father wears baby while doing laundry
Illustration by Alyssa Kiefer

Are you expecting a child and trying to determine how life will function after your baby is born? Has life taken a change in direction, and the child care situation you had in place not making sense anymore?

One of the most difficult things to navigate as a parent of young children is making sure that is in place when needed. If grandparents and other extended family members don’t live close by (or even if they do!), it can be tricky figuring out how to make it all work.

With the rising costs of childcare, more parents are turning to arrangements that involve working split shifts or having one of the parents stay at home with the little ones.

While caring for the kids has historically been seen as a women’s job, today more dads are the one to stay home with their little ones.

How many dads are actually staying at home? Is it a good thing? Only you can decide what’s best for your family, but we’ll give you the facts about stay-at-home dads, so you’re prepared to make the best decisions.

In recent years, more fathers have been finding themselves manning the home front during the day.

The amount of hours these dads dedicate to child care, whether they hold a part-time job in addition, and expectations around this vary greatly from family to family. Because every family functions differently, it’s nearly impossible to define the exact responsibilities of stay-at-home dad.

It’s also impossible to give an exact number of stay-at-home dads, but various organizations have tried.

The U.S. Census Bureau in 2012 that 189,000 married men with children under the age of 18 identified themselves as stay-at-home fathers. This number was restricted to those who could identify as men who had remained outside the labor force for at least one year, while their wives worked outside the home.

A 2014 report found 2 million U.S. fathers with children under age 18 still at home were not working outside the home. However, this report did not confirm that the dads were the primary caregiver or even providing child care for the children.

The argues that stay-at-home dads should not be solely defined by those who don’t work at all outside of the home, since many fathers work part time or even nights while also providing regular child care.

Using U.S. Census data, the National At-Home Dad Network estimates 7 million fathers are a regular source of care for children under the age of 15 in the United States.

Why are men becoming stay-at-home dads?

There are many reasons why a dad may be a stay-at-home dad. Some of the most common reasons are:

  • personal choice/desire to care for the family
  • or disability
  • child care costs/partner is the primary earner
  • job loss
  • same-sex couple relationship where one parent chooses to stay home

If your family is considering an arrangement with a stay-at-home dad as caregiver, you may wonder about how this will work and what factors should inform your decision.

Although it’s becoming much more common for fathers to stay at home with their children, there are still challenges that exist around this arrangement.

Stereotypes and stigmas

One common problem for stay-at-home dads is the stereotypes and stigmas they face. These can include judgments about their masculinity and work ethic.

A found that while 51 percent of Americans think a child is better off with a mother at home than in the workplace, only 8 percent say that a child is better off with a stay-at-home father. It can be extremely difficult to face these negative views, and societal pressure can lead men to want to return to the workplace.

Stay-at-home dads are sometimes wrongly portrayed as lazy, clueless, or lacking masculinity. These harmful stereotypes can affect your feelings about your family’s structure, and could lead to shame or anxiety. These kinds of classifications are limiting and frequently based on misconceptions.

Lack of support

These negative judgments can come from people who would normally be a support system, too.

Grandparents and other family members or friends may express negative feelings about children being raised primarily by their father. They may be uncomfortable with this set-up or it may seem counter to their cultural expectations.

As a result, the stay-at-home father and family unit as a whole may get less support from extended family and support systems then they would if the mother was staying home or both parents were working.

Isolation

Additionally, stay-at-home fathers may find that they don’t feel comfortable connecting with other parents who are also staying home during the day, which can lead to isolation.

It can be uncomfortable to plan one-on-one playdates with stay-at-home moms or attend women and baby centered activities.

Many parent groups that meet during the week offer connection, resources, and parent education, but are primarily designed for and attended by mothers. For fathers who staying home with their little ones, these groups can be uncomfortable or impossible to join.

Depression

At least revealed that it can be harder emotionally for males to shift from having a paycheck to working at home. Fathers who left the workforce to be a stay-at-home parent were found to have higher levels of than women.

Finances

While changes in the job market are associated with the increasing number of stay-at-home dads in the United States, many fathers who choose to stay at home with their children also worry about trying to reenter the job market in the future.

It can be intimidating trying to care for a family with a single source of income, and worries about paying for their child’s expenses can drive stay-at-home dads to want to return to the workplace.

While there are challenges, there are wonderful things that can come with having a stay-at-home parent, and in particular a stay-at-home dad.

Some of the benefits, regardless of which parent is at home, include:

  • elimination of child care costs
  • ability to have daily input in how your child is raised and exactly what they’re taught/fed/allowed to do
  • always being available should your child become sick or injured
  • bonding with your child.

Stronger relationships with partner

Because mothers are typically seen as the caregiver in a family, it can be especially empowering for males to take on this role.

Having success in multiple types of roles can lead to a greater appreciation for a partner’s contributions as well as a greater appreciation of your own complex nature — which can certainly benefit a partnership.

Stronger relationships with children

Being a stay-at-home father can also increase male involvement in bringing up children. Not only is this beneficial for society as a whole, but positive for individual family dynamics.

In , children were found to have positive relationships with both the mother and father when the father stayed at home in a caregiving position and the mother left the home to work.

While there’s no reason why this can’t be the case when a mother stays home with the children, it’s interesting to note that the study also found an increase in parent cohesion and quality time individually with the children and as a family unit.

Mothers said they felt they were able to really take advantage of the morning and evening times to nurture their children despite during the day. They noted they well with fathers, since they had mutual understandings about the pressures of children and work.

Redefining social norms

It’s not uncommon to hear people ask dads if they’re “babysitting” — a question that would never be asked of a mother. Redefining social expectations and norms means fathers are perceived as partners in parenting instead of merely bystanders who are called on only in an emergency.

Stay-at-home dads can help to positively alter perceptions of masculinity, caregiving, and fatherhood.

Positive outcomes for children

While there isn’t a lot of research specifically on stay-at-home dads, the says that involved fathers have a positive and lasting impact on the health and well-being of their children.

The benefits of stay-at-home fathers is definitely an area where more research is needed, but the advantages are beginning to be scientifically established!

If your family is growing or your child care situation needs to change, you may be considering becoming a stay-at-home dad yourself or having your partner heading up the home front.

While this decision can come with some challenges financially and emotionally, it can also offer new and exciting opportunities for a father to bond and engage with their children.

It’s important to note that some stay-at-home fathers also work part time or rotate stay-at-home duties with their partner during the week. Any number of arrangements are possible, and there is no one answer that will work for everyone in raising their children.

By making a thoughtful decision and weighing the pros and cons, you’ll have the best possibility of making the right decision for your family.