Public Release: 

Working Moms Turn Traditional When They're Home

American Psychological Association

Even When Dad Stays Home and Mom Works, Mom Comes Home And Bathes the Children

CHICAGO -- Michael Keaton didn't mother like Teri Garr in the 80's hit, "Mr. Mom," and it seems that neither do real life stay- at-home dads. Two studies presented by psychologists Robert Frank, Ph.D., from Loyola University and Michael Helford Ph.D., from DePaul University at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 105th Annual Convention in Chicago found that stay-at-home dads are equal parts traditional mom and traditional dad.

Drs. Frank and Helford compared questionnaires completed in 1994 and 1996 separately by mothers and fathers from traditional families and families in which the father was the primary caregiver -- the parent directly responsible at least 30 hours a week for care of youngest child (age six or younger) in the family -- and the mother was the main wage earner. Parents provided estimated amounts of time spent on childcare (bathing child, playing with child, etc.) and household labor (preparing meals, paying bills, etc.).

Results show that stay-at-home dads do the same household activities as stay-at-home moms -- they feed breakfast and lunch to the child, get the child dressed, change diapers, etc. but they also mow the lawn, fix the dishwasher and clean the gutters. "There is not a complete role reversal when dad stays at home -- he doesn't suddenly relinquish the inside and outside maintenance tasks to mom," says Dr. Frank, a stay-at-home dad himself. But working moms only partially give up their traditional role. When mom comes home she tends to become the "traditional mom" helping with dinner, giving the baths, and managing the bedtime routine.

The researchers also looked at the effect this child care arrangement has on the mother-child bond. "In a stay-at-home dad family if a child gets hurt or wakes up at night and both parents are available, the child will go to either the mother or the father. In a traditional family the child will go to the mother 80 percent of the time and the father 20 percent of the time," says Dr. Frank.

Other results:

  • Even when dad is at home running the routine, working mothers tend to know what their child's daily schedule is (classes or doctor appointments). But traditional working fathers didn't have a clue about their child's schedule.

  • Sixty-three percent of stay-at-home dads felt isolated compared with only 37 percent of stay-at-home moms.

  • Sixty-five percent of stay-at-home dads do so because they do not want to put their child in day care.

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    Presentations: "Parenting Arrangement and Perceptions of Workforce Reentry and Career Progress," by Michael Helford, Ph.D., DePaul University, Robert Frank, Ph.D., Loyola University and Susan Burroughs, M.A., University of Tennessee. Session 2067, 9:00 - 10:50 AM, August 16, 1997, Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, River Exhibition Hall (I-5).

    "Primary Caregiving Father Families: Do They Differ in Parental Activities?" by Robert A. Frank, Ph.D., and Susan Kromelow, Ph.D., Loyola University Chicago and Michael C. Helford, Ph.D., DePaul University. Session 4090, 10:00 - 10:50 AM, August 18, 1997, Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, River Exhibition Hall (E-3).

    (Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)

    The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 151,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 58 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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