More Dads are Mr. Moms

May 20, 1994

by Ann Portal of The Register-Guard

When Rebecca and Tim Eastwood of Eugene decided to have a baby, they looked no further than Tim to assume the role of day care provider.

While Rebecca goes to work as a pharmacist at a Eugene retail store, Tim suits up 10-month-old Nikolas for a walk in the park or a swimming lesson or a trip to the market.

“We waited and we planned a long time,” said Tim Eastwood, who’s in his mid-30s. “We waited 10 years for this time–for Rebecca to get her job and to have the baby too.”

A lot more dads are following Tim’s example, the U.S. Census Board says in a report on child care trends released today.

One of the most significant shifts between 1988 and 1991 was a “sharp increase” in fathers caring for their preschool-age children. By 1991, dads shouldered 20 percent of the day care responsibility–an increase of one-third, according to the census.

Before 1988, the proportion of children in “father care” had been relatively steady since the mid-1970s.

The census also found that more than 1.6 million American youngsters–including a half-million 1 to 5 years old–are home alone each day from the time school lets out until parent returns.

The report, based on a survey of 13,600 households between October 1991 and January 1992, estimated that 7.6 percent of grade-school-age children care for themselves for at least part of the time their mothers are working.

The census also found a sharp decrease in parents taking their children to homes of nonrelatives for care. Use of these day care providers dropped to 20 percent in 1990 from 24 percent in 1988.

“We are increasingly finding fathers to be the preferred provider for child care,” said Mary Hawkins, co-author of the report, “Who’s Minding the Kids: Child Care Arrangements, Fall 1991.”

“Parents with young children are usually operating off a shoestring budget, and this helps keep costs down,” she said.

Reasons for the change come down to money, parents’ desire to supervise their children more and the changing role of fathers, said census officials, family experts and the fathers themselves.

Tim Eastwood and his wife agreed he would put on hold a healthy home remodeling business to stay home with Nikolas. His wife earned degrees in Pharmacy and pharmacology at Oregon State University, then took her first job as a pharmacist when Nikolas was 3 months old.

“We knew that her job would allow us to be in this situation, where we could have one of us stay home and take care of the kid all the time. We feel that that’s best for the kid,” he said.

Some people, especially men, have a hard time accepting his role as a full-time dad, Eastwood said. But he’s glad to have spent so much time with Nikolas during his baby days.

“Every day, there’s something new,” he said. “He’s learning more. You can bounce things off of him, and he reacts more. He smiles more.”

Dave Ouellette and his wife, Barbara Dellenback, came up with a unique child care arrangement.

While Barbara, 38, goes to work as a newswoman for radio station KUGN-AM, Dave, 43, is at home with sons Van, 5, and Cy, 3.

“It’s a personal fit for me,” said Ouellette, who has an education degree and used to be the director of a Eugene day care center. “I think the time with my kids, certainly for the first five years, is an important time.”

To contribute to the household budget, Ouellette also runs a play group for preschoolers each weekday morning. Including his sons, he’s in charge of six 2- to 5-year-olds from 8 a.m. to noon, then it’s nap or quiet time for his two. His wife gets home at 3 p.m. and spells him. Then it’s Dave’s turn to teach guitar or make music in his studio.

Ouellette said he likes the idea of little boys spending time around a male caregiver.

“Little girls have a lot of really available role models in the early years that a lot of little boys don’t,” he said. “To see a male doing that and have the male not feel that he’s in the situation out of some kind of economic straightjacket . . . it’s real important for young boys to see that.”

“The Father Study,” a recent University of Oregon look at 500 mostly working class families in the Eugene-Springfield area, also found a big change toward dads taking care of the kids at some point in the day. The Oregon Social Learning Center also participated in the research.

“I think a lot of this is driven by economics,” said UO psychology professor Beverly Fagot, the principal investigator for the study. “I’m just appalled at the number of jobs people are often working just to make it. It just is not uncommon to see three-job, four-job families.”

So parents end up with creative child care plans, she said. Dad cares for the kids while mom works days, then mom takes over while dad works–often the graveyard shift.

“The parents never get to see each other, and they’re exhausted,” Fagot said. “We’ve had parents say if they see each other any more than just one day a week, they literally just hand the kids to each other and go off to work.”

But father care can help strengthen families as well–and not just financially, the psychology professor said.

“It also, I think, is good for the kids to get to see their father in the father role,” Fagot said.

It’s good for the fathers, too. “Many of the fathers in our study mentioned that they really enjoyed this. They thought they would hate it,” she said. But instead the dads began to get into being around their children so much.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright 1994, The Register-Guard, www.registerguard.com.