The XX Factor

What Happens When the Wife Earns More? Dad Stays Home, Everyone’s Happy!

“There are mothers in playgroups I’ve attended who think I’m a shiftless layabout.”

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Last week Hanna Rosin wrote about the results of her breadwinner wives survey, and more generally about the various power dynamics in relationships in which the woman earns more than the man. We also asked readers to share their own experiences, and we received many wonderful responses. Here is one of them:

Name: Tom K.

City: Seattle, Washington

My wife makes more than I do.  Point of fact, my wife has a very generous income, and as a stay-at-home dad, I don’t make a dime.

My wife was a stay-at-home mom until our son was eight months old. When he was six months old, she told me that she was miserable, and as much as she loved our son, she HATED being a SAHM. Fairly quickly, she found a job. We agreed that we would switch roles for 3 months. She would be the sole breadwinner, and I would stay home. After three months, we would re-evaluate. I never thought stay-at-home parenting was going to be all “eating bonbons & watching Oprah”—I anticipated a demanding, challenging task and I fully expected that at the end of those three months I would suggest finding acceptable childcare so that I could go back to work. Three months came and went, and I’ve never looked back.

At the risk of tooting my own horn (and in public, too!), I am a very good stay-at-home dad, and I love what I do. Our son is thriving, and loves having his daddy around all the time, and our house, and life, are as organized as can reasonably be expected of a toddler-inhabited world. Because of my wife’s career, which is rewarding but often time-consuming, I do virtually all of the housework/cooking/shopping/etc. My wife handles her hand-wash laundry, and often cooks dinner one night a week. That is the grand total of her domestic work.

My wife is a very good breadwinner. She makes better money than I ever did (we have similar levels of education, but her talents lie in far more profitable areas than mine). Her job has great benefits.  Financially we have no worries. We have everything we need, and can buy some of the things we want.  She also fully recognizes the value of what I do. She values my time exactly as she does her own. I personally found this somewhat puzzling, in that her hourly billing rate is not insignificant. When I said as much, her explanation was simple: Everything that I do, every item that I cross off the “Stuff our family needs to do this day/week/month” list is stuff that she doesn’t have to do. That saves her time for family, relaxation, and work.

As for external pressures, I get the “Oh, so you’re Mister Mom, eh?” lines. There are mothers in playgroups I’ve attended who think I’m a shiftless layabout. There are men who regard me as a failure of a man because I’m not the major and/or sole breadwinner. My wife gets the “Oh, so you chose not to be a mom?” lines. Men sometimes pity her for having a “lazy” husband. Women sometimes express contempt for her choice to work at a demanding job.

This is all so much yuppie bullshit, to be perfectly frank. I find it amazing and grimly amusing that people who you would otherwise assume to be open-minded and modern can be such the opposite when it comes to family structure. It is a puzzling thing in modern American society that, in the absence of problems, so many of us find it necessary to invent some. So much of the drama around role-reversals seems to stem from this, so much of the judgment and the nastiness that can be directed at a working mom or homemaking dad. At the end of the day, you just have to tune out all that garbage, and do what works for you.

My wife and I are a team. We are individuals, but we are part of a two-person team. I handle being at home far better than my wife ever did. I deal with the stresses and pressures of being the primary caregiver in ways that she wasn’t fully able to. My wife handles being the sole breadwinner far better than I ever did. We ignore the societal babble about what we “should” be doing. We ARE doing what we should be doing.

Previously in this series:

What Happens When the Wife Earns More? Sometimes, Panic Attacks.