From Friday's Globe and Mail Published on Thursday, Mar. 25, 2010
Cooking with Stella
At the diplomatic compound, Michael jogs past other men as they go to work. At home, Stella, the family's Indian cook, gossips about the household going “topsy-turvy.”
“Madam going to office; sir only mothering,” she says.
The couple's fights are sharper. “Just because you don't have job satisfaction doesn't mean you have to be an asshole,” snaps Maya, Michael's wife. “You have job satisfaction because this asshole agreed not to,” he snaps back.
Fresh off the heels of an economic downturn that has hit men harder than women, househusband is a position in which men are increasingly finding themselves.
In January, a report from the Pew Research Centre found that women are outpacing men in education and earnings growth: In 2007, 22 per cent of husbands were out-earned by their wives, up from 4 per cent in 1970. The authors write that these changes are being accompanied by a slow reversal of gender roles, one experts say can cause friction in couples as they iron out domestic kinks and deal with the nuanced judgment of traditionally minded outsiders peering in on their lives.
Jode Roberts detected a “subtle jealousy” from several other fathers during the nine months he spent at home with his son Jasper in Toronto.
“I think there's resentment or sadness that they can't be hanging out with their kids, that they have to work each day while I get to spend the entire day hanging out with the kid.”
Mr. Roberts, 38, took parental leave because his wife, Carol, a self-employed contractor, wasn’t eligible for employment insurance-funded benefits. Leaving his job at an environmental law organization, Mr. Roberts was soon in charge of “everything except for breastfeeding.” He even attended a mommies’ group. (He was the only guy there.)
“I actually aspire to be a househusband. Truth be told, if I could drop my job and just hang out at home all the time, I probably would,” Mr. Roberts said.
He acknowledges there was some “tension” with his wife, mostly because “she’s squirrelled away in the basement trying to tend to her work while I’m having fun playing upstairs with the boy.”
For Jeff and Alyson Pain of Calgary, most of the relationship strain grew around domestic control.
Having spent many years away, training and competing in skeleton, Mr. Pain is now home with sons Kyle, 8, and Thomas, 6, after racing in this year’s Winter Olympics –his third and last.
On her blog, Ms. Pain, a team and relationships coach, writes of their domestic and financial transition as “a holy crap gap,” one the couple is trying to bridge with a co-written book, The Business of Marriage and Medals, published last week.
While his wife sees clients, Mr. Pain, 39, takes the boys to the bus stop in the morning and to tae kwon do and the skate park after school. He also cooks dinners and does laundry.
“It’s harder for me to let go,” said Ms. Pain of the routines she is used to performing.
More than children, house chores are often the source of discord among “reverse traditional” families, said Jeremy Adam Smith, San Francisco-based author of The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family.
“It is the case that the homes of many stay-at-home dads are messier than the homes of many stay-at-homes moms,” said Mr. Smith, adding it’s because “men don’t feel judged by their houses.”
“The dads I interviewed, when I went into their homes, they didn’t care if there was a shirt on the floor. They didn’t feel like I was going to judge them for that, and I didn’t.”
House chores weren’t a problem for Mr. Smith, who spent a year at home with his son Liko after his wife Olli went back to teaching in 2005. (“I’m cleaner than my wife,” he said.)
Mr. Smith decided to write the book after a relative sent the entire family an e-mail “expressing her disapproval for me being [Liko’s] primary caregiver and not going back to work.”
Suzanne Riss, editor-in-chief of Working Mother magazine, said that even if a househusband does the job well, “it’s not as though everyone is going to look at them with great admiration.”
“There’s the whole issue of how are all the relatives looking at it, what do the in-laws think, what do the neighbours think,” she said. “There’s a lot of societal pressure when people are doing things in a way that their own parents didn’t.”
That includes tacit suggestions to job hunt, said Frank Duff, a writer who lives in Philadelphia with his wife Erika, who works as an exhibit prototyper.
“From time to time, someone on one side of the family or another will ask me if I’m looking for work,” said Mr. Duff, who grew up in Ontario.
“If the right thing came up, I’d take it. But I really don’t feel like this is a situation that warrants looking too hard for a way out of. Househusband is a good gig.”
Before the couple’s daughter Freya was born three weeks ago, Mr. Duff’s routine went like this: As his wife showered, he made breakfast and packed her a lunch; during the day he’d run errands and write, then start on dinner.
Now, all three are at home, “just learning to be a family.”
“We each do our part and it doesn’t matter at all to us whether those parts are equal. We’re just happy to be together.”
Mr. Smith said that’s one thing couples often forget: to be grateful they have each other, in any capacity. “Many couples can’t. They can’t articulate what they’re gaining.”
Making it work
House husbands may be a growing breed, but the role reversal can spark resentment when the socks aren’t paired up right. Experts offer their tips to avoid shattered nerves:
Hand over the spatula
“A lot of working moms can be controlling about these things. You do need to give up control,” said Suzanne Riss, editor-in-chief of Working Mother magazine. “He may not do laundry or load the dishwasher the way you do it. You have to recognize that this is a different person - he’s going to do things differently. Let him find his way and do it the way he’s comfortable.”
“Sit down and discuss what needs to be done together and decide who should do what, so it’s not like one person is ordering the other around,” Ms. Riss said.
Daddy in the deep end
“I often get asked how can women get fathers to do more?” said Jeremy Adam Smith, author of The Daddy Shift. “I’m like, ‘Walk away.’ “
Say it to his face
“Instead of behaving in a way that’s passive-aggressive and snitty, and talking dirt about
your spouse behind their back with your girlfriends, it’s much better to go to your spouse and say, ‘Honey, this is driving me crazy,’ “ Mr. Smith said.
Thank you please
Showing appreciation, Ms. Riss says, is “a two-way street,” from a husband’s rubbery pork chops to a wife’s overtime.
“I found it was very important for the wife to appreciate what she was able to get in being able to focus on her career,” said Mr. Smith. “Likewise, the father needs to be able to say those things, too. Say it aloud – don’t hide it away.”
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre
Sounds great in theory, practice is entirely different and fraught with
extreme if not deadly risks.
First, 50% of marriages go sour, and its women who generally pull the pin, become bitter that "they do all the work, make all the money" while that dead beat stays home with the child/ren.
She ends up with all the money, he has none, she goes to court armed with a high priced lawyer while he, is self represented.
Increasingly men, sacrifice their careers for their wives, who gain incredible advantages while his qualifications lapse, his experience becomes worthless and becomes virtually unemployable.
You would think that men who sacrifice everything so their female wives could gain a career advantage would be respected.
In Ontario, legal commentators point out, in very blunt language that the Ontario Judiciary do not apply the law equally to both genders.
Any male who asks for Spousal Support is treated as someone who is "off their rocker", he must have a few screws loose", "how dare he ask for support from a woman".
No matter how meritorious the claim may be, there is hardly a judge in Ontario who will give a man spousal support.
He will get hit with "an order for costs", an outragious draconian order that he cannot pay.
It is effectively "a fine" for asking for spousal support.
That "fine" also prevents him from litigating anything like custody, let alone access.
The underbellies of the judiciary, the real child abusers of Ontario, like Sheffield, Power, Desousa, Robertson, will make sure he has his pleadings struck, an order for security for costs surely follows as does an eventual order that he is a vexatious litigant.
To top it off, he stands a 50% chance of being arrested, if not repeatedly arrested on trumped up criminal charges that generally almost allways are dropped before trial but not before the criminal charges do their desired damage.