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Sorry, Charlie, Your Wife Won't Support You

Vivia Chen

May 28, 2013

Baby Daddy by snapphoto via iStockphoto[1]Bad news for you men out there who want to stay home with the kiddies: Your wives want you out of the house. According to a recent survey of 2,000 participants by Salary.com, men's willingness to support wives who want to stay home is often unreciprocated:

While 91 percent of men we surveyed said they would support their wives' decision to stay at home, that number dropped precipitously to 70 percent of women answering the same [question]. In fact, more than one-quarter of women (26 percent) said they flat-out refuse to even entertain the notion of working full-time while supporting a husband who stays home and takes care of the kids and house. That's compared to just 8 percent of men who said they would refuse the request of their spouse to stay at home.

Whoa—did you hear that? More than a quarter of the women are telling men to take a hike if they want to play house husband. That finding surprises and frustrates Aaron Gouveia, the blogger behind The Daddy Files. As he writes in his blog:

How many times have we heard that men need to do more at home?

I know I’ve heard it. A lot. Online parenting sites and message boards are filled with frustrated moms lamenting the fact that their husbands spend too much time at the office and not enough on household and childcare chores. If only they’d focus more on family, change some diapers, clean the house, and cook a few meals.

But when women can finally get what they've been clamoring for—a "wife" of their own to mind the homefront—they want no part of it. Gouveia calls it the "potentially ugly flip side to that argument."

Gouveia writes that he doesn't have a firm answer for this attitude, though he offers a theory. Many women, he says, are just territorial about the home front:

I absolutely believe there are women who look at parenting and the home front as “their turf,” and don’t want to give up control. Any dad who has gone to the playground with his kid sans wife, or tried to join a real-life or online parenting community, can attest to the sideways glances and disapproving stares from many of the mothers present. Sometimes it’s the very same women complaining about a lack of help who end up being opposed to the idea of stay-at-home dads.

I am not sure I buy Gouveia's theory completely. One reason career-minded women might not want a stay-at-home spouse is that they might not find them to be very alluring. These are probably women who would never dream of being a housewife themselves, so why would they want a mate who'd opt for a lifestyle that they find limiting and boring?

That said, I think the result of the survey shows just how entrenched gender roles are. We simply haven't evolve to the point where a house husband is considered sexy. As much as we like to think that we're beyond the the world of Tarzan going off into the jungle, we're not.

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Please also keep in mind that the number of women who say they'd be okay with a spouse staying home as a house husband (70%) is only what they say; that number could be less but likely isn't more. There's also no way to accurately tell how many women really would be okay with it since it's just a guess and since the concept of men staying at home as house husbands is a relatively new phenomenon.
The number of men (91%) saying they'd be okay with a spouse staying home as a housewife is probably more accurate since that model has been traditionally practiced until recently.

That's why husbands have a hard time understanding the needs of their wifes. It depends on the weather.

Vivia, you really need to tone down the self-righteousness about high-powered women not wanting husbands who are willing (and able) to handle child-rearing and home cleaning/management. It seems to me that these women want to have their cake and eat it, too. I can say from the experience of having a one-time "high-powered" lawyer-wife who decided to work part-time after our first child (of three) was born, and to stay home after our second child was born, that she (1) did a much better job handling the lion's share of child care duties than any child care worker could have, and (2) encouraged the kids to be involved in and was able to drive them to sports, religious, and interest-based activities on a schedule that no "substitute" parent could have managed, greatly enriching the kids' lives in ways that never would have happened had she maintained her pre-children career, and helping set them up to be competent, self-sufficient, successful adults.
My point is that the best environment for kids in which to thrive is one where a parent (husband or wife) stays home, or the parents work jobs with more "regular" hours and divide these duties. Yes, kids who have to manage on their own might be a little more "independent" than kids who always can rely on a parent, but much experience in seeing my kids' friends move into adulthood has demonstrated to my satisfaction that the kids who had a parent home most or all of the time generally have become much more capable, successful adults.
The legitimate studies that show that kids who have a parent at home do much better in childhood and afterward than "day care" kids have been shouted down and buried by the super-feminist moms due to their guilt over not being home all the time. But, this doesn't change their accuracy and legitimacy.
Moreover, as other commenters have noted, women who wait until their late 30s-early 40s to try to get pregnant are employing a poor strategy for success in birthing children as well as doing a disservice to themselves and their kids. Older parents may be wiser, but they don't have the energy to keep up with young kids and end up having to work into their 60s just to pay for college (not a good way to save for retirement). Sometimes a husband and wife need to compromise on the optimal time to start a family. "Compromise" is not a dirty word. It is what mature adults do. In your world, where female professionals' self-fulfillment is elevated above all else, however, it seems to be a "four-letter" word.
I understand that in many households both parents must work full-time to support the family, but sublimating one's ego and personal fulfillment for the good of one's children is the most fundamental aspect of effective parenting. You only get one chance to raise your kids well. The selfishness of many women who want high-powered careers and bitch that their husbands don't do enough at home is overwhelming. If their husbands won't handle some of the most important duties/chores, and can't be persuaded to after much effort, then divorce them and make different child/home care arrangements (and, God forbid, maybe even cut back a little at the office!), but stop the whining and don't hurt your kids.
I would have loved to have spent more time with my kids when they were growing up, but the division of labor that my wife and I agreed on required me to focus on my career first to make the $$ that allowed my kids to have the enrichment opportunities (sleep-away camps, travel sports teams, special classes and other extracurricular/out-of-school opportunities, unpaid internships, etc.) that we wanted for them. It tore me apart to miss some of their games, concerts and other events, and not to be home before they went to sleep many nights, but I did what what I had to in order to support my family. As I became more established in my career, I was able to spend more time with my kids, but it did not make up for the time I lost. I -- and other fathers, not just my wife -- and other mothers, compromised to afford our kids the best opportunity to become happy, well adjusted, competent adults.
There should be an ongoing conversation in any marriage with children about dividing child rearing and home management responsibilities. The calculus inevitably will change over time, but parents who care about raising good kids will work it out. Men have responsibilities in a marriage with children, and they as well as women should step up. However, two-career couples where both have demanding professional or business careers requiring long hours and/or regular travel either (1) should not have children or (2) should make some compromises in career focus in the best interests of their children. Maybe the husband cuts back, maybe the wife, maybe both, but at least one of them needs to do so.
It's just "too bad" that someone's personal fulfillment will have to be compromised. If parents aren't willing to make the commitment to raise their children properly, don't have any. Instead, the women in these marriages can wear their "Oh, my God, I forgot to have children" t-shirts with honor. Society will thank you.

Many adult parents are at ease with the situation because it is more financially credibal, while on the other hand, two incomes, will always trump one, but at the same time, if a child in the family would be better off with a parent home 24/7, then to each it's own and may God be with them to see them through any difficult times they may have, for in most cases, it doesn't last anyways for the average man, isn't content with his wife being the only person bringing in the bacon. He likes to say that he plays a role in their survival as well as she enjoys the pride of being a participant in maintaining their household, so with that, ALL are happy. ALL are content and there is a THORTOUGH understanding that every participant helping, makes everything go more smoother and that works for I.

The New York Times touches a little bit on this topic titled, "40% of US Breadwinners are Women, Study Finds."

Would like the Careerist to follow up with her thoughts on that article too. Thanks!

Well, I think we need to acknowledge the role of biology. I am not a psychologist, but I believe the concept of the maternal instinct still exists. Any discussion of house wife/ house husband will be tainted by the biological basis for gender roles and identity.

My friend told me a funny story the other day. Her dad was retiring from the Metropolitan Transit Authority after 40+ years of service. Her mom went right down to the A&P food market and filled out a job application for him! "You're not staying around the house!" He now makes the donuts and rolls in A&Ps bakery (and they are BOTH really happy :)

My husband is retired and has been retired for 11 years. I absolutely love having the amount of help I get from him because while he doesn't do all of the gender-divided chores (we are babyboomers) because I do pull my weight, I get the special large projects done BECAUSE he is home to either do the work himself or supervise the work that is contracted that he is unable to do by himself. Our division of chores looks more traditional because of our ages and upbringing, but we do team up on some of the chores as needed, and what works for us works well. Empty-nesters we are, so there is no conflict from that front. I absolutely love his landscape talent, and he absolutely loves the home-made bread and pasta, along with the main entrees and the home-made re-heats for lunches. I love that he can clean the high spots I can't reach; he loves that he doesn't worry about ruining the clothes because he's not much of a laundry buff. We are both tuned into the household budget, so every penny can and is accounted for and we both know what to anticipate. We have taught each other a few things over the last 26 years and we have been referred to as a tag-team. Does retirement tie him down? Not on your life. He has as many outside interests he had when he was in the work force, maybe a few more! No shuffleboard, no bingo, no taupe shoes, no wrap sunglasses, no sportsman cap for him!

Your conclusions are not supported by the evidence you cite. The survey does not support your claim that "Your wives want you out of the house." As you cite, a full 70% of women would support a husband staying at home. 70%.

I also see nothing to support the idea that women aren't "beyond the world of Tarzan going off into the jungle." For the 26% who would not support a stay-at-home husband, there is no basis cited here for believing their position is based on some primal desire to sit home while their man ventures off to brave the wilds. It seems at least as reasonable to speculate that evolved women do not want one Provider and one Nurturer but prefer to provide and nurture together, equally, with a partner.

A house husband is not sexy. Then neither is a house wife. I had a house husband once, he did not do a reasonable job of it, so I'm probably never going to want another one. Not to paint all house husbands with the same brush stroke, but I think someone has to have outside interests to be interesting to me.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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