CareerBuilder announces: The number of guys who'd consider becoming stay-at-home dads has dropped from 49 percent in 2005 to 31 percent this year. This is based on a survey of 800 working fathers.
How can we reconcile that number with the staggering number of Father's Day stories about laid-off fathers becoming stay-at-home dads, or the rising visibility of caregiving fathers in our culture?
That's easy: We are now in the midst of an all-hands-on-deck economic emergency. Even employed parents feel under the gun at work, and many are facing furloughs, salary cuts, and benefits reductions. In that kind of situation, every able-bodied adult in every family needs to think about how he or she might contribute to the family's income, not to mention health care coverage.
That includes my family, by the way: I'm being laid off as senior editor of Greater Good magazine and my wife's employment situation has been rocky for awhile now. Am I going to go back to being a stay-at-home dad? I loved taking care of my son and would welcome the opportunity to do so again, but we as a unit can't afford voluntary stay-at-home parenthood. Not right now.
And so, based on that perspective, I have a prediction: Over the course of the next few years, we're going to see more involuntary stay-at-home dads--those created by layoffs--and fewer voluntary stay-at-home dads.
Here's the important thing: During the Great Depression, unemployment would destroy men. They were told that money was all they had to contribute to their families; if employment vanished, they saw themselves as worthless. They couldn't become "stay-at-home dads" because that role did not exist. Few mothers worked and fewer earned enough to support families. Today, most moms work and we can say to unemployed fathers: you still have value to your family, they need for you to see to their well-being.
That's a message that a decade's worth of voluntary stay-at-home dads can send to today's laid-off dads. That's something men need to hear right now, that they can play caregiving as well as breadwinning roles in their families.