The Stay-at-home Paradox

So school is out so for the past few weeks and I have been playing the stay-at-home wife part of the traditional marriage. This includes dishes, laundry, making all the meals, cleaning, etc. I find it a lot of fun; I loved my jobs at Best Buy and Dairy Queen, which hold two things on common – a sense of predictability through repetitive manual labor and a sense of unpredictability because you deal with random outlier events that pop up every day, making each day unique. Housework resembles those jobs – repetitive manual labor and a sense of unpredictability as new “crises” come up throughout the week.

The goal of my daily existence - folded towels that actually match

The goal of my daily existence - folded towels that actually match

My wife and I have never been very good at being “traditional.” My wife loves her career – she loves accounting, she loves the prestige, the praise, the freedom, the intellectual stimulus in encountering new, complex problems and earning rewards in solving them. I’ve always been very domestic – I find a Zen-like meditative experience and spirituality within household chores, and though the chores are never ending, at the end of the day you can point at an empty kitchen sink or a full drawer of neatly folded socks and say, I did that.

But this causes problems.

We’re both raised in traditional families in a very traditional church (especially when it comes to gender roles). The husband is the provider, the mother the nurturer. Again, we run into problems. That doesn’t describe us. My wife admits she’s terrible at nurturing; I’m pretty bad at providing most of the time. This isn’t to say we’re just a bundle of incompetence: we have come to discover that I am the emotional anchor; she is the realistic material provider. That’s just how we are – my basic drive is to feel needed while my wife’s basic drive is to need someone and know that they will always be there, no matter what. These are our personalities and try as we did to change them in the first years of our marriage, it never happened.

So we’ve simply switched places, you could say. I’m at home folding laundry (and loving it), while my wife works at a wine importer doing all kinds internal auditing and inventory voodoo (and loving it). If we had to switch places, we’d both be very miserable. We’d hate our lives, which would permeate into our marriage, and we’d just never get along, stuck in a malaise of crankiness. No doubt our marriage and relationship would suffer.

Unfortunately, it’s not acceptable. Being a stay-at-home dad is simply not acceptable. It means I’m being a lazy mooch – which makes absolutely no sense.

Here’s the thing – in our church, we say motherhood is hard. It’s difficult. It’s repetitive, boring even. It’s thankless as people take for granted what you do everyday. But it’s necessary. Do stay-at-home moms have it easy? Absolutely not, we cry! They have the hardest job, so fear not, sisters in Zion! You may find your homemaking life unfulfilling sometimes but don’t worry it’s very fulfilling because it’s difficult and hard and we appreciate your hard work!

But if a man decides to stay at home, he’s lazy.

Look how lazy this guy is!

Look how lazy this guy is!

We can derive only so many conclusions from this set of events, folks:

(a) Homemaking isn’t really that hard; in fact, it’s so easy the people who participate in it are lazy. We’ve been lying to women.

(b) Homemaking really is very difficult; but guys, if you want to take over some of the domestic duties the fact is you can’t handle it for whatever reason and you’re pretty useless except as a money making machine and women, you know what to look for in a man – deep pockets.

Now I’m of the opinion that homemaking is hard. It’s time consuming, it’s difficult, and you rarely ever get a day off from it. I am of the rare type that finds it fulfilling. My wife hates it; she prefers career. So if I take over what I like, and she takes over what she likes, and our marriage benefits greatly from it, then what is there to hate?

Now, I understand I can’t bear children. But I’m sure a man can still raise them. I’m sure a man can, you know, teach them ABCs, feed them, change their diapers, take them out to the park, wash the dishes, do the laundry, mop the kitchen floor, clean the toilet, fold the clothes, raise them in the gospel, all of those things. I’m sure a man can do it because women have been trying to get them to do more of it for decades now, possibly centuries (possibly millenia).

And if men can do it, and some men can even excel and enjoy it, then why stop them from doing it? And if some women really, really enjoy working and having careers and going off to have adventures and the husbands don’t mind and are willing to pick up the slack on the domestic side, then why stop them from doing it?

This is basically the current recession, in advertisement form

This is basically the current recession, in advertisement form

This recession has been incredibly sexist and men are getting hit hard. We will have to shift culturally and accept that domesticity for men isn’t a bad thing at all, or we will end up having an entire population of emasculated, depressed men who have been robbed of their main identity and yet provided with little else to replace it.

Why do we persist on placing a stigma on stay-at-home dads and house husbands? And why do we continue to use logic that can only mean two things – we’ve been duping mothers all along with their crappy roles in life, or we’ve been duping men into thinking they actually are worth something beyond their potential to earn (what we believe to be) filthy lucre in this world, whose prince is the devil? Either way, somebody loses. The fact of the matter is that there simply isn’t any good reason why men and women can’t switch roles if they feel it beneficial to the marriage and home environment except for the stale rebuttal, “Because!” (at least no argument that I’ve found). “Because it’s just always been that way!” people cry. “It’s just wrong otherwise!” But as we know, that’s never been a convincing response ever since we were children and our parents had no good reason for some of the hard questions in life. We can explain until the cows come home why things like murdering people or stealing stuff or 2+2=5 or sexism are bad things – it’s simply not just a “because” reason. But every reason I’ve heard up until now is some poorly thought out argument for arbitrary gender roles that must be adhered to religiously for specious reasons. Until people can point out a reason why, my wife sees no reason to be shackled to the laundry basket (the way she sees it) and I find no reason to be shackled to the office desk (the way I see it). We’ll both help each other out in our respective spheres, yes, but don’t come telling me we’re doin it rong if you don’t have a better reason than just “because God said so.” I’m not so sure He did.

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6 Comments

Filed under life stories, religion, wordsmithing

6 responses to “The Stay-at-home Paradox

  1. I think the point of the Church’s reluctance to accept a domestic husband and a working wife is based on the fact that the majority of men are NOT the nurturing emotional anchors that they would need to be. This role, in fact, is more commonly difficult for men than it is for women. I know it’s true for me– as much of a people person I am, I know that I’m not the best listener, and I have much to learn in the way of taking care of children.

    So, in an effort to ensure that the emotional anchor these kids need is available to them, the church has assigned duties along traditional lines because these lines are easy lines to draw, among other reasons. Should men never be the home-maker, and always the breadwinner? Nah.

    You show ’em, Ted.

  2. Ted

    First of all, let me say that the Church rarely tells people what to do (even in gender roles for the most part) but the Church culture is completely different. Church =/= culture in this case.

    I think that a more healthy approach would be to allow flexibility in roles, rather than pushing on the general population a very rigid social system. In order to counter-act the negative forces my wife experiences as a woman in our society, I pushed her to be more aggressive and independent and iconoclastic when it came to social roles – but in the end I realized I was no better than society. When I backed off and allowed her to do what she wanted to do, she flourished. Now she has a good career, but she also enjoys doing some “domestic” things like crafts and knitting. She isn’t a pawn in a great social struggle – she is a human being.

    Sometimes our Manichean outlook on life causes us to treat each other as a militant army rather than a peaceable society. I do not advocate the shirking of responsibility, but I believe that we’re all creative and different enough to figure out an equilibrium and it will be our own personal lives and our personal revelations that will achieve that, not an enforced social ideal from a very conservative culture.

  3. Laurel

    I agree here. I work full time and go to school full time (for Accounting no less) and plan on going to grad school for a Masters of Accounting and possibly a J.D. too. My husband stays home and watches our girls too. He does also own his own business, but all he has to do is answer the phone, deal with paperwork, and give appointments to his technician, so he is contributing, but he is also the primary caregiver in our house. He likes it, and while he doesn’t do it the way I always would have (or did when I was home) I really like working better than staying home, and I think he likes his role better than going to work and having a boss. While the church does say these are “divinely appointed” roles, they do also leave room for flexibility in the phrase “disability, death or other circumstances” phrase. I think the fact that we like it better this way is the “other circumstances”. 🙂 And you’re not alone either. When I worked at another company there were several women on staff whose husbands primarily stayed home with the kids too.

  4. justjillsblog

    After I read your post, my first thought was, “Who are you yelling at here?” I think we are getting to the day and age where this is almost becoming common sense. Sure, there are plenty of traditional types running around judging others for how they choose to run their homes, but you will never get rid of those. I really feel like our generation is perfectly aware of this reality and has already embraced it.

    I think you just need to take a deep breath and relax…maybe fold some laundry ;)…and perhaps not worry so much about others saying your lifestyle is wrong when both you and your wife feel so good about it. 🙂

  5. Ted

    Hm, I never really thought of myself as yelling. Maybe speaking harshly? :p

    To tell you the truth, I’ve encountered nothing but resistance to the idea of a stay-at-home husband, especially if they are church members. Including, you could say, myself. Perhaps it is who I hang out with, but for the most part, the people who have expressed concern/anger/disgust at the idea seemed to come from a broad age spectrum. This post could be considered my “coming out of the closet” post as far as “I like homemaking” goes, and also a justification to a still very large (albeit, older) population out there who think this is a Very Bad Thing.

  6. Ted

    Okay, when I say “nothing but resistance” what I mean was before the blog. After I posted this, I’ve gotten a lot of support, which has made me feel a lot better.

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