Stay-at-home Dads and our Grandchildren
Back in the mid 70s, my brother-in-law was Mr. Mom, at a time when staying home with the kids wasn’t very common. It worked for him and my sister, because she was a teacher, with summers at home with the children. Once she finished the last day of school, he went off for summer employment as a geographical surveyor in Northern Ontario.
Terence was one of a small group of stay at home dads at the time. According to Stats Canada in an analysis of data from the Labour Force Survey, the number of stay-at-home dads has increased from about 20,000 in 1976 to 60,000 in 2011.
There are several reasons for the increase. With more women in the workforce, along with the financial crisis in 2008, when four out of five of the jobs lost were held by men, more dads are opting to be the primary caregiver in the home. In addition, a bill passed in 1990 awarding paid leave for fathers who are the primary caregivers helped ease the decision for dads as well. In 2001, only three percent of eligible dads took parental leave, but in 2010, the number rose to 30 per cent. In Quebec, where the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan introduced ‘daddy days’ to include five weeks of paid parental leave, 77 per cent of all fathers took advantage of paid parental leave in 2007.
But even dads who don’t qualify for paid parental leave opt to take time off after a birth or adoption. And, a survey of 600 dads conducted by Minnesota’s Department for Families and Children’s Services showed that men consider child care to be more important than a paycheck. Certainly, the decision for a parent to stay home with a child usually revolves around who has the highest salary. Back in the 70s, only 15 per cent of women in dual-income families out-earned their spouses, but by 2003, the number had jumped to 29 per cent.
The other financial consideration for a stay-at-home parent is that daycare, for most families, is the biggest expense, right after the mortgage.
In an age where virtual offices make more sense cost-wise for businesses, many parents can work from home. Seth of Oakville, Ontario has a virtual office and while he sometimes has to go into his head office for meetings during the day, he can be at home to see the children off to school in the mornings and is usually there when they come home in late afternoon. “There’s no better sound than hearing the front door open and one of them saying “hi Dad, I’m home,” Seth says with a grin. “But they also know that if my office door is closed, then I’m on a business call and they have to be quiet. I think it gives them a good understanding of the business world as well as respect for the relevance of my job in our family life.”
For dads like Seth, there are lots of advantages to working from home. “I get to be with them at the end of the day when they need to talk to someone about what happened in school or homework problems,” he says. “I’ve gotten to really know my kids whereas I wouldn’t have had the same opportunity working out of the house.” And according to the Minnesota study, because a stay-at-home dad is immersed in his children’s lives, he tends to be compassionate and caring, a quality the children, especially male children learn from him. He’s also setting an example of parenting for his children, particularly boys, about being an involved dad without a misogynistic outlook. There are even a few websites for these dads, such as urbandaddies.com
In the UK, where the number of stay-at-home dads has increased by 83 per cent since 1993, fathers are being encouraged to play a bigger role in raising their children. However, the Bristol project funded by the government found evidence in a study that boys, not girls, who spent at least 15 hours a week in paternal care as toddlers performed less successfully on academic assessments when they started school. However, similar effects were found with children who spent long hours in daycare outside the home. The study does note that the absence of the mother or her exhaustion at the end of a work day may be the real culprit. And evidence is still pending that these male toddlers will eventually catch up.
For us as grandparents, it’s important to support and cherish the stay-at-home dad. The well-being of our grandchildren is important and if they’re in the care of a happy, involved dad, they will no doubt thrive. Besides, think of what wonderful grandfathers these dads will become!
– Bonnie Baker Cowan