Home atone: House husband, where are you?
I'm on a campaign to make my husband a stay-at-home parent. I'm convinced that this is a precondition for my having a huge career, but also it's a precondition for the sanity of our family.
After a generation of dual-income families, there is little anecdotal evidence to show that a family can survive with two spouses in high-powered, time-demanding careers with children at home. Invariably, one spouse takes a slower career path in order to support the children and high-powered spouse in their endeavors.
Before I launch into the intricacies of my own family, here are some facts that will undoubtedly affect your family, too:
1. There is no equality in taking care of kids. Even if there's a full-time nanny, one parent feels the majority of the burden on sick days, parent-teacher conferences, Halloween, and soccer games.
2. Women who are parents are held to significantly higher standards at work than women and men who are childless and men who are parents.
3. Among highly educated women with children, 43 percent leave the workforce voluntarily during their first eight years.
4. Most women at the very top of the corporate ladder are not the primary caretakers of children. The women either have no children or have a husband who is the primary caretaker.
So look, I don't mean to be a buzz-kill on the feminist revolution, but more like a reality check: If you want kids, don't marry a lawyer who's going to work 16-hour days if you want to work 16 hours a day, too.
Lately, I've been experiencing these statistics first hand. I'm the primary caretaker of our son, I handle all household things ranging from moving the 401K to buying nieces birthday presents, and on top of that, I earn as much as my husband does. When I tell him I'm doing too much, he says, "You're right. So stop doing so much." And he proceeds to tell me why things that I see as essential– like packing fruit in a school lunch– do not need to be done.
So when my husband's job ended, I told him I didn't want him to get another office job. He was shocked. I explained to him, in about 10 hours of heated discussion, that I couldn't keep doing everything without help from him at home. I tried to put it in terms he'd understand: Our bedroom heater has been off for more than half the winter because no one can stay home for a whole day to accommodate the parade of specialists who needed to come to our apartment to fix it.
Then I put it in harsher terms: I have very high earning power which I cannot realize if he doesn't stay home to facilitate it. "You do not have high earning power," I told him, as gently as I could. I spewed statistics to him, and I told him my conclusion that in order to both manage a family and financially support a family, one person needs to be on the not-fast-track– and I don't want it to be me.
So, okay, he's agreed, on some level, to give up the idea of a full-time job outside the home. It should be a victory for me, but it doesn't totally feel that way. My husband has the same problem that all people who stay home have: It's often boring, and always much harder than going to an office. And there are few rewarding job opportunities for people whose first job is to maintain a home.
Additionally, I've spoken to a few women who have a stay-at-home husband, and they say it's hell for the men socially. This news should not come as a surprise because most high-powered women who have men at home taking care of their kids will not talk about it on record in order to protect their husband's ego.
In fact, my husband and I have already experienced the social problems. When we tell friends and family that my husband is going to stay home, people say, "And do what? He can't just take care of kids."
On the other hand, when I tell professional contacts that my husband has decided to stay home and I'll be the one working, people raise their eyebrows, and they talk to me differently; they take me more seriously. It shouldn't be that way, but since it is, I'm glad I found a husband who's willing to try staying home. I can't tell you that he's going to be happy. But I feel lucky to be among the couples giving it a try.