Daddy’s Role Through a Child’s Eyes

Children think of moms as good caregivers. But why do kids have negative associations with fathers and caregiving? Aren't stay at home dads just as good?

When I was a little girl back in the late ’70s/early ‘8os, my mom stayed home with us and my dad went to work. That’s how it was for most of my friends, too, so I didn’t think much of it.

When my mom went to work part-time once I started first grade, I didn’t think much of that, either. I had a few friends whose moms worked, and it seemed fine to me. Kids usually accept the world as they know it.

So I wasn’t too surprised to hear about some new research showing that most kids think it’s cool for Mommy to work or stay home–but they tend to have negative stereotypes of Daddy taking care of them, such as stay at home dads. This is according to a study by University of Maryland researchers, as reported today by ABC News in “Mommy Wars: A New Chapter.” (The story’s title annoys me, because it really has nothing to do with mommies being at war. But whatever. It’s TV news.)

On one hand, I’m thrilled to know most kids don’t think badly of moms for going to work, or automatically expect them to stay home full-time. That bodes well for my relationship with my daughter. It also gives me hope for the little girls of today who won’t be saddled with quite as much guilt when they grow up to be the working moms of tomorrow.

But it’s disheartening to hear that children think daddies don’t make good caregivers.

I think this negative stereotype can be attributed to what they know. While more fathers stay home with their children now than they did when I was growing up, it’s still fairly uncommon. Also, the media and our culture often reinforce the notion that mommies are born nurturers and daddies are dummies when it comes to running a household and raising children.

Personally, I am immensely grateful and happy that my husband chooses to care for our daughter while working full-time out of our home. (You read that right. Full-time!) It’s not easy, but he manages it with lots of patience, love, and creativity.

Not only does this situation make me feel 1,000 times better as a working mom (knowing she’s in the hands of someone who loves her as much as I do)–it also helps Cassie see how Daddy can care for her just as well as Mama can. She’ll grow up with a broader view of caregiving roles and a more open perspective on how to be a good parent.

What do your kids think of fathers as primary caregivers? I’d love to hear about the conversations this research sparks in your home. If you get a chance, post your thoughts here.

6 thoughts on “Daddy’s Role Through a Child’s Eyes

  1. Jay -- Susan's husband says:

    It’s unfortunate that the young (and many of “the old”) have negative attitudes towards fathers who stay home. The reality of life in the US is that more and more fathers are taking care of children (and in many of those cases fathers are working full-time or part-time jobs from home in addition to raising kids).

    As a father who works a full-time job at home and takes care of his daughter, I cannot imagine someone with a more difficult daily routine than a stay-at-home parent who also has to hold down a full-time job. It literally is the best and worst of both worlds.

    I find myself laughing hysterically when fathers complain about how tough their day jobs are and how their wives have it easy raising the kids at home. Likewise, I can’t understand mothers who think it’s easier (both emotionally and physically) for fathers to work a full-time job and be away from their children all day.

    Still, even if I didn’t have the burden of working a full-time job at home to pay the bills I’d still have another full-time job in terms of taking care of my daughter. That’s why I can’t stand the negative stereotypes against stay-at-home dads.

    Women have fought (and continue to fight) a difficult battle for equality in our society. One of the side effects of equality for women is that old stereotypes don’t apply. That goes for both women and men. If it’s not acceptable for women to be pigeonholed into being happy homemakers then it isn’t right for men to be stereotyped as workaholic businessmen who only get to spend time with their kids on vacation. If moms aren’t home anymore someone has to be responsible for the children, and not every family likes the idea of daycare.

    Stay-at-home dads deal with just as much “guilt” as working moms because neither group fits the old stereotypes of the American family. Heck, even fathers who work full-time jobs at home and take care of kids all day feel huge amounts of guilt. At least I do. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wonder if I’m doing enough for my daughter, my employer, or my wife … even on days when I’m running myself into the ground. It’s not easy balancing work and parenting … regardless of your sex or life situation.

  2. I think it’s great that Jay is staying home to take care of Cassie… and working a full-time job, too. What a man!

    I instantly thought of Jonah when I read your post. He definitely would be weary if Jerry was to stay at home and I began working more. For instance, I drive Jonah to preschool every day. He’s used to this routine. One morning I was sick and Jerry had to drive Jonah instead. Jonah was so worried about it! In the car, Jerry said Jonah was directing him how to get to the school (even though Jerry very much knew how to get there.)

    Other times, Jonah will just blatantly say he doesn’t like Daddy taking care of him. Not that Jerry is a bad dad. He’s a very good dad. But, my kids have just come to rely on me more for taking care of their needs.

    I think a majority of kids get used to depending on mom as the primary care giver. Even when both parents work full-time outside the home, mom is usually the one that takes on the responsibility that the kids are fed, bathed, etc.

    Jerry has mentioned before that he wished he could stay home with the kids one day a week, while I was at work. That would be awesome. It would definitely be an eye-opener for him. But also, I think it would be good for the kids to have daddy as their sole care-taker one solid day a week.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi, it’s Sara. I haven’t updated myself yet – don’t ask. Familypalooza has hit and it’s a guilt story all its own. Anyway, I wanted to say that my husband, in many ways, is a better caregiver than I am. Sure, our daughter is dressed better when I take care of her, but he has much more patience and is so much more focused on having fun with her than I am. I envy how well they connect. She loves and relies on her daddy, just as much as she does on her mommy. I feel lucky to have a man in my life who takes such an active role in raising our child.

    And Jay, you’re amazing. My hat’s off to you!

  4. Jay–You are amazing. I was wore out from ONE day of full-time caregiving/working.

    While Owen is still very young, I think he very much notices the difference between Mommy and Daddy. Last week when Dad stayed home so Mom could go to her company Christmas party, Jason had a heck of a time getting Owen to go, and stay, asleep. So much so, Jason called me around 10 or so at his wits end. Yet, when I got home, Jason had put Owen to sleep–in his crib! (Owen oftentimes still sleeps in his swing–bad parents.)

    I think it’s great when Dads can take a more active role in child-rearing. Two people came together to make the child, and two people create a dynamic the child needs. For example, because I oftentimes to take on more of the child-rearing role, I sometimes don’t stop to smell the roses. I get too focused on changing diapers, feeding, whatev., but then Jason will come in with a goofy face or goofy smile and instantly cheer Owen up. And I’ll remember being a Mommy isn’t so serious.

  5. I currently stay home with my kids, but that hasn’t always been the case. When my husband and I had our first daughter, he stayed at home since he was working out of the home running his own small company. He was quickly fired from being the caretaker after a month or two. I really thought my daughter was better off in daycare since he didn’t seem to understand that a newborn has needs. He never left the house with her, and didn’t seem to offer much stimulation. Oh, not to mention that he didn’t like “working for me” at all.

    But now that the girls are older, I often think he would be better at watching them full time. He has taught me everthing I know about patience and has a better sense of life priorities. And really, he has so much more sympathy for kids when they are sick or injured, so there would be benefits to having Daddy home.

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