When I was growing up, my mother chose to stay home for a few years to raise my brother and me while my father worked full time. We were privileged in that this was an option for our family, financially. Many of my peers’ families had chosen similar arrangements – a stay-at-home mother and a father with full-time employment outside the home.
While there are many reasons why mothers may choose to stay at home to raise children including personal preference, tradition, and finances, a growing number of fathers are leaving the workforce for some period of time to raise children. Since 1989, the number of stay-at-home parents who are fathers in the US has doubled from about 1 million to 2 million (according to the Pew Research Center).
Stay-at-home fathers often have similar experiences as stay-at-home mothers. Stay-at-home parents can, at times, experience physical and mental exhaustion, burnout, and self-doubt. Leaving the workforce to parent full-time can cause anyone to have uneasy questions about their identity. On the other hand, stay-at-home dads, like stay-at-home moms, may experience a profound appreciation for the opportunity to spend so much time with their kids, really get to know their children’s friends, and participate in school events. All of these experiences, both positive and negative, are common and normal.
Still, fathers who are full-time caregivers can face unique challenges. It can be difficult for stay-at-home fathers to feel like they belong with “mothers groups,” which can lead to loneliness. And, it can be annoying, at best, to deal with the surprise of family, friends, and strangers at your “non-traditional” family arrangement.
For stay-at-home fathers, it can be helpful to reduce loneliness by connecting with other stay-at-home parents, both dads and moms. And for stay-at-home mothers, try reaching out to the dads hanging out around the playground.
Children grow and thrive with parents who are involved in their lives, attuned to their feelings, and present. This Father’s Day, thank a dad in your life!
Rebecca Li, LCSW