Lauren Sergy juggles a regular job as a communications strategist anda growing business as a professional speaker and communications trainer, so her husband, Glen, is a stay-at-home father for their two-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.
“We chose this lifestyle for very practical reasons: finances and flexibility,” she says. “The demands of my business mean that I need to be able to see clients and do work on weekends and evenings and, with my husband at home with the kids, we don’t need to stress out about difficult childcare arrangements, such as whether one of us will be able to pick the kids up from daycare on time. My regular job pays well, and it’s important to both me and my husband that I continue to grow my business.”
Once Sergy and her husband factored in the huge cost savings in childcare, which would have been more than their mortgage and property taxes combined, she says it simply made more sense for her husband to be home with the kids while she returned to her job and worked on her own business after maternity leave. “My job requires me to be away during the day and my business requires lots of after-hours work,” Sergy explains.
“I need to be careful to avoid burnout, and I often experience mommy guilt at being away so much. But I deal with that by keeping a sharp eye on how I spend my time, making sure I get enough sleep, and reserving blocks of time on weeknights and weekends to spend quality time with the kids. For my husband, he faces the challenges of any stay-at-home parent — emotional and physical exhaustion, loneliness, frustration and boredom. We deal with that by ensuring that he has hobbies and activities outside of the house, and kids that engage his mind and body.
My time with the kids is a good time for him to take a break and work on his own projects, hobbies and side business.” Sergy says that they deal with their challenges by communicating constantly and by scheduling regular quality time as a family, as a couple and with their friends and extended family.
“This lifestyle works very well for us, but it requires a lot of communication and commitment,” she admits. “We check in with each other frequently to be sure that neither of us is getting burned out with work and family demands. We make sure that I get good quality time with the kids and that my husband gets alone time to recharge his batteries. We hold date night sacred and make sure that we get out as a couple once a week, even if it’s just for coffee and a walk.
And we spend time every day talking to each other about how we’re doing.” While the lifestyle can be challenging, the benefits are plentiful — not having to worry about childcare demands such as daycare schedules or unreliable babysitters; saving on childcare; the fact that their kids can be home with a parent during their youngest years; only having to worry about her job schedule; and being able to take advantage of opportunities for short family trips like camping or visiting a friends’ cottage for a couple days.
And they’re not the only family reaping the benefits of defying traditional gender roles in the home. It used to be practically unheard of for a father to raise his children full time instead of working — in the 1970s, only six U.S. men identified themselves as stay-at-home parents. In the whole country. In 2014, by contrast, an estimated 1.9 million fathers remained home with the kids, which accounted for 16 percent of the stay-at-home parent population, according to a HuffPost analysis of U.S. Census data.
That said, most fathers aren’t staying home voluntarily. Research actually suggests that 80 percent of those 1.9 million dads would be working outside the home if they could. For some couples, the atypical structure makes more sense financially and, for others, it just works out that way.
“This lifestyle wasn’t necessarily our first choice, but I was looking for a sharp career turn and the baby came at just the right time for me to drop what I was doing and focus on her,” says Stefano Young, PhD. “The benefits of this lifestyle are many, in my view: fewer stress and health issues than when I was working, more time for creative pursuits, and a daughter who loves me (though oftentimes she doesn’t particularly like me). The challenges include occasional anxiety from falling off of a perceived career cliff, the physical exhaustion from taking care of a little human, and financial pressure to reduce our expenses to fit within the single income.”
Of course, a lot of dads quite enjoy it, like Tom Tessin, who has been a stay-at-home dad for nearly seven years. His wife is an elementary school teacher who was much more passionate about her career than he was when he was a programmer, so they figured that he’d like being home more than she would. “Did it work out? I think so!” he says. “I was able to work on hobby programming projects, spend time with kids and meet some cool stay-at-home moms!” He adds that the benefits include not having to go to a 9-to-5 job, getting to bond with kids, and living relatively stress-free.
“People say it’s work, but it’s rewarding work,” he explains.
While evermore fathers are staying home watching after the kids for one reason or another, evermore women are entering the workforce and becoming the breadwinners of their families. The Center for American Progress reports that 42 percent of mothers are sole or primary breadwinners, bringing in at least half of family earnings, and nearly another one-quarter of mothers (22.4 percent) are co-breadwinners, bringing home from 25 to 49 percent of earnings for their families.
The trend shows a promising future for gender equity in households and workplaces alike.