Wayne Moyer, a 39-year-old father of three, has a new appreciation for stay-at-home parents. After losing his job as an information technology support specialist in 2009, Moyer entered full-time fatherhood -- a change that has challenged his stamina and his ego.
"The stress of work is far less intrusive than being a stay-at-home dad," said Moyer, who lives in Womelsdorf, Pa. "But I think the hardest part for most of us men is to give up the role of being the one who earns the most money to our wives. It just feels completely unnatural."
Like many men of his generation, Moyer was raised almost exclusively by his mom. But the dismal economy is forcing families to reorganize resources and rethink roles. And men like Moyer -- once breadwinners -- are reinventing themselves as caregivers.
"They're not providing money, but they're providing this labor that wives have been doing for years," said Kristen Myers, an associate professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill.
Myers and doctoral student Ilana Demantas have been studying the recession's impact on the so-called "breadwinning ideology." And what the uncovered after interviews with 20 recently unemployed men whose domestic roles have been turned upside-down was an unprecedented shift in attitudes about gender.
"They take care of the kids; they go shopping; they clean. These men have really embraced this new realm that they wouldn't have chosen," said Myers, who with Dementas presented the study findings today at the American Sociological Associations annual meeting in Las Vegas. "They hope it's temporary and they can go back to work. But in meantime, they're changing their perspective."
But the transition has been far from seamless. Many of the men interviewed for the study initially felt like the loss in income translated to a loss in masculinity.
"Not only have they lost their jobs, they've also lost an important aspect of how to be men," said Myers, adding that many of the men interviewed felt defeated and depressed. "But they're making the most of it and learning new things. It's an opportunity to live richer, although poorer lives."
While his wife Chris works long shifts as a pharmacist, Moyer focuses on saving money by eliminating the need for child care and keeping a close eye on the family's spending. And while he looks forward to going back to work, he's glad he's had time to watch his kids grow.
"This generation of children doesn't know life without a parent at home at all times," said Moyer, adding that many of his male friends have also become stay-at-home parents. "When this all ends, us dads are going stay a lot more in tune with our kids because we've done this. Then our children learn this -- our sons learn this -- and this becomes normal for the next generation."
Moyer voluntarily took time off from work nine years ago to raise his son. Then, he said he was the only dad among 30 moms at preschool -- an imbalance that has now vanished.
"We dads have become the doting group of wives; the mothers who get together for dates with their children," Moyer said. "As much as I'd love to say all us men are going to have a big testosterone party when this all ends, I think this is beginning of whole new era."
Moyer admits that being Mr. Mom has challenged his masculinity. So he takes every opportunity to get out on his Victory Vision tour bike – a motorcycle he won in a raffle six weeks ago.
"It's my manly escape," he said.