Stay-at-Home Dads and Non-Traditional Marriage Roles
By Lynn M. Griesemer
Depending on where you live and on your background, you may notice various roles that men and women adopt. During my lifetime, I’ve observed the following: (1) A majority of partners are within a five-year age difference. It could be that partners met their beloved in high school or college. (2) Women are more apt to shop for groceries, cook and prepare meals, tend to indoor household chores and dress their young children. (3) Women are more likely to volunteer at a child’s school or assist with homework / educating children. (4) Husbands are usually the higher income earners. (5) Men tend to serve as driver when both husband and wife enter a car. (6) Husbands are more likely to cut the lawn and perform household repairs and projects.
Some might think my list is sexist or mundane, but these are the visions I grew up with and I often see today. It could be cultural or it could be regional. Did you grow up with role observations? How about role expectations? Do you have role preferences in your relationship? Are there male / female patterns in your marriage? Have you entertained the idea of deviating from established images or visions of what a husband or wife does?
Sometimes our world can be shaken if we purposely choose, or if we find ourselves in what might be considered non-traditional roles. Let’s say a husband and wife met at a prestigious business school while working on their MBAs. Upon graduation, the woman is offered a job at almost twice the salary as her future husband. Her expertise and interest is perceived as a greater value to the economy. The two get married and the pattern that is established is that the woman’s career is of more value and importance. Although the husband and wife are both professionals, this is new territory for them. The husband’s parents are both doctors, with the father earning more than his mother. The wife’s parents were clearly more traditional, with the father earning significantly more than her mother.
The challenge to couples who are in the minority is the attitude they have about something outside the cultural norms. Men are seen as protectors and providers. If the husband, in the example above, places his self-image mainly on his job, he might struggle with the arrangement. There must be mutual agreement, respect and admiration in whatever situation couples find themselves. If the husband begrudgingly “accepts” his wife’s higher income status, there will be other problems that may find their way into their relationship, such as contempt, resentment, regret, frustration, anger, feelings of doubt and low self-worth, and perhaps depression. I put quotations in the word accepts because a spouse does not accept anything which he does not fully embrace.
Marriage comes with enough challenges. Put any two people together for a lifetime and partners are bound to encounter difficulties and adjustments. What happens when couples adopt patterns that place them in the minority? Do they face additional adjustments? The strength they have within can certainly help ease the pressure from the outside.
Some couples can easily integrate differences such as a 20+ age difference, stay-at-home father or mixed race marriage. Others face subtle or blatant discrimination or disapproval from others. When the father spends most of the time raising the children, there can be negative assumptions by others: “Is something wrong that you cannot hold down a job?” “Are you lazy or incompetent?” “How can you shirk your manhood by not caring about providing for your family?”
Instead, when we consider stay-at-home dads or other non-traditional roles, we have the opportunity to stop and think about the benefits of a unique situation. Fathers have a lot of “quantity” time with their children to form special attachments. We cannot replace or recover the time that is otherwise invested in a career or lost to a job. We are always making decisions and choices and the choice for a father to invest in his children can be seen as a gift, not something that is wasted.