Even in progressive homes, spouses grapple with gender roles and housekeeping chores. Most Americans support egalitarian family structures, yet couples find it difficult to split all responsibilities even-steven. So division of labor is often the more pragmatic solution: One spouse – very often the man but sometimes the woman – mostly focuses on earning income; the other – very often the woman but sometimes the man – mostly focuses on taking care of the home and the children.
Increasingly, however, the wife adopts the role of the primary wage earner while the husband adopts the role of the primary childcare provider. In this routine, the wife may have higher earning potential or may simply want to work full-time. Her husband may currently be without a job or may simply want the privilege of staying home with his children.
Even when a couple manages to strike a balance, traditional stereotypes can threaten this happiness; it can be hard to determine if each partner is doing his or her fair share.
Nearly six in ten wives work today, and many of these are the breadwinning women. That’s nearly double the number in 1960, according to the Pew Research Center. Today, women exceed men in educational attainment. Despite these shifts, society’s attitudes about who is the primary breadwinner remain largely unchanged: In order to be “ready” for marriage, 67% of survey respondents believe a man should be able to support the family financially; only one-third of respondents say the same for women. Women are almost half the workforce and the income gap is narrowing, yet the financial responsibility for a family is still largely considered a male duty. Apparently, while women make contributions to household income, fewer people expect women to provide the bulk of the income. But for many families in America, that is indeed the reality.
A woman cannot “have it all,” nor “give it all.” A breadwinning wife should make peace with her limitations because she cannot give 100 percent to a job, children and spouse at all times. She should avoid overload. Among working mothers with minor children, 41 percent say they always feel rushed. Even if a woman is the primary breadwinner, she may also feel like the primary person responsible for childcare or housework. According to the Pew Research Center, women still put in nearly double the number of hours per week that men do when it comes to these two tasks, but fathers have quadrupled their share of housework since 1965, so the ratio may continue to level off.
A breadwinning mom and stay-at-home dad must make a special effort to stay connected as a couple . Men cite their relationship with their wife as the most important aspect of their happiness and fulfillment, according to the Pew Research Center. Women – who are prone to define fulfillment in terms of their children – may assume that for a loving father, a day with his children is reward enough. But when a husband feels connected with his wife, he’s more likely to feel energized for everything else, including parenting.
Stay-at-home fathers are still a relatively rare breed and often feel isolated. Stay-at-home dads rarely have as many support networks as stay-a-home moms. Sometimes, stay-at-home fathers even face a lack of support at home. A woman may truly appreciate her husband’s contributions, but secretly wish he made more money or may envy his getting to be with the children full time. That being said, women are generally the biggest fans of modern fathers. According to the Pew Research Center, women (and particularly working women) give today’s dads higher marks for being good fathers than do other men. Still, life isn’t always easy for a stay-at-home father.
Making it work can be very satisfying for the stay-at-home dad. Being a good father and a good spouse is an incredible accomplishment, especially these days, and a man should take pride in his work. A stay-at-home dad plays a crucial role in the children’s lives. He should make a point to get out and meet other parents by enrolling the kids in a sports team, regularly taking the kids to the neighborhood park and getting to know the neighbors, and staying involved in school and community activities.
An involved father can help reduce negative child outcomes in virtually every category: poverty, neglect, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, and substance abuse. By taking such an active role, a stay-at-home dad can effect a tremendous good in a child’s life – and have fun while doing it.