These days, women are not the only ones staying at home to care for their children. Fathers too, are increasingly assuming this role.
Are you a stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) Have you ever considered this option?
For centuries, it has always been assumed that if a caregiver is needed at home, women should be the ones giving up their careers to be a homemaker. However, times have changed.
While the term ‘house-husband’ or ‘male homemaker’ may sound somewhat odd to some, the socio-economics of parenting are indeed changing. A non- traditional trend of fathers choosing to stay at home instead of working at a nine to five day job has emerged and it is changing the world of parenting as well as gender roles.
While not every father is comfortable with being a SAHD, there are a considerable number of them who have chosen this path with no regrets. In fact, TIME magazine reported on their website that the number of SAHDs has doubled in the past decade.
A superstar dad
The National At-Home Dad Network (athomedad.org), an American based advocate group for SAHD, defines the role of a SAHD as ‘any father who is the primary caregiver to his children’. In general, this means the father will stay at home to look after the children while his partner becomes the breadwinner of the family.
One common assumption about SAHD is that this role does not generate any income for the family. However, this is not true. Being a SAHD does not necessarily mean that you do not have any income. Some dads, who choose to look after their children at home, have a part-time job or a job which allows them to work from home. A SAHD therefore is not defined by his job status or income but as the main caregiver of the family.
A superstar dad by choice
A 2012 study conducted by the Boston College Center for Work and Family found that over 70 percent of SAHDs made a choice to be at home to look after the kids. Some of the reasons stated in the study included having a spouse with a better income and benefits and both parents appreciating the fact that one of them is at home to care for their children.
The challenges of a superstar dad
In general, the role of a stay-at-home parent is never easy. It is a full-time job and you’re required to cook, drive the kids around, be a nurse if your child falls ill, a tutor, a story-teller and of course provide lots of love and affection.
When it comes to being a stay-at-home dad however, there are further challenges that you may also experience compared to a stay-at-home mom such as:
Identity – Society tends to believe that household chores and looking after the children is a ‘woman’s job’. So, being a SAHD can make a man feel like he’s losing his ‘manliness’. The situation becomes worse if the father does not have support from family and friends. This can be challenging at times but think about it…as highlighted by the National At-Home Dad Network, when a man chooses to be a SAHD he is actually redefining the meaning of ‘masculinity’.
Isolation – Taking the road less travelled often makes a person feel isolated and SAHDs are no exception. SAHDs who feel isolated can become depressed. However, the good news is SAHD numbers are growing and advocacy groups such as the National At-Home Dad Network are preventing depression among SAHDs by encouraging them to meet up and socialise. If you are a SAHD who is feeling isolated and blue, get in touch with a local support group or better yet, get the ball rolling by starting one!
The advantages of a superstar dad
If you have made the decision to be a SAHD, there is no doubt that it will give rise to multiple challenges but thankfully there are many advantages to as well:
You save on childcare
Childcare services in Malaysia are not a pocket-friendly option for many households. These services generally involve a monthly four-figure cost and may be a preferred alternative for some families but why not have a child’s parent looking after the kids if that is a possibility? As a dad, taking on this responsibility is surely a better option than leaving your child in the hands of a stranger.
It’s an investment
It’s safe to say that every parent would do anything to spend every second of the day with their child and this is the advantage you have as a SAHD. As a stay-at-home parent, you get to witness your child’s developmental milestones like when he gets his first distinction at an exam or represents his school team for a basketball match. You will also have more time for fun and games while teaching them important life lessons. In a nutshell, you’ll be able to enjoy every priceless moment of your child’s growing up years.
Decrease chances of contracting diseases
Studies have shown that children at daycare centers are at a higher risk of getting sick. Flu, ear infection and gastrointestinal illnesses are just some of the infectious diseases children tend to pick up at daycare centers. By being a SAHD, you reduce your child’s exposure to these diseases and keep them healthy.
When you look at the challenges and the benefits, it is probably safe to say that being a SAHD is one of the most fulfilling jobs a man can have . After considering the issues that matter such as finances and career options, the decision to be a SAHD should be yours and no one else’s.
Are you SAHD material?
Are you a dad who is considering the role of SAHD but you’re not too sure if you’re making the right choice? Ask yourself these few questions:
- Can we afford it?
- Will I be satisfied spending most of my time at home?
- What personal sacrifices would I have to make?
- Will being at home with the children give me the same satisfaction as my career does?
Your SAHD Survival Guide
It is not all rainbows and roses when it comes to being a SAHD. Here are some survival tips that will help you to successfully navigate your role as key caregiver:
- Join playgroups (this will help you cope with isolation as well)
- Get in touch with a SAHD support group
- Talk to your partner about household responsibilities and get her involved too
- Make sure you have an active social life
- Be proud of what you do!
Urban Health speaks to Chris Bernholdt, board member of the National At Home Dad Network, about his decision to become a SAHD in 2008 and why he’s had no regrets.
Urban Health: What triggered your decision to be a SAHD?
Chris Bernholdt: In the beginning, my wife and I both worked. I was a school teacher and she had a corporate job. She always out-earned me and I knew, working with children in my previous job as a teacher, that I would be better suited to staying at home so she could advance her career. In 2008, we moved away from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois when she was offered a job in her home city with another company. My salary was paying for childcare back in Illinois, so it just made sense for me to stay home and raise the children as we could live on one income. There was also an emotional element to this decision. When we both worked, we missed some of the things our son was doing as he was growing up. We decided it would be best for me to stay home and be the primary caregiver.
UH: How has this decision changed your life?
CB: I love being a dad to our three beautiful kids and I feel blessed to have this time watching them grow. I am witnessing, first hand, the changes they are going through and helping them develop into the people they will become. I am closer to my children than I ever would be if I worked and someone else was caring for them during the day. It also changed my life when I found the National At Home Dad Network. I immediately knew I needed to be a part of the organisation and help to be a voice for the rising number of stay- at-home dads.
UH: What is the best part about being a SAHD?
CB: The best part about being a stay-at-home dad is being able to be there for my children when they need me like when they look for answers to questions or if they just need a hug or reassurance. That is a wonderful feeling. To think my time with them now will help shape who they become is an awesome responsibility.
UH: For a man to be a caregiver and a SAHD may not be well accepted by many societies. What is your advice to SAHDs and men who are thinking about being a SAHD?
CB: When you go against traditional standards, especially when it comes to who stays at home to raise the children, there are going to be dissenters. I personally enjoy standing out and will tell any dad who is considering staying at home, to do the same. Work is always going to be around, your child’s childhood is not. There are only a few dads in my children’s school who regularly get to be a part of their day to day life. Being that influence in a way that is non-conventional sets an example to my children that anyone can do any job, as long as they love it. I worry about people who see a man’s role as only the breadwinner. They clearly aren’t aware that the world is changing. Embrace your role 100 percent and be assured that what you are doing now for your child is going to have the biggest payoff in the future not only for them but for you as well.