I found too many pieces to list, but I'll cite some articles and blog postings:
One blogger (a "life coach," whatever that is) finds "feelings of resentment, jealousy, frustration" on the part of breadwinning moms. "Many of the women I know who are the bread-winners of their family tend to be controlling. Not necessarily a 'control-freak' or not necessarily consciously but by default. Husbands in the role of a stay-at-home dad may relinquish their role and behave in a subservient manner. The frustration for women comes when they not only work long hours in their career but are also expected to oversee or manage the household despite having someone capable at home."
In "A Breadwinner Rethinks Gender Roles," M.P. Dunleavey writes that breadwinning moms "are seething--with uncertainty, resentment, anxiety and frustration." While her own husband "cooks, cleans, shops and takes care of our son," Dunleavey is filled with "terror that I'll be the breadwinner forever."
But the mother of all these pieces is this essay in the women's magazine Marie Claire entitled, "Why I Left My Beta Husband." Initially author Amy Brayfield loved it when her first husband Mark stayed at home with their daughter, which allowed her to focus on the career she loved. Then she found herself "mortified" when co-workers discovered that her husband was a stay-at-home dad. "I had it all back then," she writes, "including a gorgeous toddler and a cool job. What I didn't have was a husband I felt proud of." She continues:
I felt guilty about being glad to go back to work, and in my head, I made it Mark's fault. Because he couldn't find a job, I blamed him when I was working late and had to miss the baby's bedtime; it was his fault I had to go in early every day, since the fact that he couldn't find a job meant that I couldn't afford to lose mine.Perhaps we should stop there, before it gets uglier. Amy divorces Mark, and gets custody of their daughter. But there's a twist ending: "Nobody was more surprised than I was when I went ahead and fell for another stay-at-home dad."
And when I got home, I seethed. I couldn't walk across the living room without tripping over some plastic toy or container of wipes. The baby was in the same little nightgown she'd slept in the night before. There wasn't a hint of dinner on the horizon. He was home all day—couldn't he at least run a freaking load of laundry?
Eventually, communication between Mark and me deteriorated to the point where all we talked about was the baby. Had she gotten enough sleep? What had she eaten for lunch? How could she have run through an entire value pack of diapers in one weekend? "Wait till I tell you what she did," he'd say every once in a while, as we gazed adoringly at the baby and at each other. In those moments—watching him gently rock her to sleep while singing "Punk Rock Girl"—I was reminded why I had once thought Mark was the sexiest man in the world.
But our sex life was in ruins. I chalked it up to the transition period all new parents go through. Then one day, I realized it had been almost a year since Mark and I had made love.
Which, of course, allows her to continue to pursue her high-powered career.
Many breadwinning mommy bloggers disowned the image of the "seething" working mom who doesn't respect her "subservient" stay-at-home husband: see, for example, Elizabeth at Half-Changed World or Rebecca at Adventures in Applied Math. But we should not dismiss the feelings expressed by Brayfield and Dunleavey--there's obviously a parallel between the fish-out-of-water feelings they express and the angst of a new stay-at-home dad who finds himself alone on the playground.
So what should we think?
Let me tell you a story. One day I was talking with another stay-at-home parent on the playground. While our kids chased each other around the slide, we got to commiserating. I told her how overwhelmed I felt by the daily routines of childcare and housework.
"Well, now you know how women have felt for centuries!" she said, almost cheerful.
Right. I get it. It's a good perspective. And so, to all you ladies out there in reverse role families, let me return the favor.
When I read about women who "seethe" with resentment against the obligations that supporting a family forces on them, or when I hear that they live in "terror" that they'll be the breadwinner "forever," I'm afraid that there's only one response.
You can feel it coming.
Here it goes:
"Well, now you know how men have felt for centuries!"
So there. This is not to imply that we exist in a state of equality. Women still face the glass ceiling, the double shift, sexual harassment, and so on. Men are still the privileged group. We still run the world, though our overthrow is well on the way to happening.
But do women like Dunleavey and Brayfield (elite members of the East Coast media) really carry more burdens than, say, an African-American dad who works as a custodian in a place like East St. Louis or perhaps a Latino migrant worker dad who sends money back to his family in Mexico or a gay dad in Lincoln, Nebraska who works every day to support his husband and children, despite all the obstacles society throws in their way? Or even just a regular Euro-American dad in a regular Midwestern city whose life has thrown him one too many curve balls?
Dunleavey and Brayfield sound to me like they have (or had) damn good husbands, not to mention good jobs and happy, healthy kids. The husbands' main failing is that they don't measure up to Dunleavey and Brayfield's image of traditional fatherhood: "Someone who walks out the door with a pressed shirt on, a leather briefcase, and a confident gait. Someone who wins bread." But whose failing is that, really? As their writing makes clear, the problem here is not that their husbands are failing as partners and parents. The problem for Dunleavey and Brayfield is that their image of the father and their image of the mother are both stuck in the 1950s, a long-gone era.
My simple point is that when we talk about these things, we need some perspective and we need some empathy--and we need to look forward, to what we really want and where we're really going.
When I read stuff like this, I just want to take these women gently by the shoulders and tell them this is the way it is. "I write here a fair amount about what I call 'reverse traditional families'--families with working mothers and at-home fathers," says Half-Changed World. "One of the strains on women in these families is that we rarely give ourselves mothering credit for being breadwinners. We often beat ourselves up for the things that we don't do, without giving ourselves corresponding brownie points for the things we do. Maybe we should stop worrying about whether we're good enough mothers, and decide that we're damned good fathers."
These are wise words. It's certainly better than the angry and unhealthy alternative described by Dunleavey and Brayfield. To them I say, as a working father: Welcome to the club! Stop by and talk anytime! We're all in it together!
Readers should also see my February 28 post, "Shelley's story," for another perspective on being a bread-mommy.