This post is not directed at everyone. This post is directed at men with stay-at-home wives that tend to their domestic affairs (or men with wives that work but also juggle the vast majority of domestic affairs).
My goal in this post is not to describe the ideal family arrangement when it comes to careers and families, because I believe there are many different options that work for many types of families. How you arrange work and familial responsibilities in your family should be you and your partner’s choice—and many different types of work-family distributions work.
Growing up in a conservative home in the southern United States, the traditional patriarchal family configuration (where dad = breadwinner and mom = family caretaker) were by far the most common. Observing many such families my entire life has provided me some perspective. And now that my wife and I are juggling family and work considerations ourselves, many of these questions of how to best juggle our responsibilities have me reflecting on many of the cultural attitudes I’ve seen surrounding work and family.
Upon reflection, I’ve seen six key attitudes and beliefs that often exist and should be severely questioned by families with these traditional family arrangements.
Idea 1: “I have to go to work”
Negative attitudes towards work and career are frequent.
One of the biggest ones I see is that men within these arrangements seem to believe that “providing” for their family financially (by means of a 9-5 job) is their sole contribution and requirement. These are the types of men who return home after work, plop on the couch and watch TV while their frantic wives chase children, cook dinner, and eventually retreat (and I do mean retreat) to the bedroom.
Many of these men often complain about the burdens of career and work, despite the extreme luxury of having nearly all of their domestic and parental obligations fulfilled by their wives.
These men may say things like:
“You just wouldn’t understand the burdens of providing for a family.”
“I sacrifice so much to provide for my family.”
“Wait until you have to wake up and go to work every day.”
Okay, stop. Just stop.
You don’t have to work. You get to work. Work is a privilege. And your stay-at-home mom is the reason you’re able to have the career that you have.
Idea 2: “I’m sacrificing so much for my family by going to work.”
Within these anti-career statements is an inherent martyr complex, where the complainer believes that he is sacrificing so much by showing up to work. As though work is this massive inconvenience that is thrust upon your life, keeping you from living your dreams. You’d think work was this unnatural thing.
Newsflash: Everyone everywhere works. This has been true for all time. People get up and go to work. It’s not some burden. It’s not some crazy responsibility that makes you immune to other responsibilities. And the vast majority of people work much worse jobs for much longer hours and much lower pay than you do.
Work is normal. Not working is not.
Why can I say confidently that you’re not sacrificing anything for your family? Well, imagine for a moment you didn’t have a wife and kids. You would still have to go to work. Why? Because you would still need to eat, put a roof over your head, pay your bills, etc. So, you’re not really sacrificing anything by going to work “for your family.” How can I say that? Well, because you would have done it anyways.
My brother John is the first person who introduced me to this idea. You can read his original post here: You Are Not Doing Anything for Your Wife.
If you would have done it anyways, it’s not a sacrifice at all. That would be like me saying I am “sacrificing” for my family by brushing my teeth in the morning—I would have done it regardless so it’s not really a sacrifice.
Idea 3: “I should get a cookie for bringing home a paycheck.”
Okay, people may not say it like that. But it’s definitely an attitude. And it’s an attitude that’s so silly that when you write it out, it looks absurd. As an extension of my first point, because you would be working (and bringing home a paycheck) anyways, you’re not entitled to a bronze statue and immune from household responsibilities because you bring home a paycheck.
Go change your kid’s diaper.
Go wash some dishes.
Go give the kids a bath.
Go read them a bedtime story.
Go be a dad.
Idea 4: “My wife isn’t sacrificing anything by being home with the kids.”
Imagine for a moment that you did not have a family or kids. Imagine if your wife was a single person out there on her own. She would be working. And she would probably be loving every minute of it. I’ve heard so many women express a desire to continue a career or miss the one they had. This is because a career is a privilege. And many stay-at-home moms are acutely aware of this.
You are not sacrificing anything, as previously noted, but your wife is. Thank her for it.
Idea 5: “Taking care of the kids is way easier than my job.”
If you don’t realize that taking care of kids is far more exhausting than most jobs, you clearly haven’t done it enough. It is often mentally and spiritually draining as well, resulting in many women suffering severe depression and anxiety disorders. This is not complaining about children. Children are awesome, and being a dad has been the most rewarding experience of my life. But it is to say that taking care of children is work. And it’s a lot of work. Work is a good thing—but it IS work.
Taking care of children is much more exhausting and taxing than your career. Don’t believe me? Well, why don’t you try to spend a week as your child’s primary caretaker and send your wife on a much-needed vacation somewhere. At the end of that week, you can compare the stress of a typical workweek with the stresses of being a full-time caretaker. Many fathers I know can’t survive for four hours as the primary caretaker—let alone for the 168 hours in a week.
If you’re still not convinced, then this likely means that your wife has shielded you from your children’s fussy days and probably only leaves them with you by yourself when they are already on their best behavior.
Our son recently began teething when I was on a business trip to Germany. He screamed and screamed for hours and hours, while my wife desperately pleaded with him to be calm. You want to compare that to what I was doing? I was sitting in meetings, contributing to discussions, sending emails, and the like.
Phew. All those emails. Sure was exhausting.
Meanwhile, my son was screaming and inconsolable for hours.
Wife wins this round.
Idea 6: “My wife keeps spending all my money.”
Most of the time complaints about career boil down to some sort of complaint about money. In turn, money is one of the most commonly-cited reasons for divorce. It begs the question of why this is the case. I’ve seen many couples where the breadwinner thinks the family income is their money. It’s as though if you earn the money via your job, it somehow belongs exclusively to you (not to your family).
For many families, the breadwinner is only able to be the breadwinner because of the commitments the other spouse makes to tending to children and other domestic affairs. Because the breadwinner is only able to win bread with the support of the other spouse, any money that is earned should rightly be considered to belong equally to both partners. It should not be controlled by the earning spouse or lorded over. Because in a healthy marriage, money is just one of the many, many things you share equally between the two of you.
Your wife is not spending your money—because it’s not exclusively yours.
In addition, having a stay-at-home mom has a huge economic benefit to you. A recent Salary.com article puts the positive economic impact of a stay-at-home mom at $143k a year. So, it’s very possible your wife actually has a bigger economic impact than you do.
In conclusion, it’s very important that both partners in a relationship recognize and appreciate the contributions made by one another. Mutual respect and appreciation is key. If you don’t stop to recognize the real impact of what your stay-at-home wife does, you will end up destroying your family. Gratitude is key. What you appreciate appreciates. Take the time to recognize the contributions made by your partner.