Staying Home The Economics of Staying at Home Whenever freelance photographer and stay-at-home Dad Reed Kasper is feeling wistful, he does one simple thing. He packs his 18-month-old twin boys, Randall and Hugh, into their stroller and they go for a walk in the park. The park sits just past a large office development, not far from their Ohio home. I just need to see one ceiling strip light through a window, he says, or one office worker stealing a cigarette break out on the sidewalk to make me realize what a lucky life I have. Then we go down to the park and run around in the fresh air.
And Kasper is not alone. There are now an estimated two million stay-at-home Dads across America, effectively reversing traditional gender roles. As the number of home-based workers continues to swell, many more fathers are certain to join their ranks. Often, the reasons for men staying home are purely economic. Couples make their decisions in tandem, based on a few cold practicalities.
But once they’ve actually traded their sales meetings for playgroups, Dads begin to appreciate the rewards and frustrations that come with the new position. I gave up my job and decided to stay at home because my wife, who is an IT specialist, was making a stack more money than I was, says Kasper. We couldn’t have survived on my salary. And we figured that I could bring in some extra cash with freelancing. So far, though, most of my energies have been devoted towards the boys.
In the evenings, I sometimes get to do some assignments, but only to help out my old employer in an emergency. I’m not too sad about that, because I’m generally as wiped as the kids come 6 p.m. New Yorker Bruce Little, who gave up his job when he moved from Houston with his wife, Rivka, and their 11-month old daughter, Nava, echoes Reed’s feelings about his new career path. Little’s wife took a new job in the city and was earning more as an editor than he could as a graphic designer. So far, he’s barely had time to fax out his resume in the search for freelance work. Being a stay-at-home Dad was always something I wanted to do, he says.
It’s cool, but it’s certainly not a walk in the park. And you really appreciate how hard women have had it since the old days. He and his wife are hoping to arrange some kind of part-time daycare for Nava so that he, too, can begin freelancing. While Nava is at home, his time is limited. Working at home would probably not be possible, because Nava is very active, he says.
Though she takes a precious two-hour nap, I have to use that time just to get the chores done around the house. Both Kasper and Little are prepared to keep at it for now. They believe that being a stay-at-home Dad is something that every man should try, that it helps them appreciate the amount of work involved and brings them closer to their wives and kids. Call the Day Care Center! Mark Flaherty was a stay-at-home Dad for eight months a few years ago. I remember the time being very good, he confesses, but I wasn’t unhappy when it was over.
The timing of a move from Dallas to Connecticut led Mark to take a temporary break in his teaching career and look after his baby daughter Hannah. His wife took a job in the investment field. It was not the way I expected it to be, he says. I had a wild illusion that I would have part of the day to myself, reading books and the newspaper. It was a lesson in how difficult it is to be a stay-at-home parent.
A little boring in some ways, but a lot of activity. Kasper, too, laments the repetition of his daily routine (I spend half my life on my knees, wiping things up and picking things up) and the lack of contact with other adults. Thus the job of being a stay-at-home parent sometimes gets him down. Other Dads at the playground aren’t always that ready to communicate, Kasper says, and I’m just as much at fault in this respect. I suppose looking after kids is one thing, but talking about diapers and nap times with other guys is something else again.