Over the last several decades, more and more dads have taken on the role of primary caregiver in their families. Stay-at-home dads made up 17% of all stay-at-home-parents in 2016, up from 10% in 1989, according to the latest available Pew Research data.
Despite this demographic uptick, stay-at-home dads are still not the societal norm. They defy antiquated gender roles that say men should be the breadwinners in heterosexual partnerships while women handle the bulk of child care and other domestic duties.
For that reason, SAHDs often find themselves on the receiving end of confused looks, critical remarks and inappropriate questions from strangers, acquaintances, and even some friends and relatives.
“I’ve heard things that border on rude to more dismissive comments that seem to come from a place of ignorance,” stay-at-home dad Aaron Martin told HuffPost.
We asked Martin and other SAHDs to share the frustrating and insensitive remarks they’re tired of hearing.
1. “So what’s your real job?”
There are a couple of issues here: One is the assumption that a man must work outside of the home. And two is that the question devalues the tireless job of being a primary caregiver.
Stay-at-home dad Kevin Laferriere, comedian and co-creator of @thedumbdads, said he got this question a lot when he would take his kid to story time or a class at the YMCA.
“Sure, I’d get it mostly from an older generation who maybe assumed I was between conference calls or had to stay home today because I need to change the alternator,” Laferriere said. “Don’t make assumptions of dads with that ‘you must be lost’ to be here attitude. Normalize stay-at-home dads. Also, I have no idea what an alternator is.”
“The idea that I’m somehow stuck in this position or I didn’t choose to be a stay-at-home dad is an incredibly unfair assumption.”
Other similar questions: “Are you looking for a job?” or “When do you plan on getting a real job?” This assumes a man wouldn’t choose to be a SAHD and must just be biding his time until he’s formally employed again.
“The idea that I’m somehow stuck in this position or I didn’t choose to be a stay-at-home dad is an incredibly unfair assumption,” comedian Evan Berger, who co-hosts the “Dumb Dad Podcast” with Laferriere, told HuffPost. “I cherish and adore getting to spend this valuable time with my children that I would have otherwise missed. Sure, my co-workers put stickers on me and leave toys and food all over my work-space, but I get along with them really well and I can take as long of a lunch break as I want.”
When SAHD David Bacque, the man behind the Instagram account @life_with_benjamin, gets questions like these, he responds: “No, I’m not looking for a job. Being home with my kids is the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” he told HuffPost.
2. “Dad’s babysitting today?”
News flash: A dad who is spending time with his own children isn’t “babysitting” — he’s simply being a parent.
“It blows my mind that this is a thing that ever gets said. And in my experience, it has usually come from older women,” stay-at-home dad Matt Beauchamp, blogger at Dashing Dad, told HuffPost. “Dads don’t babysit, they parent and need to be treated as an equally contributing parent.”
Laferriere said he’s gotten this question a handful of times himself.
“First, it implies the baby isn’t even really mine in the sense of caretaking. That if something were to go wrong, I’d need to ‘ask mom’ about it,” he said.
“Besides, babysitters get paid,” he continued. “If you’re going to pay me, then yes, call me the babysitter and let’s discuss rates — and vacation days!”
Similar phrases like “daddy daycare” are not only “annoying and trite,” said stay-at-home dad Jay Deitcher, but can also be hurtful.
“Because no matter how much someone sees you caring for your kid, they still view you as a secondary caretaker,” he told HuffPost. “They also view you as fairly inept, even with proof right before their eyes.”
3. “What do you do all day?”
Sure, a question like this could be coming from a place of genuine curiosity about what a SAHD’s daily life looks like. But the subtext is that being home with the kids is easy and/or dads are lazy. Martin said he gets asked this question “far more than [he] expected” since transitioning to being home full-time with his daughter.
“The implication seems to be I sit around and watch TV all day while my daughter plays in the corner. Sure, I get a 60-90 minute break while she naps in the afternoon, but I find plenty of days where I work harder now than I did in my previous life as a journalist,” he said.
Even when the question is well-intentioned, it can “lead to insecurity and self-doubt,” Martin said.
“I find it easier to deal with now and usually just ignore it, but the first few months led to some soul-searching. As a white man, I’m not going to pretend I’ve faced much discrimination in my life. But seeing a dad as the primary caretaker is difficult for some people to absorb and accept.”
Another variation on this: “Must be nice to play video games all day!” As Berger said, the bar is “so incredibly low for dads these days,” that this is what people assume is happening when a father is the one at home.
“Not only do I spend time helping and playing with my children, I feed them, nap them, change their diapers, and focus on keeping the house in order. I shop for groceries, take them to doctor appointments etc.,” he said. “And when everyone is asleep at the end of the night I’ll put on a show and fall asleep on the couch 10 minutes later.”
4. “I’d feel like less of a man if I didn’t work.”
Toxic masculinity strikes again. It’s high time we stop measuring manhood by the size of the paycheck Dad brings home.
“The value of a man isn’t established by the job he does, and you’re not ‘less of a man,’ for raising your kids,” Beauchamp said. “It’s the hardest and most important job you can do.”
“Dads don’t babysit, they parent.”
Stay-at-home dad Mostafa Hassan, the creator behind @arabbabathatsme, said he’s had to contend with comments like: “You aren’t a man if you aren’t providing for your family.”
“Would you rather my wife give up a successful career and my children and family go without because I have to end up making less than her?” he told HuffPost. “Or better yet, shall I just let my small children fend for themselves alone while I go off to work to appease a societal idea?”
5. “So, who takes care of the kids?”
Stay-at-home dad John Marshall was at the grocery store with all four of his kids in tow when a person sarcastically asked him if he was “giving mom a break?”
Marshall replied, “No, I stay at home with them.” Then the person said back: “So, who takes care of the kids?”
Is it that hard to believe that a man is more than capable of caring for his own children?
“The only thing I could think of at the time was to squint at them in bewilderment until they felt uncomfortable and left,” Marshall said.
6. “Wow, looks like Daddy dressed you today!”
These kinds of comments may seem harmless, but they only perpetuate the inept dad stereotype.
“The implication here is that either Dad has no idea what he’s doing or that it’s a minor miracle the kids are dressed at all,” Beauchamp said. “The trope of clueless dads needs to be retired.”
7. “When’s a good time to reach Mom?”
Stay-at-home dad Hank Pabley encountered this question while trying to schedule an appointment for his son.
“Our doctor’s office called me last week, and the nurse said they tried calling my wife but couldn’t get through, so they wanted to know when is a good time to reach her to schedule an appointment,” he told HuffPost.
“I told them I am a stay-at-home dad and she can schedule the appointment with me. And after scheduling it, they said they’ll send the appointment confirmation to my wife’s email and phone number. Really?? I literally told you I’ll be scheduling and taking him to the appointment.”
“I think there can be a perception that men don’t do enough with their kids. And maybe every household is different, but I do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, meal planning, etc. while also taking care of my son and working 20 hours a week remote. I am capable of scheduling an appointment,” Pabley added.
“No matter how much someone sees you caring for your kid, they still view you as a secondary caretaker.”
8. “The dads are over there watching sports.”
Some women may assume men just aren’t that interested in talking about parenting stuff. As a result, moms may unintentionally exclude stay-at-home dads (and working dads, for that matter) from conversations these men would genuinely like to be a part of.
“Probably the most hurtful thing is when there is a conversation about parenting going on, and me and my wife are in the circle, but when people talk, they only make eye contact with my wife because they see her as the main caretaker,” Deitcher said. “At one party I was at, there were a bunch of moms having a conversation about parenting that I was interested in, and one of them looked at me, like I was lost, and told me that the dads were on the other side of the room talking about sports.”
SAHDs may also be left out of playdates, mommy-and-me classes and other fun kid events.
“Playgroups can be cliquey for everyone, but there are certain people who just won’t see men as part of the crew,” Deitcher said. “They will share all the coolest events in the community with each other while you listen in, knowing you have nothing planned for the weekend and are gonna be bored out of your mind with a kvetchy kid. I’m sure this happens to people who aren’t dads, too, but it always feels crappy.”
9. “I bet your family’s finances took a hit.”
This comes from the outdated sexist belief that a man will always outearn a woman when, in many cases, that’s just not so. (And why is another family’s financial situation your business, anyway?)
“We both have master’s degrees, but my wife easily doubles my salary,” Marshall said. “But when she was the stay-at-home parent, we weren’t financially great, but we made it work because staying at home with the baby was important to us. I told my wife after the first one was born if we have another, I’d like to be the stay-at-home parent, and we made it happen. We couldn’t be happier with this setup, the kids are doing great, I love being home with them, and my wife cannot cook or clean to save her life anyway.”