last week, when i was at the y, catching bits of cnn between
reading “who wore it best” and ”celebrities: they’re just like
us!” like i do, i caught this story about the rise in number of stay-at-home dads:
among fathers with a wife in the workforce, 32% took care of
their kids at least one day a week in 2010, according to the u.s. census
bureau, which looked at families with children under 15 years old.
that’s up from 26% in 2002.
of those with kids under the age of 5, 20% of dads in 2010 were the primary caretaker.
many find that having one parent at home does have its advantages, especially as child care costs continue to climb.
couples do the math and realize that it makes more financial
sense for one spouse to stay home with the kids. and while it’s often
the woman who decides to drop out of the workforce, more men are taking on the responsibility of child care as well.
seeing this story compelled me to write about something i’ve been
thinking a lot about since the fall, which is the exciting and
well-executed reflection of this shifting reality in the domestic sphere
up all night has done a tremendous job of illuminating both
the universal challenges of new parenthood and those that are more
specific to new stay-at-home dads trying to create an identity for
themselves in a society that still genders child care and other domestic
work as “feminine” versus gender-neutral adjectives, such as nurturing
in up all night, will arnett plays chris brinkley, a former
lawyer and full-time stay-at-home dad to his new daughter, amy.
christina applegate plays his wife, reagan, a driven producer for
the oprah-like television show ava. maya rudolph wows as
the nutty and endearing ava alexander. the show was based on the
experiences of its creator, emily spivey, and the trials of creating
work-life balance when she went back to working for snl after giving birth to a baby boy.
overall, chris handles the stresses of parenthood in stride. he
brings amy to the studio to visit reagan and finds community with other
parents at early childhood education classes (see “mr bob’s toddler kaleidoscope“).
one of my favorite episodes is “working late and working it,”
where chris wants to get reagan back in the mood for love, but his
attempts still leave her slipping into maternity jeans after long days
at work. chris looks to his new hip friend, reed (played by will forte of 30 rock and snl fame),
for advice. chris doesn’t want to ask reagan directly to spice up
her look at home, so reed tells chris that if he wants to see sexy, he
needs to lead by example and “put sexy out there,” which leads to a
hilarious living room critique of chris’ wardrobe, underwear included.
the ever-enthusiastic chris ultimately fails when he “brings it on the
sexy front, but blows it on the subtle part” and pisses off reagan.
the study that cnn was discussing, however, does not include the
growing number of families with two fathers, where, inevitably, if one
parent stays home, it will be a father. modern family, one of my favorite shows, features such a family with cameron, mitchell, and lily. in this clip,
cam and mitch are discussing lily’s problem with biting people, and
snappy dialogue ensues after mitch suggests cam is to blame, because
he’s the one who is home with her all day.
one of my favorite episodes that centers around cam and mitch’s
parenting is season 1 episode 2, “the bicycle thief.” they are
taking lily to her first toddler play group, and mitch is concerned that
they’ll be judged for being the only gay parents, so he asks cam to
tone it down a little. naturally, cam trying to conceal his true
personality results in him being quite awkward, like when he says, “i’m
cameron, and i’m not currently working….which gives me more time to
grill and shoot baskets.”
ultimately, after another gay couple shows up, unconcerned about
seeming flamboyant, mitch loosens up, and even lets cam slap his own
butt during the “hello dance” so he can “make his horsey go.”
one reason that i’m glad i waited on this post was so that i could
mention another notable instance of men in child care on t.v.
mid-season on new girl, unemployed winston is trying
to network at schmidt’s holiday work party. he finds himself
talking to schmidt’s boss’s son, elvin, a precocious and notoriously
unfriendly boy. his mother is so impressed that elvin has taken a liking
to winston that she offers him a nannying job on the spot. he
takes the position, although, eventually, elvin decides that winston
needs to push himself more towards his career goals and lies to his
mother about winston smoking pot to get him fired so he’ll have to find a
new job. short lived, but still, it’s nice to see a man nanny on
t.v. for once.
hopefully, as time goes on and attitudes get more progressive,
representations of men in positions of caretaking and nurturing roles
will become more abundant and nuanced. if we want to become more
functional as a society, promoting the idea that anyone, regardless of
sex, gender, or orientation, is capable of providing care, love, and
protection will serve us all greatly.