Stay-at-Home Dads: What Their Working Wives Want You to Know

Stay-at-Home Dads: What Their Working Wives Want You to Know

What it’s like to have a husband who’s a SAHD, from the moms lucky enough to have one.

By: Leah Maxwell

Whether you know one, you’re married to one, or you’re still waiting for one to show up to a playgroup near you, stay-at-home dads (SAHDs) are revolutionizing parenthood, or at least the way we think of it. The number of fathers who stayed at home with their children while the mothers worked hit an all-time high of 2.2 million in 2010, nearly double the number in 1989, according to the Pew Research Center. Although the majority of stay-at-home parents are still women (84 percent), today’s stay-at-home dads continue to make a name for themselves as capable, competent caregivers (no bumbling Mr. Moms in this crowd), changing the landscape of parenting, one dirty diaper at a time. We asked working moms to share what it’s like to have a SAHD in the family and what they want others to know about it.

“My husband is definitely the better stay-at-home parent,” says Jean Bunker of her husband, Robert. “He runs the kids to the doctors, gets up with them at night, does the laundry, and keeps things running.” Bunker, a hospital administrator in Maryland, said the balance of her family’s life was way off with two parents working big jobs and three young sons at home, so when her husband lost his job a few years ago, it was a blessing in disguise, especially since he turned out to be a natural at the stay-at-home gig. “He has way more patience and doesn’t mind doing the cooking and the housework,” she says, explaining that even though she’s the breadwinner, they still divide household tasks according to each other’s strengths. “We partner to run our house. We make a great team.”

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to be a stay-at-home dad, and not all SAHDs fry up the proverbial bacon their wives bring home. “My husband is not a male version of the stereotypical stay-at-home mom, especially now that both kids are in school all day,” says Liz Price, an accountant and mother of two kids in Eugene, Oregon. “He does almost no housework and cooks almost no meals. He focuses on the kids and his professional interests. Thank goodness for a cleaning lady and the fact that kids like easy food.”

Nina Abnee, an advertising professional in Chicago, Illinois, says she and her husband were secure in their arrangement for her to work outside the home while he stayed with the kids, but not everyone was understanding of their decision, especially given that it happened 20 years ago. “It drove me crazy when people asked when he was going back to work,” she says. “If I were the stay-at-home spouse, nobody would have said that. I hated people who passed judgment on his choice and there were a lot of them.”

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As times change, though, so do attitudes, especially as more families find creative, nontraditional ways to make things work. Whereas men are still more likely to stay home because of unemployment, illness, or disability, there has been a sharp increase in the number men making the choice to stay at home to be primary caregivers. The number of men in the Pew study who said they stay at home specifically to care for their children increased from 5 percent in 1989 to 21 percent in 2012, a massive shift that is not only altering public opinion and but also teaching millions of children that traditional gender roles are flexible both outside and inside the home. Of her three boys -- 6-year-old twins and an 11-year-old -- Bunker says, “I love that my sons are growing up with an amazing father and role model, who happens to be a SAHD. Our 21st-century sons will understand that you define yourself and you don’t need to fit a societal mold.”


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According to the women I talked to, though, they consider themselves the lucky ones. “I read an article recently about how having a stay-at-home parent isn’t a luxury to the stay-at-home parent but instead is a luxury to the working parent, and I couldn’t agree more,” says Sarah Oatsvall, 30, a school administrator and the mother of an 11-month-old daughter in Lawrence, Kansas. Her husband does all their cooking (because he’s good at it, she says), and he does enough other work around the house that she feels free to enjoy time with her family on weeknights and weekends instead of spending it doing chores. “It isn’t easy on him, but I couldn’t be more proud of him or more thankful for the sacrifice he is making for our family,” she says.

Do you know any stay-at-home dads? What do you think the world should know about them?

Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

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11 Moms Confess: What Being a Stay-at-Home Parent Is Really Like

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5 Special Ways My Husband and Daughter Bond

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