Celebrating the role of dads in Australian families

Blog Image for article Celebrating the role of dads in Australian families

Every day is a good day to celebrate the role that dads play in Australian families. There are many reasons for celebrating dads. From teaching kids to ride a bike to taking them on trips to the great outdoors - we all have fond memories of the precious quality time spent with dad. Gone are the days of this job being associated simply with breadwinning. Modern dads play an active role in their child's life, and according to research released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), for about 80,000 Australian fathers, this role is as a primary caregiver. Let's investigate the experiences of stay-at-home dad families.

Why do dads stay at home with the kids?

Every family has individual circumstances and AIFS director, Anne Hollonds says that Australia's stay-at-home fathers are a diverse group, including dads with ill health, a disability or who are out of the labour force, as well as those many fathers choosing to stay home to care for children.

Fathers may also stay at home because their partner earns more than them, or they simply want to play a greater role in their child's life.

One such dad is Rhys Allen, who became a primary carer after the birth of his second child. Talking to the ABC, he says that stay at home fathers are, “Very privileged to be able to have little kids around, spend quality time with them and watch them grow. So many guys miss out on that part of the kids’ lives.”

Of course, employment plays a large part in each family's child care decisions, and although the number of stay-at-home dads grew by around 11,500 between 2011 and 2016, AIFS Senior Research Fellow, Dr Jennifer Baxter says this rise, ‘Reflected increases in the numbers of fathers that were unemployed or not in the labour force.’

In statistical terms, how does a stay-at-home dad family compare with other families?

On average, the AIFS research found that stay-at-home dad families:

  • Are more likely to have a single, older child at home and stay-at-home dads are older too (aged 43 on average)
  • Ten per cent of stay-at-home dads are students, compared with the five per cent of dads who are students in other family types
  • There are more stay-at-home dads who are carers or have a disability
  • A relatively high percentage of stay-at-home dads have a lower level of educational attainment than their partner, suggesting the family arrangement rests on Mum earning more than Dad
  • Families with a father at home were more likely to have low household incomes, compared to those with a mother at home.

All in all, there are differences between stay-at-home dad families and those with stay-at-home mums or dual-working arrangements.

How do other stay-at-home parent figures compare?

There's no doubt that there are many more Australian mums providing primary care than dads and according to the most recent Census, of all couples with children aged under 18 years, 27 per cent of those families had a stay-at-home mum, compared with 4.6 per cent having a stay-at-home dad.

Saying that, dads staying at home in Australia figure is on par with countries like America and Canada.

What is standing in the way of more dads becoming primary carers?

Dr Baxter says there are many reasons so few fathers choose to stay at home.

Parents of both genders enjoy the income, status and mental stimulation that comes with paid work and aside from that, Dr Baxter recognises that, 'We still do have very strong gender role stereotypes around caring that no doubt do make it difficult for some dads.'

To help fathers balance the rewards that come with paid work and unpaid child-rearing, Dr Baxter is calling for more flexible working arrangements and reduced hours so that fathers can share the care of their children.

For his part, Mr Allen encourages men to cast aside stereotypes and enjoy life as a stay at home dad. He says, 'If it's just convention and tradition that is stopping you, then absolutely consider it because it's the best experience, I think, a guy can have.'

In addition, having stay at home fathers instead of mothers are just a fundamental shift in parenting roles. Moreover, children who have stronger relationships with their fathers tend to become mentally stable adults. The phrase ‘daddy issues’ is more than simply a catchphrase. A child's relationship with his father is key to that child's mental health. Therefore, celebrating dads and the role that they play in the family shouldn't just be on a special day, but should be every day.

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