Stay at home dads are rising in numbers with the roles of caregiving shifting and some men have become more willing to make sacrifices so that they can stay at home. Dads over the years are becoming more involved in the raising of the children and have found that this role as the primary caregiver is really what they were meant to do. Most who decide to stay home to raise the children see it as an opportunity to be active in the raising of their children, a cultural shift that has been gaining momentum in our society.
And while The U.S. Census and Pew Research Center has sought out to count these men, unfortunately the research that has been available is sometimes prohibited by the parameters that define what exactly is a stay at home dad. National surveys don’t ask many questions about fatherhood and they try to fit the ever changing roles of fatherhood into a neat little checkboxes that do not apply to everyone.
Dr. Beth Latshaw, a Sociology Professor at Widener University has been conducting research on the ways that we accurately count stay at home dads and her count of those of us who do stay home is the most accurate of all the research available. The latest survey is aimed to find and count all of the dads that don’t fit in a one category box and to gain a real understanding of stay at home dads as primary caregivers.
She is asking SAHDs about their well being in a survey that the National At Home Dad Network supports that not only will help find different demographic profiles of dads but also whether dads are receiving the support they need in a world that has often been referred to as a “mommycentric” society. I had the privilege of speaking with her about her survey and asked her some questions about primary caregivers and just why her survey is so important to our society.
BL- This is one of the reasons I wanted to study stay at home dads. As a family sociologist, I started to think about how families are changing so frequently, almost faster than we can keep track of. So in many ways, the definitions of family are fluid because people are transforming what it means to be a family, what roles we have in our families, the boundaries between work and family are blurring and our data that we have on families are only as good as our measures we use to produce the data. I started to notice that the Census Bureau had a very rigid definition of stay at home dads. The criteria they used were restrictive and you couldn’t give more than one reason why you might be staying at home or give an open-ended question to explain why. When I was doing my dissertation on stay at home dads, I found that over half of them were still in the labor force in some capacity while they stayed home. Immediately, that half was being left out even though they self identified as a stay at home dad. I started to think that a lot of stay at home moms did the same thing so maybe it was time for us to redefine what a stay at home parent is. I figured that the the best way to do it was to ask men ” Why stay home? Who are you? What is your demographic profile? What’s your story?” That is the best way to understand families, which is to actually ask families who they are.
CB – Why do surveys like the Census and others lack nuanced questions to determine just how the roles of fatherhood have changed?
BL – In general, nationally representative surveys don’t have very many questions on fathers at all. They mostly ask questions like “Do you live with your child” or “Do you read to your child” but they don’t ask questions like “How do you define your role as a father or what does fatherhood mean to you?” , “What is it like to be a dad” or “What are your daily interactions with your child like ?” This is where a qualitative study is important, to come in and ask dads what it is like. To have them tell us, in their own words what it is like. That can sort of fill in these gaps where these national surveys are lacking.
CB – So how do you think that the census should be altered to include these men in its count?
BL – From what I have heard, it is incredibly hard to change the Census. Changing one question could take years of debate. But, in a perfect world, I think that most people have more than one reason why they may not be in the labor force. Maybe allowing people to choose more than one reason if they are out of the labor force or provide an open ended question that they can elaborate on [would be helpful]. I also think that they could look at the people who are in the labor force and from there be able to quantify how many say they are the primary caregivers of their children. Allow people who work in some minimal capacity to also specify that they are the primary caregiver 75% of the time, thus eliminating the rigid categories the census follows.
CB – At the convention in Washington DC, we took a photograph with all of the participants. Then we took a picture of the group with only those that the Census would deem us as stay at home dads. As you mentioned, it was about half of us who met their criteria. What other factors have you come across that hinder this count being accurate?
BL – Most of the stay at home dads that we have surveyed had been married but if you are cohabitating or are a gay couple, those families would be left out as well. Cohabitation is increasing and with the increase of gay rights we see that there are different dynamics to families that are changing. As those change, our definitions also need to change.
CB – What have you found to be the main factors that determine whether a dad considers himself a stay at home father?
BL- As we are interviewing these dads, most of them have said that rather than checking a box that they would like to see it based on a percentage of time that you spend caring for that child. In some cases, SAHDs work the thirds shift or on the weekends, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a stay at home parent during the week or during the day. If you think about it we don’t say, once kids are in school, that you aren’t a stay at home parent just because your kids are at school for 40 hours a week.
CB – What would you say to those people who suggest that caring for children is a “feminine trait” that is ingrained in women and not men?
BL – My personal belief is that parenting skills are learned behaviors. Our society certainly socializes women to be caregivers. Of course there are basic biological differences between men and women but our society reinforces that message that women should be natural caregivers through socialization and media. We give little girls dolls to take care of when they are young so we tend to think that it is natural even though much of it is cultural and social. So, I personally believe that there are women who are terrible caregivers and there are men who are wonderful caregivers. If you take the time to learn and understand the qualities that it takes to be a good caregiver then it is something based on the learning you have achieved and not gender.
CB – Why are women gatekeeping when it comes to the father-child relationship?
BL – When women were entering the workforce and still facing barriers there, one place that they could feel power and validation was as a mother. As men started moving into more of these roles as the caregiver this became more of an issue because they lost a little of that validation. This is where society was telling them that it was their role and what they were “supposed to do”. I think that, generational speaking, women are moving away from that and are sharing parenthood with their partner. The importance of having a more equal relationship and how that can be helpful for everyone involved is becoming a more common goal. Sharing and balancing seems to be the direction people are heading in as there are more co-parents instead of gatekeeping, which will hopefully fade away.
CB – What would you say is the main difference generation-wise, which is defining modern fathers? Why is the switch in roles more common now than before?
BL – The movement of women in the labor force and women in higher education made a huge fundamental change in the way families thought about gender and work/family responsibilities. In the past, the breadwinner, never at home dad was the dominant cultural form of fatherhood. He’d bring home the bacon and we equated good fatherhood with earning money. Providing is what defined you as a good father.
As our society has changed, women who entered into the labor force started to rethink “OK, how are we going balance all of this?” As a result, the doors opened for men to take a more active role and many of them realized that they were really good at it and it was really important to them. As society changes we start to think of involved fatherhood as being the new cultural ideal. Men want equal support and want to be respected as parents. As you well know, media in general has portrayed fathers in a less flattering light and dads are sick of it. As generations change, people will want to move away from traditional gender roles . They understand that both men and women are equally great parents and want to be given the opportunity to spend time with their kids and have meaningful relationships with them.
If you know a stay at home dad or are one. Please consider taking the Stay at Home Father Well Being Survey conducted by Dr. Beth Latshaw and Widener University.
Let us know what you liked/disliked about the survey on our Facebook page after you have completed it and thanks for being a part of the sample if you do participate!