I’m the primary breadwinner for my household. My husband is a stay-at-home dad to our toddler. And thanks to deeply ingrained social ideas, this transition has been difficult for people to comprehend.Four out of 10 American households with children under the age of 18 now have a mother who is either the sole, or primary financial earner for their household. A number that has quadrupled since 1960. U.S. Census data from 2011 shows 32 percent of married fathers are considered at-home dads.
The census bureau defines an at-home dad as one who hasn’t been employed, in college, or seeking work for the past 52 consecutive weeks. That number would be far higher if it included men like my husband who attend school online, or men who work opposite shifts from their spouse and are still primary child caregivers.
It’s obvious that an increasing number of Americans are choosing to reverse traditional gender roles. What isn’t obvious is the social pressure and disapproval these families receive for their choices.
Overall, America still thinks children are better off with a stay-at-home mom. Motherhood is considered a higher calling–something women should aspire to do. And the more time a mother can spend with her children, the better off they will be.
A Pew Research poll found that about half of people say children are better off if a mother is home and doesn’t hold a job, while just 8 percent say the same about a father.
From personal experience, both my husband and myself have been the object of ridicule and insult when our family situation is discovered. I’m an emasculating, overbearing wife. Not a proper mother to our daughter. He’s weak, lazy, less than a real man. Why? Because he dares to stay home all week and care for our daughter and our home. And I dare to work full time and take care of our bills.
We do have plenty of support from family and close friends. But this negative attitude toward reverse gender roles is all around us — in interpersonal interactions, the media we consume, unspoken social rules — that is what makes a situation like mine difficult. When you are going against the grain of what society deems as acceptable, it can be hard not to internalize those messages yourself.
I struggle with the same things any working parent does. Feeling the pull between home life and work. Making time when I get home to play with my toddler, even though I’d rather just crash on the couch and watch “How I Met Your Mother” for hours.
My husband struggles with the same things most stay-at-home parents do. Feeling like he doesn’t have enough time for himself. Keeping up on housework behind a toddler tornado.
My husband is wonderful with our daughter. He is just as capable of taking care of her as I am, even more so in some ways. The idea that I’m inherently better at something because I’m a woman is an archaic notion. But for some reason, our society can’t get over the idea that women sometimes work and men sometimes stay at home.
It’s a struggle sometimes. But our personal struggles are no different than they would be if our roles were traditional. We are still a family, who support and love each other. My husband and I are parents who want the best for our daughter.
I look forward to the day when society as a whole respects the structure each family chooses to construct for themselves, and offers support and encouragement instead of judgment and condemnation.
Kaitlin Moroney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org