Orlando Sentinel

Stay-home parents know that their kids need them

By Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on March 26, 2000

No one understands the malaise of the unappreciated stay-at-home mom like a stay-at-home dad.

Yes, the world boasts a few full-time dads. Hmmmm, does that make working parents ‘‘part-time'' moms and dads? Just a thought. And, yes, equality hecklers, it's OK if mom works and dad stays home with the kids, but one neurosis at a time.

Reaction to a recent column about ‘‘Karen,'' a 20-year-old college student/nanny who wants to be a mom rather than a career girl, was swift, predictable and just a tad ornery at times. Mention today that a young woman wants to be a full-time mother and you may as well suggest that she wants to be a hooker. No, a hooker has more credibility. At least she has a ‘‘career.''

For reporting that Karen feels embarrassed and ashamed for wanting to be just a mom, I was given credit for the high divorce rate, dysfunctional families, women on Prozac, women on welfare, erectile dysfunction and deadbeat dads. No word yet on homosexuality, but the day's still young.

Of course, I also heard from lots of stay-home mothers, including some former careerists — doctors, lawyers, professors, journalists — who traded briefcases for bottle bags upon realizing that you don't have to do everything at once.

But my favorite letter came from Scott Rolf, a stay-home dad who suffers the same moments of self-doubt as Karen. Not because he thinks he's wrong to want to be a full-time parent but because society frowns his way.

His letter underscores the real reason some women (and some men) increasingly choose to be stay-home parents: The children need them.

Karen wants to be a full-time mother not because she wants to be ‘‘kept'' by someone else, as one reader suggested, but because she sees a lot of lonely children whose parents are rarely around.

Scott wants to be a full-time dad because he and his wife want a parent at home for their three children. Like many, they arrived at this choice through circumstance but now can't imagine life any other way.

A senior computer-applications developer earning about $60,000 annually, Scott suddenly found his job threatened by company layoffs. At the same time, his wife's career was taking off. With some minor lifestyle adjustments, taking into account previous costs for child care and taxes, the Rolfs figured they could get by on one income.

Scott reports some of the pluses of his new life: more home-cooked meals, a cleaner house, control over personal time and weekends, time for a teenage daughter to take a nap after school if she wants, more involvement in church and schools, and he's home when one of the children is sick.

The minuses seem like every stay-home mom's lament: not enough adult conversation, bad hours, no days off and that troublesome question: ‘‘What do you do?''

Scott says, "It's hard to say ‘I'm a stay-home Dad.' If I get called Mr. Mom one more time, I'm going to scream.''

The purpose of telling Scott's and Karen's stories is not to inflict guilt on working parents nor even to point out feminism's flaws, though the diminution of mother's role is one. Rather it is to reconfirm the fact of society's gradual, if subliminal, undermining of the parenting role, beginning with our denigration of women who choose to stay home for their children.

Clearly, young women and men still need an education, still need a job plan, still need to be capable of performing and working outside of the home. But just as clearly, we need a cultural sea change by which full-time parenting is viewed as a job, if not a career, as important as any other.

Kathleen Parker's column also appears Wednesday in the Sentinel's Living section. Also check out her Web site: www.kparker.com. She welcomes your views and suggestions. Mail: The Orlando Sentinel, MP-72, P.O. Box 2833, Orlando, Fla. 32802-2833. Her e-mail address is kparker@orlandosentinel.com

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