I know I’ve heard it. A lot. Online parenting sites and message boards are filled with frustrated moms lamenting the fact that their husbands spend too much time at the office and not enough on household and childcare chores. If only they’d focus more on family, change some diapers, clean the house, and cook a few meals. Hell, if only they’d pick up their socks off the living room floor, right? Whatever the case, these guys need to do SOMETHING to take the burden off poor mom who is stuck at home with the kids all day, because Lord knows she needs the support.
Well, it turns out a new survey just released by Salary.com shows a potentially ugly flip side to that argument.
Salary.com (where I work as the content manager, for full disclosure) surveyed more than 2,100 people about work and shifting gender roles in April, and a couple of the questions were about stay-at-home parenting. The results of two questions in particular raised some eyebrows, dispelling some myths regarding the attitudes of men and women toward full-time parenting and gender roles in general.
The survey asked people “If it were financially feasible, would you give up your own career to be a stay-at-home parent?” The long-held belief is that women are natural born caregivers who are automatic nurturers, while men are predisposed providers who bring home the bacon and leave the child-rearing to the lady folk.
Yet when asked if they’d give up their careers to be a stay-at-home parent, just as many men as women answered in the affirmative.
Yup, that’s right. The survey showed 57% of both men AND women expressed a desire to give up their careers to stay at home full time. Some might argue that number is high because more men are out of work these days after the recent recession, but I disagree. A study called The New Dad from the Boston College Center for Work and Family showed men are placing an increased importance on work/life balance, and making a concerted effort to be more involved at home than their fathers were. That shift in attitude is probably why the number of stay-at-home dads has doubled in the past decade, according to U.S. Census statistics, and now sits at close to 200,000.
But as staggering as that number is, this next stat startled me even more.
When asked if they’d financially and emotionally support a spouse who expressed a desire to stay home and take care of the kids and house full time, 91% of men answered yes. That shouldn’t surprise too many people as the arrangement of a working dad and a stay-at-home mom has been the status quo forever and a day. But what about women? What about the moms who have been calling for men to pick up the slack on the home front? Surely they must be thrilled to hear that 91% of men seek to support a woman’s choice to stay at home AND just as many of them want to stay home with the kids as women. It’s a no-brainer they’d be just as supportive, right?
More than one-quarter of women surveyed (26%) said they fundamentally refuse to support a spouse’s decision to be a stay-at-home parent. So even though the men in this survey are just as open to sacrificing their careers as women, women are more than three times as likely not to support the same decision for men.
Why is this the case? I’m not sure, and the survey didn’t ask. But here’s what I do know:
Men are facing a similar battle attempting to make home life a priority as women did when leaving the home and entering the workforce. There’s no doubt women faced (and still face) obstacles and obstructions from a good old boys network who didn’t want to see things change in the workplace, and they made progress by being relentless and eventually gaining support from men and women already in positions of power who became allies to working women.
And just like that old boys network, I absolutely believe there are women who look at parenting and the home front as “their turf,” and don’t want to give up control. Any dad who has gone to the playground with his kid sans wife, or tried to join a real-life or online parenting community can attest to the sideways glances and disapproving stares from many of the mothers present. Sometimes it’s the very same women complaining about a lack of help who end up being opposed to the idea of stay-at-home dads. And that has to change if progress is to be made.
This survey tells me men have realized they need to make family a priority. But it also seems some women have a scorching case of “be careful what you wish for.”