Thursday, August 26, 2010

Parenting Roles Change: The Rise of the Stay-at-Home Dad

By Jennifer Goldbronn, RD

For the first time ever, women make up the majority of the workforce; 4 out of 10 mothers are now the primary breadwinners in their families. Whether it’s the result of the economic downturn or a personal family choice, there are currently about 158,000 SAHDs (Stay-At-Home dads) in the United States, and that number has almost doubled in the last 10 years.

We wanted to write a post dedicated to stay-at-home dads to support them in understanding their babies’ behaviors. Of course, all of this information applies to stay-at-home moms as well. I wrote this post, not only in response to the shift in family structures that has affected thousands of families, but because it has touched my own family. Exactly one year ago, my husband was laid off from his job as the building industry plummeted. Ever since then, he has stayed home to care for our daughter, now almost 3 ½. Unexpectedly, my husband has become the primary caregiver of our daughter while I spend my days at work or traveling across the state to share Baby Behavior messages and my evenings in graduate school. Through all of this, I think I’m the luckiest mom in the world because wherever I am, I know that my daughter is with the one person in the world that loves her as much as I do, her daddy.

So, for all of you SAHDs caring for babies, we would like to offer 5 tips to help you in your parenting journey. There is no doubt that parenting is the hardest job in the world. Even though this is the first time we’ve written an entire post dedicated to stay-at-home dads, we hope that many of our other posts also have been useful to you!

5 Tips for Stay-At-Home Dads of Infants

1. Learn How Babies Behave
These days, many working dads play a large role in parenting their children. As primary caregivers, stay-at-home dads play an even larger role, but both working and stay-at-home dads can become experts about their babies’ behavior. In the beginning, as with any new relationship, there is an adjustment period, but it won't take long before you too can create your own special language with your infant.

Understanding your baby’s behavior may seem complicated, but it can’t be too difficult or how would babies ever survive? We encourage you to read or re-read the original 4 Baby Behavior Basics posts to help build your confidence in caring for your baby.
Part 1: Baby Behavior Basics Part 1: Three Reasons Why Babies Don’t Sleep through the Night

Part 2: Baby Behavior Basics Part 2: The Many Moods of Babies

Part 3: Baby Behavior Basics Part 3: Learning and Creating Your Baby’s Special Language

Part 4: Baby Behavior Basics Part 4: Crying: Your Baby’s Super Power

2. Embrace the Power of Routines and Repetition in Your Baby’s Life
Babies feel calm and secure in knowing what to expect each day. Simply keeping a predictable daily structure each day will help you and your baby develop similar rhythms. However, please don’t confuse “routines” (patterns of actions, or doing the same thing in the same order) with “schedules” (actions dictated by the clock rather than baby's needs). We are proponents of the former rather than the latter. Instinctively, most parents settle into routines at bedtime, bath time, and when feeding their babies. For more information about the power of routines, click here.

3. Get Out of the House with Your Baby
While we realize getting out of the house with an infant can be quite challenging, fresh air can do wonders for you (and your baby) after being stuck inside the house all day. Getting out of the house can be as simple as just running an errand or taking a walk around the block, and will give you and your baby a nice break. Since nap times will vary from baby to baby and your baby’s age, try to plan outings during your baby’s most alert and rested times of day. For the trips with your baby that take you outside of your area code, read this post.

4. Build a Support Network
Have you ever noticed the large number of mommy groups and play groups run by women? That’s because it takes a lot of support to raise children. These days, families are more isolated than in the past. Many couples do not have family nearby to provide support and some SAHDs may find that their own parents are not accepting of their new role. SAHD groups are on the rise; New York City has a very active dad’s group that was created in 2008 and now has over 200 members. Check the internet to find a dads group near you or plan “play dates” (you can call them something else!) with other SAHDs you meet while you are out with your baby.

For more about dad's roles in babies' lives, see “New Babies, Growing Families and Fitting In.”

5. Take Care of Yourself Too
Make time (probably through negotiations with your significant other) to do things you like to do to relieve stress and give yourself a break. You’ve probably heard the adage: if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others. It’s cliché but true. From experience I can testify that taking a break will allow you to return home refreshed and ready for another round of diaper duty or peek-a-boo.

One thing I’ve learned from life with my husband at home is that children’s experiences with SAHDs may differ quite a bit from those they would have with stay-at-home moms. My daughter’s dance and t-ball skills are way beyond what I could have taught her. She also has no fear when she rides her tricycle down our steep driveway with the wind in her hair, smiling from ear to ear. I probably never would have let her have that experience more than once! While our situation didn’t work out the way we planned it, we’ve all learned and benefited from our arrangement. We know we’re not alone in working things out this way. And neither are you! There’s no doubt that stay-at-home moms and dads need tools to help deal with their many adventures while parenting. Let us know what questions you have and we’ll do our best to find the answers for you.

Next time: More Focus on Fathers

References: (accessed on 8/19/2010)
US Census Bureau website: accessed 8/19/10 (accessed 8/19/10) (accessed 8/19/10)


  1. Excellent tips! I especially like the tip rgarding getting a support network. This is extremely important as one can go a bit crazy without it--I know!



  2. Sent this to robertsdad and my brother!

  3. Great post!

    Definitely some tips I'd like to follow even though I'm not a stay at home dad. I do wish that I had the opportunity to be one with my newborn baby, but the mommy is working in that department though and she's doing a pretty good job of it.

    One thing I'd like to mention is that grandmothers are great for support as well in regards to "5. Take Care of Yourself Too".

    Me and the babies mother have had occasions where we've been up all night or wanted to go somewheres alone and luckily the grandmothers were there happily willing and ready to take the baby off our hands to give us a break.