Wow, stay-at-home-dads are cool. They’re sewing old flannel sports coats into “little gray number[s] with some distinguished flair.” They’re doing woodworking and leatherworking. They’re taking over the playground from those stuffy women and their side-eye glances. Just ask the New York Times, dads are the new cool thing. It is hip and desirable to be a stay-at-home parent, as long as you’re a non-gender-role-conforming male one.
When I read this weekend’s Times’ tribute to stay-at-home-dads, there was just one thing running through my mind: “I wish we talked about stay-at-home-moms this way.”
Do not get me wrong. I think the men outlined in the Times pieces sound awesome. I’d hang out at the park with them any day. And I am thrilled that we’re seeing men and women ignore the gender stereotypes and find a work life balance that fits their family. In my house, my husband is just as involved and active a parent as I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve talked about the idea of him staying home, if I’m in the position to support us financially.
I love that we’re celebrating and encouraging these men who are staying home with their kids. It is a deserving and often over-looked group of people who are just doing their best to raise their little ones.
But in all that deserving tribute, let’s think about how the editorial would’ve gone if it had been about stay-at-home mothers. That adorable little sewing project would’ve been a sad substitute for the once-successful career the woman had given up to stay home. There would’ve been some mention of alcohol consumption, because sad mothers at home can’t do anything but drink. We would’ve seen the phrase, “I love my children, but…” at least a couple times.
Let’s look at some of the editorial work on stay-at-home-moms. Elizabeth Wurtzel in The Atlantic said “1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Making the War on Women Possible.” Of course, she was only focusing on a very small subset of SAHMs. She might not realize any other such mothers exist. There was a lot of grandstanding around Ann Romney‘s stay-at-home-motherhood after it was questioned by Hilary Rosen, but that made it seem like a saintly sacrifice, not a fun and pleasant way to spend your years. Stay-at-home-mothers are almost always pitted against working mothers, Mommy Wars-style, as in this classic New York Magazine piece “Mom vs. Mom.”
The coverage of motherhood is depressing. It’s filled with guilt and competition. We would never seen an exuberant celebration of how crafty and clever stay-at-home-moms are in a major newspaper. We would hear about their depression or their loneliness or all the ways in which their life didn’t turn out how they planned.
Stay-at-home-dads are amazing. I’m glad we’re talking about them in a positive fashion. I just wish that we could afford mothers with the same optimism. I wish we could be happy and supportive of every family that figures out a way to make their hectic life function, whether that means a mother at home, a father at home, or both parents trudging off to work every day.