In Kids & Family

Stay-at-home dad Steve Rieder and company.

In Kids & Family

Jonathan Reimer homeschools his older children.

Father knows best: Stay-at-home dads take charge

While most dads in the neighborhood rush off to meetings, Steve Rieder drives his four children -- ages 5 months to 6 years -- to the library or a playgroup.

"Sometimes I get odd looks from the moms," says Rieder, a 37-year-old mechanical engineer turned stay-at-home dad. "But family and friends think it's great that I'm able to stay with the kids."

As companies continue to downsize -- and the fact that many women earn more than their spouses -- the stay-at-home dad has evolved from an unconventional novelty to a practical and necessary role.

Last spring, Rieder was let go from his financially struggling company, and initially, he started looking for another job. But after crunching numbers, the Rieders realized that after paying for childcare, taxes, work clothes, lunches and more, there was very little money left from his paycheck for household expenses.

Plus, as a pharmacist, Staci Rieder was able to provide enough money and insurance for the family by working only three-quarters' time.

"We decided that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to have more family time," says Rieder.

The desire for more family time inspired Jonathan Reimer, 36, to leave his full-time computer job in 1998 to care for his new baby. Today, Reimer and his wife Sarah, who is a physician, have five children ranging in age from 7 years to newborn.

"I love that I have a full-time, front-row seat to seeing them grow up. I love being continually surprised by how quickly the children can learn," says Reimer.

Aside from the usual demands of raising kids and maintaining a household, Reimer homeschools his children. He says growing up with a father who was a public school teacher exposed him to the joys and challenges of teaching, and inspired him to teach his own kids.

Michael Westcott, a stay-at-home dad taking care of a 5-year-old and a 9-month-old, says the best part of his job is "knowing them, understanding them and teaching them."

Westcott, a former retail management professional, lost his job four years ago while living in San Francisco. Because his wife had greater earning potential -- and Westcott wanted to pursue his passion for painting -- they decided to try the "Mr. Mom" model in their family. So far, it's working.

"My daughter sometimes calls me mommy," says Westcott, proudly.

It's common for both stay-at-home moms and dads to lament the lack of adult socialization in their kid-centered lives. Rieder says he is more likely to strike up a conversation with a store cashier or a bank teller than he was before he became a full-time caregiver.

"Sometimes I miss socializing with other adults," says Westcott, 44.

And although the stay-at-home dad is more common these days, the majority of parents at playgroups or story hours are still women. Overall, Rieder feels comfortable in a room full of mommies, but admits that occasionally he gets a strange vibe.

"Sometimes it seems like there is this mistrust or skepticism from women I don't know -- like I'm intruding or don't belong. It's hard to explain," he says.

For the most part, the stay-at-home dad receives little support from the media, with most parenting television shows and magazines focusing on the conventional mother-child relationship. "It bugs me that they continue the stereotype of the only active parent being the mom," says Rieder.

Luckily, all three of the dads say they are respected and supported by the people in their lives -- even their male friends. Although they wish they had more interaction with male friends during their weekday life, they still feel like "one of the guys" despite the fact they change diapers, vacuum mini-vans and drive daughters to ballet lessons on a regular basis.

"I often get the headshake with 'I could never do that' from my male friends," says Rieder. "But overall, I don't think people find it very shocking."

Talkbacks

OMCreader | May 2, 2006 at 7:45 p.m. (report)

Ted Rieder said: Steve is my son. I'm very proud of him for going down this path. Every time I think about him doing this job, all I can think of is WOW!

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OMCreader | April 23, 2006 at 4:00 a.m. (report)

Tyler's Dad said: Molly, Great article as usual. It's about time you gave props to the daddies. Kudos to all the Dads that take an active role in their children's lives.

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OMCreader | April 11, 2006 at 3:54 p.m. (report)

themkemom said: Kudos to the dads in this article!

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OMCreader | April 10, 2006 at 8:23 p.m. (report)

Peter Baylies said: Congrats on staying home and doing the most important thing a man can do! - Peter Baylies www.athomedad.com

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OMCreader | April 10, 2006 at 10:04 a.m. (report)

Sarah said: Great story and I think this is very cool and smart. My husband and I have talked about who would stay home with our two month old and two year old if something changed in our current situtaion and it would make much more sense for him to and he is willing to do it if needed. Right now we have an awesome daycare where we can see them at lunchtime and our toddler loves playing and learning with his teachers and friends. We also make very good money so we are investing and doing home improvements. We know things could change so we have this possibility as a backup plan. In the meantime, he does the diapers, baths, and lots of playtime with the boys and loves it!

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