Joann and Jay Massey had long agreed that when they eventually had a child, one parent would stay home. So when Joann landed a good job at a hospital and later discovered she was pregnant, there was no debate.
“We had decided that if I was in the position to be the breadwinner, Jay would be the one to stay at home with the kids,” says Joann, a psychologist at West Florida Regional Medical Center in Pensacola, Fla., whose son, Tucker, is now 5. “I don’t think I could have gone back to work if I had left the baby with anyone but Jay. I was really sad to leave him, but I never had a doubt about his well-being.”
With 70 percent of all mothers working outside of the home — many ranking as well-paid professionals — couples like the Masseys are poised to turn the mom-at-home-daddy-as-
working-warrior paradigm on its head. But while the at-home-father arrangement may work on a practical level for everyone involved, it can be a difficult social and emotional adjustment.
Society still doesn’t embrace dads taking on what has long been a mother’s work. We live in a “mother knows best” culture, where women are deemed better nurturers than men. “My mom had a really hard time at the beginning,” says Cathy Sanders, a Ventura, Calif., family-practice physician whose husband, Bert, left his job as the manager of diagnostic imaging at a hospital to care for their children. “She would ask, ‘When is Bert going back to work?’ But now I think she realizes it’s not going to change and that it’s good for the kids to have a parent at home.”
“Can’t get no respect” (long a stay-at-home-mother’s refrain) might just be the stay-at-home-father’s biggest complaint, too. Not only is there a lack of appreciation for being a parent in his own right, but he is also maligned by terms like “Mr. Mom” (who, for the record, was incompetent) or “the baby sitter,” and he may earn a patronizing pat on the back for “giving mom a break.” Circles of mothers at the park shrink from him, with subjects such as breastfeeding and childbirth difficult to talk about in the presence of men. And there are the ego-shattering blows.
“People make comments that you are not qualified to do anything else because you have stayed home to care for children,” says Tom Dunlap, who took early retirement to care for the family’s two children while his wife’s career as an attorney took off. But the daddy-baby bond handily outweighs the insults, he says. “It’s the kind of catty comment a career woman makes to a stay-at-home mom.”