fact that they are male. This is, of course, no true. Some men are just as much “naturals” at caring for kids as some women are, and every parent has at least a little bit of learning curve, no matter what their gender!
Just because men can’t give birth or breastfeed certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t competent enough to care for a child.
With that said, as a stay-at-home dad, be prepared for more than your fair share of parenting advice. It will come from moms at the playground, your family members, people you know a little, and complete strangers in the grocery store. There are a myriad of ways to handle the advice-giving reaction to your role as a dad, and the option you choose depends on your personality, how well you know the advice giver, and your mood on that particular day.
You could, for instance, just let the advice roll off your back with a polite, “Thanks for the advice” and, of course, a quick change of subject if you’re stuck in an actual conversation with the advice-giver. You could also become a little sarcastic, which is especially fun when you’re dealing with those who have much less parenting experience than you (or, in many cases, who aren’t parents at all and just happen to be of the female gender). Of course, if the person you’re speaking with has a similar parenting style to your own and is genuinely trying to help, it can be helpful to listen and learn! It might eat at your pride a little to take unasked-for advice, but sometimes you really will learn something helpful!
Reactions to being a stay-at-home dad can be difficult to get used to and to deal with at first, and if your career had previously been a big part of your identity, things can be even more difficult. However, learning to deal with these common reactions in a way that is helpful for you and for the people involved otherwise is a good way to make your time as a stay-at-home dad more successful.
By Daniela Baker
Daniela blogs at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison site. She blogs about family finance and as a mother of two, she firmly believes in the idea of having a bit of an emergency fund saved up just in case.
Ron Huxley’s Reaction: I love this post by DIY Father.com as it addresses some very common reactions to stay at home dads. I have known several families where the wife makes more money and has a more stable dad and this was the logical conclusion for their family. It seemed to work for them. I think it would drive me crazy.