By Katy Macek
Kurt Runzheimer says that staying at home with the kids for the last 17 years was the best decision he and his wife could have made for their family.
“There are always challenges and difficulties, day-to-day stuff keeping all of the balls in the air, but at the big level, I love it,” says Runzheimer, of Madison. “We wanted to have a family because we love family, and it seemed logical for me not to have to work.”
Runzheimer’s wife, Rita, is a full-time art teacher, so he says from a financial standpoint it made sense for him—a part-time yoga teacher and beekeeper—to be the one to stay home.
The Runzheimers are among roughly 18 percent of parents in the U.S. who participate in stay-at-home parenting, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center study. Fathers made up 17% of stay-at-home parents in 2016, up from 10% in 1989.
When his children were in elementary school, Runzheimer recalls being one of the few dads in the room at preschool pickup or children’s programs. However, he says the moms he interacted with were always inviting and supportive.
“They were like, ‘hey, it’s really wonderful you’re able to do that,’” Runzheimer says. “I didn’t see a lot of other dads eagerly going out and making opportunities to be there.”
But he was never without a job completely. Since before his kids were born, he has been teaching yoga classes 10-12 hours a week.
“I don’t know what kind of job I would have had to pay for child care, but we didn’t look at it from that standpoint,” he says. “We were thankful I could be home and working a little bit.”
He didn’t do it alone though. To continue his yoga teaching, Runzheimer says the couple sought help from close family members and friends to fill in for him. His wife’s parents would care for the kids on Thursdays so Runzheimer could teach yoga classes all day. And one morning a week, a neighbor would tend their son.
According to the National At-Home Dad Network, 32 percent of married fathers are “a regular source of care for their children under age 15.”
Another local dad is Kurt Yager, who was a stay-at-home father to his two daughters, now 16 and 14. Yager began working full time last year but says being at home for his girls was a priority because his mother did the same for him.
He and his wife, Charlene, came to the decision because she was a full-time attorney. But, he adds, he thinks his personality better suited full-time parenting.
Yager didn’t work at all while his children were young. He recalls going to parties with his wife, when the inevitable, “What do you do?” question would come up.
“If you were talking to a guy, a lot of times it typically was a blank stare and that was the end of the conversation,” Yager recalls with a laugh. “Some people would say, that’s great, you can just watch SportsCenter all day!’”
He lightened the mood with jokes of his own, coming up with different titles for his job. Still, he owned it, so much so that when he started a part-time at-home business, Home Daddy Creations LLC, making portable clothes racks, he made it part of the title.
Of course, there were moments of doubt, but in retrospect it was worth it.
“She was grateful I was home because she didn’t have to worry about taking off work if the kids were sick or juggling their schedules,” he says of his wife.
While stereotypes continue to exist, both Yager and Runzheimer have observed stay-at-home dads becoming more common.
Now that his kids are older, Runzheimer thinks he sees more dads waiting for their children at school pickups or being more involved in the neighborhood.
He encourages any families who are considering the at-home dad approach to go for it, regardless of any doubts or fears about stereotypes.
“It’s easy to think you could be helping your career, and here you are at home just trying to get the snow suit on without them throwing their hat off for the 20th time,” Runzheimer says. “You might want to pull your hair out sometimes, but those are important challenges because that’s how kids learn and grow. It’s just as important as any job you could be doing.”