When Todd Hastings of Nashville, Tennessee, separated from and later divorced his wife, he became the primary caregiver of their two children. He traded in a corporate communications job for chauffeuring his daughter and son, then ages 12 and 6, to soccer practice, doctors’ appointments, and after-school activities.
“I decided they were the most important things,” says Hastings, “and I was lucky enough to have savings and financial and emotional support from my family to be able to do it.”
For other parents, the arrangement makes a lot of financial sense. When his daughter Esme was born, part-time fourth-grade teacher Richard Vernon exchanged his job for changing diapers, visiting playgrounds, and walking around his neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, with an infant attached to him.
He didn’t work during the summer and his wife, Andrea, got a job promotion while she was still on maternity leave. Vernon says, “There was no way my job would be able to compete.”
He also really wanted to do it.
“I had already outlined my vision of being the at-home parent,” says Vernon. And when it happened, “I felt that I’d won the prize.”
Dads who are at home caring for their kids are becoming more common in the United States: in 2016, 7 percent were, compared with 4 percent in 1989, the first year for which reliable data are available. That means 17 percent of all stay-at-home parents in 2016 were fathers. Nearly three decades earlier, only 10 percent were.
“A growing share of stay-at-home fathers say they are home specifically to care for their home or family, suggesting that changing gender roles may be at play,” says Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center and an expert on family demographics. “Twenty-four percent of stay-at-home fathers say they are home for this reason.”
Their partners’ career advances are likely a big factor in the decision for dads to stay home. It was for Julie and Joel Bernard, currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina. Eight years ago, when Julie took a new job as a partner at a consulting firm, Joel quit his job as a head of sales operations for a corporate division. In addition to assuming the day-to-day responsibilities of his two sons, ages 6 and 8, he also cared for his mother, who was developing health issues, as well as his brother, who has Down syndrome and began to have kidney failure. Bernard says transitioning to caregiving duties was tough, but after about nine months, he began to develop a routine, including doing some consulting work.
“Everyone thought, ‘Dude, you’re living the life,’” says Bernard. “But for an outgoing extrovert, it’s incredibly lonely. I couldn’t hang out with the stay-at-home moms — that would have driven their husbands nuts. The isolation really surprised me.”
It surprised Hastings, too, that eight years of being a primary caregiver isolated him from his previous life.
“At some point over the years of child rearing, I wasn’t creating social opportunities apart from the kids,” says Hastings. Now, that the kids are older — his daughter is in college and his son is in high school near his ex-wife — Hastings wants to begin to “function as a full-fledged adult again” by reengaging with friends and returning to the workforce.
After he stayed home with his kids, also for eight years, communications professional Chris Peacock of San Jose, California, says that getting back into the workforce was tricky. “I had to learn to translate the work I did when I wasn’t getting paid” so that employers would value his unpaid time serving on boards, working on strategic plans for local organizations, and helping with the presidential debates.
Was Peacock happy he did it?
“Absolutely,” he says. “It created some challenges, but we were lucky enough to be able to make it work and it was well worth any belt-tightening and related measures,” says Peacock, who has landed a job at a university. “Any frustration was far outweighed by the time I spent with my kids.”