Contributor: Kate Mesrobian
Work and Life is a two-hour radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School. Every Tuesday from 7 to 9 PM EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body and spirit).
On Work and Life on Sirius XM’s Business Radio Powered by The Wharton School, Stew Friedman spoke with Matt Schneider, co-founder and co-organizer of NYC Dads Group, about the rise of stay-at-home dads and new choices for men and women in work and family. NYC Dads Group exists as a meet-up community that gives stay-at-home fathers the opportunity to socialize and support each other in their role as primary caregivers. Matt Schneider spoke about breaking down through new marketing, social media engagement, and work place innovation.
Following are edited excerpts of Schneider’s conversation with Friedman.
SF: What were the things Dads cared most about when you started meet-ups with other stay-at-home dads?
MS: We cared about the same things any caring parent would care about. We had meet-ups about what dads were feeding their kids, potty training, choosing a preschool… Being good parents was first and foremost a priority.
SF: This was not something you were trained in your early lives to pay a lot of attention to, I imagine.
MS: I would say few of us, men or women, train to be parents or homemakers. We had caring parents as role models, but growing up in the 70s and 80s, women weren’t trained to be homemakers, either. There was simply an expectation that they could fill that role. Men and women are both scared as they jump into this thing called parenting. Our philosophy is: We’re all in this together. Let’s learn together how to be good parents, and make sure that neither one of us takes on too much of the role and pushes the other out.
SF: What else was on your minds when you got together as dads in the role of the primary caregiver?
MS: We thought of ourselves as a community. It was crazy to think that men could get together to talk and share ideas. Men don’t get together anymore. Developing community became important to us. We also have a lot of working dads who want to re-enter the work force.
SF: So this is not just about stay-at-home dads, this is about dads as primary- caregivers or equal partners in caregiving.
MS: Exactly. According to the Census Bureau, as of last year there are about 189,000 stay-at-home dads. But the Census defines stay-at-home dad as someone who does not make a dollar over the course of the entire year. The reality is there are a lot of dads out there that have part time jobs, so the number of a stay-at-home dads is much greater than one thinks. We have a wide range of dads in our group.
SF: What do you see as the primary driver for why society is changing in the way that it has with respect to the role of fathers?
MS: I think it has changed in some ways, and in some ways it hasn’t. The great news is that mothers and fathers who are making these decisions together are making good financial decisions. They are not being held back by gender stereotypes from the past. They decide whose career to rely on to provide for the family and who should step back. Today, there are a lot more dads who are thinking of themselves in a secondary bread-winner role because women have increased in the work force.
SF: What do you mean by a secondary work role? Secondary with respect to what?
MS: I now consider myself a work-at-home dad, but my career is secondary to my wife’s career. Every day I work a certain number of hours. The rest of my time is spent taking care of my kids, doing laundry, planning meals, shopping for groceries, and all that type of stuff. My wife and I made that plan before we were married. You should have this conversation before marriage. I was never forced into the situation; I was the one interested in the situation.
Caller from Denver: I love what you have founded, turning a simple meet up into a large organization. What advice or suggestions do you have to bring what you’re doing to other places?
MS: There are great groups like ours across the country. There’s a national organization – National At-Home Dad Network that has a listing of all the “dad groups” across the country
SF: How do you respond to stereotypes?
MS: Pop culture has been a big part of the problem for so long. Guys have been portrayed in the movies, TV, the media, as buffoons: duct-taping diapers together, wearing a gas mask until mom gets home and saves the day. We hear from moms all the time that they want a partner, not a husband portrayed as a buffoon. Many brands are recognizing that dads are a big part of the equation.
SF: And you’re helping some of these brands, aren’t you?
MS: We are. We will have meet-ups across the country this year where brands get to meet our dads directly. Our dads will use their products, tell them what we think, and share our thoughts over our blog and social media.
SF: How have you used social media?
MS: Other men now have license to say, “Wow, I can be the one holding our baby, pushing the stroller.” To me, the term “manly” is so weird. I think it’s manly to do what makes sense for your family. In so many cases it makes sense for both to jump in. I know my wife could not do the job she does if I weren’t at home with our children. I don’t want to take credit for her talents and success. She works in private equity and real estate. She worked at Goldman Sachs. These are very demanding, work-oriented environments. These are not people who prioritize work/life integration. She has had to devote herself to her career, and our joint decision for me to stay home has enabled that. So for good or bad she has been able to be very successful, and together, we have created the life we are looking for in New York. That’s not to say she isn’t an excellent mother as well. She jumps right in to parenting. And who knows? She might have to take a step back from her career. We talked about it before we got married. If it wasn’t working for me, we would talk and change.
SF: You set aside time to talk about these things regularly?
MS: With all decisions – financial, parenting – we talk. We are by no means perfect. We argue. We fight. But we try to make these decisions together. I actually don’t think there’s anything special in the way we communicate. The same kind of communication should happen with stay-at-home moms and bread-winning dads. We teach classes for expecting dads, and the first thing we say is don’t allow yourself to get pushed out of that parenting role. It sounds like a great short-term, easy solution to get diapers changed by mom. But it turns out that those moments of changing your child’s diapers are pretty special. That’s when your relationship develops. It’s the day-to-day moments we need to be a part of, and we encourage dads to get in the game. It’s rewarding to be an involved, active dad, and necessary from a parenting and partnership perspective. Both of you need to be capable of getting the stuff done.
Matt Schneider, a former public school teacher, is an at-home dad who lives with his wife and two boys in New York City. He is the co-founder of NYC Dads Group. He plans workshops, screenings, and lectures with parenting, family, and education experts on behalf of the group. Matt has written for New York Family magazine, Huffington Post, Big Apple Parent, Role/Reboot, and The Good Men Project. For more information about being a stay-at-home dad and for ways to connect with other stay-at-home dads, visit NYC Dads Group online or refer to the National At-Home Dad Network.
Join Work and Life next Tuesday February 4 at 7 PM on Sirius XM Channel 111 for conversations with Marci Alboher (Penn ’88), on finding purpose and meaning later in life and Katrina Alcorn, on strategies to manage the stress that comes from trying to have it all. for a full schedule of future guests.
About the Author
Kate Mesrobian is a sophomore in the Huntsman Program in Business and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.