Not seething

Via Miriam at Everyday Mom, I read this NYTimes article about "breadwinner moms."  Dunleavey’s not talking about single mothers who support their families, but about the women in what I call "reverse traditional families" — married couple families where the wife works outside the home and the husband is the unpaid primary caregiver.

I agree with Dunleavey that there’s a lot of "renegotiating expectations" in reverse traditional families.  We have a set of societal defaults about what women should do and we have a set of societal defaults about what stay-at-home parents should do, and when there’s a stay-at-home parent who is not a woman, many of these expectations collide and everything’s up for grabs — as Dunleavey says, from who does the laundry to who manages the money.  I’d add from who chaperones the field trip to who is on duty when the child starts puking at 2 am.

But I part from Dunleavey when she says "When I say uncomfortable, I’m trying to be polite. The women I know in these shoes are seething — with uncertainty, resentment, anxiety and frustration."  I’m sure not seething. 

We’ve been doing this for nearly 6 years, and I’m not going to tell you that there aren’t ups and downs.  There are days I’m jealous of him for getting to play with the kids and there are days he’s jealous of me for getting to escape to a nice quiet office.  When I was trying to change jobs, it would have been nice to have the security of another income.   Sometimes when he spends a lot of time on his hobbies, I think it would be nice if he mopped the floor instead.   I burn quietly when the preschool teacher effusively tells me how nice it is to see me for a change.  But none of these really bug us for more than about a minute at a time.  Maybe someday we’ll make a different choice.  But this is working for us.

If one of the frustrating parts of being in a reverse traditional family is that there are no guidelines, one of the good things is also that there are no guidelines.  So you can make it up as you go along and do things the way that work for you.  Last week, I was jealous at the thought that T would get to bring cupcakes to D’s class for his birthday, and I wouldn’t.  So I arranged to work from home, and we both brought the cupcakes.

14 Responses to “Not seething”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    Another female breadwinner here. Thanks for the link – interesting article. The part of the article that resonated for me was the bit about the stress of being a breadwinner.
    I grew up always expecting to support myself. I was shocked and surprised at how stressful I found it to support my family, too.
    But I agree with you that I don’t have the seething (and I don’t think my husband does either). The thing I find myself doing that surprises me is relaxing into a gender role – the husband’s. I find myself realising how much of male and female stereotypes are there because they are natural for the breadwinner and stay-at-home parent respectively.
    Multitasking, for example. I don’t think that women are better at this than men, but I do think that it is a requirement of a stay-at-home parent to be able to multitask with all the jobs that need doing around the house. I’m good at multitasking at work – my job requires it. I’m not so good at home, because the things that need to be done aren’t automatic, for me.

  2. Libby Says:

    Yeah, here’s another non-seether. We haven’t done the reverse-traditional thing throughout our marriage, but often enough. It helps that my job has always been flexible, so for a while I often did afternoon pickups or morning drop-offs (though hardly ever both) for one or the other kid. Teachers knew me, etc. And I still do much of the at-home multi-tasking, but far from all of it. In fact next year our roles are reversing and I’m still a little worried that it will mean I’m supposed to clean house…not one of my strengths.

  3. Wayne Says:

    We’ve found ourselves in very traditional roles: my wife stays home with the children (three of them, soon!), and I work. There is still mutual seething at times, but of the sort you describe — temporary.
    I do wish that, somehow, more working options were given to parents. I like that you could arrange to work from home for a day. What if that option were so normal, no one had to think twice about it?

  4. Kate Says:

    A sometimes lurker and another non-seether here. Actually, for the past year, we have not been a reverse traditional family; he is working part-time at night, and I find this to be much more stressful than negotiating the expectations of a reverse traditional lifestyle — and certainly there were negotiations and compromises and letting go (on my part in particular). I haven’t told him this in so many words, but I’d prefer to go back to the way we had it when he didn’t have a job outside the home. It worked for us, and was much easier to balance than this current lifestyle.

  5. bj Says:

    Fascinating. We’re a dual-worker family (though my husband earns most of our income). I know that I’ve never imagined myself as the sole support of our family (and probably haven’t even thought of myself as a required contributor). I like hearing these stories because they force us to separate gender differences from societal differences, as in Libby’s comment.
    I think that the roles develop out of a complex feedback loop of male/female differences (some are undeniable, like the fact that women gestate children), tradition, and societal/workplace demands. It’s interesting to see how it all plays out when we reverse the gender roles.
    For example, I spent hours last weekend preparing a poster with my daughter for school. If it had been my husband’s responsibility it would have been a vastly different enterprise (much shorter). Is that because we are a man/woman? Is it because of who we are as individuals (I am a serious photographer, he is not, and the poster involved pictures)? Is it because he earns way more than I do (he likes to argue that any activity he does has to be worth $500/an hour)?
    And, when you are the sole support of your family, the entire family has to arrange their life so that the support remains.
    So I find the stories of reverse traditional families to be fascinating.

  6. Tiny Coconut Says:

    I seethe. A LOT. BUT…I think the difference is that we’re not doing ‘reverse traditional’–we’re doing catch as catch can. There have been times when Baroy has stayed home with the kids and I’ve gone out to work, but he’s always (always) been looking to get out of the house…and failing. So that makes him unhappy (miserable, actually). And I keep waiting for him to find that way out of the house so that the pressure can be off of me and it can be ‘my turn’ to follow my dream. Hence, the seething.
    I really should talk about the seething in the past tense, however. Because after years of it, and after watching it erode our marriage, I finally just took some steps to fulfill a few of the parts of my dreams without him being the family’s wage-earner. And while there are times I still find the pressure unbearable–and yes, I do sometimes still seethe with resentment over having to carry that load–they are fewer, because my happiness is more in my hands, not his.

  7. jen Says:

    I sometimes seethe, most of the time not. My level of seething is MINISCULE compared to the absolute lifestyle my mother and her generation made out of it. They were *prevented* from working and seethed about it, or rather seethed about the lack of respect and choices that came out of the arrangement.

  8. dave s Says:

    My wife works many more hours than I, and makes much more money. My job is fairly routine, and is absolutely the ideal for a parent of small children – sick leave readily available to care for a child, today I have time off for two dental appointments and a physical for the kids, no questions. We’re both ‘full time’, but my job is in fact 40 hours. So I’m the familiar face at school, sports events, and there are some parents who don’t really know who she is when she does show up. Seethe? Us? no, mostly we try and get through each month with everybody clothed and shod and getting to play dates and games. What I’m doing is getting us through the now, and what she’s doing will get us through paying for college. We feel fine. We’re not aware of anyone doubting us as parents.

  9. ElizabethN Says:

    Also definitely not seething.
    “Am I a Susie homemaker wannabe because I sometimes pray my husband will decide to go to law school and earn a good living?”
    Am I secretly a man because I am terrified that my husband will decide to get a full-time job and I won’t have the support at home that I do now?

  10. Cecily Says:

    I guess we’re a reverse family, although my husband actually works from home. I might be seething a bit but it’s mostly because I’d really rather not be working myself. Otherwise I think we’ve worked out the division of labor rather well (but then, it’s only been 7.5 months!).
    Now if you could just tell me how to get my anti-social hubby to take the baby to a playgroup…

  11. dave s Says:

    LA Times notices a TREND today.,0,3297435.story?coll=la-home-headlines
    sometimes I think those guys read the other paper and decide to do their own story in a week, so it won’t look too suspicious…

  12. rebekah Says:

    Not seething, and only once did I feel I might be, after our son was born and I went back to work after 5 weeks, struggling with breastfeeding, trying to run my business. I was insanely jealous of my husband’s job of staying home. We are really reversing the traditional, I make most of the money and deal with those type of decisions, and my husband takes care of our son and our home and some things that go with it. Now that it’ s been 2 and a half years, a few feelings I’ve noticed:
    Awful that I don’t make enough money to cover health insurance for my family (as a self employed person) and my husband spends his weekends at Starbucks for their incredible coverage and other perks. I’d rather he were in graduate school working his brain a bit more.
    Happy that I get very tasty, very nutritious dinners and breakfasts made for me every workday. Seriously.
    Happy that I can count on my husband to help me grow my business and handle hard work loads, and for overall true and solid spousal support.
    Sad that I miss the neighborhood goings on with the other moms and kids.
    Sad because even though I’m ‘the mom’ I don’t know what my kid did during the day lots of times.
    Sad that because of our roles, having another kid requires major planning due to my missing work. I clearly have no maternity leave as my own boss and I pay for about 90% of our life. Personally, I find this the most annoying. Friends and family who have a more traditional set up happily go about adding to their families, while we drag our feet.
    My friends and sisters have children for a living, I do not. It’s hard to do both in our situation.
    And yes, stressed that I have to support the family. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping, but I’m turning that around by growing the business and making more money.
    That said, I wouldn’t change this deal for anything right now. Sorry for the long post but I so rarely find compadres!

  13. dave s Says:

    Just be happy you are doing this here and not in Netherlands:
    or, why I am not a cultural relativist, part 27

  14. Jeremy Adam Smith Says:

    I comment on this issue over at and quote Half-Changed World pretty extensively.

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