Edmonton

'Best decision': Stay-at-home dads talk parenting experience

When Mark Scholz first became a stay-at-home dad, he didn’t know any other fathers who were full-time parents to their kids while their partners worked. He knows five now, which still isn’t a lot. But it’s a start.

More and more fathers are stay-at-home dads, but they still get weird looks

The amount of stay-at-home dads has increased steadily over the past 40 years, although the amount of stay-at-home moms is still quite larger. (Niklas Larsson/The Associated Press)

When Mark Scholz first became a stay-at-home dad, he didn't know any other fathers who were full-time parents to their kids while their partners worked.

He knows five now, which still isn't a lot. But it's a start.

"A parent is a parent," Scholz, the father of a three-year-old boy, told CBC's Radio Active during a Thursday panel on stay-at-home dads.

"I just want a parent group where I can go study and learn and share and have our son play with kids his own age."

Scholz , a former radio host, is fairly new to the stay-at-home dad gig, at least compared to his fellow panellists.

Dave Von Bieker, a self-described "aging musician," decided to stay at home with his kids, now 11 and 13, because he needed a change.

"To be honest, I'd been working … and I was pretty stressed and tired at the time anyway," Von Bieker said. "I was kind of ready for a bit of a break.

"Little did I know that staying home with the kids is not that."

Frank Santiago, who has four kids between the ages of 12 and 22, made the decision to stay at home to spark a change. At the time, things weren't working well for Santiago and his partner.

I was kind of ready for a bit of a break ... little did I know that staying home with the kids is not that.- Dave Von Bieker, stay-at-home dad

"We just decided, 'Hey man, we need someone to stay home and ground this place,' " he said. "It was probably the best decision I've made."

'Less shocking'

When Santiago first became a stay-at-home dad, he had trouble finding any other dads in a similar position. "I just wanted to talk," he said.

Eventually, he was able to find a parents' group. There was only one apparent hurdle — the group was all women. But after finding the courage to open up, he had no issues. "I just fit right in," he said. "I think I cried every session, too."

According to Statistics Canada, the number of stay-at-home dads with at least one child under 16 at home has increased gradually over the past 40 years, hitting a peak of 60,000 in 2011 before tapering off to 53,000 by 2015.

The number of stay-at-home dads has increased in the past 40 years, peaking at 60,000 across Canada in 2011. (Statistics Canada)

Conversely, the number of stay-at-home mothers with children under 16 has steadily decreased in the same period, from 1.5 million in 1976 to 440,000 in 2015.

In 1976, less than one per cent of stay-at-home parents in Alberta were dads. In 2015, the number was more than six per cent.

The Atlantic provinces have seen the biggest increase. In 1976, stay-at-home dads made up about two per cent of stay-at-home parents; in 2015, the number was 18 per cent.

Despite the increases in the numbers of stay-at-home dads across the country, Von Bieker said some people he meets still express surprise that he's taking care of the kids — but it's happening less.

"I don't get too much of a weird reaction to it," she said. "It's a little less shocking than it once was."

Back to work?

All three dads have either begun working again are in the process of getting back into the workforce — and for some, it's been an adjustment.

"The biggest change was, again, the speed of everything," Santiago said, who works part-time for his family business. "Just to communicate with adults was very challenging."

"I'm ready to get back to doing things now," Von Bieker said.

As for Scholz, he's hoping to send his three-year-old to daycare a couple of times a week to free up some time for himself and his wife.

"I think daycare's going to be a big deal," he said.

None of the dads regret staying home with their kids.

"We had lots of fun that I wouldn't trade for anything," Von Bieker said.

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