Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a stay-at-home dad. Up until a fire destroyed my shop a few months ago, I could conduct my woodworking business from home—usually catching a couple hours in the shop during nap time, staining a table between episodes of Bubble Guppies.
I’ve been referred to as “Mr. Mom” so many times, and it took me awhile to realize it was being used in a negative context. It never bothered me, though, because I know I was doing right by my family for our specific situation. But it has led me into doing some research into why stay-at-home dads are looked at in a negative way. It’s brought to my attention concerns I’d never even thought about, and I’m more than a little worried. I’ve read a lot of articles from both sides of the argument: people saying only a lazy man stays home, people who praise us and want to give us medals, people who think it’s misogynistic to even differentiate between moms and dads, people who think men aren’t wired to be parents. Some say it’s progressive, others that it’s a waste of time. You name it, someone’s written something about it. I know how the internet is, and I take it with a grain of salt, until I started reading stuff written by the dads themselves.
Time and time again, I’m reading about dads who are being discriminated against for being dads. As a dad trying to take my son anywhere, society isn’t accommodating, to say the least: no changing stations in men’s public bathrooms, dads getting the police called on them by concerned strangers while they’re dealing with public tantrums, etc. The other issue—and the one I think I need the most advice with—is the moms. The world of parenting is female dominated, and things that may seem simple for a mother can be all but impossible for a father. For example, my wife signed up for a program that would check in on our son’s development on a regular basis and offer assistance in the form of advice, or help with diapers, car seats, that sort of thing. When they call, they ask her questions about his daily routines that, because she works full time, I would be the person to ask. But they refused to speak to me, or even acknowledge my position as a dad. At one point, the lady told my wife, “It’s so great that you can trust him enough to leave your son with him while you’re at work.” We opted out of their service, and as a result, were unable to take advantage of the resources offered by that program.
Now that my son is getting a bit bigger, coming up on 2-years-old, it’s time to try and find him some friends, get some playdates, and try to socialize him before he starts pre-K. So I’m running into yet another problem: moms out there—at the park, the library, or other public places— don’t want to talk to a random dad. And I get it, I could be a creep, or somehow the act of talking to me threatens their relationship, or some other concern prevents them from talking to me long enough to say “Hey, my kid seems to get along with your kid, do you want to work out some kind of playdate?” How do I find friends and schedule playdates for my son without coming off as a creeper? Or look like I’m hitting on moms at the park? I don’t want to have my son lose out simply because his dad took him to the park instead of his mom.
—Not a Creeper, Just a Dad
Dear Not a Creeper,
I found myself nodding my head as you unleashed this rant because I used to be a stay-at-home dad as well for a few years, and as you would probably attest to, it’s the most difficult job I’ve ever had, but it was also the most rewarding.
Before I dive into my advice, I want to mention something important. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about stay-at-home dads, female sportscasters, or someone who wants to start an underwater fire prevention business, someone will always have an opinion when people do things that are uncommon. Yes, the comments can be hurtful and annoying, but if you know that you’re doing everything in your power to be the best dad you can be, then who cares what the peanut gallery thinks? At the end of the day, the only people who matter when it comes to this are your wife and son.
You make a good point about moms being wary of men with their children, and speaking from personal experience, I’ve witnessed moms scoop up their kids and run away from me as if I were a monster when I went to parks with my girls. You can’t take it personally, because they’re wired to do whatever it takes to keep their kids safe—(of course anti-Black biases played a role too), but I also found that a good number of moms warmed up to me once they saw how loving I was at the playground with my daughters. You just have to continue to be yourself and know that the right people will take the time to get to know you.
I saved the best part for last. One of the things that kept me sane during my stay-at-home dad days was the National At-Home Dad Network. It’s a fantastic way for dads just like you to meet, talk, vent, host play dates, and become friends. I can’t recommend them highly enough as it helped me to build a strong community in a place where I felt completely alone in my experience.
In the meantime, don’t let the haters and naysayers get you down. You’re doing a great thing for your family, and most importantly, you’re creating a bond with your son that will last a lifetime.
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