It's a Mom's World
Mr. Mom has always been a bit of a joke, but with skyrocketing daycare costs, isn’t it time stay-at-home dads got the respect they deserve?
Their numbers are growing. According to data released by the Census Bureau in 2004, there were 5.4 million moms and 98,000 dads at home with the kids. Those numbers shifted slightly to 5.1 million mothers and 158,000 fathers by 2009, indicating that dads are gaining ground as preschool kids’ primary caregiver, but they’re still a slender minority.
Lance Somerfeld, founder of NYC Dads Group in New York, says that the Census numbers are too low because they don’t count part-time stay-at-home dads, but he agrees that dads are the exception, not the rule. The reason there may be so comparatively few of them is that dads are slow to form a community with which to share the joys and trials of day-to-day childrearing. Somerfeld, who stays home to raise his son Jake, now 20 months old, says the dads he sees in Central Park are usually alone with their child, while moms are in groups of at least two, if not more. “Dads don’t seek out other dads that quickly,” says Somerfeld. “There are very few resources for dads.” In response, Somerfeld’s NYC Dads Group, which started as a blog, now numbers 180 members and features a range of resources for other stay-at-home dads, including relevant Web sites, research, and links to other dad groups.
Somerfeld is reaching out as an advocate so dads are more aware they aren’t actually excluded from the baby club. Every “Mommy & Me” group Somerfeld has contacted has been welcoming, he says, and some are now adding programs or even changing their names to include stay-at-home dads. For example, Babyfingers, a sign-language class, now runs a “Daddy & Me” session, the 92nd St. Y changed the name of its TriBeCa film festival to Cinemamas & Papas, and the Prospect Park YMCA in Brooklyn renamed its childrearing class “Parent and Baby.”
Whether dads will ever become much more than an add-on remains doubtful, though, as moms are still the focus of commerce. The Boston Consulting Group says women control 73 percent of the $5.9 trillion consumers spent last year — which through advertising shapes gender expectations. “There is a growing minority of dads out there taking on a more traditional role and staying home with the baby, but moms still make the majority of purchase decisions,” says Kevin Burke, president of Lucid Marketing, an Allentown, New Jersey–based firm that specializes in marketing to moms.
Indeed, Somerfeld was struck while watching the recent Olympics by a commercial by Proctor and Gamble. Its slogan was “Proud Sponsor of Moms.” “I wouldn’t say it bothers me, but I notice it,” he says. He sees stay-at-home dads as a grassroots movement that will soon win equality in their workplace, the home. “There have been more dad blogs in the past six months than ever before,” he says. It’s starting small, but the stay-at-home-dad community is on the rise.