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Study Makes Stay-at-Home Dads Sound Okay, but Not So Great

So we asked one to translate for us

A new study found that, at least in Australia, stay-at-home dads manage to only barely outdo their working wives in housework, while lagging behind their working wives in the hours spent on childcare, The Guardian reported. That does not sound very cool of dads, so we asked a stay-at-home dad what is up with this.

The study, from the Australian Institute of Family Studies, surveyed 2,500 parents during 2002–2015, and found that there are about 75,000 stay-at-home fathers in Australia, or about 4 percent of hetero couples with kids. When asked how that shakes out on childcare, dads raising children at home reported spending about 19 hours a week on the task, while their wives, who worked 35 hours a week, spent 21. The stay-at-home dads did do more housework (including errands, home and car maintenance and gardening), but not a ton — 28 hours a week, compared to working women’s 23 hours per week.

“For many, becoming a stay-at-home dad is an economic decision, driven by unemployment, under-employment or disability and not a lifestyle choice to spend more time on parenting,” institute director Anne Hollonds told The Guardian. Hollonds’ theory on why the working women are still doing more around the house was that they have more time than a breadwinning male would — the women surveyed worked, on average, about 35 hours a week, compared with breadwinning men in the survey, who worked 51 hours on average. Plus, she noted, domestic labor is still gendered, so even when a man is taking care of the kids, he may still not be inclined to do the laundry.

But this definitely makes it sound like staying at home is rare and dads aren’t as good at it. Unfortunately, that bears out in other studies — it’s rare for any parent to be able stay home because we need two paychecks to make it go nowadays. And it’s still rare for the stay-at-home parent to be the dad — in 2012, only .08 percent of families with a kid under age 15 had the father as the stay-at-home parent.

Regardless of who stays home, women tend to do more with the kids and around the house (sometimes men even do less the more the wife earns). Some of this is learned and gendered behavior, and some of it is because everyone thinks women should do all that work, and some of it is just inevitable: If a woman is breastfeeding an infant, for instance, all the diaper-changing help in the world isn’t going to put a dent in the sheer hours spent with that baby on the boob.

But what about these dudes? We asked our go-to Mr. Mom Dave Sliozis, a late-30something father to Brady, in the trenches every day, what he thought of all this. He makes it clear that Australian social culture norms may very well be different, “But, as an American stay-at-home dad, this article frustrates me,” he wrote in an email. Sliozis continued:

When I left my job, yes the financial was a point, but I also really wanted to be a dad. I wanted to be a part of my son’s life and help being there to install my values in him. And when we started down this path, the understanding in my home is that anything related to the house and maintaining our home is my job (the “home” in stay-at-home). Which makes complete sense to me as I am the one to dress my son, so why wouldn’t I do his laundry? I’m the one to feed my son, so why wouldn’t I do the shopping? I’m the one in the house most of the time, so why wouldn’t I make sure it’s clean? I’m the one in trying to make him an educated human being so why wouldn’t I take him on adventures? And by achieving all of those things, when my wife comes home, our nights and weekends are free of chores so that we can spend more time together as a family. She doesn’t have the stress of looking for clean pajamas, or her own clean clothes. It’s done.

That said, Sliozis acknowledges that there are days when it’s exhausting and he doesn’t get around to all the work that needs doing. “There are days I just can’t bring myself to do the dishes during my son’s nap break,” he said. “Sometimes the task of washing one more child-sized dish before bed seems as daunting as scaling Everest.”

He realizes, though, that his wife is at work actually working, too. “I can’t assume my wife is at the office all day eating cupcakes and napping,” he said. “She has her own stresses during the work day and part of my job is taking care of the daily grind stuff so she can come home and be happy. As awful of a saying as it is, happy wife, happy life. When families can focus on family in their free time, they can cherish the time and bond.”

Even though Sliozis is not sure why men aren’t doing as much, I asked him whether he thought breadwinning moms should be pissed about this arrangement. “I think the breadwinning mothers have the right to be as upset as they want to be with fathers who are actively avoiding housework and childcare,” he said.

“This is a partnership. I understand that I’m not getting a paycheck to do this job, but by me staying home, we’re saving on nanny and daycare fees and giving my son personal one-on-one attention. If the house isn’t being kept, and the children aren’t active in social groups and classes, it may be doing more harm than good. The money we save by me being at home, in a sense, is my paycheck. And sometimes it takes the fiery wrath of someone you love to show you that you need to step up and be part of the team.”

As for why it’s tough for some dads to pitch in on the level that women do, Sliozis speculates that they may only see the gig as temporary so they’re not as likely or willing to change their routines. “Maybe it’s that men tend to think housework isn’t that important, old habits from bachelor years,” he wrote. “Some of these homes could have multiple children which greatly reduces the time and ability to get simple chores done. And I think it’s important to repeat that it seems many of these father’s weren’t becoming stay-at-home necessarily by choice.”

Maybe it’s really that simple: As long as men end up staying home to parent rather than actively choosing it, it’s unlikely they’ll lean in to the job the way women do. But in the meantime, those dudes need to do a little bit more laundry.