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Stay-at-home father takes care of the 3-year-old twins full time during the day, works part time at night

May 1, 2014
By Mary Haley - For Mirror Moms , Mirror Moms

Rachel Black of Altoona said sometimes she feels people unfairly judge her because she works outside the home while her husband, Doug, is at home taking care of their 3-year-old twin daughters, Avery and Camden.

"I've gotten 'looks' from people when they learn that I work and he stays home, as if implying that I think my career is more important than my children or that I'm the boss in our marriage,'' Rachel said. "It's not that at all. I have to work to provide for my kids. It's not like I can just hand my husband my job.''

The Blacks, who've been married almost 11 years, are English teachers. Rachel works at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School and Doug taught teens English at the Cove Forge drug treatment facility until the program was eliminated.

Article Photos

Mirror Moms photo by Gary M.?Baranec
The Black family (from left) Rachel, twins Camden and Avery, 3, and Doug Black relax in their Altoona home.

"After the girls were born, the program I was working for closed and there [are] no available positions to slide into elsewhere,'' Doug said.

The couple briefly considered putting the girls in daycare so that Doug could take substitute teaching jobs, but they decided against that, choosing instead to have Doug stay at home and care for their daughters, Rachel said.

"Unfortunately, with the high cost of child care, it wasn't financially prudent for him to work simply so they could go to day care,'' she said.

Fact Box

Fathers may face bias, suspicion, stereotyping

Unfortunately, some stay-at-home dads get teased by friends and family members and in response, go to great lengths to prove their masculinity, said one expert who's researched the subject.

"One of the clear liabilities is that at-home dads are going somewhat against the stereotypical grain,'' said Dara Purvis, assistant professor of law at the Dickinson School of Law at Penn State University.

Because they are challenging age-old traditions, these fathers weather many societal challenges, some significant and some a little easier to bear, Purvis said.

Stay-at-home dads can face "overt hostility'' usually from stay-at-home moms but sometimes also from other people, who think the at-home dads could be pedophiles, she said.

Then there are "softer negative effects, such as teasing, friends questioning his masculinity,'' she added.

"Some fathers react to that kind of discomfort by acting hyper-masculine,'' Purvis said.

Purvis said one group of men in the Raleigh-Durham, N.C. area actually meets at a shooting range to help its members maintain their masculine morale.

"And to the extent the mom is now the breadwinner, she faces the more familiar problems,'' Purvis said. "Employers assuming that mothers are less focused on their careers [and] the gender pay gap that all women face.''

Purvis, who writes about nontraditional families and related topics, said the number of at-home dads is increasing, from 160,000 in 2008 nationwide to 190,000 four years later, according to one study.

However, the number of stay-at-home moms is more than 5 million, she said.

Economic downturns in recent years seem to be driving up the number of at-home dads, Purvis said, although some families are choosing the option for other reasons.

"It's definitely become more common in recent years to have an economic aspect pushing the father towards being the at-home parent,'' Purvis said.

"Job market changes in recent years have hit traditionally male industries harder than traditionally female industries. But I think there's also a cultural shift. As people are less tied to traditional gender roles, hopefully couples feel more comfortable talking about their economic possibilities and actual preferences and negotiating the best option for their family.''

Purvis said she can see both pros and cons to the at-home dad situations.

As for the negatives, from a legal standpoint, until the law catches up to the concept, stay-at-home dads may still face an uphill battle in some custody situations, she said.

"Judges assign custody based on the best interests of the child, which is a very broad guideline giving judges a lot of discretion, which in some cases, I believe, allows for unconscious bias,'' she said.

Men are usually more reluctant than women to ask for parental leave at their places of work, she said.

The pluses are that children get to see both parents involved in their lives to an extent that many kids don't usually see, Purvis said.

"Seeing both fathers and mothers being so active in their children's lives will teach those children that everyone can be an engaged parent,'' she said.

-- Mary Haley

Doug does still work outside the home, leaving at night a few hours after Rachel gets home from work and on weekends, to help make ends meet. He works at a call center as a customer service representative, he said.

"We settled on the choice for him to work part-time in the evenings and weekends to save on the child care payments,'' Rachel said. "Unfortunately, his working in the evenings reduces our 'family time,' and I see him much less than I would like. I know that he's tired because he works with the girls all day and then works in the evenings until 10:30 (p.m.) Anyone who says that a stay-at-home parent doesn't work hasn't done it long-term.''

The situation has worked out well for the Blacks for the most part and Doug said he enjoys being at home with the girls. The biggest problems have come, as his wife said, in scheduling time for him and his wife to be together.

"She comes home, I am trying to finish dinner and then go off to work leaving her to bathe the kids and get them in bed,'' he said. "By the time I get home, she is asleep or trying to go to sleep and I am all ramped up from working.''

Rachel said she thinks it's tough for Doug and other stay-at-home dads because there aren't support groups for fathers like there are for at-home moms. Doug does take the girls to Toddler Time (a story and other activity program) at the Altoona Area Public Library, but that's about the only time he can socialize with other parents, she said.

"I think moms are reluctant to set up playdates with stay-at-home dads because there's a comfort level that's lacking with unfamiliar men,'' she said.

According to Dara Purvis, an assistant professor of law at the Dickinson School of Law at Penn State University, Rachel's perceptions are on target for several reasons. First, she said many people across the country still maintain the stereotype of the husband as the traditional wage-earner in the family.

But she said that stereotype is more ingrained "in areas with more traditional family structures or cultural beliefs,'' such as in central Pennsylvania.

In addition, most other parents who the stay-at-home dads meet on a daily basis, usually at-home moms, tend to be traditional in their outlook and are usually culturally conservative, Purvis said. Many moms also view dads in their group as possible sexual predators, she said.

"I've read some studies, for example, where at-home dads reported that they received a less friendly, more hostile reaction from stay-at-home mothers than they did from other people,'' Purvis said. "In the course of my research I found a blog post written by a stay-at-home dad who asked to join a mom's group and was told they decided not to let him join because they were worried he might be a child molester.''

Doug agreed with his wife that his experiences with other parents have been limited to mostly the local library. But the interactions he's had so far have not been too uncomfortable for him, he said.

"With Toddler Time at the Altoona library, it wasn't as awkward as it could have been,'' he said. "During the summer, my wife and I had taken the girls to the Mother Goose on the Loose time (another story time program) together, and there are several other kids who have a dad, grandparent or other caregiver bringing them, so it is not just me and all moms.''

The current arrangement that the Blacks have should end in the fall when the girls start all-day preschool and Doug gets, hopefully, either a full-time teaching job or begins substitute teaching, they said. But they said the experience has taught them a lot about stay-at-home dads that they wanted to share with others.

"I want the public to know that being a stay-at-home dad doesn't mean a man is lazy or less of a man,'' Rachel said. "Stay-at-home dads are a trend that [is] increasing and we need to recognize the value of it.''



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