Cheeky Daddy

How to Deal With Stigma as a Stay-at-Home Dad

If you’re the primary caregiver at home or if you’re considering becoming a stay-at-home dad, you might have come across some negative ideas. You might have encountered outdated perceptions about traditional gender roles:

  • Stay-at-home fathers sacrifice their assigned role as breadwinners.
  • Stay-at-home dads are less ‘manly’.
  • A stay-at-home dad’s bond with their children is less meaningful than a stay-at-home mother’s.

How should we deal with these misconceptions? How can you tackle them with confidence? How can we reshape expectations for dads across Australia? Let’s explore.

dad teaching young daughter to wash hands

The stigma surrounding stay-at-home dads usually comes from deep-rooted social biases, and you’re probably familiar with the tropes:

  1. Men are the primary breadwinners, and,
  2. Women are the primary carers.

There are negative consequences when society frames things in these binary ways. When a father takes on the role of the primary carer in their child’s life, some people question his:

  1. Masculinity
  2. Commitment to paid work.

This questioning can manifest itself in harmful ways. Relatives may look down on you for your choice. Friends may judge you unfairly.

There can also be a feeling of isolation as a stay-at-home dad might not have a support network of other dads, unlike stay-at-home mums. Stay-at-home mums typically have other female friends to lean on who are in the same situation. This can be a hard-felt absence for fathers.

Unfortunately, we can’t escape the fact traditional gender roles still influence many parents’ attitudes towards parenting. It is still much more common for women to take on the flexible work option to raise children in a male/female relationship, and that’s according to a study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

The stigma stems from a simple reality: this is what we have historically done as a society, and going against the norm always raises eyebrows.

Other circumstances reinforce the status quo:

  • Maternity leave is more common than paternity leave
  • Women generally still earn less than men (so there is more incentive for the father to stay at work)
  • Women may need to recover from giving birth

With these circumstances on top of the traditional idea of a loving, caring wife and a hardworking husband as the nuclear family, going against this grain has been considered odd at best and frowned upon at worst.

Busting Some Parenting Myths

Let’s start with a really frustrating one for all stay-at-home parents:

1.    Being a stay-at-home parent is a full-time job

Some people might argue that you’re taking a free ride, but being a stay-at-home parent is far from “taking it easy.” We must reframe parenting as essential work that provides invaluable contributions to your children’s lives. This contribution is vital to your whole family’s well-being.

Be proud of the role you play in your child’s life!

  • Wiping a snotty nose
  • Picking up your three-year-old from preschool
  • Changing nappies
  • Reading bedtime stories
  • And so much more!

These are the little tasks that make up parenthood. Your involvement as an available father figure is creating strong, meaningful bonds with your children. Yet, parenthood can be a tiring, all-consuming task, and there’s no shame in that either.

Let’s bust a second myth:

2.    Fathers are more than capable of performing primary care roles.

Your child doesn’t “lose out” by not having a stay-at-home mother. A loving father can provide equivalent warmth and affection; sex or gender does not determine your capacity for care and compassion.

And finally, a third myth:

3.     It is not weak or feminine to want to raise your own children.

Taking an active role in childcare is an honourable choice.

Thankfully, many fathers are increasingly embracing this idea, perhaps even going against the example their fathers gave them. I’m referring again to the traditional parenting views that many of us grew up with – that a father figure was supposed to be distant and the disciplinarian rather than the emotionally available, present caregiver.

Many modern dads see this for what it is: nonsense. It’s not weak to want to be there when your youngest child is learning to walk. It’s not feminine to take your daughter to ballet class. It’s not emasculating to take your two kids to the local playground in the morning and chat with the other parents.

And yet, we know that there are still some people who may hold these misconceptions. So, how do you deal with those people?

Finding Your Support Network

Isolation can be a significant challenge when you’re the only dad at the local playground or when other dads you know are focused on their careers. Seek out other stay-at-home dads through online groups, playgroups, or community centres. Sharing experiences with other dads can give you the dad friends and support network you need to feel understood and less alone.

There’s plenty of resources available for support. Check out Sharon Carpenter’s book, The Ultimate Stay-at-Home Dad, which features tons of great tips and advice while also addressing concepts like male loneliness, building on the experience of dozens of fathers.

Most parents make decisions together on how they will raise children. A lot of thought and compromise goes into this process as you weigh up priorities and how to manage your life. Since you’ve gone through this process together, your partner is also a fantastic source of support; they can remind you of all the positive reasons why you wanted to become a stay-at-home dad in the first place.

Directly Addressing Negative Comments

If somebody you know makes an insensitive comment, remember that it’s often due to their own biases or lack of understanding. Responding calmly can actually go a long way to challenging their assumptions and perhaps even reshaping their perspective. You don’t ever need to explain your choices to somebody who is antagonistic, but explaining your rationale in some cases might help these people see things in a new light:

  • Saying your decision enables your wife/partner to pursue their career goals.
  • Explaining you didn’t want to miss key moments of your children’s lives.
  • Observing that you are much happier performing this role for your family (and the family is better off as a result) than when you were working too much.

The many reasons, of course, may vary. But being willing to share and be transparent with those who question your decision may help to shape their views for the better.

It’s Not Just About the Kids

person holding a pickleball paddle

I have talked a lot about embracing the role of fatherhood. However, I also want to counteract this a little. Being a stay-at-home dad should never consume your whole identity. Remember to still take time for yourself and find room for your hobbies and interests.

It’s a full-time job being a parent, but that shouldn’t mean it’s your 24/7 existence. Morning routines, potential school runs, sorting meals, general play, and doing chores can soon take up the majority of the day. You must give yourself time to recharge through activities that you enjoy. Meet up with your friends or go do your hobby all on your own – anything that you enjoy – to keep yourself grounded.

Maintaining a part of your identity beyond just being a stay-at-home dad can help reassure you you’ve made the right choice.

You Are Changing Perceptions

You are part of a vanguard challenging stereotypical notions of parenthood. You are proof that a father’s role can be at home. By embracing this and normalising this in your community, you’re actually paving the way for others to do the same.

It’s a viable, fulfilling choice. Other prospective fathers should know this.

You’re already under plenty of pressure, and I don’t want to add even more by assigning this role! However, it’s worth remembering the fantastic role model you are for others to follow. You’re showing everybody that stay-at-home fathers can make valuable contributions to family life.

What’s Your Story?

Have you experienced stigma as a stay-at-home dad? How did you navigate these misconceptions? Share your insights in the comments below to help our community and to offer other stay-at-home dads your support.

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