The Unpaid Work of Stay at Home Parenting and Online Trolls

Matthew Koehler

Even in the 21 century, men who stay home to care for the kids are subjected to sexist sterotypes and reduced economic outcomes.

Photo by lauren lulu taylor on Unsplash

Anyone with a smart device is no stranger to online trolling, and most of it is harmless, even if the words are cutting and mean. Interacting with anonymous people out there in the aether affords you the opportunity to say whatever you want — really release your id upon the world. Not having to look someone in the eyes makes this even easier.

This isn’t a novel observation, though, and I’m not here to address online trolling or political views, as that goes beyond the scope of this post. I say keep at it if it makes you a nicer person in the real world, just don't threaten or harass people because that makes you an asshole (and you probably are in the real world, too).

And sometimes when you get attacked online, it provides a moment for reflection and a lesson.

Once upon a time, I was called out for being a stay-at-home parent (SAHP), a writer, a blogger, and a “daddy" (yes, they were skirting a line that bordered on homophobia). All of my chosen professions were attacked in such a way as to belittle my manhood and equate it with femininity. I was a beta – a cuck ,  must have a really small genitals, etc. Somehow, my being a SAHP made me less of man, which isn’t true, and more like a woman, which is an insult to women.

Whether or not my online trolls were expressing deeply held misogyny or just playing "the game" hardly matters – that sort of language and toxic masculinity is on the rise (also a study by Wharton). It wasn't the first time my male identity was attacked as SAHP, nor was it the first time women and mothers were insulted at my expense. Generations of mothers, who sacrificed careers to raise children, know this bullshit for what it is.

So, allow me a moment to dismantle these ad hominens and flimsy straw men.

We live in a busy world, especially if you live in an urban area, and if you decide to have children it’s even busier. While many concessions have been made by corporate America to alleviate the struggles working parents go through, we still aren’t in a place where the job market facilitates family life. In fact, staying at home can be extremely detrimental to your career and your viability in the job market. Try putting your last several years as a stay at home parent on your résumé. You can’t.

The great irony, here, is that childcare, whether partial or full-time, is astronomically priced, and to afford it you need to be well into the upper middle class. For many middle-class families and below, full-time childcare is out of the question because you’d end up dolling out a yearly college tuition just to use it. In DC, for example, the annual cost of childcare is "some of the highest child care costs in the country — annual fees in the District average about $24,000 for infant care and $19,000 for toddler care."

This is cost prohibitive for a large swathe of the population, especially in a city that, despite its rapid development with thousands of new housing units coming online, is still astronomically high to live in.

You now have a serious decision to make. Does the parent who makes less money continue to work full-time, knowing that most of their paycheck will be going towards daycare or do they stay home? Or put it this way, do you sacrifice your career and future economic viability to stay at home and be in your child’s life for as long as you can? It’s not an easy decision to make for any parent, especially for a men who are still stereotypically seen as breadwinners and the head-of-household.

We may live in a fairly progressive society that doesn’t frown upon men staying at home with the kids anymore, but there's still an overwhelming stigma attached to the stay at home dad. Women are well aware of what staying home can do to your social status and potential earning, but in the 21st century, it can be financially and socially worse for men.

As a new parent, I’d just moved to DC and didn’t know anyone or have any professional connections. I struggled for several months to find something better than minimum wage (minimum wage wouldn’t have covered the cost of childcare at all) and turned down an entry-level government job for personal and health reasons.

My wife stressed that there was nothing wrong with staying home and taking on the role as the primary caregiver. It would actually make better financial sense since daycare was so high and our child would benefit from having a full time parent be there for her.

It came down to this: Why work for sake of working when I could stay home during those important formative months and years? Besides, my wife was, and is, well established in her career, so taking time off and having shorter days wasn’t out of the question for her. For me, having a new job where I was on probation for several months and had to commute a long distance would make being available as a parent more difficult. So we decided that staying home was best.

Then I got offered a job doing something I cared about: teaching. A local ESL school that I’d applied to when I first arrived in DC contacted me out of the blue for a part time position. Though it would put pressure on our arrangement, I begged my wife to let me take the job. The money, better than minimum wage, was still negligible. Yet, I felt compelled to work (as all men do).

For several months, my wife and I maneuvered her work schedule around my part time job until the company offered me a full-time position. By that point, I'd become a regular fixture in my daughter's life and I was reluctant to pass the baton to a nanny or daycare professional. There was also the never-ending tasks homemakers, like myself, found themselves doing that their significant others no longer had to worry about. My wife and I made a good team and our roles complimented each other quite well.

“She’ll be going to school in a few years. Don’t worry about finding a job right now. Just stay at home and raise our daughter,” my wife tried to reassure me. There was also the fact that most of my paycheck would be going to daycare. I wouldn't be working for the sake of working, per se, but that line in the sand was very close.

Cool, fuck it, I thought, I’ll do one of the harder jobs on the planet for the next few years – with the caveat that I could have an afternoon beer from time to time.

Now with a kid in second grade, and at school (except for the pandemic year), I don't regret leaving the workforce to bond with my kid and raise her.

Yes, It can be isolating, especially for men, as there aren’t that many of us stay-at-home dads around, but we manage. Also, my wife and I see results of this in our amazing daughter. We've managed to structure a more financially modest life around parenting and time spent together. It works for us.

That being said, being a stay at home parent is no picnic either; it's hard, energy consuming work.

If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you keep your uninformed, sexist opinions to yourself.

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