As the song goes, it seems that the times, they are a-changin’.
According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of women are now the breadwinners for their family.
This is fairly staggering statistic considering that up until recently, the majority of men out-earned the women in their home and considered themselves the sole bearer of all financial burdens. This new economic shift creates a domestic one as well, with more men than ever opting to stay at home and care for their kids. Unfortunately though, this change in home dynamics, while promising, isn’t always so easy to adapt to – for men or women.
As wives and mothers, women feel the need to white-knuckle all the goings on of the household. From getting the kids to where they need to go to planning dinner and handling chores, women hit the ground running as soon as their feet hit the floor in the morning, tending to everyone in the house with the efficiency of trained military leader.
Handing over the reigns to husbands can be unsettling because society has taught us that men aren’t as capable of handling the business of home as their wives. As children they were discouraged from playing with the Easy Bake Oven and directed over to the Tonka trucks. As such, it requires a great deal of trust on the part of many women to place kids’ schedules, meal plans and home duties in the hands of the men in their lives. And unfortunately, this is a huge disservice to both us as women and to our husbands, boyfriends or partners.
The other side of this? The men in our lives who are taking over carpool duties and baking cupcakes for the school party oftentimes have a hard time reconciling their masculinity with their new-found affinity for all things Martha Stewart. They may feel incapable or overwhelmed when they realize just how much work it takes for a household to run smoothly. And it doesn’t help that they often take the brunt of the jokes at poker night every Thursday from their buddies who are still working 9-5 and beyond.
The tension and resentment that this has the potential to create is just a tiny piece of a much bigger cultural problem – one that involves falsely defined gender roles that place women in the laundry room and men in the board room. It may not seem huge in the micro-universe of your home, but if you have a husband who’s opted to pull domestic detail, you’re actively participating in a societal shift that, if handled the right way, can help progress us all towards more equitable living.
Here are some tips to help your husband transition from Super CEO to Super Dad and help you not to have a nervous breakdown watching him cook dinner and sort laundry.
Express Gratitude in Spite of Inevitable Mistakes –
Some men find themselves at home by choice, others by default, in cases like being laid off. Regardless of the conditions that led him there, make sure he realizes that you are just as grateful for his help at home as you were for the extra income he brought in while working. Also realize that this is a very new thing for him and he is going to mess up. He’ll burn dinner, use too much laundry detergent, and run late dropping Susie off at dance. But he’s trying. And the more appreciative you are, the more capable he’ll feel.
Ask About His Day When You Get Home –
Stay-at-home moms complain about this all the time. Some working men assume that nothing worth noting could have happened at home while they were busy at work; or they get home and immediately start venting about trouble on the job. Meanwhile, you bottle up all your frustrations and the story about the crazy lady in line at grocery store because he’s made you feel like what you’ve done isn’t as important as what he accomplished. The inverse has the potential to be true as well. So when you get home, make it a point to have a conversation together so that each person can vent about the goings on of the day. Share small details so that both of you feel validated and heard.
Give Him a Break When He Wants to Go Play Golf –
…Or football or go fishing or lock himself in his work shed on a Saturday. We all need a minute sometimes to remind ourselves that we’re more than moms and dads and project managers and accountants. Otherwise, we all go a little insane. Or a lot insane. So if he wakes up on Saturday morning and wants to go wander the aisles at Dick Sporting Goods, let it go. Come to an agreement that allows each of you time to yourself to do what you want, outside of home and work. A happy wife means a happy life, sure, but a happy husband who doesn’t resent making macaroni art and mopping is pretty damn good, too.
Encourage Him to Make Friends Outside of His Beer Buddies –
Your husband’s best friend who works all day isn’t going to be able to relate to him the same way he used to and that can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness that he probably wouldn’t ever come out and share with you. It’s important for dad to feel like there’s someone who can sympathize with him the way other moms do on play dates at the park. This will keep the bickering and bad moods down because he’ll have people, other men, he can go to and complain about Johnny’s refusal to eat anything other than pickles and Doritos while also simultaneously talking about last night’s game.
Make Sure He Knows You’ve Got His Back –
Again, in just the same way you need his support and encouragement, he needs yours, too. You guys are a team, a united front, first and foremost. And you’ve got to be each other’s safe places and sounding boards. Make time for each other, even if it’s fifteen minutes before bed. Be each other’s best friend and try to let the little stuff go. Life is messy and you need each other, even on days when it may seem like every single thing he does is wrong and irritating. You’re on different sides of the same struggle – the only difference is that he may kinda suck at asking for help.
Above all else, try and remember that roles in the home are fluid. There are no husband or wife-specific tasks. Work together and be patient, even if it drives you nuts.
And if all else fails, try and remember how sexy a man can look in an apron.