On any given weekday, you might find Jameson Mercier on his couch with his two daughters on his lap reading them their favorite books over and over — not exactly the picture of a paternal provider most people envision.
But Mercier says he could never work a traditional 40-hour a week job. “I wouldn’t get to spend this kind of time with my kids or do any of the things with them that I do now.”
Mercier, the Plantation father of 3-year-old Asrielle and 2-year-old Tamar, is among a growing number of stay-at-home dads who are child care givers by choice. These fathers are changing diapers, packing lunch boxes and even forming “at home dad networks” to bond.
While fathers still represent a relatively small percentage of at-home parents, 3.4 percent, the number is significant because it has doubled over the last decade. Experts predict the percentage of at home dads will continue to rise as more wives snap up high paying jobs and families make pragmatic decisions about who will take on child care responsibilities.
In a new study, released for Father’s Day, researchers from the Boston College Center for Work & Family interviewed more than 30 stay-at-home dads and found many are in that role not because they were laid off unexpectedly, but because they chose to take on the job. They also found there is not a particular “type” of man who is a primary caregiver. The men in The New Dad: Right at Home study, ages 28 to 48, varied in backgrounds, but shared the commonality that their wives typically held jobs with higher earning potential, such as physicians, lawyers and business executives.
“These at-home fathers greatly enable their wives to pursue their careers in a much more assertive fashion without the limitation that virtually all working mothers experience,” said Brad Harrington, executive director of the center for Work & Family.
Contrary to what one might believe, these at home fathers were not unhappy in their careers before becoming the primary caregiver, according to the study. And, most of those who took on the role after a layoff reported seeing it as an opportunity rather than a setback. Even more, these dads see themselves as performing a good job of parenting, and their spouses strongly confirm their assessments, according to the study.
In addition to being full-time at home dads, more married men are becoming the primary caregiver, which means they may contribute some to the family income and still serve as the regular source of child care. That number has risen to 32 percent from 26 percent a decade ago, according to the U.S. Census. “A lot of men are doing a lot of the childcare, more than people believe is happening,” said Al Watts, president of the National At-Home Dads Network (athomedads.org) and a stay-at-home dad to four children. “These dads are happy doing it. They think it’s awesome to be involved in their kids’ lives.” Watts says his National At Home Dad Network has grown to 2,000 members will hold its 17th annual convention this October in Washington D.C.
Take Irvans Augustin. For the last 1½ years, the Miami dad has provided most of the child care for his two daughters. While Augustin holds a full-time job in information technology support, he also handles all homework, meals and bath time. Three to four times a week, his wife, Marta Viciedo, goes straight from her job as a research assistant to evening classes in urban planning. She still has almost two years left to get her degree from Florida Atlantic University.