We need a new vocabulary to describe men who choose to be at home as caregivers all or part of the time. In my last post I linked to Abigail Rine's description of her "feminist housedude," a term that is catchy but unlikely to spread beyond the hipper spots on the West coast. Mr. Mom is obviously out, as is househusband. Stay-at-home dad is neutral but not exactly enticing.
One alternative is the phrase that a number of men are using, calling themselves "work-at-home" dads. Most of them mean that they are working on income-generating projects out of the home while also taking care of kids, but we use work-at-home mothers and work-at-home fathers for any parents who are not actually going into an office, whether they are working for pay or not? Or we could try to ignore gender altogether and call men or women spending time at home caring for children, aging parents, or any other family member needed care full-time or part-time caregivers, while calling anyone who works for pay, whether from home or an office, a full-time or part-time breadwinner.
Caregivers and breadwinners is the right frame of reference for thinking about work-family issues as a whole, as it takes account of both straight and gay men and women in a wide variety of roles. But it feels too abstract—dare I say it, too academic—to be part of everyday conversation. Similarly, work-at-home mothers and work-at-home fathers seems too politically correct and simply does not provide the information that the questioner wants to know, rightly or wrongly, which is whether you work for pay or not. The deeper problem, of course, is that when someone asks you "what do you do," unless you tell them you work for pay they will conclude that you don't actually "do" anything. Caregiving doesn't register as an occupation, no matter how demanding and rewarding it might be. But that's a much bigger conversation for another day.