The increase of working professional women and stay-at-home dads is one of many positive demographic trends of the past couple generations. Poor women have always been in the workforce, doing their best to keep their families clothed and fed. For nearly all of historical times, middle- and upper-class women have been kept at home to raise children, manage households and play hostess. Exceptional women sometimes loosed these shackles, but the vast majority were kept from their full potential. In recent centuries, more professions opened, notably education, but professions have only opened slowly and with some prying.
Today nearly every profession is open to woman, though Old Patriarchy still holds sway in parts of the world. There’s even a decent chance that our next President will be a woman. Meantime, more and more fathers are staying home and raising children. I have no qualms with working dads and stay-at-home moms. But I do think that it’s a good thing that gender is not destiny.
Diversity is a good thing, and not just for “We Are the World” warm and fuzzy reasons. Gender diversity is important, too. I teach elementary school, and it’s becoming more and more common for men to choose to teach young children. It’s great that the world of children includes more men who take teach and take care of children full time.
Diverse people usually produce diverse perspectives, which contribute to better decisions. Groupthink decisions are made by homogenous leader bodies. Data sets that don’t represent diverse reality won’t reap real results. Many see the “decline” of the traditional family as a bad thing. I see an opportunity to experiment with new kinds of family structures. Diversity in action.
This New York Times article describes a recent convention of stay-at-home fathers. In this age of persistent tinkering, innovation and creativity in technology, medicine, education and business, it’s reassuring to see that the same is happening in millions of families, and new paradigms of fatherhood are emerging.
When I was a kid–do I sound like my last post?–my father was an affable, sweet-hearted yet somewhat distant, usually benevolent parent. However, Mom did most everything. When Dad came home from work we kids ran to the door and regaled him with our love. I remember him hoisting me on his shoulders as he walked through the house to greet Mom. I also remember the five o’clock stubble against my cheek; it was a good feeling, despite the rough scratchiness, ’cause it was Dad.
But except for fishing trips on vacations and occasional help with Pinewood Derby cars and other projects, Dad was kind of in the background. I don’t think he changed any diapers. And he didn’t have much of a clue about what I was doing in school, with friends, etc. It’s sad, isn’t it? But he did provide for the family, as he was expected to do. I believe he was following the training of his parents and the norms of the era. His mother immigrated to America in her early 20s, and his father lived with relatives because his father, my great-grandfather, was a hardcore alcoholic. It’s a cliche but I believe it: They were doing the best they could. Dad did the best he could.
Nowadays fatherhood is worse in some ways and better in others. There are plenty of dads in the background…or not around at all. In fact, many more kids grow up without a dad in the house than kids did in the 60s. According to a Pew study that gleaned its findings from US Census data, “only 11 percent of children younger than 18 in the United States were living apart from their fathers in 1960, compared with 27 percent in 2010.”
But the kind of dads I see all over the country hearten me a great deal. I see more fathers snuggling, playing with, schlepping, talking to and walking with their children in a way that most fathers did not do very often when I was growing up. Pew research backs up this perception:
“Pew also reported that fathers who do live with their children are spending more time with them and taking part in a greater variety of activities with them. The amount of time that married fathers spent with children living in their household rose from an average of 2.6 hours per week in 1965 to 6.5 hours per week in 2000, the Pew researchers noted, referencing statistics from “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life,” (Russell Sage Foundation, 2007).”
That’s nearly a threefold increase in time fathers spent with their children.
Fatherhood today is a mixed bag. It would be better if more fathers lived with their children. But the dramatic increase in the time dads spend with their kids is a very good thing. It is no longer rare to see stay-at-home dads taking care of their children full time. And for the kids today, engaged fatherhood is a new normal.