If we are open to thinking about a son or daughter following in the footsteps of either parent then the idea of a man staying at home with the kids is not an anomaly at all. He is following the ultimate family tradition that extends back thousands of years.
I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) a few hours a week for the local community college. One of the activities we do is trace our family tree to learn the names of relatives and family members. On top of that we write down the careers of each person in the family tree.
As my primary career is at-home parent, I looked forward to doing this activity. Being a man and staying home with the kids is foreign among the cultures in the classroom and it is always an opportunity to blow a few minds. I remember sitting down to do this career family tree for the first time. I wrote next to my father and grandfathers-“Pharmacist, Pharmacist, Farmer”. I imagined the tree going back farther and the entries were essentially all Farmer.
Then something interesting happened. I wrote down the careers of my Mother and Grandmothers-“At home parent, at home parent, at home parent.” It was my mind that was blown. For the first time I realized I was carrying on the family tradition of caring for children at home. It was even more powerful when I quickly thought of the maternal family tree expanding a hundred or thousand years and seeing their career as an at-home parent.
Just like me, each of them had some way of making income on the side. My farm-wife Grandmother sold chickens and chicken eggs. My pharmacist-wife Grandmother worked a few hours at the drug store and helped with the books. My Mother did the same when they took over the store. At the end of the day, though, they all stayed home with the children when they were young.
What a relic from our gendered past that is only now starting to shed. I had only thought of “carrying on the family business” from the lens of the patriarchy in my family. Yet, this rich career history on our Mothers’ side has been there all along. Maybe this is different for daughters and this default to dads is a thing for sons. I don’t want to assume that though. If you are woman reading this, I look forward to hearing how you have imagined and thought about “the family business.”
To all my fellow at-home dads: thinking about carrying on the career tradition of my matriarchy has been a powerful thing for me. I feel even more purpose and legitimacy in the role. When others ask if you should be doing something else, remember that our Moms are just as important as our Dads and carrying on in their footsteps is a historically valid and important career to pursue.