Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Stay-at-Home Mom’s Husband

Every week, Danny Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the stay-at-home mom’s husband.

Nicole: The lifetime cost for a woman of exiting the workforce is massive!

Working even a little bit outside the house will protect her (and your) financial health for the future.

So I would sit down and lower housework standards to a more reasonable level and divvy them up as equitably as possible.

Danny: yeah, I do understand that financial concerns are real, but my read on this letter is that they are not going to be on the verge of bankruptcy if the LW has to go from doing 25% of the housework to 50%

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and he has clearly spent some time and energy towards the problem of “how do I establish that what she wants to do is impossible”

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Nicole: Right!! This is not a mutual convo at the moment. He wants ammo.

Danny: and I think that time and energy would be better directed in developing a plan for STREAMLINING household responsibilities more efficiently

but it’s not just a numbers game! Her desire to work is not just “we need more money,” it’s also about her desire to resume her career and have a professional and financial identity separate from being a wife and mother

Nicole: Yes, and that is UNBELIEVABLY important. A year off can be a blip on a resume! But it gets harder after 3–5 years to get back in the swing of things.

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Danny: as it is, it feels like she can’t win. “Because you took time off to raise the kids, you should keep doing that, because you can’t earn as much as I can, because you took time off to have kids, so you can’t earn as much as I can…”

So I think the LW should stop thinking of it in terms of like, “if I use a lot of numbers to establish that this is impossible, I can win this disagreement”

Nicole: Yes, that’s always a death knell to actually working out relationship issues.

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Danny: and more in terms of, my wife left her career to raise our children when we were not able to find reliable child care, which was a HUGE act of support—how can I support her in return now?

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and if it means that sometimes the laundry piles up until the weekend, or you need to rearrange your own work schedule to pick up the kids from school, then that is okay, and will probably not result in immediate bankruptcy for your family

Nicole: Right. There is not an imminent disaster here.

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Danny: I know I’m likely repeating myself at this point, but I really want the LW to change his mindset here. Instead of thinking that the way your household works (because your wife put her career on hold for years to take on child care full time) is simply “the way things are and need to be forever,” think of it as a massive act of support and flexibility on your wife’s part that should produce gratitude, love, affirmation, and support on your part. So often this sort of thing gets framed as “Well, my wife is better at the housework/managing the kids, and her career was a little less remunerative than mine to begin with, so it was no big deal, so of course her career should continue to take a backseat to mine” as if it were simply the most natural, easy, obvious choice.

Nicole: Yes. You see this a lot when the “her new job barely covers day care” convo happens, as though day care isn’t a shared expense.

Danny: Right! Go forth, and try to have this conversation again with new eyes!