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Stay-at-home dads help women move up in the corporate world Add to ...

Ms. Duxbury, whose subject of study used to be called "work-life balance" but which is now called "managing a changing work force," says in addition to the tremendous pressure on women to be the primary caregiver, there's just as much pressure on men not to.

"Even in the most liberal countries with parental leaves like Scandinavia, they're underused. Why? Because men who use them are told they're not serious about their career."

Luke, a Toronto father of two, has a pragmatic perspective on his choice to stay home while his higher-earning journalist wife went to work. "No matter how I looked at it, it made no logical sense to leave the kid elsewhere so I could stand behind a counter in some bookstore," says Luke (not his real name), now 46. Yet he says it was "a genuine, even shocking surprise when I finally decided."

He says people still don't think of a guy staying with the kids as a stay-at-home dad, but rather as unemployed. He says there weren't many invitations from the moms for coffee or play dates at first. "My mantra during the early years [his kids are 10 and 12 now]was that what I was doing was the most important thankless job on the planet."

He cringes at the idea that more than a decade later he remains a trailblazer, but he does see the potential for an aggregate effect of swapping gender roles: "Let's face it, if the majority of caregivers were male, then universal daycare would have been a slam-dunk years ago."

But Ms. Newland, the blogger -- who admits she's considering going back to the briefcase now that her youngest is almost of school age -- doesn't mind if men never take on 50 per cent of the home and child-care duties.

"I think a lot of women don't find that kind of man very alluring. I think they're a bit wet, actually, but you're not allowed to say that. But I'd rather have a strong provider."

Even if Ms. Hirshman's vision never comes to be, Ms. Duxbury sees reason to be more optimistic about women's working future. The mommy wars may fade away as a labour shortage -- like the current one in Alberta -- takes hold across North America.

With the projected retirement rates in the next decade, she says, only 20 per cent of the population have the skills to fill 60 per cent of jobs in the emerging knowledge-worker economy. So potential employees will have much more clout.

"People are going to be in the driver's seat -- men who want to spend more time with their children, women who want careers," she says.

"I'm not convinced workplaces have been trying -- they've been talking about it. There is quite a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, but a lot of organizations are going to start changing the direction of their Titanic a little too late."

In the meantime, individual women like Christine Ellison will continue to build new models of domestic life, their spouses willing. Whether or not they are consciously building Ms. Hirshman's utopia, they are doing what feels right.

"You do feel pulled in different directions," Ms. Ellison says. "But you find ways to make things work."

Luke says he now sees more full- or part-time stay-at-home dads helping to make it work in his neighbourhood. "Based on our local schoolyard, the number has gone from two, when I started, to maybe three or four these days. . . . And you definitely see more fathers picking their kids up in the schoolyard than you used to, so perhaps more men are basing their work schedules around their children."

But it's still very few, he says: "I'd say the number of lesbian parents is much higher." Which is quite another way of solving the problem.

Tralee Pearce is a Globe and Mail feature writer.

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