Last week, I acknowledged recent survey findings from the Pew Research Center showing that women are beginning to value success in their careers more than men value their own. It’s a historical twist, brought about by the idea that women entering the workforce is no longer related to a necessity, but an innate desire. Women, as a group, have a higher level of education and are increasingly choosing to pursue a successful career path.
With young children at home needing care and an increasing cost of outsourcing that care, many families need to choose a parent to stay home while the other earns money with an occupation. Women are still subject to compensation inequity — again, as a group — but in an increasing number of families, the wife is out-earning the husband. The choice is often simply financial; whoever earns the most money or has the potential to earn the most continues in their career path, while the other parent stays home to care for the child or children.
Now that more men are staying home to care for their children while their wives concentrate on their careers, it’s easier to shatter one of the long-standing myths about fatherhood. Previously, men who chose to pause their path to career success were judged inadequate to survive in the world of business.
Men are raised to value work as their main source of worth and self-esteem. Society’s underlying message is that men who make sacrifices and choose family over career advancement do it because they can’t succeed at work. But we are at the beginning of an epic shift in cultural norms. More men are finding parenthood meaningful and that is raising the status of fathers. Some men are trading career advancement for time with their family because they value the fulfillment they find in fatherhood, not because they can’t hack it in the job market. More men than ever feel that being a good father is a significant accomplishment in life.
Results from a survey performed last year by the University of Nebraska indicate that 75 percent of men consider being a parent very important, while only 48 percent had the same opinion about having a successful career. It’s possible, however, that there is a new stigma against being overly concerned with financial success, and this psychological aversion to being associated with the stereotypical careerist might prevent people from answering in a survey in a manner the respondent might think reflects poorly on themselves. There’s a tendency, also, to answer surveys as if one is an ideal. In other words, I might answer a survey as if I were an ideal version of myself rather than reflecting a true self-analysis.
Even if that is the case, it reflects the idea that stay-at-home-fatherhood is now a more respected life choice than it has been in the past.
Having a two-income family is still a luxury, and when at least one of the two incomes is significant enough to afford a solid living for a family of three or more, it’s a blessing. Most middle class families, when both parents are working out of necessity, it’s the ability to stay home with the children that is a luxury. It can be a difficult choice, particularly if one parent’s income is roughly equivalent to the cost of day care for his or her child or children.
The argument fails to consider yet another reality of life: one parent, either a father or a mother, struggling to earn an income and take care of one child or more, without a spouse for support.
For men: Would you put your career on hold — possibly forever — if it made more financial sense for you to stay at home with your children?
For women: Would you be willing to pursue your career full steam ahead while your partner develops a closer bond with children through more time spent with them during formative years?
Updated June 19, 2014 and originally published April 30, 2012.