Yesterday was a sweet day for me. I have two little girls who love making plans and love surprising their Daddy. To be honest, my kids love me...I don't say this out of pride or anything, they just love me and I know it. To be quite honest the love of my children is one of the most gracious and lavish gifts of God in my life. Part of the new covenant is that the hearts of fathers will be turned to their children (See Malachi 4 and Luke 1). Many of us are aware that the involvement of fathers with their children is vastly important in their upbringing and the results of absent fathers upon our society are undeniable. See this site for more information - http://www.fatherhood.org/
Yet oddly enough I have been meditating upon a differnt "trend" in our society...perhaps not as harmful as the absent father, but the stay at home dad (SAHD). Now here we are not talking about Dad being at little league games, dance recitals, schools and spending good chunks of time with his children. This phenomena is men choosing not to work, to stay at home and be the primary care giver for young children. Mr. Mom, Daddy Daycare - Daddy with the diaper bag going to the play group.
I recently watched an ABC News report about stay at home fathers which began some thinking about the issue. You can read the transcript of that report here. It was actually entitled "When a man's place is in the kitchen - How Stay-at-Home Dads Redefine Gender Roles." The report was couched in the notion that these men are challenging the status quo, living enlightened lives and pioneering new social trends. Several things stood out in the report. One of the reasons that was given for Dad to take up the bottles and diaper bags was financial. She makes more money and we want to care for our kids. Of course most of it was couched in language of "doing whats best for the children." Additionally, the report made such a choice to have Dad at home sound like a significant social trend. Oddly enough, the US Census reports the number at only 143,000. The report clearly wants to tell us that Mr. Mom is a new trend, a new way that is being taken on by men in rising numbers. The truth of the matter is that throughout history, and everywhere in the world today, Mothers and women are the primary care givers for small children. Yet there are men doing this today and you can find several web sites which offer things from articles to "support groups" to men staying at home full time. See Rebel Dad, At Home Dad, Daddy Stays Home.
Nevertheless, the tone of ABC report showed that this was a new sort of gender enlightenment happening in our time. I found it to be quite sad and a bit silly. One guy even laments how it is still not "socially acceptable" to invite another woman over "to play." Good grief, I felt bad for the guy - maybe the world will make it better for him to go to play group with the Moms and other SAHDs some day soon. Now I am sure this post mayperhaps anger some SAHDs yet I wanted to look a little bit into this phenomena. I mean no harm to anyone walking this route, but I do hope they would change their minds. In this post I am not referring to temporary situations or single fathers or fathers who work from home. What I am addressing is men who intentionally do not work to be the primary source of care for babies and small children.
Not just wanting to have an emotional response against stay at home daddydom I thought I would think through my initial objection and think about "why" I do not think this is a good plan for men or for society. One more disclaimer. As this is a new "trend" and therefore a social experiment their will be more sociological studies of this phenomena in the decades ahead, I do not claim to offer anything here that claims to know the outcomes or social trends related of this configuration. What I do want to do is offer some reason why I do not think it is a wise path for men and women to follow. I reasoned this from first a secular naturalistic worldview AND then from the biblical worldview to which I subscribe.
Evolutionary Explanations against Mr. Mom
In the worldview of naturalism, humans and our societies are the result of material and environmental concerns (also completely material) by which species struggled to adapt and survive on the earth. Evolution is driven by our genes desire to replicate and pass their information on to the next generation. Mutations and adaptations to various environments created fit species which thereby passed on their genes to the next generation. Such thinking has been applied to literally all areas of human life be it ethics or societal structures. If you ask "WHY" about various phenomena we see and experience, today's evolutionary ethicists and psychologists can cook up a recipe that tells you why evolution favored certain behaviors which then were carried into the community/society. If you ask why societies favor altruistic behavior, it must have had an evolutionary benefit for our ancient ancestors as they climbed down from the trees.
Such a way of thinking can be applied to explain WHY mothers have always been the primary care givers for young children. First, and too obvious, babies come from and feed from their mothers. OK, we are modern people and can get away from that...we'll create ways for a man to feed the baby so the mother does not have too. Second, for whatever reason, evolution has created almost a universal situation where women care for young children...in this worldview this configuration MUST have evolutionary advantages. At this point, it is usually thought that the male needed to be out hunting and gathering...jumping on the back of prehistoric animals with spears and bone made weapons. So Dad had to go to work as it were...even way back in the day. Of course male and female bodies were "designed" by evolution to care for children or fight back the saber tooth tiger. My whole point in all this would be this. In a naturalistic worldview evolution has created the childcare scenario and helped us survive.
Of course the apologetic given at this point would be - but we humans no longer need submit to evolution, we have become so smart we can now "take control of our own evolution" and do whatever the heck we want. We can jettison nature for technology so that men can feed infants and Mom and others (men, women, gay people) can use tanks to fight off any wild beasts. There are so many problems with this system of thinking. First, it assumes that humans, because we are smart, can actually escape "natural evolution" and be "guides" of evolution. That is like saying nature can overcome nature to make a new path. Of course, this worldview offers no such resources. What is will evolve and we cannot kick against the goads of what matter + time + energy do in their mindless contortions. Perhaps if humans are "special" or "different" we could do such things, but this worldview lacks these resources. Second, if the system of mothers caring for children and fathers providing for families and protecting their flock evolved in every human society that rears children (and please, no comments about Amazons or the island of Lesbos) should we not see the wisdom of nature and align to her wishes? Could intentionally rejecting breast feeding, mothers caring for their children and other "ways of nature" be unwise. OK, I fail to see how naturalism would support Daddys becoming the primary care givers for children, so perhaps human beings want to make choices based on other concerns than mere survival...but of course this is precisely what we cannot do if evolutionary naturalism is true.
OK, enough with naturalism, I find the worldview fatally flawed anyway.
Biblical Manhood means providing and protecting
Scripture teaches a different story about sex and child rearing. From the beginning human beings were designed by our creator as "male and female" of equal value in the image of God (see Gen 1:26,27). The role of child bearing is a great gift of God to women and also part of God's work in redeeming and sanctifying women. Men are also charged to love their wives and care for them. Men are to serve their wives and sacrifice for them. Fathers are called to teach their children (Ephesians 6) and provide for their household (1 Timothy 5). Additionally, men ought to care for their families and protect them from evil doing as much as possible. I am also not a pacifist and believe that some men ought to learn to fight. This is a necessary reality in a fallen world filled with sin and violence and a responsiblity of good government (Romans 13). I have written at length on gender roles from a biblical perspective so you can read the rest here. My little apologetic for virtuous fighting is here.
Now, this is not a discussion about whether a mom should stay home or pursue a career. That would be for another day. I will only say that families should work for Mom to have that option available and not force her to work for "lifestyle" issues...simply for money. We counsel young couples to plan for one income and save aggressively when you have two. This way a couple actually has a real choice to make when the wonderful words "I'm pregnant" come forth. There are many creative ways today for both parents to work and there are many creative ways today for a Mom to choose to stay at home. Planning ahead makes it a real choice.
What I am saying here is that men ought to work and learn to provide for a family. Men are called to be responsible, to learn to stand on the wall for others. It is good for young men to feel and teak responsibility, in fact this is part of becoming a man. We have far too many little boys today prancing around the world living maxim magazine manhood and checking out of their families. The solution is not taking up the pacifier and baby food jar, but rather commitment to work and family. That work exists to give honor to God and to provide for those in need. Furthermore, if more men in a culture are moving to man the diaper bag I fear for our future ability to fight off the hoard. Of course the response is that universal stay at home dadness is not probable, practical or realistic. I would simply agree as it points out the weaknesses of the practice.
I simply find very few good reasons for a man to choose a permanent and perpetual post as Mr. Mom. In reading on the subject it seems that social goals are part of the motivation as much as money or looking out for the kids. What we have seen in segments of western culture is the evacuation of the words "Mom" and "Dad" from any sort of meaning. They can mean whatever we construct them to be - if that means Dad acts like a traditional Mom then lets cheer the innovator (it seems ABC News will publish on it just about every year around fathers day - at least a search of their site seem to show this). It seems that many like to see themselves as more just, more enlightened, more progressive than other humans - and being a stay at home dad perhaps say "we get it and reject backward patriarchy so much that Dad stays home." If there is ever a contraption created to have men become pregnant or physically bear the children, I am guessing some "progressives" would cheer the development and some would sign up for this as well. Huxley foresaw a new world where Mom's loose the ability to bear children and the human race was forever produced in little bottles. I, for one, am thankful for Moms and Dads.
Thanking God for Fathers and Mothers
So on the day after Fathers day I want to thank God for both Fathers and Mothers. I want to thank God for the stay at home Dads who are married to one woman and giving their lives to their kids. I want to say again that I mean no harm to any guys who are SAHDs in writing this. I then want to exhort them to get out of the play group and make their stint as primary child care giver as short as possible. For their sake and for the sake of the kids...especially their sons. For the little men will be watching Dad to learn how to focus and develop masculinity. He needs to see a humble king who provides, a tender warrior who fights for what is good right and true, a gracious mentor who will coach life for young men and a friend to guide him through the perils of life outside of the garden.