They may not always be welcome at the playground, but stay-at-home fathers — whose numbers have grown by more than 60 percent since 2004 — seem to be getting along just fine. In fact, many are doing as well, if not better, in terms of life and marital satisfaction and psychological well-being as fathers who work outside the home, according to new research by University of Texas at Austin (UT) psychology professor Aaron B. Rochlen, PhD. Just don't call them "Mr. Mom," said Rochlen, who shared the results of two studies, including a national sample of 214 men and a qualitative interview study on 14 stay-at-home fathers, at APA's 2007 Annual Convention.

"I'm not doing Mom's job," said one father with primary responsibility for his 3 year-old son. "I'm doing Dad's job."

And as the number of stay-at-home fathers grows-there's an estimated 159,000 of them in the United States, according to 2006 census data-"Dad's job" is being redefined, said Ryan McKelley, a fifth-year UT counseling psychology graduate student and co-author of the study.

For many fathers, the decision to stay home with their children stems from their wives' stronger earning potential, their own desire to serve as the primary caregiver and a shared apprehension among both mother and father about allowing someone else to raise their children, Rochlen explained.

Not surprisingly, most of these men did not feel influenced or guided by traditionally masculine social norms, Rochlen reported. In fact, once they began staying at home full time with their children, most of the men noticed a more frequent tendency toward traditionally feminine characteristics, such as being more affectionate and nurturing, said Rochlen.

"I'm still as manly as I ever was," one father noted. "I still like to go fishing, and out drinking with the boys."

But despite their gender role confidence and satisfaction, full-time dad status does not come without stigmas. Most men said they had received mixed reactions from friends and family about their decision to serve as their child's full-time caregiver. Also, like their female counterparts, these dads miss the daily adult interactions they had in the workplace. And despite their increasing numbers, their rarity can at times lead to isolation from other full-time parents. Many men reported being shunned from playgroups and eyed suspiciously at the playground by stay-at-home mothers, said Rochlen.

Psychologists can help these new dads deal with their shifting identity roles by directing them to daddy-friendly playgroups or online networks where at-home fathers can share stories, get parenting tips, and find camaraderie in the joys and challenges of their new role, McKelley said.

 

--A. Cynkar