The New Normal: Stay-at-Home Dads, Gay Parents and More
There was a time when gay parents and single adoptive mothers were unheard of
Pat Byrnes, 52, and Lisa Madigan, 45, stay-at-home dad and working mom to Lucy, 3, and Rebecca, 6
Don’t call him Mr. Mom. Seriously. That’s all Pat Byrnes, of Chicago, asks. “I’m nobody’s substitute, and I’m doing this on purpose,” he says. Doing “this” means being the at-home parent to two daughters—Rebecca and Lucy—while his wife, Lisa, heads to the office. At home, her title is Mom. At work, she goes by Attorney General of Illinois.
If Lisa’s brave for tackling the state’s toughest issues, Pat was equally gutsy in enlisting for stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) duty, especially given how he did it: during a live TV interview in 2002. “The interviewer asked Lisa, ‘So, if you win, who’s going to take care of your kids?’ I jumped in and replied, ‘I work at home. I make my own hours.’ ”Truth be told, Pat, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, had never talked it over with Lisa before. But there was no backing down after that: “A million people in their living rooms had just witnessed me committing to being an at-home dad,” Pat says. There are a lot of guys earning their SAHD stripes these days. “The recession has had a big impact,” says Scott Haltzman, M.D., coauthor of The Secrets of Happily Married Men and The Secrets of Happy Families. In fact, men held roughly 70 percent of the jobs lost during the socalled “man-cession.” Many have found themselves in the at-home role involuntarily. “At the same time, we’re slowly rejecting the old stigma that if a guy is home with the kids, there’s something wrong with him,” Dr. Haltzman says.
Three office terms, one happy marriage, and two kids later, “I’m hanging in there,” says Pat. In recent years, he’s scaled back on his cartooning to spend his days taking Lucy to playdates and on zoo trips, with Rebecca joining in after school. Now that Lucy is in preschool, “I’m looking forward to having a bit more time to myself,” he says. “A haircut would be nice.”
It’s true: The SAHD does face some interesting challenges (not that the SAHM doesn’t, of course). For starters, in Pat’s neck of the woods at least, there don’t seem to be many other guys to hang out with during the day. “Like Pat, many men find themselves shut out of the social infrastructure that surrounds at-home parents, since they’re still mostly female,” Dr. Haltzman points out.
A SAHD arrangement can be challenging for Mom, too, since she relinquishes some of her traditional duties. In 2010 researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, interviewed 78 dual-earner couples with 8-month-old infants. They found that a mother’s self-esteem was lowered if she thought the father was capable, handson, and spending more time with the kids. “Mom may prefer the kids’ baths to be at a certain time, or that they be dressed a certain way, but Dad has his own standards,” Dr. Haltzman says. “Both parties have to be extra understanding and compassionate.”
Lisa and Pat aren’t immune to bumps along the way. “Sometimes the girls ask why Mommy has to go to her job,” Pat says. “I tell them that a lot of kids don’t get to have either parent at home, so be happy.” Lisa gasps. “You don’t say that, do you?” “I do,” Pat says. “Luckily,” he adds, “they still call for you at night when they’re throwing up.”