03 November 2009

The Positive Spin on a Reverse Role Household

Yesterday found me in a sort of Medical Hell, ferrying myself back and forth from office to office, trying to get all of my health needs taken care of in one afternoon. Frankly, I hate this aspect of parenting - and I call it that because of the fact that I now have a daughter to concern myself with which means that I feel the need to be in tip-top condition which means I can't take my former laissez-faire approach to health (the equivalent of a First Aid kit stocked with duct tape, a lighter and a fifth of whiskey) anymore...and I try to lead by example, especially at this impressionable age. Of course, she wasn't with me to see the wonderful example I was setting, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that I did it.

The one thing I don't actually mind about visits to the doctor, dentist and hospital is that I usually have plenty of time to sit and wait and catch up on my waiting room parenting magazine reading. That's where I bypass the fashion magazines, news and celebrity rags (I am so not interested in the lives of celebs...I think that may qualify me for US Citizenship Revocation even though I was actually born here) and go right for Parents, Parenting, and, if I'm really lucky, Working Mother.

So it was that yesterday found me curled up on an exam room table under a paper blanket, using the johnnie as a pillow and thumbing through the August (or was it September?) issue of Working Mother when I came across an article discussing the rising trend in so called "reverse role" families and ways to "protect your marriage while you navigate this new path". Since we are in this category, I actually began to read instead of browse. I was hoping for a little inspiration, a new look at how others deal with some of the unique issues that come with being a breadwinning mother and stay-at-home father...

But I didn't really see any. The article made a point of pointing out that a big reason for the increased number of families taking on the challenges of the reverse role household is because of the economy - more men are being laid off. Of course, that adds a whole different dynamic to the equation. For one thing, it's not by choice. That probably means that money is really tight which, well, it is in our household too, but we knew that going in to this, so maybe it concerns us less? Both of us have been dirt poor in the past and both feel comparatively wealthy at this point in our lives (even though we're not) in spite of the fact that we turn in the change jar a lot more than I would like to admit. Yet, it's not a source of discontent in this house, nor is it a perennial source of arguments for us. So, it was sort of a non-point in our case, if you will.

Reading on...

What I did find interesting about this article was that although the advice to keeping your marriage sound largely focused on not letting yourself become defined by your salary or financial contribution to the household, it also noted that women still do more than their SAHF husbands. From the article, "According to recent data from the government’s American Time Use Survey, analyzed by economists Alan B. Krueger and Andreas Mueller, when women are looking for a job, they spend twice as much time taking care of their children each day as employed women do. By contrast, unemployed men’s childcare duties are virtually identical to those of their working counterparts, and they tend to spend more time sleeping and watching TV."

I was surprised that although the rising numbers of SAHFs were attributed to more men being laid off, there was no caveat to this stating that perhaps those men who sleep or tune out "on the job" were suffering from some form of depression over the fact that their whole world had been turned inside out? I can tell you with 100% certainty that M spends more time taking care of our daughter, even when I'm home. And I don't necessarily feel badly about that, or even about the fact that I go to work every day.

In our home, M doesn't sleep or watch TV. While it's true that I end up cooking most of our dinners (our beloved landlords cook the rest), it's not because he's been slacking. I've spent time with our daughter and I can tell you that his job as a SAHF in this household is nothing but overtime from the moment she wakes up. Even when she naps, he rarely does the same. He may tidy up, he may take that time to decompress and veg just to be able to get through the remainder of her whirlwind day when she wakes, but I've tried to make it clear, over and over, that an immaculate household is the least of my concerns when I come home after work and that her nap time should be his break time.

So, the house remains presentable but not sanitized and that's fine. I can deal with that on a weekend. So dinner isn't simmering when I get home. Given that I'm picky about what's cooked and how, that's fine too. I'm a foodie - he's just along for the ride.

What, then, does he do? Well, he stays engaged far more than I did when I was home with A for that week in August. I focused more on cleaning house than he does but that meant I focused less on her...and I felt bad for it. He, on the other hand, plays and plays and plays. He follows her silly games, he sets aside time for arts, he patiently explains everything he does, she points out and in the world around her. He'll slide on the slide for hours. He'll push her in the swing, bury her in the leaves, race her down the sidewalk. He established a routine early on too, and we all know that babies love routine. But he sticks to it, rain, snow or shine.

In short, he is a fully engaged father - I daresay moreso than many SAHMs I know.

In the end, I was disappointed in the advice proffered by the article. I was hoping for some sage words of wisdom to pass along for the next time the nanny and mommy contingent shunned him at the playground or maybe even some links to father's groups (which he wouldn't follow anyway, but you never know). Instead, it told me to do everything we had been doing along with some things we don't need to do.

I constantly remind him that I could never earn enough to pay him the salary he deserves for what he does. And he never complains. Sometimes I think that he tinkers with the car late at night to make an idiot light come on that will necessitate him having to fix it just so that he can keep his mechanic skills sharp (that was his trade before he left it all to be home with A) and because, well, I know that he misses it. But that's OK. When I boil it down, sure I work a lot to keep us treading water - and yes, I cook and take care of the major cleaning, but on top of surface cleaning and laundry, he does the most important jobs. He keeps the car running (and friends and neighbors cars too), our daughter happy and healthy and takes care of all of the pet care, household fix-it projects and all of that other stuff that for some reason we feel inclined to think of as trivial man stuff. Really, when you add it up, if he was paid, he'd be making a hell of a lot more than I ever could.

Are any readers in this reverse role in your households? What are you primary complaints? How do you handle the expectations? Is it by choice or the economy?


Julie said...

Sorry...But, this sounds a little on the male ego stroking side.

It seems like in order to "protect" your marriage in this role-reveral thingy.....you need to ensure that you're doing more work than your husband inside the home while making sure he knows that he is a better earner than you are and that he's also "better" than the SAHMs you have seen...theoretically.

Phe said...

Julie - On re-reading this, I can see where it might seem that way when the reader doesn't have the full picture of where we've both come from and, really, how different a relationship this is for both of us (in a positive way).

Perhaps the point I failed to convey was that I don't feel the need to protect my marriage, particularly because we don't seem to have the same common thread issues that others cited in the article do.

Thanks for the comment!

Julie said...

Thanks for the clarification.

My husband and I do not seem to fit into tradional gender roles either....so I can relate.

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