Like most parents, I have a daily routine with my 2-year-old daughter. I usually hear Adley singing in her crib around 7 a.m., followed by a recap of what she’s been doing and whether she pooped in her diaper (she gets very excited about sharing that detail).
We eat breakfast together, brush our teeth, pick an outfit, and get ready for the day, which starts with walking our dog, Herbie. Any parent will tell you that getting organized to leave the house with a toddler can be a process, even for a short walk. But we fill our water bottles, put the leash on the dog, grab a toy to entertain Adley, and we are out the door!
Compliments Aren’t Always Compliments
Within a few minutes of our walk, someone will inevitably approach me and say something like, “you sure have your hands full,” or “they seem like a lot to handle.” On the surface, I know these comments are meant as compliments because people view me as the hardworking dad taking time out of his busy day to walk the dog and entertain his daughter so mom can get a break. And like most stereotypes, there’s a kernel of truth, but dads aren’t babysitters.
My wife works very hard and deserves far more rest than she gets. But that’s what most CEOs sign up for. Where the ridiculousness comes in is the implication that I’m somehow going above and beyond by taking care of my daughter and walking our dog. I’m a stay-at-home dad, and what I described above is a small part of my job. But the comments I get likely wouldn’t be directed toward my wife because, traditionally, it is what society expects of mothers. Gender stereotypes are still prevalent when it comes to caregivers.
At one time, the world saw dads as glorified babysitters who watched the kids for an hour while moms went grocery shopping or ran errands. While I have no doubt that still holds for some families, it’s far from the norm.
More Dads are Stay-at-Home Parents
A 2016 Pew Research Center study found 17% of all stay-at-home parents are dads. That’s up from 10% in 1989. It’s a number on the rise and could have been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Data on stay-at-home parents related to the pandemic is difficult to come by, but employment statistics can help us draw reasonable conclusions.1
Between February 2020 and April 2021, nearly 1.6 million men and 2 million women left the workforce. While job loss likely contributed to the vast majority of those who left, childcare requirements also play a role.2
That means more fathers stay home with their kids and serve as primary caregivers. I fall into this category. I left my job as an investigative reporter in July 2021. Unlike many people, I was fortunate to leave of my own accord. After 12 years, it was time for a change, and with my family moving to Miami, it was the right time to try something new.
At the time, Adley was an energetic 1-year-old, and we had a wonderful nanny while my wife and I worked full time. Now, all that responsibility fell to me. Just being a babysitter wouldn’t cut it. I had to be involved in Adley’s life in a much deeper way. Her development and happiness became my full-time job, and I was ready for it.
Dads Aren’t Babysitters
While there were plenty of encouraging words along the way, the stereotypes of dads as babysitters still linger. I vividly remember one interaction with a mother at a nearby park. We had seen each other a few times and started talking. During the conversation, she asked what wonderful job I had that allowed me so much flexibility to be with my daughter at the park in the middle of the day.
I told her I recently became a stay-at-home dad, and she gave me a quizzical look. After explaining the decision around our recent move, she shared that her husband rarely stays home with the kids for more than an hour or two. There’s nothing wrong with this dynamic, but her observation implied my decision to stay home full-time with my daughter is unusual.
It goes back to the idea that traditional gender roles can be challenging for many people to move past. Moms can be—and often are—the family’s breadwinners. Dads are more than just temporary babysitters there to give moms a break.
The next time you see a dad walking down the street, pushing a stroller with his dog on a leash while trying to open a snack to feed his whining toddler, don’t think about how he has his hands full or what a great sacrifice he’s making. Think about this being what thousands of stay-at-home dads do daily. It’s a life many choose and one I’m thankful for every day.