That’s Men: Stay-at-home dads – attitudes change, and benefits stay the same

More than 18,000 men described themselves as taking care of the home in 2011 census

 

Noticing two men wheeling baby buggies along the road the other morning, it struck me that 40 or 50 years ago this would have been a rare sight.

Today, nobody thinks anything of it.

I have no reason to believe either of these men is a full-time homemaker, but I wondered how many have actually taken on that role.

I found that in the 2011 census the number of men looking after the home or family as their principal status had increased by 7.9 per cent over the previous five years.

Could this have been caused by the recession? Not necessarily.

The number of men mainly looking after home or family has been on the increase since 1991, which includes the years of the boom. In all, according to the report, 18,040 men described themselves in this way in April 2011.

In 2006, before the recession hit, Deirdre McCann conducted in-depth interviews with a number of men who were full-time, or almost full-time, fathers for a thesis at NUI Maynooth.

Changes in attitudes, she found, had made full-time parenting a feasible and attractive proposition for them. As she puts it, in Stay at Home Dads: how fatherhood is evolving in Irish society, “some men have always wanted to be more involved in their children’s care, and are now finally more free to do so without fear of judgment”.

The men came into full-time parenting by different paths. Sometimes the mother was earning more than the father. Sometimes the mother was more happy in her career than the father. One man was separated but had the children for three 24-hour periods every week and saw himself as a full-time parent. In one case, the mother had left the family.

Not wanting to have their children looked after outside the home was a strong motivation for some couples to decide that one of them must become a full-time or almost full-time parent.

The men’s own fathers had conformed to the traditional ideas of fatherhood. All spoke about how their fathers had been in the background when they were growing up. Said one man of his father: “You know, as far as he was concerned, he regarded his role as ‘I go out and earn the money’.”

Some of the men found family and friends were sceptical at the start about their ability to carry out the role, but soon got used to it.

None of the men were seen as somehow less manly because they were full-time homemakers. Men seemed to get plenty of support from women in their extended families if they were looking after children.

Indeed, some found this a little overwhelming. The women seemed to think that practical activities such as changing nappies was beyond the men. As a result, they sometimes made too much of a fuss in an effort to be helpful, one man complained.

Getting to spend all that time with their children was really important and valuable to these men.

The idea that children should have a male role model was also important to these fathers. One makes the interesting point that if the parents are separated and the children are with the mother, they may lack a male role model, not only in the home but in schools, where the teachers are likely to be mostly female.

A disadvantage was living on a lower income, and the men believe the State should address this. Another disadvantage was that the sheer demands of looking after kids meant that their social life took a hit, but they didn’t feel isolated either.

Barriers to more men taking on this role, according to McCann, include some women’s lack of confidence in men’s ability to care for their children.

The essential message of her thesis, though, is that men who take on the role of stay-at-home dads are happy and find it fulfilling.

To read Deirdre McCann’s thesis, see bit.ly/deirdremccann

pomorain@yahoo.com

Padraig O’Morain is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness for Worriers. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.

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