Do Dads and Mom Have the Same Back-to-Work Plans?

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

This is apparently the season for at-home dads to consider returning to work. First, M.P. Dunleavey penned a piece for the New York Times about her at-home husband's impending move to go back to work full time. Then, The Washington Post Health Section, Mark Trainer raised the question of when his stint at home would end.

Both Dunleavey and Trainer make similar points by the end of their respective pieces: At-home dads rarely see their gig as open-ended. There is a point at which almost every at-home dad decides that re-entry back into the workforce is inevitable. Dunleavey even goes one step further, suggesting that perhaps the eventual return to the workforce is taken more seriously if you're an at-home dad than an at-home mom:

In all my musings about the difference between the lives of male and female breadwinners, this is one I hadn't considered. There are many women who are willing to run their homes, open-ended. I have not been able to find any research on this topic, but I suspect most men view the position as a stopover.

That most at-home dads have an exit strategy is not particularly surprising. The Wall Street Journal just ran a Q-and-A about a dad's transition, and each year at the At-Home Dad Convention, the most-packed session is inevitably the one on transitioning back to paid work.

All of this is anecdotal support for the idea that dads see the at-home thing as more temporary than moms in the same position. But I'm not so sure that's a safe assumption. Yes, today's at-home dads may see their gig as limited in duration, but it seems like most moms I know expect to transition at some point, too. This seems to be a generational thing: I remember plenty of moms from my childhood who never really re-entered the workforce.

So I'll throw it out to you: Do you current at-home parents -- moms and dads -- expect to re-join the paid workforce at a specific point in time? And if you've already made that move, what precipitated it?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at

By Brian Reid |  May 1, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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I was planning on staying home until my younges was in 2nd grade (this year). However, when my husband was laid off, things changed. He put in job applications, and I started substitute teaching in the local school system. I also put in applications to two local utilities (my former profession). Wouldn't you know that I had two offers before my husband had any interviews. So back to full time work I went, and my husband started subbing while the kids were in school (my youngest was in Kindergarten at the time).
Since he wasn't having any luck, and his goal was to become a teacher (once we hit the lottery), we figured now was as good a time as any for him to switch careers. So after 2 years, my husband is now a fully licensed secondary math and computer science teacher in the local system (but not our kid's school), and I am still working full time. It was a little harsh, since I was still very involved in a lot volunteer positions, but over the years I've pared back my involvement so that I still have time with the family. I can't say we're completely balanced, but it is manageable.

Posted by: pamsdds | May 1, 2008 7:55 AM

Don't men have a deeply engrained sense of being the provider? It is still not socially acceptable in many places (especially the South where I am from) for a man to be at home and not work. The first thing many men introduce themselves with is their profession and doing "women's work" is considered emasculating. It seems to me Brian that men would always consider being at home to be brief because they judge their worth so much more on how they provide for the family than women do.

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 1, 2008 8:33 AM

In decades past, there was no such thing as a Stay at Home Mom--there were housewives. It was understood that their primary responsibilities were to maintain the home, provide meals, and meet their husband's and children's needs. The term Housewife never really had a corrollary in Househusband.

The term SAHM shifts those primary responsibilities to parenting, and it allows the more normal-sounding term SAHD.

Some consequences of the change in terms are:
1) because the emphasis is on the children and not the home, once the children are older it seems obligatory for SAH parents to return to work.

2) the housework and the WOH spouse's needs are seen as less important than parenting. This can lead to marital strife and higher divorce rates.

Posted by: newslinks | May 1, 2008 8:55 AM

I always thought I'd stay at home until my youngest child was in school. Around the time that DD turned 1, that morphed into "as soon as my youngest (hypothetical) child turns one." That's where we are now, though the second child remains hypothetical. If we don't have an actual second child on the horizon by the time my daughter is 3.5 or 4, I'll be heading back to work then. I don't really want to be out of the workforce for longer than 5 years.

Posted by: NewSAHM | May 1, 2008 9:09 AM

@newslinks: Excellent point on the shift in language. Is there anyone left under 50 who would describe themselves as a housewife or househusband? Or is everyone a stay-at-home [whatever] nowadays.

Posted by: Brian Reid | May 1, 2008 9:12 AM

Watch those "under 50" cracks, Brian!

Posted by: Fred | May 1, 2008 9:18 AM

I don't worry about labels, call me a SAHM call me a housewife, just don't call me late for dinner!

Now that the kids are in school I'm kind of at a crossroads about what to do next. While I'm not ruling out paid work, I do know that I don't want to work full time and I don't want to do anything that I don't enjoy ever again. My husband truly loves his job and we decided from the beginning that his career would be the primary path, because he had greater earning power AND knew what he wanted to do.

Whatever I do, I want to be home at 3pm for the kids. I want to have dinners together and weekends free to enjoy as a family. So, I'm more inclined at this point to increase my volunteer comittments, but I'm really enjoying my woodworking so we'll see what pans out. In the end I want to do something that enhances my life, the lives of others and does not take away from the balance that we currently have as a family. Wish me luck.

Posted by: moxiemom | May 1, 2008 9:24 AM

I guess that is partly why I cling to my part time employee title, although my hours are minimal. Housewife seems a very 50's title, SAHM implies an end date whether or not that is actually best for the family. (I think middle school seems to be the scariest time NOT to have a parent around.)

Will just have to see what happens... whether the need for extra money pushes a change.

Posted by: SAH? | May 1, 2008 9:29 AM

Well, being laid off in my 8th month with kid #1, it was only natural that I stay at home. Which was kinda what we had decided anyway, but I got severance and unemployment. woo woo.

At one point, my DH was told he was going to be laid off (with 90 days notice), so he and I started to look for jobs - we figured that chances were better if we were both looking. He happened to get a job first, so that stress was taken off (with the 90 day working bonus from company that laid him off, we went to Jamaica).

When I was pregnant with youngest, we talked about me going back to work when he was 8-10 months. Which sounded like a good idea. Then I panicked and started sending out resumes when he was four months old, thinking that no one would ever hire me with a gap on my resume. Boy was I wrong! Within two weeks I had a job offer (!). So I went back to work when youngest was about 6 months old. It was very natural, actually - the company was progressive (or wanted to seem to be), so no one ever blinked when I went to go pump (there were two rooms for pumping). But it was a horrible company, and then I switched jobs. That became difficult (we have it easy, have always had at home help, and I find it difficult - I don't know how others do it with the kids in day care or whatever) - so at about 20 months at that job, I asked to go part time, then quit when they got wishy washy and I had to do something (i.e., know what their plans were so I could make child care plans).

So now I'm a SAHM (with help, the au pair leaves in about 3 weeks). So I'm taking the summer off (I tell people I'm retired). My old company said they would hire me part time in the fall (which would be silly if they didn't given their situation) - but if they don't, I have other plans, in any event. I told DH that after having gone back to work and then leaving - it would be difficult to go back to the cubicle world. Which is just fine with me, anyway.

However, DH is starting his own businesses, so hopefully at some point I can start working for those. And/or start my own thing. I'm not worried and don't really want to go back to cubicle work anyway. Not what it's cracked up to be .... :)

I'm so glad that we have the resources for me to be home. It will be difficult, no kidding, but we'll figure it out. I'm not too worried - okay, well, a little. :)

Posted by: atlmom | May 1, 2008 9:30 AM

The thing is, even with part time work, it seems you need full time help. Otherwise, there's still so much to do and you can't always get it done after school - ya know? like shopping, and etc. And the kids have activities, etc. I don't know. We'll see what happens.
And then if I get a job that entails evening hours, I'd never see my DH. :)

Posted by: atlmom | May 1, 2008 9:35 AM

I followed the links and read the Wall Street Q and A and also the articles that Brian was referring to. So, SAHD's have a convention, cool! DO SAHM's do as well? I found the advice to a SAHD engineer pretty gender neutral; I could have used the same advice if I were in his situation. It seems to me that WaPo's Trainer is already working -- he is writing for the paper and writing short story collection so in my mind he already "returned" to work. And while my husband and I were never SAHP outside of maternity/paternity leaves, I still think that a decision to return to a traditional office 10 hours outside the home work is very personal and is driven by factors such as economics, financial plans of a family, kid's schedules, and so on. For example, I fully believe that when my kids enter middle school they need a parent figure to be around after school a lot more than they do now. This parent figure can be a mom or a dad and they can even do some work from home. So I am planning for one of us to be a semi SAH or work from home parent in a few years.

Posted by: dc reader | May 1, 2008 9:39 AM

"So, SAHD's have a convention, cool! DO SAHM's do as well?"

Yes they do. It is every Tuesday morning at the Starbucks in the Target. After drop off before half day pick up! ba dum dum bum! Thank you, I'll be here all week - 2 drink minimum.

Posted by: moxiemom | May 1, 2008 9:57 AM

"Don't men have a deeply engrained sense of being the provider? It is still not socially acceptable in many places (especially the South where I am from) for a man to be at home and not work."

Most men, as most women, have a deeply engrained sense of responsibility for their families. Fulfilling that responsibility takes both time and money. Money by itself doesn't make the household go 'round. Just ask moxiemom.

You don't speak for the entire South, by the way. In our neighborhood, there are 3 SAH dads. Each were professionals who got to that point following industry-wide layoffs. It made more sense to become a full-time caregiver than to continue to pay for childcare as the months dragged on and only one income was possible. There are many families in central and eastern North Carolina whose jobs in IT, pharma, biotech and the furniture industry have - *poof* - disappeared, whether through RIFs or outsourcing. Both genders here have a keen appreciation of the impact of offshoring and early-outs on households and are far less judgmental then they might once have been (30 years ago) about how a family meets its own economic needs. Life doesn't always go as planned. Those in good marriages work together to put all options on the table and choose what's best for their family.

What is "socially acceptable" to the Joneses is not part of our calculus of how we live our lives or what's best for our family.

Posted by: MN | May 1, 2008 9:59 AM

"This seems to be a generational thing: I remember plenty of moms from my childhood who never really re-entered the workforce."

Different socio-economic circles, I guess. In the town in St. Tammany Parish, LA in which I went to high school, I knew of no mothers at that time who "never really re-entered the workforce." In fact, of all my friends from high school, only one had a mother who wasn't working *then.* With no offense intended, that was an LDS family with 12 children, of whom my classmate was the second oldest. There was a sibling born during our senior year.

Everybody else *worked* because you sort of had to, in order to, you know, make ends meet and all that rot.

Posted by: Army Brat | May 1, 2008 10:06 AM

moxiemom - LOL, you're on a role and it's still early.

Posted by: MN | May 1, 2008 10:06 AM

Anything to get your dander up, Fred. :)

Posted by: Brian Reid | May 1, 2008 10:12 AM

My DH has been the SAHD since our DD was 3 months old. He's been working part-time, with help from the grandparents when he has meetings, etc. However, my job is moving out-of-state in no more than 2 years, and though it pays more than his career, we have no desire to move with it, so we've started looking at other options. He's managed to stay involved in his field, and fairly regularly gets approached about returning to full-time work.

Right now we're considering an in-state move for a new position for my DH. This would mean us switching roles, with him as the bread-winner, and me as the SAHM. The only issue is trying to figure out if we can handle the over-all salary cut in a slightly lower-cost-of-living area, or if I'll have to find a part-time job without the benefit of local grandparents.

DD is currently 19 months old, so my preference would be to be home with her until she goes to school, and then transition back to working, either full or part time. While the thought of being a career SAHM is appealing to me, I just don't know if that can work the same way now as it did with my parents, what with all the rising prices. My mother never returned to work after having her first child, and I saw her frustration at not having any money of her own and the limits of a single-family income.

Posted by: llamamama | May 1, 2008 10:16 AM

I think another generational shift has been in the types of jobs held by women. Perhaps if the only WOH jobs available to me were nurse or teacher, as was largely the case not too many decades ago, perhaps I'd have no interest in WOH. but I find my job really interesting and challenging, so I'll almost certainly return to work FT (though 3 days a week from home, 2 days in office) after the baby's born.

The options have changed primarily for higher-income women. Lower-income women have always found work when they needed it, but it wasn't a choice made--simply something that had to be done, as AB points out.

Posted by: newslinks | May 1, 2008 10:20 AM

newslinks - yep, that's right. Most of the jobs the women of that town held were low-paying. Teaching and nursing were the "higher-status" jobs. Also, bank tellers, retail workers, admin/clerical, etc. There were a few who held executive positions (worked their way up to bank VP, for example) but not too many.

I wasn't trying to be snarky or to tick off Brian, btw. Just trying to point out that the difference between this generation and previous generations applies much more to the upper-middle-income bracket than to others.

Posted by: Army Brat | May 1, 2008 10:28 AM

Well, thank you Brian!

And I was going to point out that many couples we know, way down in the South, both work out of economic necessity. We know of very few couples who have only one working spouse. Maybe the other spouse only works PT but nonetheless, both work outside the home. But AB and newslinks beat me to it!

Posted by: Fred | May 1, 2008 10:32 AM

"I wasn't trying to be snarky or to tick off Brian, btw. Just trying to point out that the difference between this generation and previous generations applies much more to the upper-middle-income bracket than to others."


The follow-on is that in previous generations a woman would never have made enough to be the primary or sole support of her family. This is the first or second generation of families who've had the option to have the man stay home if that's what works for that family.

Posted by: MN | May 1, 2008 10:46 AM

In my (limited!) experience, it seems like white women are very indecisive compared to white men, and black men are very indecisive compared to black women.

Has anyone else noticed any gender/race correlations? Have there been any studies of these demographic trends (if they in fact exist?)

Posted by: anon | May 1, 2008 10:48 AM

Moxiemom: I hope you find what your looking for. I am hoping to transition to working one hour a week less but work 7 five hour days. That way I will be home for the kiddies after school. I hope to do this when our son is in kindergarten and daughter is in 3 rd grade. If our son never came about, I was hoping to do it when daughter reached kindergarten. But I thought it over and decided a full day home with baby was best for him and my daughter could live with after school care for a few years.

Regarding part time work and full time care. Totally true. If you want quality care, you pretty much have to pay for time that your not using. For us it is a huge bit. I pay for full time care and daughter goes to day care 8 hours a week. I can't wait till kindergarten!

I think the SAHD thing must be regional. My brother has been a SAHD for a few years and is thinking of going back to work soon. But where he lives in upstate NY, there are a lot of SAHDs for part of the year due to the seasonality of certain jobs. They have a large logging sector there as well as summer tourists. So the men work at logging and summer tourist stuff for 3/4s of the year. Then in the winter months, they take on more child care and family responsibilities. I guess their wives work more in those winter months.

Posted by: foamgnome | May 1, 2008 10:51 AM

I know two SAHD's who don't reallyseem to want to go back to work (one even said, as youngest is going to PreK - hey, we need another kid so I can have job security!).

One was laid off and they didn't think that paying for child care while he was looking for a job was a great idea, they've been doing it for many years now.

The other, I'm not exactly sure if he was laid off or if they chose for him to quit his job, but his wife has been at her company at least 20 years, so they have a lot of flexibility (she gets something like 5 weeks vacation a year) and she's doing well, so he stays home.

There are various other situations of my friends (starting own businesses, working part time, leaving job, in and out of work force).

But SAHDs are becoming more prevalent, in any case. Realistically, as said before, it is rare for a family to live on one income for an extended period of time - in history, the 50s are an anomaly. Both parents would work, grandparents or friends/relatives would take care of the kids. Everyone who *could* work *did* work - unless you were incredibly wealthy.

Posted by: atlmom | May 1, 2008 11:22 AM

One of my neighborhood beer drinking buddies has been [happily] laid off for the past 8 months or so. Luckily, his wife works full-time to support him and his 2 HS kids for now. Unfortunately though, his name is Bob and consequently, the guys in the neighborhood have nicknamed him "Spongebob".

Of course, stay at home mothers are treated different. For instance, our token stay-at-homer, Moxiemom, whose posts get me laughing at my desk almost daily, I would never, ever refer to as "Spongemom". :)

Sexism at it finest!

Posted by: DandyLion | May 1, 2008 11:26 AM

I just wanted to point out that it wasn't so long ago that a woman was expected to quit working when she got married.

In fact, many employers simply fired women when they announced their engagement. Some held off until the actual wedding occurred.

So, it was not only a cultural expectation, it was reinforced behaviour.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 1, 2008 11:46 AM

Dandylion - I guess there is a bit of sexism out there. Even I think that a guy with two kids in high school should be working if there is a need. High school kids don't require a SAHP anymore, although it is probably wise to have someone home afterschool just to make sure they aren't having sex between 3 and 6 pm. Women are much more likely to get a pass to stay home even after the kids don't require it anymore. I think though, that most women who do that do so because family finances allow it easily. And I guess I would say that if a man chooses to be a househusband because his wife can afford it, then really it's none of my business. But a guy is staying home to watch tv and eat bon bons, with no little ones at home, and with stretched family financies just doesn't sound so appealing. I don't think it sounds appealing for a wife in the same circumstances either, but women seem to be able to get away with it more easily.

Posted by: Emily | May 1, 2008 11:47 AM

The follow-on is that in previous generations a woman would never have made enough to be the primary or sole support of her family.

Better not Michelle Singletary "hear" you say that. Her grandmother supported the family on her salary as a maid. I don't know what happened to grandpa, dad, mom, etc.

It's been done. Even on film. "I Remember Mama", for example.

I concur, this discussion isn't about the working poor.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 1, 2008 11:51 AM

The best financial planner Michelle Singletary ever knew was Big Mama, her grandmother. Big Mama raised Michelle and her four brothers and sisters on a salary that never reached more than $13,000 a year. Yet at her death, Big Mama owned her own home, had paid off a car loan, and had a beautiful collection of Sunday-go-to-meeting church hats and a savings account that supplemented her Social Security check and small pension

Posted by: Anonymous | May 1, 2008 11:54 AM

Better not Michelle Singletary "hear" you say that. Her grandmother supported the family on her salary as a maid. I don't know what happened to grandpa, dad, mom, etc.

Posted by: | May 1, 2008 11:51 AM

I'm not suggesting that people haven't survived or scraped by on a woman's income in the past. But men weren't staying home with the intention of manning the home front while their wives worked as maids. Being a SAHD is intentional. Being out of work and looking for employment is a whole different kettle of fish -- one with no or few bon bons.

Posted by: MN | May 1, 2008 11:55 AM

the technology revolution has changed so much on the home front, too. in the past, washing laundry entailed hand scrubbing and line drying, both time-consuming and labor-intensive. now we throw it into machines and watch tv. :) same for dishwashers, microwaves, premade freezer foods, etc.

there's a lot less work for a Housewife or Househusband to do now, so it seems reasonable to switch the focus onto the kids (SAHP). ergo, once the kids grow up, the SAHP needs to find other work.

i do think it's a fascinating debate, what age kids need their parents at home the most. some swear by staying at home until the kid's 1, or 3, or 5, whereas others think the young ones do great in daycare but need more present parents in middle school or even high school.

there is a real difference between being a "homemaker" or "housewife/husband" vs a SAHM. most people who self-define as SAHM would go back to work at some point, even if they waited til the kids were in college. whereas, if you see yourself as a homemaker, your essential responsibilities regarding housework and organization and spousal support don't change after the kids leave, so continuing your work as a homemaker makes more sense.

Posted by: newslinks | May 1, 2008 11:58 AM

I know one SAHD that left when his oldest was in elementary school and youngest was a toddler. It made sense to do that but not his oldest is in community college and youngest is in HS. It seems weird he won't go back to work. They don't need the money to survive but it would be helpful. Plus they are willing to put up with a lot less then most people.

Personally, if you can afford it or are willing to go with less, I think it is nice if one parent can stay at home. I just think there are a lot of people who can't afford it and a lot of us not willing to live on less.

Posted by: foamgnome | May 1, 2008 12:19 PM

foamgnome - you said a lot there! Basically, keeping a house/home or whatever is noone's business but that couple or family. It is nice for any particular family to just be happy with their decision.

Posted by: dotted | May 1, 2008 12:23 PM

To follow up on newslinks' very astute comments, the change from homemaker to SAHP (whether it be real or just a shift in perception) also raises questions about other responsibilities at home. If someone is a SAHP (regardless of gender), with the focus on the kid(s), does that alter the division of labor/expectations regarding general, non child-related tasks at home? Who is responsible for the laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc.? Is it the SAHP's responsibility, or is childcare viewed as the SAHP's job, and the other household responsibilities are divided as if the SAHP was working outside the home?

I think the answer is that there is no one right answer - each family has to determine what works for them. But I'm curious as to how others divide these responsibilties.

Posted by: DCD | May 1, 2008 12:28 PM

I think it's interesting, though, that most of the commenters today entirely devalue the contribution of the person at home to household peace, once the kids are in school. Having someone at home to handle all doctors' appointments, early closings, days when school is out of session, mid-week birthday parties and other social commitments, homework god or goddess, waiting for the plumber or cable guy, and whatever else is a big load off the employed spouse. Plus, when the employed spouse travels, the at-home spouse often can travel, too, (with no work commitments), which provides for more family trips and more time together.

It's not our lifestyle, but, from what I've observed, it is one with a lot less stress and anxiety then when both are working. The amount one spouse often makes on a part-time basis rarely justifies the additional tax burden and splitting all the above tasks 50/50. If it's what the spouse wants to do, fine, but no one looking from outside should assume that the spouse working part-time is meaningfully contributing to the household's aggregate income.

Posted by: MN | May 1, 2008 12:40 PM

Moxiemom: Good luck!! I think the wordworking stuff sounds pretty awesome.

Posted by: LizaBean | May 1, 2008 12:41 PM

MN, I'm not saying there aren't SAHDs in the South but that on the whole, the culture there is more patriarchial where men should be "men" and women should be "women" and gender roles remain very defined for many. I'm not sure where you are from but I am from the "Redneck Riveria" where Alabama borders us on both sides. Most people don't have a lot of money so both parents work. But if they had an option, mom would stay home not dad. The image of a SAHD for many is the guy with no shirt on on COPS. He only stays at home because he is lazy or a drunk. This is certainly not the case overall and there are examples to contradict this, of course. I am only referring to how gender roles still remain strong in many locales, particularly for those of us who grew up in the South for generations.

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 1, 2008 12:46 PM

Posted by: newslinks | May 1, 2008 11:58 AM

GREAT point about the changes in housework. I remember watching a show called something like "Victorian House" on PBS a few years ago, where they had a modern family live like a middle-class Victorian family -- i.e., they could afford a few servants, but dad still had to work all day. I was floored at the extent of the housework. Dusting and scrubbing was a daily battle because of the coal-burning furnaces. Cooking took hours. And laundry was a 13-hr, all-hands-on-deck, once-a-week chore. You truly had to have a "housewife," because simply keeping everything reasonably clean and putting food on the table was a 14-hr-a-day job, even with servants.

Those of us born over the past 50+ yrs just naturally have little idea of what the earlier generations had to do (besides the whole "walking uphill to school both ways through the snow" thing, of course). Even my Granny, who's now in her 80s, had to grow her own garden so she could put up as much food as she could (full days of canning/jellymaking in summer), had to sew/crochet/quilt to make clothes and blankets, had to scrub and polish her wood floors on her hands and knees once a week because all they had was beeswax, etc. etc. etc. It wasn't until talking to her that I understood why anyone would install wall-to-wall carpeting over those beautiful original hardwood floors -- as my Granny said, "they don't look so beautiful when you spend 4 hrs a week on your hands and knees scrubbing them." :-)

It really is technological innovation that has allowed so many middle- and upper-class women the freedom to work outside the home.

Posted by: Laura | May 1, 2008 12:47 PM

moxiemom - how did I miss your post this morning? that's what I get for skimming too quickly. You rock! (You wood sounds weird).

And here SaHM's meet at the local to toss down a few over lunch, you know.

Posted by: dotted | May 1, 2008 12:47 PM

Florida chick - in this neighborhood (Chapel Hill-not redneck central to say the least), many men are stay-at-home, but that is due to being able to work-from-home. I would bet a good 30-40% of homes have a work-from-home spouse. Just adds another wrinkle to the equation (oh now, not another wrinkle...where's that botox)

Posted by: dotted | May 1, 2008 12:51 PM

"The image of a SAHD for many is the guy with no shirt on on COPS."


I was raised in Virginia, currently live in North Carolina and am married to a man from generations of Mississippians. Say what you will, I am wondering why you feel the need to paint the entire South, or even the Deep South, as this monolithic backwards place, particularly using adjectives like "patriarchal," since it only serves to confirm the most reactionary views held by those who don't live here.

My boss is making mid 6 figures. Last year her husband, possessing 3 degrees - 2 advanced, was offered a package by his former employer, a Fortune 100 company. He started his own photography business. No one, including the members of his very traditional South Carolina family, is viewing him as a guy on COPS. Every penny he'd make is eaten up by the AMT, so why add stress to the family unit and have their kids in afterschool care and camps? In my experience, Southerners and Yankees both understand basic math and the tax structure of the US.

Posted by: MN | May 1, 2008 12:55 PM

I'm not trying to say everyone is this way at all! The south is more patriarchial. This comes from sociological studies. Some areas are very wealthy where there are debutante balls. Many other areas are very poor and where certain gender models are more reinforced. Obviously there are many people who do very well and I'm not denying that. I'm only speaking averages, especially compared with other regions of the country. That is all! I love southern people, seeing as how I am one!

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 1, 2008 1:04 PM

It really is technological innovation that has allowed so many middle- and upper-class women the freedom to work outside the home.

Posted by: Laura | May 1, 2008 12:47 PM

That, plus the laws changed and employers couldn't simply fire women for daring to become engaged and/or married.

There was a time when that is EXACTLY what happened. It was happening as an acceptable way of doing business during the early to mid 1960's, for example.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 1, 2008 1:07 PM

lordy lordy - sociological studies say the south is more patriarchical? I'm stunned. Atlmom, where are you? I mean, give a few references (and they had better be recent and relevant) because noone in Atlanta is from Atlanta and ditto for RTP, Charlotte, Orlando, etc. etc.

Posted by: dotted | May 1, 2008 1:18 PM

Most of my nurses are parents working to pay mortgages. Out here on the Left Coast, if you want to buy, you really need two incomes, even in today's climate. Fortunately, nursing allows you to work 3 12hour shifts and be considered fulltime. It makes childcare easier. However, those singletons looking for condos or houses usually work a second job. The only people staying home are in the upper echelons.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 1, 2008 1:20 PM

Well, MN, my DH's grandfather was born here. Okay, so we're all Jewish, and realistically, as was part of the discussion yesterday, those families are more matriarchal. No joke.

But I think mostly that the southern families may APPEAR to be patriarchal, but, as with most down south (okay, another generality) not much is at it seems - they seem to me mostly matriarchal behind the scenes.

Posted by: atlmom | May 1, 2008 1:45 PM

and my FIL is from memphis - i think from what it appears that his mom ran the show. But never met either of his parents, and he has no sibs, so it can be hard to tell, but his cousin, who is like a sib - i would say she runs the show - they live in charlotte now. :)

Posted by: atlmom | May 1, 2008 1:47 PM

When I was in school in Virginia with a VERY southern roommate, she made it her mission to teach me "how southern women control their men." I think she's probably on husband #4 now, but we lost touch quickly. The lessons were pretty helpful in controlling doctors though.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 1, 2008 1:50 PM

dotted, Without references to a large-scale study supporting those comments, I'm callin' b***s**t on there being statistically significant regional differences in "patriarchy" in the US -- particularly since those of us whose families arrived at Ellis Island came from very traditional, patriarchal cultures and largely put down roots in the Northeast.

and those who settled the West? Them's was patriarchal as well. Let's consider Utah with its large LDS population -- nope. No matriarchies there.

Did I miss a big feminist uprising in Kansas, Iowa, Illinois or Nebraska? I thought not.

Posted by: MN | May 1, 2008 1:55 PM

I didn't think there would be references. as you write ... just saying!

Posted by: dotted | May 1, 2008 2:09 PM

DandyLion - you may call me Spongemom if you like or Stone Cold Fox - whatever falls from your lips most naturally. Do I get a fun theme song like Spongebob? Songster?

MN - you said it all regarding the serenity that comes from having someone at home. My husband and I both value that.

Dotted - I thought about botox, but realized it was out of our price range, so I got bangs.

Dotted, Lizbean and Foam - thanks for the support. I think it is some weirdo midlife thing. I'm starting the downside of the curve (at least statistically) and want to make sure that I make the most of what I've got left. The woodworking could be awesome or another way to spend a bunch of money on tools! I'm currently building simple beds for my kids and I enjoy doing trim work. I have a long way to go before anyone would pay me to do it! I might just choose to eat bonbons and read People magazine followed by the Sun (to counteract the intellectual effect of the People) for the rest of my days - not likely.

As an aside, I just did lunch and recess at my daughter's pre-school for teacher appreciation day! YOWZA - anyone who spends all day with 25 kids that they are not related to gets kudos from me. I need a cocktail but apparently driking AT the preschool is frowned upon! I do think there should be childcare provider appreciation day!

Posted by: Moxiemom | May 1, 2008 2:11 PM

Do you have a pychological need to go after people that have different opinions than you? I have been a lurker (with a few random comments)for the past few years and I have enjoyed some of your insightful comments but you just ruin it when you go after people for saying things that you do not agree with. You become relentless. Why? Does it make feel more superior?

I grew up in the Deep South and my entire family still resides there. My past and current experience is similar to FloridaChick in the sense that if there is going to be a SAHP it is certainly not the man. I don't agree that this is just a Southern thing but I just don't think it is necessary to go after FloridaChick just to show how smart you are.

Posted by: LTL | May 1, 2008 2:15 PM

The interesting thing is that everything IS exactly as it seems in the South....

Ya'll just don't know how to look and listen.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 1, 2008 2:19 PM

Shortly after my first child was diagnosed with severe learning disabilities, I took a short break from the workplace. It lasted about two years.

I still remember being FLOORED when my MIL went on and on about how great it was that I'd have more time to spend cleaning and really getting our house in order! As if I was leaving my career because I felt that the HOUSE needed more of my time and attention. (Yes, that's right. Our house was feeling so lonely, never getting washed or swept. Didn't seem right somehow . . It's only going to be young once and I can't see missing those all important years with the house. Later on, when I look back on all those years I spent with the house . .. .)

And then she came to visit after I'd be home about six months, and guess what? the house actually probably DIRTIER, cuz of all the art projects we now had time to do. I stil don't think she's recovered . .

Posted by: Just Lurking | May 1, 2008 2:32 PM

LTL - say what? pathological need? I don't agree with that at all. When someone blithely quotes 'sociological studies', one can call 'b*ll'. It isn't personal at all.

But 'relentless'? well, that's one of my most favorite quality adjectives.

Posted by: dotted | May 1, 2008 2:36 PM

Leslie: top 10 suggestions

a. top 10 bon mots from previous OB posts

b. top 10 magazines one never has time to read, or alternatively, loves to read while waiting in the doctor's office

Posted by: dotted | May 1, 2008 2:38 PM

I confess, I read People in the salon. I have NO interest in celebrities, and haven't seen a movie in the theatre in years, but I love feeling righteous and superior to those superficial celebrities. It's a safe outlet for those judgmental thoughts.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 1, 2008 2:44 PM

I guess, just like 16 years ago, our family is ignoring society's mores, and following our own path. DH has no plans to ever return to wage-slavery, and we never did.

When (not if!) the autistic teen is leading an independent and self-supporting life of his own, and when the 5th grader has gone off to college, DH might finally get to the long-delayed plan to study music. Maybe we'll finally get that home recording studio built, and he can record the music he's already written and write even more. Maybe he'll take on more personal computer maintenance and support, and maybe some of it will be for pay, instead of for friends, schools, and non-profits where he gets karmic brownie points, but no income. And maybe when the day finally comes that he doesn't have to look out for our kids anymore, I'll convince him to run for school board, and work for the benefit of all the kids in Oakland.

Who knows what our future holds? All I know for certain is what it doesn't look like - and barring my premature death, it doesn't look like DH will ever be a full-time worker-bee again.

Posted by: Sue | May 1, 2008 3:05 PM


If you don't like what I write, I encourage you to ignore me. I'm not following the logic that identifying flaws in an unsupported opinion somehow proves how smart someone is. Secure people can support their opinions as well as handle disagreement. FloridaChick sounds pretty secure - you, not so much.

I assure you that none of my needs, pathological or otherwise, are fulfilled by this blog, LOL.

Posted by: MN | May 1, 2008 3:12 PM

Brian, excellent article. I have three daughters and each have a two year age difference. I have re-entered the work force part-time on several occasions. I ran a college program and managed a restaurant most notably. However, each time I took a position I knew the were supplemental and most likely temporary at best since the strain of family activities and newborns takes a substantial toll on your ability to take on a job and raise a family.

As for my view of the endgame, I see that my family has a need for flexibility in whatever path I chose. I can not be stuck in traffic miles away from home if someone gets sick at school. We are a self reliant bunch and I would still be the go to parent in situations like these. I know that re-entering the workplace, like you said, is absolutely more expected for SAHDs then moms and I think there are a couple reasons behind this, but I think that society (not me) devalues the role of women to some degree and because of this it is deemed acceptable for them to not work, even if it be in some sort of flexible part-time fashion.

I am rambling. Good stuff.

Posted by: Joe | May 1, 2008 3:24 PM

I stay at home with my boys, and I plan to return to work when the youngest starts kindergarten (in 2 years). But I echo Moxiemom's 1st post about what I want in a job: 1) Job should be rewarding, doing what I want to do and involving an issue about which I am passionate. 2) Job should be PT so I can pick my kids up at the bus stop. 3) Job will not involve evenings or weekends b/c that is my time with my AND husband, not to mention extended family, which is also important.

I know some SAHMs who feel that, once the kids start school, they deserve "their" time to work on at-home projects or do more volunteering or do whatever they want to do. The idea is that, after spending 5 years (for 1 child, more for each subsequent child) focusing so much on the kids, it is now the SAHM's turn to do what she wants to do. I don't want to slam those moms, b/c I get it, I really do. I've been home five years now, and it's exhausting (rewarding, too, but exhausting)! Not to mention the fact that -- as a previous poster said -- the at-home parent still takes care of shopping, food preparation, birthday presents, doctor appts, letting in the cable person or phone person, social scheduling, and a million other things, even when the kids are in school 6-7 hours/day. Knowing that many of these things will still fall to me once the kids start school is another reason I want PT not FT work.

But, in my mind, my #1 job is taking care of my kids. Subsequent responsibilities include everything else. Once someone else is taking care of them from 8:45-3:15, I feel I SHOULD find a paying job to help contribute to our household's finances.

Posted by: nvamom | May 1, 2008 3:37 PM

MN, I'm interested in your comments about the north/south thing. My own experience (anecdotal! not studies!) has been closer to Florida Chick's than yours. Example: I went to college in the upper midwest, and the attitude of every single person there (well, who I was aware of) was all about getting that degree, planning the future career, etc. I then went to law school in Texas, where for the first time in my life, I met people who were openly seeking their "MRS" degree (I had never even heard that term before!); undergrad women hanging out in the law library to "catch" a lawyer was a fact of life, and I knew a number of female law students who were very open about the fact that they only meant to practice law for a few years before they had kids. And that seems to have been borne out over the past few decades -- more of my friends/relatives up here and out west have 2 WOH spouses, while more of my friends/relatives down south have a SAHM.

Of course, it's not necessarily a cultural thing -- maybe more people have a SAHM in the south because they can actually afford to have someone stay home down there! And MN is definitely more liberal than TX, so there's likely some self-selection in terms of the kind of people who go to each. But when I'm visiting TX, I am at least conscious of a little bit more of the "you're a bad mom if you don't stay home with your kids" vibe than I get up here, and my WOHM friends who live down there tell me I'm not imagining it, they get that all the time. I'd wonder if it wasn't a small town/big city thing, except I see/hear of it in Houston and Dallas, too.

Now, in defense of the West, I do believe that the first female governor of a State was in Wyoming, back in the early '20s or so. :-)

Posted by: Laura | May 1, 2008 3:41 PM

Now, in defense of the West, I do believe that the first female governor of a State was in Wyoming, back in the early '20s or so.

Jeannette Rankin was elected to the House of Representatives from the state of Montana in 1916, before the ratification of the 19th Amendment (Women's Suffrage).

Posted by: babsy1 | May 1, 2008 4:23 PM

The spirit of Willa Cather lives on!

Posted by: LizaBean | May 1, 2008 4:26 PM

In support of sociological evidence, I was referencing texts I read in a women and politics class when talking about regional differences between how easy or difficult it is for women to enter politics in different regions and how they refer to themselves when they do. Paradoxically, the south has a higher percentage of women in local/state politics than most other regions (but this is from a while ago but has been a steady trend). They always emphasize their being mothers first and wait until the children are grown to seek office. It is particularly true in the south where many men and women too are wary to vote for a woman. I am not hating on the south- like I said, it's where I'm from, but I don't want to concede to it being like the urban and wealthy areas of Atlanta and Charlotte since they are not very representative of the south I am speaking about.

Posted by: FloridaChick | May 1, 2008 4:30 PM

"That most at-home dads have an exit strategy is not particularly surprising"

Heh, we should start using that term for everyone who wants to work after taking a break for a kid "exit strategy."

Posted by: Liz D | May 1, 2008 4:34 PM

Laura, purely anecdotally? I think there's an urban/rural and socio-economic divide on the acceptability of SAHDs rather than a regional divide. I have no support for that view other than my personal experience and conversations including with friends and clients who live elsewhere. In urban, more educated circles, I find couples are much more flexible in their expectations of what makes sense for each family, including the choices men and women, respectively, are "supposed to" make. They appreciate that certain degrees have higher market value, that the AMT dictates the economics of certain choices, that a great buy-out package can give a dad a great reason to stay home for a couple of years. None of those things are particularly relevant to the childcare and lifestyle choices of the female manager of an Applebee's in small town 50 miles outside of Des Moines who is married to the manager of the Jiffy Lube. For many of them, and most of their friends, men work, and women work only if they have to. To me, that's not patriarchal, it's traditional and born of much peer pressure to conform to that model.

The original statement I challenged was that the South is more "patriarchal" as born out by sociological studies. I'd love to see the sociological studies backing that statement.

If I had to guess at what happened in your experience, it was less about going to a school in Texas and more about the fact that students in law school are a little older and looking to get their whole perfect lives lined up. In undergrad, they're trying to get into law school and a spouse might interfere with that goal, rather than enhance it. Other than that, however, I can make no excuse for Texas as an enlightened place to live, LOL. OTOH, most of Pennsylvania -- like the Florida Panhandle -- is pretty much rural Georgia with lower taxes. New Jersey isn't a fount of family flexibility for men either. Your thoughts?

Posted by: MN | May 1, 2008 4:40 PM

Here's a link to a thriving SAHD playgroup in Austin, Texas. More than 100 members. It even references Brian's blog.

Posted by: In defense of Texas | May 1, 2008 4:45 PM

no name here, but back in graduate schools, there were a number of women openingly going to graduate school to find a mate. Northeast and midwest.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 1, 2008 4:59 PM

As a DC transplant to Austin, I voice that there is at least one oasis in Texas for enlightenment.

Posted by: Liz D | May 1, 2008 5:22 PM


SpongeMom Bon Bon will be published tomorrow

"Dysons and Swiffers were invented for me
SpongeMom Bon, Bon "

Posted by: Songster | May 1, 2008 5:53 PM

Ohh, Songster, I can hardly wait! Brilliant!

Posted by: Moxiemom | May 1, 2008 6:34 PM

SpongeMom BonBon is finished but you will have to wait until tomorrow!

Posted by: Songster | May 1, 2008 6:59 PM

Honey, back in the 80s, I was an undergraduate nursing student in Virginia, with several classmates who studied at the Health Sciences library in hopes of meeting a medical student. I think they all got what they deserved - divorces.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 1, 2008 7:04 PM

Eh, babsy1, that would be Honeychild...

Posted by: excuse me! | May 1, 2008 7:42 PM

Hey, MN -- yeah, I do suspect a fairly significant urban/rural and economic divide. But on the other hand, my undergrad was very rural, whereas my law school was much more urban. And I also get the "later stage of life" issue -- except that most of the more blatant husband-hunting at law school was done by undergrads.

So basically, I don't know (not that I let that stop me, LOL). I do see more of X here and more of Y there, and I suspect a correlation, but I think there are too many other things playing in for there to be a pat answer. And to be fair, my view is also somewhat tainted from my memories of what my mom dealt with in a very different Texas in 1971.

Anyway, time to turn brain off and go become vegetable for an hour or so -- oh, no, wait, inlaws arrive tomorrow, hafta clean. Crap. Happy evening, everyone.

Posted by: Laura | May 1, 2008 8:31 PM

Darling, I'm not southern. No honeychiles in this household.

Posted by: babsy1 | May 1, 2008 9:05 PM

"The follow-on is that in previous generations a woman would never have made enough to be the primary or sole support of her family."

Not true at all--which is lucky, or else my mother would have starved after her father died when she was a small child.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 2, 2008 11:57 PM

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