It seems we’ve come a long way in a single generation. Dads now play a much bigger role in their children’s day-to-day lives than they did a few decades ago. Yet it is still unusual for men to accept the role of fulltime stay-at-home parent. Research carried out in 2010 by the Australian Institute of Family Studies identified only 7 per cent of families operated with the female as sole breadwinner.
Deborah Wilmore from the University of Western Sydney is conducting a study into the role of stay-at-home dads. Her preliminary research indicates the greatest critics to the idea of a man becoming the primary caregiver to his children is his own father – who often can’t understand why his son would want to take on the role.
Wilmore’s research also shows there is still a stigma attached to men who opt out of the workforce to care for their children and they often feel isolated without the traditional support of playgroups, mothers groups etc.
It is a fact of life that children need care – be it from a parent or in a formalised childcare arrangement – you simply can’t have a child and revert back to your old life. The notion of which parent takes on the majority of the caring responsibilities is a complex, emotional and difficult one.
Staying at home with my daughters was the most difficult thing I have ever done. Disassociated from the workforce I felt my sense of identity and self-worth wither. There where long stretches where I had absolutely no idea who I was or what I was trying to achieve in life. However, the process of being forced to forge a new identity and rediscover what was important to me proved to be a rewarding one. There is no doubt the process saw me develop new skills, adaptive abilities and gave me a confidence that paid work did not define me.
Giving dads the opportunity to spend more one-on-one time with their children could only be a good thing. If more dads took time out of work to raise children we may see the workforce adapting more to the idea that a break does not mean the end of working life. It could also see a more flexible framework to employment that would benefit everyone, even those without children. However, I can imagine it may not be so easy for women to hand over the child raising responsibilities, we do like to be in control.
What are your thoughts on stay-at-home dads?