During the recent recession, three men lost their jobs for every woman who lost hers. As a consequence, this year became the first year women comprise the majority in the workplace. Forty percent of mothers are now the households’ primary breadwinners, and approximately 143,000 stay-at-home dads care for the kids full-time while their wives work, says a recent Marie Claire article, “When roles reverse: The rise of the stay-at-home husband.”
The magazine profiled several dads who are stay-at-home parents, and discussed their challenges and successes. One thing is clear, gender roles in the family are changing in the U.S. Even Pampers is targeting male consumers, with nearly 70 percent of dads reporting that they change as many diapers as their wives.
“Just as having a stay-at-home wife carries cachet in certain male corporate circles, having a househusband may, in a way, be the ultimate status symbol for the successful professional woman,” says writer Hillary Stout. She backs that up with women who are elated to be spoiled with homemade lunches and dinners by their husbands.
Nearly 150 support groups exist around the country to help dads who care for their children full-time. Challenges of leaving the workplace to stay at home include feeling emasculated at times, having a bruised ego, hearing incorrect assumptions from others, or having a lack of friends at home. Let’s face it, stay-at-home mothers socialize and help each other all the time. A man in the mix is often out of place. For example, some men said stay-at-home moms were unkind or judgmental toward them. In some cases, they develop too close of a relationship with other moms, and may hear moms complaining about their husbands or talking about men as if they were “one of the girls.”
Therapist Karen Gail Lewis, PhD, says sexual issues can easily arise from the “radical role reversal,” with the wife initially drawn to the nurturing male, but later judging him as weak. Lewis noted she’s had client families with stay-at-home fathers who have had affairs; in one family, the wife had an affair with a male coworker, and in the other, the husband had an affair with a stay-at-home mom.
On the other hand, many families are finding the revised roles work extremely well for their families. The wives love their work, the husbands enjoy staying at home, and they remain flexible to change if needed. I know some stay-at-home dads who fall in this category, and wouldn’t trade their parenting job for a high-paying one. It can be hard for the mother who is used to being the more active parent, but for some families it works quite well.
While my husband has always worked, I consider him an equal parent. He is much better at managing birthday parties and play dates and has always shared diapering, bathing, bedtime routine and volunteering on classroom field trips. Short of childbirth and breastfeeding, he does it all. (Well, the laundry is my domain.) Most of my friends’ husbands are equally well equipped as fathers. So, one thing married couples of our generation seem to have achieved is the gift of two active, prepared parents who are both capable of caring for the children’s needs. Lucky kids.
Do you think it matters if the man or woman is the primary caregiver of children? Or do you believe traditional gender roles are best?
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