I'm not a stay-home dad, but we've considered the possibility of my wife going back to work and me staying home with the kids, wondering whether that would help me make more progress on my dissertation (and my dad was a stay-home dad for a little while when I was in middle school, eventually forming a home-based business and always being around anyway, as I often am because of a university teaching schedule). Anyway, I was talking with a colleague today who said he'd been a stay-home dad for a few years because his wife has a good tenure-track position, and I thought these were interesting enough observations that I might as well get a blog entry out of it.
I hadn't thought about the issue much, but he said there were at least two things that make it harder to be a stay-home dad than a stay-home mom:
1. Additional societal attitudes against a man staying home with the kids. It's true that women who stay home to raise their own kids rather than having someone else do it for them are seen as being anti-feminist, particularly in terms of not seeking a life for oneself and letting social pressure get in the way of a career. I've commented before that this undervalues one of the most signicant tasks any person can set out to accomplish -- the raising of children. Somehow one's self-centered personalistic goals are supposed to be morally superior to the role someone can play in the life of her own children. I just don't get this. Well, what my colleague pointed out to me is that it's even worse for men. Those who are more conservative might view it as not being manly (i.e. not being willing to support one's family). Those who are more liberal might view it as forcing one's wife to do all the hard work while staying at home and being lazy (which makes the same mistake as I mentioned above in addition to ignoring the amount of work that goes into maintaining a household).
2. This is the one I hadn't thought about at all. Women who stay home with their children often have peer relations with other women who do the same thing. Stay-home moms would go insane if they had no adult contact for too long. They tend to meet up with other women at playgrounds, gather in home for play groups, etc. Imagine being a man at the playground with your child, and a woman comes up to you asking you to come over for coffee. There are just all sorts of uncomfortable things about that kind of situation. Not quite so bad but still not as good would be the peer groups that mothers form. My colleague, after two years, found a group of moms and kids who gathered for play dates and welcomed him as a man, even though their name had 'moms' in the title, and he clearly wasn't one. It took him two years to find such a group, and it also took two years to find another man who had a similar schedule, with his wife working during the week and him working on weekends, so he seemed as if he was a stay-home dad.
I don't know many stay-home dads, and these reasons probably contribute to I haven't met many. This probably wouldn't be the reason I wouldn't do it. That would more be a reason related to how much more work I really would be able to do and how much harder it would be to do it without my wife around, though I'm still not totally ruling it out.
Update: I'm not sure what to make of this, but according to The New York Times 25% of married couples with children have a stay-at-home parent, while 26% of male gay couples with children have a stay-at-home parent, and 22% of lesbian couples with children have one staying home. So gay couples, if male, are more likely to have one partner staying home than do heterosexual married couples.
"Sociologists, gender researchers and gay parents themselves say that because gay men are liberated from the cultural expectations and pressures that women face to balance work and family life, they may approach raising children with a greater sense of freedom and choice."
Translation: Feminist ideals of women having to be just like men don't apply to gay men, so they're free to have one partner stay home and act maternal, something unsurprising for someone who embraces traditional femininity. "Conversely, feminism's legacy may leave lesbians more ideologically committed to equality in their relationships."
"That staying at home constitutes the just and noble course of parenthood was a sentiment echoed again and again in more than a dozen interviews with gay fathers." Too bad the paleo-feminists don't recognize this.