Guest Post: My Husband, the Nurturer
(April is a health educator and mother of three young children.)
“Would it hurt the kids if I went to work full-time? Do they need me at home? Should I wait until they are older? Would I miss them too much if I went to work everyday?” I’ve heard these words so many times, but this time it sounded different because the voice was lower. This was my husband speaking.
Women fret over this issue all the time. Most men don’t. My husband isn’t most men.
When my oldest daughter was born, I stopped working full-time so I could raise her. My husband did, too. For six years we have shared breadwinning and childrearing duties. The kids have their “Mommy days” (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) and their “Daddy Days” (Tuesdays and Thursdays).
The division hasn’t been perfectly equal. He’s better at breadwinning than I am, bringing in about two-thirds of our household income. However, while his wages are better, it’s my job that comes with the benefits. I work at one of those extremely rare part-time benefitted positions.
That fact has made our lifestyle possible. I think more families would like to try an arrangement like ours, but our healthcare system forces most families to depend on employer-sponsored insurance and most employers are unwilling to insure part-time employees. I hope that as healthcare reform is implemented families will have more flexible options.
Another barrier to this lifestyle is the limited roles men have placed on them by our society. Yes, I said men. As women’s rights have progressed, there are still conservative factions fighting to keep women at home, but most of society is moving towards a greater acceptance of letting women be whomever they want to be. Women might work full-time, part-time or devote all their time to their homes. Not all, but many people will applaud their decision. It seems that society at large still hasn’t considered offering such options to men. I struggle to think of male role models who have made any choice other than full-time employment in mainstream media, with the exception of movies like “Mr. Mom” which just make fun of men for their supposed incompetence at household duties.
I think that is sad, because our shared child-rearing experience has had many advantages. My children have tight bonds with both parents because we both have dedicated a large portion of our time to being with them. They are also unusually flexible, adaptive and open to new experiences. Maybe that’s a natural personality trait, but I suspect that a lifetime (so far) of spending every other day with a person whose approach to daily activities is different than the person who was in charge the day before may be contributing to that. My husband can truly empathize with me about the less rewarding aspects of staying at home with the children (cleaning, potty-training, searching for missing shoes, etc.) because he also devotes much of his time to these tasks. Every other day, we both get the opportunity to leave housework aside and pursue our other interests.
As much as we have liked both working part-time, it may be coming to an end now. Work has been getting busier for my husband, and his employer is considering changing his position to full-time. My husband has been looking at other part-time options, but in this economy, these other options could be riskier than staying where he is.
Regardless of what happens with his career now, he will always be a wonderful dad. I am grateful for his bravery in spending the last six years on a road less traveled (at least, less traveled by people of his own gender). Even if he does go back to the traditional fatherly role of full-time work, I know he will never become one of those dads who doesn’t know the name of his daughter’s kindergarten teacher or where his wife keeps the cleanser. Love you, honey. Happy Father’s Day.