Are Househusbands the Ultimate Status Symbol?

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?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

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17 responses to “Are Househusbands the Ultimate Status Symbol?

  1. I am convinced that the female brain, in general, is more designed for nurturing than the male brain, in general. I suspect this is more critical for young children than older ones. Of course having a place to live and food is also important for kids, and if she can get work and he can’t, or what he can get does not pay the bills, the choice seems obvious.

  2. My husband has been a stay-at-home-Dad for almost 6 years. It’s ridiculous to say that it’s a status symbol; we have simply made a choice that works for our family. I am fortunate to have a job that enables me to provide for our family – barely. American life is no longer designed for single-income families.

    Our situation is not perfect and naturally we fight sometimes, but we also do not have the stereotypical problems mentioned above. He does not feel emasculated, I am not looking elsewhere for a “real” man — that’s nonsense. We are partners in marriage and child-rearing, each trying to do our best in the roles we have for now.

    It’s 2010 and we all need to move past this “only women care for children properly” and “a man’s job is to bring home the bacon” crap. Let’s just all be people, OK? Let’s each play to our strengths as individuals, whatever they may be.

    • Thanks, Holly, for sharing your experience as a modern day family, which just happens to have a stay-at-home father. Clearly you have both found strengths that work well for your family. While I thought the headline based on info from the article was catchy, I also don’t think it holds much truth, except perhaps for a tiny few.

  3. My husband has been a stay-at-home dad for about six months now, and while we did make the decision because of the effect the downturn in the economy had on his business, we didn’t feel forced into it or like it was just a temporary fix.

    Our situation is perhaps a little different because I work at home and our children are homeschooled, so we’re really a home-based family, although we obviously get out of the house regularly. But I’m still here to nurture our little ones (including a nursing baby), and he also has time to pursue his hobbies and work on projects around the house. And together we have incredible flexibility to travel as a family and spend more quality time together.

    That said, I will admit that I understand the status symbol aspect of the article as well. People (especially career-oriented women) treat me differently in regards to my work once they realize that our family lives on my income, and I do feel like there’s more appreciation for the fact that writing, blogging and consulting is a “real” career as well.

    • It’s wonderful that you all work well together at home. I also work at home, and though my husband travels, he is home frequently. A family who can be happy in close quarters is rather uncommon. Each person should be respected for what they offer the family, and it sounds like you have exactly that. Kudos to you.

  4. If I remember correctly, about a year ago, the news also reported the rising number of stay-at-home-dads from this side of the pond too. This led to a TV channel creating a comedy drama called “Daddy At Home”.

    It’s a case of art imitating life I suppose. The show is about two men, one who was retrenched and became a househusband when his wife got hired as an assistant magazine editor. The other is about a man who is happy to be a househusband while his wife runs her hair saloon.

    If you take the TV series at face value, it’s quite entertaining. In fact, it was well-received by the local audience here in Singapore. You can read the synopsis at http://tinyurl.com/daddyathome.

  5. As a queer woman who will be marrying my partner in half a year, I have, I suspect, much more fluid attitudes towards gender than your average bear. When we have kids, I suspect that one of us (the carrying mom, if we go that route) will stay home for six months and the other of us will stay home for the next six months. (Yay for a year of parental leave in New South Wales!) Does the fact that we’re both ladies make this somehow better? I suspect not.

    >>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.>>

    And I’m sure she’s also had clients who have followed more traditional gender roles and cheated. I’d be curious to see hard numbers on this rather than anecdotal evidence.

    (Also, your marriage sounds a lot like my parents’ – Dad cooked and cleaned about as much as Mom did, but he was barred from the laundry due to his constant habit of shrinking sweaters!)

  6. We’ve talked half-kiddingly before about how we’d prefer my husband to be a stay-at-home dad. If one of us was going to stay home, it would definitely be him. We both work outside the home and have been 50/50 from day one, sometimes more on his side! He was always the one to do the middle of the night feedings and made a promise to change any dirty diapers any time he was around (and he’s kept it!) We’ve noticed that most men’s restrooms now have changing tables…and since they’re used less frequently I think they’re the one thing in the men’s restroom that’s cleaner! I see lots of guys with strollers in the mall and while in almost every other aspect of life I’m VERY traditional, the husband splitting chores and parenting is the one thing I’m on board with…and I’m thankful my hubby is too!! 🙂

  7. I have been a “housewife” for 7 years now and it is without question the best job I have ever had. I love to cook, and I enjoy keeping a clean ordered house, doing laundry and best of all being with our children and taking them to their school events. My spouse is a successful executive with an insurance company and she is the sole breadwinner. I do not feel emasculated in the least and am proud of her accomplishments and of course completely supportive of her career. This role reversal situation is clearly not for everybody but it works very well for us. We are truly blessed that one of us can stay home for all the traditional reasons. Our lives are so less stressful and I can not over emphasize how great it is that we can all enjoy a home cooked meal together almost every evening. We have also been lucky in that our family, friends and my spouse’s coworkers have all been so open minded and accepting of our decision for me to stay at home. I am routinely referred to as “Kathy’s wife” so much so that it has become completely natural to everyone and to us as well. She even got me flowers and a “wonderful wife” card for our last anniversary. I know this would be hard to take for most guys but I said to her that as a condition for me staying at home that I would need to have the full prestige of the housewife position without any reservations at all. I certainly do not want to be thought of as some guy out of work or in between jobs. I have a job and that is as a housewife, and that was by choice. And personally, I do not like the term “househusband” because that sort of implies an amateur that doe not know one end of a broom from another. I have found it amazing how little gender plays a role in being a wife. Many of my friends are women and housewives and I find that I completely relate to them because of course we have so much in common. Our common experiences are more important than gender. Look at it this way, more women are graduating from college and pursuing careers than men. Also, women bring superior work habits and negotiating and people management skill sets to the work place than men. The movement towards more and more men being homemakers is absolutely inevitable.

  8. The rise in the number of men staying home to raise their children and assume the role of homemaker while his wife or partner pursues her career is just another step toward gender equality. We went from Qzzie and Harriet, to women starting to work outside to home and men starting to help with child care and housework, to the dual professional couple who shared breadwinning, parenting and housekeepinf equally. Now, thanks in part to the recession, men are taking over the home in greater numbers . I know many couples where men now are the homemakers–including boomers and conservative people. Eventually, it will comprise 50% of all couples!

  9. It seems like all the couples that I know where the man has assumed the homemaker role have adapted so well and are enjoying their new arrangement. It also seems to have revitalized their relationships and added a new zest and satisfaction. Maybe it’s just the thing to make marriages/relationships more fulfilling and vibrant. I think it’s a great trend that will only grow and compltetely transform society.

  10. Pingback: Stay-at-Home Dads Have Higher Divorce Rate | Marriage Gems

  11. Be careful. After 20 years of marriage, and staying at home 17 years and raising 3 wonderful children, coaching soccer, helping with the summer swim team, volunteering at school, my CEO wife left me for a philandering type A guy, one whom I doubt ever changed a diaper. Probably the biggest problem was she prioritized work above all else, was very competent, (and scores highly on a narcissism score….. ) did not really value the marriage, (she was inflexible, not open to compromise, and made all the decisions) and yes I did suffer from depression.
    Now divorced, I am starting a new career (I completed an MBA shortly before I stayed home – when we had our second child), have some money in the bank (fortunately), have three great kids, am aware that I can suffer from depression (but have had no more problems after the divorce) and have started dating someone who seems to believe that the relationship is more important than the job (thank goodness!).
    Stay at home dads, make sure you get the attention and the priority in your busy executive’s life. If it’s not there in the short run, it won’t be there in the long run.

    • Unfortunately this can happen to both stay-at-home moms or dads. I’m glad that you are doing well despite what happened in your situation. My guess is that you are still glad for the time you had with your children. Your last piece of advice is valuable. Thanks for sharing your story.

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