Two months after giving birth to her daughter, Jen McClure-Metz received a phenomenal job offer. If she wanted to become a producer on a hit television show, she’d have to start in a month.
McClure-Metz and her husband talked it over and made the same decision many families are making: Dad would stay home full time and take care of their daughter.
“While I never thought that I would end up staying home with Sarah, I knew that I was fully capable of doing so,” says Brian Metz, McClure-Metz’s husband.
But almost four years into it, McClure-Metz began to feel her husband was maybe too capable. He had become more competent and assertive in the child-care arena and it showed in small ways. Metz took over when his wife struggled with the car seat, or put the kibosh on plans when he thought their daughter needed down time.
“Basically, he was the parent in charge and I often felt trumped,” says McClure-Metz.
More and more dads like Metz have become so confident in taking care of the kids that moms can feel edged out, or "momblocked."
Dr. Craig Garfield, a pediatrician and researcher at Chicago’s Northwestern University who specializes in the role of men in child-rearing, says it’s still the norm for moms to act as the gatekeepers to fathers’ involvement with their kids. “I’d still say it would be a unique father who is so confident in his approach to parenting as to block his partner,” Garfield says.
But the growing number of primary-care dads could be reversing this notion.
Besides momblocking, McClure-Metz says her family also has had to come to terms with different parenting styles when Dad is in charge in their Los Angeles home.
“What I’ve noticed with my husband and other stay-at-home dads is that they like to fly by the seat of their pants,” she says. “Consulting a book to them seems like asking for directions. Consequently, they use some interesting, un-PC parenting tactics. I’ve caught my husband saying things like, ‘If you don’t put that back you’ll never have another cookie in your life,’ or, ‘Do you want a birthday party? Because if you don’t stop doing that, I’m going to cancel your birthday party.’”
She also found herself wondering about the more aggressive activities her husband seems to promote. Take the wrestling moves.
“My husband likes to pretend to pile drive our daughter. He acts like he’s going to go right on her but he goes to the side and they think it’s the funniest thing in the world,” McClure-Metz says. “Our daughter now loves to wrestle. I never counted on that.”
Several months ago the couple made their way to a marriage counselor to try to work out some of these issues.
“It was a great thing to do,” McClure-Metz says. “We were experiencing friction but didn’t see the bigger picture. It was enlightening to have someone point out that when you switch traditional gender roles, it’s often stressful.”
Brian Metz says the counseling sessions gave him valuable insights as well.
“You just have to communicate that much more with your spouse when you’re going against what society typically dictates,” he says.
What McClure-Metz learned was that her husband was not trying to “block” her for the sake of edging her out; sometimes it was that he simply knew their child better.
“Now I can admit it: My husband is slightly more in tune with our daughter than I am because he spends far more time with her,” she says.
That’s often a hard thing for working moms to face, says Tom Vytacil, a stay-at-home dad for the past five years and a founder of Minnesota Dads At Home, a support group for stay-at-home fathers.
“We’ve dealt with similar issues,” Vytacil says of his family life. There was a time when Vytacil’s daughter wouldn’t allow her mom to pour water over her head in the bathtub, but she’d let him do it. “I just had to tell my wife, ‘Look, we’ve been through it. That’s all it is.’”
Vytacil says that with enough reassurance and communication between parents, the issues can usually be resolved.
Moms who feel edged out should take heart, says Philip Lerman, author of “Dadditude: How a Real Man Became a Real Dad.”
“When it comes to parenting, mothers are God. They created you,” Lerman says. “You don’t go to God and say, ‘What have you done for me lately?’ Mothers have this incredible, undeniable bond with the child. Fathers are always just trying to catch up.”
Lerman, who quit his job on the television show “America’s Most Wanted” to spend more time with his son Max, urges more dads to play active roles in their children’s lives.
And, in fact, most moms do want their partners to be more involved with the children. A survey from Working Mother Media found that 68 percent of dads take no child-care leave at all and that most mothers say they would like more help from fathers.
Just say no to nitpicking
Aaron Rochlen, a psychologist and researcher on primary-care dads at the University of Texas in Austin, says being less critical seems to be the key to happiness when it comes to moms who want their partners to take on child-care responsibilities.
More dads in charge of kids
U.S. Census data identified 159,000 stay-at-home dads (SAHDs) in the United States in 2006, but the number of dads who are taking on the role of primary caregiver is perhaps in the millions, according to Peter Baylies, author of “The Stay-At-Home Dad Handbook” and creator of the Web site AtHomeDad.com
“Because of the way the Census data is collected it misses a lot of the dads who consider themselves the primary parent,” Baylies says.
For example, the Census Bureau doesn’t count single dads or even fathers who handle the majority of child-care responsibilities but work part time or flexible hours in or out of the home, explains Baylies.
When dads take on the role of primary caregiver, they don’t only have to work out parenting differences with moms. They also often endure suspicious looks at parks and social ostracism because they are going against gender expectations. Tom Vytacil, a stay-at-home dad in Minnesota, says finding support was the key to his SAHD happiness.
“It was really helpful to me to just have the knowledge that there are other guys out there doing this,” he says.
Vytacil recommends checking for local at-home dad organizations. There is also an annual At-Home Dads Convention
in Kansas City each year.
“We found that the guys who had a supportive wife, family and friends were the most likely to be doing well in their role as a primary parent,” Rochlen says.
Another factor: parental self-efficacy. If the dad felt competent as a parent, he was happier and more likely to continue to be heavily involved.
McClure-Metz agrees that nitpicking doesn’t work. “Sometimes my husband will say, ‘OK, I get it.’ And he’ll try to change his parenting tactics,” she says. “But overall I’ve just had to let go and appreciate his way of doing things and that this arrangement works for our family. Our daughter is doing incredibly well.”
When it’s Mom’s time to take care of their daughter, Brian Metz agrees that he also backs off now and lets her take over. “(Now) I only use momblocking in fun,” says Metz. “If my wife tries to do something with our daughter that isn’t quite working out
for her, I will say, ‘Let me try, I’m the primary caregiver.’ But it’s always as a joke, and she knows it.”
If couples can work out their differences, there are benefits to reap from having a heavily involved dad. Studies show social and academic advantages.
“Research also points to fathers playing more with their children, and through that play kids learn lots of things, like self-regulation, exploration, different uses of their body, sounds and space,” Garfield says. Mothers certainly play too, but they are usually more quiet and relational. “Kids can learn a lot from both types,” he says.
Garfield says the best parenting is done with mutual respect between parents with an eye toward what’s best for the child. Even if you get a daughter who is a wrestling fan.