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Leaving ‘Mr. Mom’ Behind

As a father of two, Gerard Gousman enjoyed his career as a tour manager, working for artists like DMX, Salt-N-Pepa and Cat Power.

But the job required him to travel about six months out of the year. So when his wife, Quaneisha Gousman, became pregnant in 2018, he crunched some numbers. Mr. Gousman, now 45, quit his job to stay home to care for the children while Dr. Gousman, who has a doctorate in industrial and systems engineering, continued working in user experience research in Seattle, where the family lives. Becoming a stay-at-home father, he said, “was an easy decision once we realized it was viable.”

Mr. Gousman, who has since joined the board of the National At-Home Dad Network, said the move has allowed him to take an active role in his children’s education and “build the community that I want for my family.”

The percentage of stay-at-home parents who are fathers has risen dramatically over the last three decades. Pew Research Center, using the Census Bureau’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement, published a report over the summer showing that almost 1 in 5 American parents who do not work for pay are fathers. From 1989 to 2021 (the latest Pew data), that represented a 63.6 percent increase — the result of both rapid growth in the share of fathers who do not work for pay and a slight decrease in the share of mothers who do not work for pay. (The share of women working is currently at an all-time high, driven by mothers of children under 5, who have generally been likeliest to stay home.)

The continued rise may be partly attributable to the pandemic and its associated recession, when some men lost their jobs and very much liked being at home; or to the recession of 2008; the high cost of child care; and higher rates of women working in jobs that require graduate degrees than men, creating more job stability for the former.

For many families, a stay-at-home parent is not an option — they need two incomes to make ends meet. Others decide it’s economically beneficial for one parent to stay home — employers pay disproportionately more to workers that can be on-call at work, meaning another parent has to be on-call at home, and child care can cost more than a parent’s take-home pay.

Stephanie Coontz, a historian and author of the forthcoming “For Better and Worse: The Problematic Past and Uncertain Future of Marriage,” said shared labor is not necessarily a new development. Before the 20th century, couples were partners in work like “setting up a farm or small business,” she said. In colonial households, women were often referred to as “deputy husbands,” she said, because if the husband had to leave (to fight, for instance), it was up to the wife to keep the business running.

But in the 20th century and early aughts, being a stay-at-home father came with stigma. In fact, the notion of a father as primary caretaker was considered so absurd that it produced comedies like “Mr. Mom” (1983), “Daddy Day Care” (2003) and “Cheaper By the Dozen” (2003), to name a few.

Today, the stigma is lessening for some — as one bellwether, dad humor is all over social media — as more men become stay-at-home dads by choice.

The pendulum has seemingly swung so much that there is now comedy about working mothers’ resentment. In her 2022 special “Don Wong,” the comedian and actress Ali Wong pokes fun at the people who asked whether her then-husband, Justin Hakuta, was uncomfortable with her raunchy jokes.

“My husband is at home. In the house that I bought. Telling time, on the Rolex I got him for Father’s Day,” she said, adding that he doesn’t care “what I say onstage, because he’s too busy living the life I wanted for myself.”

The couple split in 2022, but she thanked him in her acceptance speech at the 2024 Golden Globes: “It’s because of you that I’m able to be a working mother.”

Hector Jaeger, who ran a small business and also worked in carpentry, became a full-time stay-at-home father in 1990, when his second of three daughters was born. Education factored into the decision: Mr. Jaeger has a high school diploma, while his wife, Nancy Jaeger, who runs a psychotherapy practice, has a master’s degree.

Mr. Jaeger, who lives in Bath, Me., said the stigma of being a stay-at-home father in the 1990s was isolating: When people asked him what he did for work, he said his answer was usually a conversation ender. “People didn’t know what to do with that.”

“I felt very much like a misfit,” he added.

“It was very lonely for him,” said his wife, Ms. Jaeger. “That would be a regret I had for him,” adding that still the roles made sense because her husband is “a natural nurturer.”

Some fathers were able to find community with other stay-at-home dads. Larry Lewis, who played professional baseball and worked for a metal-stamping company before becoming a stay-at-home father in 2003, would often take his daughter, Marianna, to meet up with a group of three other stay-at-home dads — whose wives worked at the same insurance company as his — and their children at a park near their home in East Dundee, Ill.

Nedra Glover Tawwab, a social worker and the author of “Set Boundaries, Find Peace,” said that at her practice in Charlotte, N.C., women with husbands who stay home often face stigma too. Referring to domestic work, she said that women often receive critiques along the lines of: “Even though you’re working, you should be doing all of these other things, because you’re a woman, you’re a mother.”

She said that her clients often find that talking about their arrangement with people outside the house “is not very safe” because so many people are “making judgments about your situation.”

Some stay-at-home parents have, of course, made a lucrative business of it. Bryan Lambillotte, 38, of San Diego, Calif., always wanted to be a stay-at-home father. In March 2022, he and his husband, Christopher, who is the chief operating officer and co-owner of a medical device company, welcomed twins — a son and a daughter.

In 2021, the couple decided that Mr. Lambillotte, who had lost his job as a sales manager at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego during the pandemic, would be the primary caregiver. That same year Mr. Lambillotte began chronicling the couple’s path to parenthood on Instagram. (The couple also has a TikTok account with over one million followers.)

The couple’s following grew, and Mr. Lambillotte turned it into an LLC and hired an agent and manager who help facilitate brand collaborations. The couple hired a nanny for three days a week, so Mr. Lambillotte could focus on his business part-time.

As a result, he has tweaked his title: “stay-at-home working dad.”

While Mr. Jaeger said he never regretted his decision to stay home with his daughters in the ’90s and ’00s, he sometimes worried he wasn’t enough for them. “I’d wonder, did they think I was not quite measuring up to these money and power type males?”

But Mr. Jaeger, who is now 73, said that his wife’s work set a positive example. “The fact that she was the primary breadwinner undoubtedly has had a huge impact on our children,” he said.

The couple’s youngest daughter, Anna Jaeger, 30, now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “I didn’t know any different and I didn’t wish anything was different.” She praised how involved he was at her school. “The playground is actually called Hectorville” because he built it.

Today Mr. Jaeger, who faced so much isolation 30 years ago, is feeling much more relaxed in his current role: stay-at-home grandfather. Three days a week, he takes care of his 2-year-old granddaughter, Pip — the child of his oldest daughter, Gretchen Jaeger, who lives near him in Maine and runs the small business Mr. Jaeger ran before becoming a father.

He acknowledged that being a male caretaker for a baby today might feel much easier: “I almost feel like I’m cheating, because it’s so, so much fun.” But, he acknowledged, “I do everything during the day. It’s just the joy,” he said, “without the work.”

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