Reverse traditional families popping up everywhere

In the past couple of weeks, I keep seeing mentions of what I call "reverse traditional families"’ — families where the mother is the primary breadwinner and the father is a SAHD — in all sorts of media.  I’m most intrigued by the fact that these aren’t stories about SAHDs as such.

  • The February issue of Money has an article headlined "Get the Life You Really Want."  One of the families profiled, the Davis family, describes their goal as "wanting their kids to be raised by a stay-at-home mom or dad."  Moreover, they’ve actually managed to take turns at the at-home role, which is a nice trick; I wish the article had talked more about Laurie Davis maintained or developed her work skills while out of the work force, such that she "was recruited for a lucrative job at a medical device company" after having been home for 4 1/2 years.
  • In an essay in Working Mother about the value of having two involved parents, Courtney Nowell writes: "Carter and I talked about one of us quitting… "  While they ultimately decided to both work outside the home, I like the matter of fact tone in which she considered it equally possible for either parent to stay home.
  • I’m in the middle of reading Life, by Gwyneth Jones. This book is largely about gender relations, so I’m very interested in seeing what Jones does with the fact that the main character is her family’s breadwinner, while her husband is a househusband and SAHD.  So far, it’s mostly been a device for commentary about how hard it is to be a mother and a scientist.
  • In one of my favorite comic strips, For Better or For Worse, last week we heard that Liz’s old boyfriend Anthony is taking a year off for parental leave.  Again, I’m looking forward to seeing what Lynn Johnston does with this plot thread; at the moment it seems to be just another way of showing what a great guy Anthony is and what a bitch his wife is: "Therese told Anthony that when the baby was born, it was HIS.  She said he was the one who wanted a family, so he could raise the baby, and he said he WOULD!"

In Kidding Ourselves, which I’ve discussed here previously, Rhoda Mahoney argues that reverse traditional families are a tipping point phenomenon.  More formally, she argues that men’s willingness to be primary caregivers is in part a function of how many other men are (or are perceived to be) primary caregivers. So the fact that SAHDs (and their wives) are showing up in the media, and not just in stories describing them as exotic Desperate Househusbands may actually be making a difference in the choices that families consider for themselves.

3 Responses to “Reverse traditional families popping up everywhere”

  1. Karyn Says:

    First time commenter here and new to your blog. I really enjoy your writing and the issues that you discuss here. I thought I’d chime in on this one since we are one of those ‘reverse traditional families’. My husband has a Ph.D.; I have a M.S. degree, and we both had very good jobs at a university. When we decided to have our now-two year old child, I happened to have a larger salary then he did, and I also was happier with my job than he was; so he offered to be the at-home parent. It has worked out wonderfully for us. He loves being home and is extremely competent at the child rearing and housekeeping, etc.; plus he does many other projects also, like organic gardening and wood working as well as keeping up the exterior of the house. The one thing I could wish for him is some kind of network of other fathers who stay at home, so he won’t feel so isolated.

  2. Motherhood and all that Says:

    There’s a name for what we do!

    I just discovered, thanks to this post on another weblog, that there is a name for my kind of family. It’s a “Reverse Traditional Family”. Well, whaddya know?!! Apparently, there has been frequent mention of it in the media of…

  3. Motherhood and all that Says:

    There’s a name for what we do!

    I just discovered, thanks to this post on another weblog, that there is a name for my kind of family. It’s a “Reverse Traditional Family”. Well, whaddya know?!! Apparently, there has been frequent mention of it in the media of…

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