Disney’s Doc McStuffins has gotten much attention over the past year, namely for featuring an African American family in the mainstream for preschoolers, and also for presenting a bright and strong career mom (the “Doc.”)
When I watch the show, however, I of course can’t help identifying with the MISTER McStuffins — who is portrayed as the one who cooks for and looks after the children at home — and it makes me recall one of the best times in my life and career — the time during which I was a stay-at-home dad.
I find it so refreshing to see a show “normalizing” the idea of a dad staying at home, especially in everyday children’s programming. It’s also innovative of the folks at Disney to break gender stereotypes for BOTH of the parental figures on the show. Being a stay-at-home dad is as much of a choice (or not) these days for men as it is for women, and boys and girls growing up and watching these shows will be able to embrace the choices they make and feel proud doing it.
I look back on that time of my life fondly. Being a stay-at-home dad is by far the most personally rewarding job I ever had. But don’t get me wrong, just because it was the BEST job ever doesn’t mean it was EASY. Between the diapers, feedings, cleaning up, having more Cheerios on the floor than in the mouth, cooking, shopping, laundry, you name it — it was work. The hours of sleep were few and far between. When my daughter napped, I was either working hard or too tired to stay awake. But the rewards of the work were far greater than any amount of money I ever made in other jobs.
So how did I land the job of primary caregiver? When my wife Cassie and I found out we were expecting a baby, I had just lost my job in the marketing field. My wife, thankfully enough, was gainfully employed and was developing a wonderful career. We discussed all the options and decided the best way to go was for me to stay out of the workforce for a while and take care of Emma while she was an infant. I wound up starting an internet company to keep myself busy during the pregnancy, but once Emma was born, all my attention was on her.
Slowly, being a stay-at-home dad is becoming more and more socially acceptable. Prince William broke social ground by being the first member of Britain’s royal house to take paternity leave. Television, ever the mirror on current social trends, offers us more and more normalized views of stay-at-home dads. On McStuffins, Dottie quite obviously idolizes her mother, the doctor, but Mr. McStuffins is very much an integral part of the kids’ lives, and vital to the way the family functions.
Even though gender role expectations are still pretty prevalent in our society, even though groups and programs for stay-at-home parents tend to be geared toward mothers, and even though magazines and other publications and books geared toward child-rearing tend to assume only moms will take their advice, stay-at-home dads’ numbers are growing.
In the 2012 census, it was reported that 189,000 fathers were “at-home dads” compared to 93,000 in 2000. That’s still a relatively small number of total households only 3.5% – but, despite some nay-sayers,who are committed to presenting these stats as overblown, I see both the numbers and my experience reflect significant increase in fathers playing active roles at home. Economically, sometimes it just makes more sense if you’re planning on having a parent stay with the baby. About 28% of women earn more than their husbands, as was the case in our family. The good thing is that men, like women, have more options related to career choices today including staying at home with the kids.
In America today, our economic situation is such that many families can’t afford to have either parent stay at home. There are plenty of single parent homes out there where families are struggling just to spend time with their kids. And there is still the social expectation of men providing for their families. Workplaces are not generally known for their family-friendly work policies and it’s even more true for men. But if you are lucky enough to be in a situation where you can take advantage of this time together even if only for a few months do it. You will never regret it. Watching your child take her first steps, eat her first real food, say her first word, getting to develop a bond with your child like you could do in no other way — there is nothing else like it.