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"Mr. Mom" More Common Than Ever

With so many men out of work, more dads are staying home to take care of the kids while their wives work. In fact, fathers are the primary caregivers for about a quarter of preschoolers with working moms, according to CNN.

The main explanation for the shift in household roles is the economy, as well as an increase of women in the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 8.6 million men were unemployed in May, 34 percent more than the 6.4 million women out of work.

Women now make up 50 percent of the nation’s work force, accounting for 51 percent of workers in the management, professional and related occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But a good number of men are also staying home with their kids by choice rather than by necessity. An estimated 158,000 married fathers with children younger than 15 left the labor force for at least a year to care for their family while their wives worked, according to a Census Bureau report based on data from last year.

When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband’s job paid significantly more than mine, so it was clear if either of us stayed home, it would be me.  I was also lucky because I had a job that I could continue as a freelancer. If my husband had left his job to stay home with the kids, he would likely find it challenging to re-enter the workforce.

As my fellow Strollerderby blogger Sierra recently pointed out, dads who stay at home to take care of the kids get little respect in the business world. They also struggle to fit in at the playground.

It may be more common than ever for dads to stay at home with the kids, but it’s certainly far from the norm. In my neighborhood, I can think of only one or two dads who stay home while their wives work.

Stephanie Coontz, the director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families told CNN that attitudes about stay at home dads may take a while to change.

“It’s because we have had, for 150 years, emphasis on men as experts, as breadwinners, and women as experts on nurturing,” Coontz  told CNN.

Some parents find the very term “Mr. Mom” offensive. “I don’t understand why you have to call a man who takes care of his kid ‘Mr. Mom,’” wrote one poster, referring to the headline on the CNN story about the increase in stay at home dads. “Why are you making these men sound feminine for doing so?”

I agree. Why reinforce the negative stereotype that taking care of kids is somehow emasculating? For the record, I used “Mr. Mom” in the headline of this story to refer to the controversy over the term.

In case you don’t get the pop culture reference, “Mr. Mom” was a 1983 comedy starring Michael Keaton as a downsized auto engineer who stays home to take care of the kids while his wife goes back to work.

Now that the set-up is becoming increasingly more popular, maybe it’s time for a remake — with a new title, of course.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/

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