Most Americans are supportive of modern, egalitarian family structures. Yet even in progressive homes, spouses sometimes still struggle with gender roles and responsibilities.
Many couples find it difficult to perfectly split all responsibilities 50/50. So division of labor is often the more pragmatic solution: One spouse mostly focuses on earning income while the other mostly focuses on taking care of the home and the children.
Sometimes, the wife adopts the role of the primary wage-earner while the husband adopts the role the primary child care provider. The woman 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.
Regardless of the particular family arrangement, it can be hard to determine if each partner is doing his or her “fair share.” Even when a couple manages to strike a balance, traditional stereotypes can creep in and threaten this happiness. But you don’t have to let these forces undermine your relationship satisfaction. Here’s how to make a non-traditional family structure work for you…
Nearly six in ten wives work today. That’s nearly double the number compared to 1960, according to the Pew Research Center. Women also now surpass men in terms of educational attainment. Despite these shifts, attitudes about who the primary breadwinner should be don’t seem to have changed that much: In order to be “ready” for marriage, 67% of survey respondents say it’s important for a man to be able to support the family financially. Only 1/3 of respondents say the same for women.
With women making up almost half the workforce (and with the income gap narrowing), why is the financial responsibility for a family still largely considered a male duty? Apparently, while women are typically embraced as contributors 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.
Making It Work
Make peace with your limitations
It’s difficult to give 100% to your job, children and spouse at all times. But don’t give in to guilt; just do your best and focus on what matters most.
Among working mothers with minor children, 41% say they always feel rushed. Even if a woman is the primary breadwinner, she may also feel like the primary person responsible for child care 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. The good news for women? Fathers have quadrupled their share of housework since 1965, so the ratio may continue to level off. In the meantime, remember to make time for yourself too and don’t sweat the small stuff.
At the end of a long work day, it can be tempting to look at a pile of laundry or unwashed dishes and think, “What exactly did my husband do all day?” But don’t dismiss legitimate contributions (say, spending quality time with the kids or doing the grocery shopping) and express appreciation for these efforts. If certain expectations aren’t being fulfilled, sit down and discuss how those needs can be managed.
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; because of this scarcity, they can feel isolated. Stay-at-home dads rarely have as many support networks as do their female counterparts. 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
Take pride in your work
Being a good father and a good spouse is an incredible accomplishment, especially these days. Don’t let anyone undermine your satisfaction in getting to play such a crucial role in your children’s lives.
Make a point of getting out there and meeting other parents: Enroll the kids in a sports team. Regularly take the kids to the neighborhood park and get to know your neighbors. Stay involved in school and community activities that allow you to learn, network and socialize.
Keep your skills current
For some, the decision to be a stay-at-home dad is a temporary solution. If you want to reenter the workforce soon, keep your skill set strong through online or after-hours classes, networking, etc.
Know your importance
Studies show father involvement can help reduce negative child outcomes in virtually every category: poverty, neglect, teen pregnancy, juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, etc. By taking such an active role, you have the opportunity to bring about tremendous good in your child’s life. Embrace the opportunity to make an impact—and have fun while doing it.