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Tips for Unemployed Dads: How to Lessen the Impact on Your Children

unemployed dads - man stressed at computer

Research reveals some interesting facts about how the children of involuntarily unemployed fathers fare differently than those of involuntarily unemployed mothers. Using data from the 1996 Survey of Income and Program Participation, researchers at the University of Chicago’s Center for Human Potential and Public Policy, found that the children of unemployed fathers faced a higher likelihood of grade repetition and suspension and/or expulsion from school.

If you’re an out-of-work dad, take heart

Turns out, you may have more control over those effects than first appears.

In a 2009 New York Times article, Dr. Ariel Kalil, the development psychologist who analyzed the 2,569 families , said that the negative repercussions on children with involuntarily unemployed parents had less to do with income loss than with behavior—specifically if an increase in conflict and stressed out, disengaged parents altered the family dynamic. Importantly, that dynamic suffered most when the fathers of middle-class families found themselves unemployed. Why the difference? Kalil posits that one reason is the importance of work to the male self-image.

Quantifying the value of fathers

Articles geared toward unemployed fathers, for example, may pressure men in particular to emphasize the importance of returning to the workforce by carving away time from family to job search and network. Research shows that unemployed mothers, on the other hand, feel less urgency about returning to work (often because they brought in less money to begin with) and also more readily adopt the “traditional” role of caregiver and homemaker.

Unemployed men are more likely to feel less valuable and less effective on the home front. According to a 2017 report from the Pew Research Institute, most people still perceive men’s value as the family’s primary breadwinner and the value of mothers are caregivers. While nearly 60% of respondents said that children are better off if they have one stay-at-home parent, only 2% said the child is better off with the father, while 45% identified the mother. (A little more than half – 53% –said it didn’t matter which parent stayed home.) As a whole, less than half of the people surveyed said they think moms and dads are equally well-equipped to care for their children (breastfeeding aside). Is it any wonder men equate their self-worth as parents to their public, professional personas?

What are unemployed dads to do?

The first step is to communicate clearly with your partner about your expectations for home and childcare duties. With the goal of avoiding excessive conflict and tension, decide together what you will prioritize for your next steps. If bringing in an income is an immediate concern, work together to carve out time for you to polish your resume, gain new skills and credentials and network.

Alternatively, if you decide it’s best for you to take on more caretaking duties, recognize it’s not easy to challenge the status quo and look for ways to feel supported and valued. Online resources for stay-at-home dads can reinforce your choice (and offer quick advice). Local meet-ups will keep you connected to like-minded parents. Above all, congratulate yourself for striving to maintain a healthy family dynamic—it’s in your own best interest.

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