By: Dallin Bywater, MA, NCC
Making the shift from full-time employment to stay-at-home dad (SAHD), I was excited for the opportunities that this new life provided me: learning new skills, opportunities for self-improvement, and additional time with my children, to name a few. However, I did not fully anticipate the regularity that I would be faced with the microaggressions and stereotypes that tend to follow SAHDs. These frequent experiences came at the hands of strangers, acquaintances, and even friends. Perhaps by shedding light on the isolating experience of SAHDs, greater understanding and awareness can be accomplished, helping to improve the experience of this marginalized group in our communities.
After less than a year as a SAHD, the following sentiments had been expressed to me:
“So, what’s your job?”
“What do you do all day?”
“He needs his mommy.”
“Make your child be quiet.”
On the surface, these statements appear harmless. Underneath, the stereotypes and assumptions are malefic and irksome. Consider the underlying connotations of the aforementioned phrases:
“So, what’s your job? What do you do all day?”
Asking a man what his job is assumes that he should be employed, or that being at home is not much of a job. It denigrates the responsibility of caregiver that he has taken on. An additional stereotype of SAHDs is that they are lazy, unable to keep a job, or uneducated. Questions and comments focused on the assumed “free time” of a SAHD underscores the “lazy dad” stereotype. Many SAHDs are more than qualified for employment. I have two graduate degrees and could be employed easily. Working twelve hours a day to ensure the children are fed, safe, happy, and taught to make good choices is hardly a lazy lifestyle.
“He needs his mommy,” and “Make your child be quiet.”
These phrases might be the most odious of them all. “He needs his mommy” was in one instance said to me on public transportation where my child was displaying some irritable behavior from being tired. Rather than assuming the child was hungry or tired (which is often the cause of misbehavior), the assumption was that the father was the issue. It is true that mothers are also “parent-shamed” in public, however, there is simply an added layer of insinuation that fathers are inadequate caregivers.
Many microaggressions derive from the stereotype that fathers are not able to provide proper and adequate emotional support for children. This is false and insulting to any SAHD. Other moments that this microaggression manifests itself is when children are at school or in some other outside activity. If there is an issue or need that arises, the mother is often assumed as the first point of contact to address it. Children need safety, consistency, emotional support, and love from a stay-at-home parent. Fathers can provide all of these.
In addition to hurtful dialogue that SAHDs experience, there are common behavioral microaggressions a SAHD might notice. SAHDs often experience isolation from other stay-at-home parents (SAHPs). Women who are home with children can be less comfortable setting up play dates with SAHDs, and therefore SAHDs have less opportunity to make connections with other adults. There is typically a wide availability of SAHP groups which are exclusively for mothers. SAHDs can find themselves social outcasts for no reason other than that they are male.
The previously described microaggressions and stereotypes may appear to be minimally harmful, and might only seem trivially offensive if the underlying meanings are unpacked. However, it is not the existence of a single microaggression, but the accumulation of these frequent behaviors that can significantly impact a SAHD, who is already a minority and can feel socially disconnected. The indignities rear their ugly heads in public, at schools, and in churches. There is no “off” button. Every SAHD will have these experiences in some way, however, knowing what to expect can soften the impact. Being sensitive to their experiences can help us be more inclusive of SAHDs in our communities. We can see SAHDs for who they are – contributing and valuable members of our society.
Dallin Bywater is a TCK and an international school counselor on hiatus. He has two graduate degrees and has presented for parenting workshops, a counselor conference, and has published articles on various topics relating to student mental health.