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Stay-at-home dads: breaking stereotypes

“If you choose it, you should be happy with it.”

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In the last few years, the number of stay-at-home fathers has increased for several reasons. One is the fact that mothers want to work and, together with their husbands, take this decision in a happy and calm way.

In my opinion, even if society is changing, the stereotypes about this topic are still very deep and strong.

How can we really understand the impact that stay-at-home dads have on the psychosexual, emotional, social or behavioural development of a child, when it is still well known that we have many stereotypical views on the subject itself and we still have difficulty to be completely objective about it?

In other words: it is important to understand first if the evaluation of this phenomenon is made upon traditional, gendered expectations or objective evaluations of every single situation.

In the first case, the stereotypical view would lead people to think that dads are not capable of taking care of the child as much as mums and of course a father should be “more masculine” to ensure the best and “correct” psychosexual development of their children, especially male ones. I think this view is too traditional or old-fashioned and does not considering the ongoing social changes.

On the other side, an objective view would probably help us understand that dads are as capable as mums to take care of the babies, play with them, give them the same attention, care, love and patience as mums, without becoming feminine or any less masculine.

In my opinion, the interpretation of the child’s reaction to a stay-at-home dad is based on rigid social and gender stereotypes but an objective and non-judgemental observation would conclude that for children having a father at home, cooking for them or washing their clothes might be absolutely normal.

I think that a mistake we make is to think that if a father stays at home, he is “acting as ‘Mr Mom’, a pseudo mum ... pretending to be a mother”. This is a mistake. A father is a father, he is not trying to replace the mother. He does not become feminine, he is masculine even when he changes a nappy or cooks.

When we talk about parenting, we do not specify the gender of the parent like ‘mothering’ or ‘fathering’.

I think that stay-at-home fathers could have a [negative] impact on children as much as stay-at-home mothers in the case in which the parent that stays at home is not satisfied about this decision. In this case, the negative self-perception could lead the parent to be depressed or anxious and would affect the relationship with the child and the entire family dynamics.

If you choose it, you should be happy with it. And you shouldn’t judge yourself upon rigid stereotypes, otherwise don’t do it.

So, I am not saying that fathers should stay at home or shouldn’t. I am saying that the key to be successful in everything we do is to be happy and at peace with what we do, regardless of the opinion of others.

I also think that the development of the identity in each child is based on other elements and experiences throughout their childhood, teen age and adulthood. I think it would be erroneously superficial to state that stay-in fathers will have an impact on the way children perceive their father in relation to gender.

He is a parent, that’s all. This is the clarity that children should have in order to develop and maintain a clarity about gender role and parenting.

Also, I think that the concept is not as difficult for children to accept as it is for adults. Adults have learnt social rules, are aware of social expectations, know social stereotypes and their opinion about this will be inevitably influenced by these social ideas.

— The writer is a clinical psychologist based in Dubai