Play dates, doctor's appointments and classroom parties, along with dishes, laundry and dinner. Often, it's mom's responsibility to handle all of the above, while growing and maintaining a career. And, if a parent is to step away from their career, society still assumes it should be mom.

But what about dads? According to the U.S. Census Bureau,[1] only 189,000 married men with children under 18 identified themselves as stay-at-home dads in 2012. The numbers have risen steadily over the years, but the pandemic also prompted some men to re-evaluate their role at home.[2] The jury is still out on the full extent of the shift, but the National At-Home Dad's Network calculated these long-term trends and projected the number of stay-at-home dads to have risen to 1.75 million by 2022.[3]

“I’ve always been a proponent of stay-at-home parenting, whether it’s the father or mother,” said Michael Jasper, former VP, Marketing Manager at PNC. Jasper became a stay-at-home dad for his three children in early 2022. Though some health issues were behind his decision to step away from his career, he is glad he made the change. “Now that I’m doing it, it’s like … why didn’t I do this before?” he said.

Breaking Tradition

Moms still make up most stay-at-home parents. According to data from Project 257SM, women spend almost twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic labor (i.e., childcare, eldercare, household duties, etc.), making it one of the four primary drivers of the economic gender gap.

To combat this disparity, more men are opting to stay at home and take on this unpaid work. But for stay-at-home dads, the stereotypes — plus functioning in a society catering to moms as primary caretakers — can be daunting. “I’m doing it later in my career, so it’s more a congratulatory thing for me, and people sort of view me as retiring,” said Jasper. “But it’s such a stigma in society. All fathers I know wish they had more time with their kids, but there’s a hesitancy for men because we’ve been taught that we’re supposed to provide. We’re okay saying a woman can give up her education to stay home, but if a man does it, what’s wrong with him? It’s a double standard that shouldn’t exist.”

For Sean Brett, who’s been home with his daughter for five years, ignoring others’ opinions comes naturally, even if his wife isn’t always able to do the same. When she picks up on awkward reactions pertaining to his stay-at-home status, he taps into his convictions. “When I make a decision for my life that I feel is best for me and my family, I have the confidence to ignore or deflect when people are judging me,” Brett said.

Brett has noticed how societal norms often make it difficult for dads to function as primary caregivers. Brett remembers finding it difficult to take his then-baby daughter out to eat since very few men’s bathrooms had changing tables. His daughter is now beyond changing tables — and companies are working to rectify this issue — but when family restrooms aren’t available, Brett takes his now six-year-old daughter into the men’s room, which can be awkward at times.

Brett also learned a lot about running a household. “Even though you might think you know that running a home takes a lot of work, when you start taking responsibility for it, you realize there’s a lot more to it than you originally thought,” he says.

The Big (Work) Return

Jasper can't imagine wanting to return to corporate life, but if he does go back to work, "it will be something I can do on my own time," he said.

Brett doesn’t put much stock into returning to work, either, since right now, he’s focusing 100 percent on his role as a stay-at-home parent (and co-teacher for his online-educated daughter).

Meanwhile, Maureen Mack, executive manager of North American Marketing at Hexagon, also says she can’t envision when her full-time stay-at-home husband will go back to work. Daycare was great, Mack said, but neither she nor her husband worked a typical nine-to-five career, and they “didn’t want to fight over who had to pick up from daycare the most precious being on earth.”

The Macks knew that they would take a financial hit with one working parent, but they've learned to make and stick to a budget. More importantly, said Mack, their kids now always have someone to rely on.

The Legacy We Leave

Brett and Jasper know their decision to stay home will impact how their children, particularly their daughters, view gender roles. “It’s great for my daughter to see me as the primary caregiver,” said Brett. “Her cousins have moms who stay at home, so it’s nice for her to see that isn’t necessarily the way that it has to be.”

Whether you’re a mom or a dad who stays home with the kids, Brett’s advice is to enjoy it. “They’re only small once,” he said. “You have this time to make memories, and you need to take advantage of that.”