When J and I made the decision that he would quit his job to stay home with Munchkin I was thrilled. There was never a question of whether I would quit my job. I didn’t want to. I have a rewarding career that I love. I also have a demanding career and we had concerns about juggling two careers. We made a decision that worked best for us and the family we were creating. J and I both knew there would be pros and cons of the family structure we were settling on. What we didn’t really expect were some of the reactions and comments we’ve received from people. As a Sociologist, I find the comments we’ve received fascinating. I’m going to share some of the most common comments we’ve had over the last 4.5 years and our reaction to the good, bad and perplexing things people have said to us.
1. Munchkin was born in the middle of the recession. Hubby, at the time, was employed in one of those hard hit fields. We were fortunate that he had a job, but when he quit many people made the assumption that he was only home with Munchkin because of the national economic situation. Now, for many men during this time this was true. They were home with their children because they were unable to find work. They were actively seeking to reenter the workforce. People were seriously perplexed when they learned J had made a conscious decision to become a “stay at home” Daddy. We’ve had people who really just did not know how to respond to our situation. The look on their face is priceless. You’d think we were swingers the way they reacted to us.
2. The next comment really kind of pisses me off. Now, I think J is father of the year. But, I know he would be the same involved father whether he had a job in the labor force or not. I get really riled up when people put J on a pedestal like he’s some alien concept only found in museums–“OOO, over here we will see the involved father who does everything–his daughter’s hair, plays princesses, paints toe nails.” These are things that, I am SURE, fathers all over are doing with their daughters and that mothers also do ALL THE TIME. I’m sorry. If he was not an involved and active father and family member, I’ll be honest, we’d have a REAL problem. I EXPECT involvement from my partner and he expects that from me. Do we really think so little of the men who are out there being great Dads all the time? Wait, I know the answer. I only have to watch TV commercials that still make it on TV making Dads out to be incompetent.
3. “We know who wears the pants in THAT family.” This one is a dig at me. I am driven. I am ambitious. I’ve been called a bitch because I have a very direct and no nonsense approach to work. J knew every single one of these things before he ever married me and LONG before we made the decision he would quit his job to care for our child. I did not marry a limp noodle. I married a strong willed and intelligent man. I resent when people assume I have somehow dominated him because I bring home the pay check and he stays home with our girl. But, as a sociologist it is a fascinating look at the still strong gendered family expectations, norms and roles.
4. “I just don’t think I would want to miss my child growing up.” This one too is directed at me. The last time I checked the majority of women are in the labor force. I do not understand this level of guilt we place on women who work when 70% OF WOMEN WITH CHILDREN UNDER 18 ARE WORKING OUTSIDE THE HOME! (United States Department of Labor) Many, many women do not have the choice–they MUST work away from home or their children do not eat. Yet, we hear all the time from the media, well intentioned and ill intentioned friends, family and acquaintances, and even our politicians that our children will be socially damaged because we work away from home. I call bull not only because I am a work away from home Mama but because the research does not support this notion either.
5. J is hounded all the time with the question, “When are you going back to work?” My initial response is, “When he damn well decides thank you very much.” What if we decide it is best for him to stay home even when she is in school? Will people look at him like a bum because he is a man that is not “working” and his wife is bringing home the bacon? But, I think the first time he got that question Munchkin was only a few months old. He now tells people he is working on his degree (which he is) and people have a response that works for them because he’s not “just” staying at home. Because, you know, keeping track of and teaching a preschooler is so easy.
I could go on and on about this subject. The family structure we’ve created has been one of the most fascinating sociological experiences of our lives just in how people react to us. I’ve said for a long time my next research project will be with families like ours because given the number of times we’ve encountered the exchanges above, I know they are getting the same questions and reactions.
Our normal works for us. We are all just trying to make it and raise kids who are not little jerks. We should be supportive of each other because raising a family is hard enough without the added guilt, comments, critiques and just down right dumb things people can say to others who are not doing things like they do.