When Eric and Jody courted during graduate school, they assumed that when the time came to raise a family, Eric would work and Jody would stay home with the kids. Six years later, things looked different. "I liked my job, but Jody loved hers," says Eric. "Jody made lots more money than I ever could have. It became clear to each of us that she should work and I should stay home. We came to this decision through a lot of prayer and by discussing it with our church friends ad nauseum."
Three children later, Eric is passionate about being a stay-at-home dad. "My staying home and Jody engaged in her career works well for us. We each think we have the better end of the deal. I love kids, and she loves her job and our kids. I haven't traded away a gloomy future so my wife can work; I traded up. I worked for 12 years as an engineer; it was a good experience and I miss my colleagues. But I will have a more significant impact on the world by being home."
Eric and Jody aren't unusual. Estimates today place the number of stay-at-home dads in the United States at nearly two million—a number that has quadrupled since 1986 and is now the fastest growing family type. The exact number is difficult to determine because many fathers who devote themselves full-time to the job of parenting also have part-time jobs, work from home, or are between jobs.
Based on survey results by researcher Bob Frank, these families share common characteristics: they see themselves as equal partners in parenting, and they put childcare first—above traditional roles. They choose this arrangement not out of necessity, but of practicality: the husband's personality may be a better fit for raising kids full-time or he can interrupt his career more easily or work out of the home. In most cases, the wife's career provides greater benefits and career potential than the husband's.
Such was the case with Sue and Dave Jenks of Palo Alto, California. Sue worked at a technology firm, Dave was self-employed as an architectural draftsman, and they juggled childcare for their two children. "It became clear that one of us needed to stay home," says Dave. "I was trying to work late at night, but I wasn't doing too great a job at either taking care of the kids or starting my business. I was wiped out all of the time; so I suggested that I stay home. Sue had an established career with benefits and was in a marketable position. We wanted one of us to be home with the kids, and we both feel relieved of the stress of using day care. One thing I hope my kids will catch on to is how committed we are. We'll do whatever it takes to raise them in the best way."
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