A household balancing act
Domestic roles shift when one spouse loses a job.
(Page 2 of 2)
As a one-income family, they must cut expenses. Certain tasks they once hired others to do, such as yard work, will fall to her. "We're still in a transition," she says.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Transitions like these are déjà vu for Peter Baylies of North Andover, Mass. In 1992, he was laid off from Digital Equipment Corp., where he worked as a project specialist. In the beginning, he thought of himself as an "involuntary at-home dad," caring for the couple's infant son while his wife worked as a teacher. Eventually "involuntary" became "voluntary," and the Baylieses switched roles permanently.
That marked the beginning of a whole new unpaid career for Mr. Baylies. He founded the At-Home Dad Network to give guidance and support to men like himself who find themselves, by choice or necessity, full-time caregivers for children.
"Just like learning a job, you have to learn how to stay home with your kids," he says. "It took me about six months to get used to it. Some men just can't do it – they'll take any job. They don't have the patience for it."
For those who do stay home, life is easier now than it was when Baylies began. "We're over the Mr. Mom thing," he says. "Dads at home are accepted." Yet equitable divisions of labor take time. "Every dad I talk to, in the beginning they don't do enough. In time, the role reversal evens out."
US Census figures released this month show 140,000 full-time at-home fathers in 2008. Baylies calls those figures "close to meaningless," because they include only married men at home "who haven't earned a dime."
That would exclude Dave Moffatt of Winston-Salem, N.C. Although he has been at home for 13 years, caring for his two daughters, now ages 13 and 11, he also worked 20 hours a week for a fundraising consulting firm. In October he was laid off. Now he and his wife, a fundraiser for a medical school, have had to consider what domestic tasks he can take back that she assumed when he worked part time.
Sharon Meers, coauthor, with Joanna Strober, of "Getting to 50/50," offers reassurance that couples can achieve domestic equilibrium without nagging. "It's not easy, and there's lots of debate, but three steps couples are taking can help a lot," she says.
First, have a master plan. "Some Saturday, say, 'Is there another way we might run our household? I'm feeling overburdened, and I'm wondering if we might switch this around so it works better for both of us.' Often there's a sense that one spouse, frequently the wife, is doing more. But if you compare lists of what each partner is doing, you might be surprised."
Second, let go. "Respect the male point of view," Ms. Meers says. "We need to allow men to have a say in how the house works."
Third, show appreciation. Stay-at-home spouses are likely to do more if they feel appreciated.
Weiner-Davis also cautions against expecting a spouse to be a mind reader. Listing things that need to be done can avoid conflict. "It behooves people to recognize that everyone is experiencing the fallout of a failing economy," she says. "Everyone is undergoing change and sacrifice. It's important to pull together and band together, rather than see each other as opponents. Don't forget to take stock of what's really important in life. Schedule couple and family time and count your blessings."