I’ve regularly been called brave for being home with our child while my wife works. But is it really any braver for a father to be at home with his kids than it is for a mother?
It started early, before I even became a dad.
Saying my goodbyes at our final antenatal group session, the woman heading it up told me:
“What you’re going to be doing is so important. SO important.”
What? Becoming a father? Being a more attentive husband? Nope. Becoming a stay-at-home dad. SO important.
For various logistical and financial reasons, the plan was I’d likely be home for first couple of months, and then full time when my wife returned to work after 6 months.
I knew being a stay-at-home dad was far from the norm, but it didn’t seem that weird. So weird that people would say stuff like that. I grew up watching Mr. Mom, but that was over 30 years ago. It can’t so odd now, right?
Friends seemed to think it was cool. Turned out some of them had even done the same thing. I hadn’t paid attention, because, y’know, I didn’t think it was weird.
My parents seemed ok with it, but to be honest I didn’t see much of them at the time (we were living in New Zealand, they were not).
My MIL seemed ok too, but did relay to me that she had friends who didn’t understand why I (a man) was doing it (looking after his kid). But they were old, so I ignored them as young(er) people tend to do.
My aforementioned antenatal group was interesting. Before we became parents, my desire to be a stay-at-home dad was quite a point of difference with the Kiwi dads – many of them defined their impending fatherhood by how much time they were going to spend at work.
But afterwards? Barely mentioned. Some even told me privately how jealous they were. The mothers weren’t bothered either. I’d go to our regular weekly meet ups – usually the only dad in the room – and they’d happily chat cracked nipples and postpartum vaginas while breastfeeding their babies in front of me. I’d even be part of the conversation – well, as much as I could.
So far, so normal. But then it did get a bit weird.
The brave stay-at-home dad
Like our antenatal leader, people outside our immediate parenting bubble kept congratulating me. Praising me. Calling me brave.
And when I say people, I just mean random people when I was out & about the baby. Eg. one time in a bank, a female teller started gushing over us (after we moved on from her “Mums day off is it?” question), because I was home with the baby.
Similar story at a pedestrian crossing of all places, when a woman opened a conversation with another variation of the dad & baby assumption (“Babysitting today?), and after I corrected her she was also full of praise – and awe – of my stay-at-home dadness.
But it wasn’t only about being home. Just being an engaged father was enough. One time in a supermarket, I made up a bottle of formula for my daughter and fed her, like you do when babies are due a feed. A passerby (also a woman) saw this and felt compelled to tell me “What a great dad you are!”
All this positive female attention was nice. But, c’mon. How crazy is it that I – a dad – am congratulated for feeding my daughter a bottle of formula? When have you ever heard of a mother being publicly praised for being such a great mum – for feeding their bay a bottle of formula?
The brave parent (unless you’re a mother)
At-home mothers are not praised or congratulated for what they do. It’s expected, even derided. But when a man engages in it – wow, what a man to face all the challenges that parenting brings.
It seems parenting has a lowly status when undertaken by women.
It’s true that dads are still vastly outnumbered in weekday parenting scenarios, and sometimes treated with suspicion and isolation. So do people simply think men are brave for entering this female dominated environment of toddler groups, playgrounds, and coffee groups?
Or, is it considered ‘brave’ for a man to sacrifice his career for the sake of his wife and child. Again – have you ever heard of a mother being celebrated for staying home to be with their children? Doubtful. A man? I’m certain.
Or are expectations so low for dads, that simply showing up makes us good parents; being engaged makes great parents; and giving up work & dealing with all those women makes us brave parents?
If you want to call men who stay home with the kids brave, I can’t stop you. Or telling them how great it is what they’re doing. But you know what? We’re no more heroic than mothers in the same position.
If you feel stay-at-home dads are brave and heroic, and want to praise them for it – then I suggest you also find a mother to say that too as well. Because they deserve your praise just as much as dads, for exactly the same reasons.
Stay-at-home dads aren’t heroes – we’re just parents struggling to raise our kids the same as everyone else.