Brandon Libby, father to two daughters, describes staying home to care for his 1-year-old as “amazing,” although he has faced some condescension about his decision. In fact, if we do as a society, have a preconceived notion of the type of man who becomes a stay-at-home dad, it doesn’t often look like Brandon Libby.
Increasingly, the choice to stay home and care for babies and young children is no longer a decision that only women have to make, and this is changing family dynamics for all of us. The Pew Research Center records that 16 percent of at-home parents are men, representing two million American stay-at-home dads. For some men, deciding to become stay-at-home fathers is less of a choice and more of a convenience. If lack of job options has resulted in a man being at home anyway he may decide to tackle childcare rather than pay someone else to do it. Illness and disability also result in men staying home with their children. However, a growing number of dads are making an informed and thoughtful choice to be the main caregiver and are finding their new role to be incredibly fulfilling.
Libby’s days now revolve around preparing his daughter’s breakfast, which he describes as: “cutting up cheese, ham and scrambled eggs into hundreds of two-millimeter pieces—all while she shouts at me from her highchair to hurry the hell up!” Once his baby is asleep for the night, and his wife returns from work, Libby gets a little downtime, which he spends making knives and enjoying whiskey.
Traditionally, children tend to see their mothers as nurturers, and their fathers as the protector or a giant toy. Being able to stay home and care for our daughter has allowed me to take on some of the nurturing roles.
“I have always been involved in high-paced activities with high levels of stress, spending so much time at home required a massive lifestyle change,” he says. To combat some of this boredom, Libby was happy that he was able to continue running his business, Overland Kitted, an adventure travel site, from home. Right now, Libby focuses his writing on the travels of others, but once his daughter is old enough, he plans to get back on the road traveling and photographing his adventures.
Libby would like to see the States adopt parental leave in the style of Scandinavian countries to allow more men to spend time with their young children. “Traditionally, children tend to see their mothers as nurturers, and their fathers as the protector or a giant toy. Being able to stay home and care for our daughter has allowed me to take on some of the nurturing roles. I think this makes us closer,” he says.
Home-based, freelance careers adapt well to childcare responsibilities better than any other job. Being able to move your deadlines around your children's schedules and avoid lengthy commutes allows more dads to stay home. “The money I could make working full-time would basically be just what we would pay for someone else to be raising our kids during the day,” says Chad Andrus, a freelancer and sports radio personality. Andrus describes “every day as a highlight” staying home to care for his five-year-old twins and three-year-old daughter, but it wasn't without sacrifice and the career compromise was significant.
“I had been successful and was on a clear path to becoming a strong voice in Denver’s sports media landscape while pursuing my dream role. I clearly steered off the path of my career trajectory,” he says.
I cook dinner and clean the kitchen most nights. I’ve never seen that as a threat to my masculinity, and I still consider myself a pretty manly dude.
He has sometimes found it difficult to relate to the other parents at the park and school who are mostly moms and with whom he doesn’t share any common interests. Andrus’ days revolve around preparing food and cleaning up afterward, ferrying his children to and from school and a good degree of housework. He would recommend other fathers choose to care for their children full-time despite the challenges. “The value of spending time with your children, especially when they are young not only shapes them but it changes the caregiver forever.”
For some, choosing to become a stay-at-home father is a choice that follows lengthy discussions but for Zachary Parker, a marketing professional, it was a quick decision. He faced a dilemma just three weeks before his baby was born when his employers asked him to close his personal business citing a professional conflict of interest. Unwilling to shutter his company, he refused and resigned.
“My wife was so mad at me for quitting my full-time job to try and get my business off the ground. She didn’t talk to me for three days,” he says. He was then able to launch his business and help care for his newborn baby resulting in him earning more money than he had in his full-time role. However, not everyone understood his choice. “My dad is super conservative, so my role as house daddy was hard to understand for him.”
Part of being a stay-at-home parent, as the old-fashioned “housewife” title suggested is an expectation of completing general upkeep, housework and preparing food for the family. “I cook dinner and clean the kitchen most nights. I’ve never seen that as a threat to my masculinity, and I still consider myself a pretty manly dude. I drink beer, whiskey, chew tobacco, hunt, fish, and love hanging with the boys,” says Parker.
The role of provider is traditionally considered to be men’s work, but Parker believes that stay-at-home dads do provide, even if it’s not monetarily, although in his experience leaving full-time employment has been financially and emotionally rewarding. “Freedom is one of the values I hold highest, and I feel like I’m freer than any man I know,” he says. For him, his new full-time parenting role is just another adventure.
Any resistance to men as full-time caregivers to their children reveals deficiencies in how we view the role of father. When it comes to loving and caring for our children, men and women can be truly equal.