The following recent headline on Time.com made me stop dead in my Internet tracks: Don’t Let Your Husband Be a Stay-At-Home Dad.
Seriously? Are people still trying to make the case that men aren’t qualified caregivers? That nurturing isn’t within a guy’s comfort zone? Why are we continuing to give airtime and headlines to antiquated attitudes about men based on old-fashioned, tired stereotypes? And please, please, please don’t tell me this is a dusted-off story from 2002 that uses the term “Mr. Mom” — as if to suggest that a man who cares for his children is only a surrogate for what kids really need: Mom.
So I clicked through to the story. And I know, I should have treated it like road kill and looked the other way. But I couldn’t resist the temptation.
Ironically, what I found was a story that had virtually no connection to the attention-grabbing headline. What I found, frustratingly, was a free-flowing story that could have been summarized with these four bullet points:
- Kids are expensive. The average annual cost of center-based childcare in the U.S. is as high as $16,000. Parents who have the resources for at-home care can pay nearly double that. And it gets worse if parents opt to forego one of their careers and income in order to provide for their children themselves because that would require giving up one entire salary. And that sucks!
- If a man or woman steps out of the workforce for a short period of time to raise a family — or for whatever reason — there’s an economic penalty when they ultimately resume their career. That sucks, too! And one more sucky thing is that studies show the penalty may be worse for men.
- More and more women are the primary breadwinners in families. And that, according to the story, can be a downright stressful thing. And stress sucks! (I’m quite certain that millions of people — men and women — who have been the sole breadwinner in a family, would agree!)
- So the conclusion to all of the above? Because it’s stressful for women to be the sole breadwinner and because men may pay a larger economic penalty if they try to step back into the workforce after time away for domestic purposes, MEN SHOULD NOT BE STAY-AT-HOME DADS.
I’ll let that sink in for a few seconds. It took a couple minutes for me to see straight after the points of the article registered.
At one point in the story, the author (who is expecting her first child with her husband) asks if her logic sounds crazy.
Well, I’m glad she asked!
For starters, I’d never call another person crazy. But I’d love to share some thoughts on what she is suggesting based on my own personal experiences.
Yes, the cost of raising a child is staggering. Overwhelming. Beyond impossible to imagine. And for the vast majority of us, the anticipation of baby number one is filled with great excitement offset by pure fear. Fear from wondering how bills are going to be paid. Fears of medical emergencies. Music lessons. Braces. College. The list goes on. I remember sitting down with my boss when I was a first-time expectant father to ask for a raise. Why? Because I needed the money! Fortunately, he didn’t call me crazy back then. But he did encourage me to focus on my professional growth, contributions to the team and value to the company before I ask for another raise.
I was scared to death. But somehow we managed.
These kids come in our lives and most of us start to figure things out. We figure out childcare. We figure out our respective roles. We figure out how the money works. And mostly, we figure out that we have to be flexible because no two children are the same. Their needs often dictate what is “right” thing to do. Parents learn that decisions can’t solely be made based on the results of a survey. Or how hard it might be for one of the parents to step back in the workforce someday.
We figure it out.
Was the author of the story crazy? Not a bit. I admire her for trying to wrap her arms around one of the big issues of raising a family. It’s breathtakingly expensive.
But I’d also like to take my big ol’ stay-at-home dad arms and wrap them around her and her husband and tell them to embrace the parenting journey that they are beginning together. I’d like to remind them that raising a child is not the same thing as managing a stock portfolio. And while a measurable part of parenting really does suck — we haven’t even gotten to the part about sleepless nights, cleaning things you’d never imagine cleaning, teenage dating, drinking, drugs, tweens with really bad attitudes, etc. — most of it is extraordinary. And because most of it is extraordinary you don’t think — all that often — about the parts that suck.
Go be the parent your children need you to be. Find your way but trust me, you’ll naturally find yourself putting your children’s needs first.
Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s stressful if one of you becomes the breadwinner. Yes, there is risk in so many aspects of parenting.
Just remember that, yes, it’s also pretty awesome.
And a final note to the author’s husband: If you ever find yourself stepping away from your career to raise the kids, I promise you won’t regret it. As a guy who did that very thing, it was the most rewarding decision I’ve ever made.
Lost income and all.