Reflections on being a househusband
In the recent Globe and Mail article – Mr. Moms get little respect – several important issues are raised about dads in the role of primary parent. Here are my reflections on these some of these issues.
Are other dads jealous of the househusband who gets all that time with their kids? Don’t kid yourself. A few are, but the majority of men are not jealous that they can’t be with their kids 6-8 hours a day. The thought of spending that much time with their kids is about the last thing many dads want to do. Don’t get me wrong – dads love their kids. They just don’t want to spend that much time with them — even if they could. This is usually expressed in the form of jokes or that look dads have on Sundays, that I-just-had-a-crazy-weekend-with-the-kids-thank-god-tomorrow-is-Monday look.
I’m not saying that I don’t feel sometimes that I’ve had a bit too much of my kids. Spending that kind of time with any other person can get on your nerves. But it is precisely out of this daily closeness and bumping up against each other that true intimacy grows. No occupation smells like roses all the time. But given the choice, I think most dads wouldn’t trade their day job for househusbanding.
This leads to an obvious discussion about the respect. I think that the person who’s lead role it is to be a homemaker and raise kids gets the same amount of respect whether that person is male or female. And generally speaking, we don’t respect that role as much as we respect career achievements outside the home. That’s both how I feel and how I’m made to feel by others which gives rise to considerable internal conflict for me. While I want to be doing what I’m doing, I don’t feel like I’m fully actualized as a person. And this is a feeling I am not comfortable with. As women have left the homemaker role and moved into the workforce over the past 50 years, the role of caregiver and homemaker has been devalued to the point that, regardless of how fulfilling it feels to me, I find myself thinking that I should be feeling unactualized. If I feel alright about putting my career second and making a home for my kids, then I am somehow not being ambitious enough. Not male enough.
There are some mothers who do respect us male family caregivers for a whole host of reasons – we are present in our kids’ lives, we shop and do household chores, etc. I have those aspects of my life in common with these women, so there is a sense that I understand and respect more because I am doing it too. But, lurking underneath this appearance of respect can sometimes be a traditional woman who is really wondering why this guy doesn’t have more of the provider tendency in him.
Most surprising to me, though, is the way my kids see my choice. Lately, they are asking me what I do – what is my work. When I describe homemaking and parenting as a job, they don’t get it. And since most (almost without exception) of their friend’s dads work outside the home, it is hard for them to understand.
There is always friction around the chores of homemaking. When I took on the role of househusband, it was clear that I was taking on the general responsibilities of managing the house and kids and that these could extend well into the evenings and weekends. Yet, it was not entirely clear that just as my wife is expected to go out the door every morning armed and ready to do battle in the business world, I am expected to carry the ball on the home front each day – even when her work day or week has ended. This took a bit of adjustment, but I get it now.
We also have different needs and expectations around the state of cleanliness in the home. I try to have the place straightened and cleaned once per week, usually on Friday in anticipation of Shabbat. My wife is generally very tolerant about the state of the house, even if our requirements differ. I agree with the article in that I don’t feel judged by my house, they way some traditional female homemakers might. Yet, I am not happy having guests in my home if it is a mess, so I understand the sentiment.
Stress can sometimes occur when working mother can’t give up control – she wants all kinds of things done her way and he just doesn’t get it. On this point, I must give my wife enormous credit for letting go of many of the responsibilities that are now mine and living with the consequences, generally speaking. This considerably reduces the control-related stresses inherent in our non-traditional arrangement.
We all need to be appreciated. And it is rare that we tell each other enough that we are. I appreciate that my wife is as good as she is professionally so that I can afford to be dedicated to making a home and life for our family. And I truly believe that she is appreciative that I am backing her up, so she is on a level playing field with her male colleagues who all have wives at home backing them up.
In the end, it is precisely this mutual appreciation that is behind any successful partnership.
(Thanks to my dad for drawing my attention to this thought-provoking article.)