The new A&E reality show, Modern Dads, would have us believe that stay-at-home dads are neglectful, self-centered skirt chasers who have changed very little since frat house days. On this show, it’s the intent. But is the portrayal an accurate depiction, or does it create a stereotype that does a disservice to families in similar situations who are trying hard to make stay-at-home dad-dom work?
It’s no secret that more dads are staying home while their wives are out working as the primary breadwinners. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 3.5 percent of stay-at-home parents are dads, a number that has doubled in the last ten years. Some say that percentage is too low and fails to include the vast number of fathers who work part-time but are still the primary caregivers to the children. Whatever the statistics, stay-at-home dads, who share the housework, cooking and child care with their working wives, are the new reality. Call it role reversal on steroids.
Typically, a couple’s parenting decision is based on economics. More women than men now earn college degrees, and they often get better-paying jobs. In a reversal of roles that couldn’t have been imagined 20 years ago, couples today figure it makes good economic sense for dad to stay home and care for the kids.
In my experience as a family lawyer, I’ve seen many of these situations. The bad dads (let’s call them the default dads) ‘fell into the job,’ and tend to be resentful and less committed to a role which they see as emasculating, and hopefully, temporary. They spend too much time hanging out with other stay-at-home fathers, often at Starbucks, with or without strollers, and sometimes fishing for lonely mothers. They are neither patient nor nurturing to the children. They are more like the characters on Modern Dads, only it’s not funny.
In contrast we have the good dads, who have willingly and responsibly made a commitment to staying at home for a certain period of time. They take their job seriously and have become, or are on their way to becoming, nurturing fathers and husbands. Most recognize that they do not want to oust their wives from co-parenting. They also intend, at some point, to return to the workforce and not hide behind a one-time division of labor as a carte blanche to never working outside the home again.
We live in a time of transition where both moms and dads are changing roles that have been held for centuries. It is a delicate dance for both genders. Modern dads really can be great dads. What we don’t need is one more ‘reality’ TV show trying to convince us otherwise.
Photo courtesy of marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.