Is society undermining stay at home dads?

A father holds his smiling toddler, kissing him on the cheek

The way society thinks about masculinity and care work is creating challenges for men who choose to stay home to raise their children.

In a recent blog post for Psychology Today, Caring Futures Institute researcher Dr Sarah C. Hunter and Flinders University colleague Professor Damien W. Riggs discuss how we can better promote and support the increasing number of men who take on the primary caregiving role. 

“(There’s) been a bit of a dearth in services available to support these contemporary needs of fathers … essentially, as a society, we undermine and hold men back in their caregiving capabilities due to how we view them,” she said.

From their research, Dr Hunter and Professor Riggs argue that normalising men’s role as primary caregivers will help to reduce stigma, allowing for the development of strategies to successfully engage men as parents (for example gender-inclusive parent groups, or groups just for men).

“We are seeing more and more daddy bloggers and I think it reflects the fact men are wanting a space where they can connect with other men, to have that shared experience to compare and contrast everyday experience of what being a dad is,” Dr Hunter said.

“(Research) suggests when men are dropping their kids off at childcare, entering into mum classes or mum groups, they do feel they don’t belong … (so they are turning) online to find that peer network.

“Not dissimilar to women, often men just want support in the more informal sense, peer support, having someone there to listen and talk to.”

In their recently published book, Men Caregiving and the Media: The Dad Dilemma, Dr Hunter and Professor Riggs discuss how we seldom see celebrations of the relationship between caregiving and masculinity, rather, they found that men are still often compelled to justify why they are staying at home. 

Dr Hunter said that the first step is to not only acknowledge that care work is gendered, with women doing most of the household and childcare labour, but to shift societal expectations that women continue to provide such labour – for free.

“Second, we need to normalise men providing care for their children. We need more routine, everyday representations of men loving, caring for, and raising their children.”

“It is no longer enough to praise men for taking on what has traditionally been framed as ‘women’s work’. Instead, we need to think differently about how we understand care work.”

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