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Dads and Downturns

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

The victims of the current economic recession, we are told, are overwhelmingly men, which means that more and more fathers are coming home to -- at least temporarily -- different roles. The prospect of fathers taking on increased roles at home has sent the media into a bit of a frenzy; if I had a dime for every time I've been asked to refer a reporter to a layoff-created at-home dad, I'd be able to quit my day job.

Some of this journalism has been good, but too much of it has suggested that the breadwinner mindset of the American male is absolute, and different family roles lead to disaster. Newsweek reported (to use the term loosely) about the tendency of laid-off fathers to be hard-drinking, mopey layabouts, and Good Morning America pointed out earlier this week that relationships in which dad and mom have to switch roles can be seriously damaged, given "it is in every man's DNA to be the breadwinner" (as the husband in the piece put it).

And it's not just the U.S. press. After UK politician Nick Clegg suggested that the recession might be an opportunity for men to re-engage with the family, he was immediately savaged by those who were quick to point out that "becoming a house husband is a fast track to misery."

I don't want to minimize the stress of a layoff or the agony and marital tension created by the loss of an income. For most families, a working dad (or a working mom or a dual-earner family) is not a social statement, but an economic reality. I am all for making sure that everyone -- mom or dad -- have the support they need to manage the downturn. But to suggest that men are somehow further damaged by the indignation of suddenly being thrust into a caretaking role is insulting.

My wife and I have passed the primary-breadwinner baton between us a half-dozen times in our marriage, each time renegotiating roles and responsibilities. It is not an easy conversation to have, and it is not comfortable to disrupt old daily routines. But it is a part of life, recession or otherwise. The media infatuation with these guys suggests that there is some deep, intractable and society-wide problem caused by men at home. There's not. That doesn't mean that isn't a deep problem within many relationships, but that's an issue of communications and marital counseling, not a national crisis.

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

By Brian Reid |  March 19, 2009; 7:15 AM ET  | Category:  Relationships , Work/Life Balance
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Comments


THANK YOU! These articles and news reports have been driving me crazy. Thank you for agreeing with my husband and I that loosing a job is loosing a job and any additional issues that come with being a caregiver are an individual's issue and not determined by gender.

Posted by: cqjudge | March 19, 2009 7:38 AM | Report abuse

I am going to suggest there are huge benefits to avoiding mainstream media coverage of anything, especially family and parenting issues.

Turn off the morning talk shows, evening news and stop reading fluff journalism and your life will significantly improve ;)

Posted by: cheekymonkey | March 19, 2009 7:46 AM | Report abuse

What this points out is the danger of defining yourself by what you do. This is true for men and women (sahm and wohm). Do what you do and do it well, but try not to let it become WHO you are.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | March 19, 2009 7:52 AM | Report abuse

My wife's been out of town for 7 weeks now, and being a single dad is definitely a lot of work. But honestly, it's totally manageable.

I've told people it's like being back in grad school while working full-time. You're just busy all of the time, but there aren't a lot of choices, so you just get it done.

if you want to explore some gender stereotypes, look at my situation vs. laid-off dad.

in my example, i don't have any choice, so it's easy for me to muscle-up and get it done. I'm in charge and things are done my way and on my schedule. if dishes sit in the sink overnight, so be it.

The laid-off dad is expected to play a major role in the household duties, but he has to play by mom's rules. (if it's the type of household where mom is really in charge of the house/kids and dad just helps as instructed/requested)

Men like control and they suffer miserably when they have to play by someone else's rules. especially when the rules apply to how to load the dishwasher.

it's a total generalization, but i've had this discussion with a dozen friends, and all of the men absolutely agree and wives generally agree.

thoughts?

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | March 19, 2009 8:23 AM | Report abuse

"Men like control and they suffer miserably when they have to play by someone else's rules. especially when the rules apply to how to load the dishwasher."

Most women I know also suffer miserably when they have to play by someone else's rules, especially when the rules apply to how to load the dishwasher.

If I'm responsible for something, just tell me what needs to be done and then get out of the way while I do it. If I really need help I'll ask for it.*

*If I can't figure it out, and I can't find it in the manual, and Google is no help, and I'm concerned I'll break it. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 19, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

"The laid-off dad is expected to play a major role in the household duties, but he has to play by mom's rules. (if it's the type of household where mom is really in charge of the house/kids and dad just helps as instructed/requested)"

This truly is a generalization because just like you have muscled up with your wife gone, I think most husbands and wives can muscle up when there is a role reversal. I can't help but think people can put aside harsh feeling about "how to properly load the dishwasher" for the greater good of the family.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | March 19, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Honestly, you site Newsweek and GMA as "the U.S. press" and THE DAILY MAIL! (UK) for examples!?

Hahahaha. Oh man.

Stop being so sensitive. If you have to go digging through infotainment articles to pick gripes, you either have too much time on your hands or you are really just looking for controversy where none exists.

Posted by: 06902 | March 19, 2009 8:46 AM | Report abuse

totally agree - and that's my point. it's easy to muscle-up when you have to.

so much harder to muscle-up when the only thing that's changed is that you have more free time on your hands.

but i totally disagree that people in general are ok, during a role reversal, with being told how to load the dishwasher. no way, no how.


Posted by: interestingidea1234 | March 19, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

"but i totally disagree that people in general are ok, during a role reversal, with being told how to load the dishwasher. no way, no how."

Is there anyone, anywhere, that would disagree with you about that?

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | March 19, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

I have to agree with interestingidea and ArmyBrat. Nobody likes to be suddenly somebody's lackey. If the husband is suddenly being thrust into house duty then let him do house duty. Tell him what to do but not HOW to do it.

I couldn't care less how my husband does anything as long as it gets done. I do tell him some things like... don't put my bras in the dryer. This is more from the standpoint that he will make the clothing unwearable than because I am trying to control how he does it. And yes... we have both seen the results when he forgets *sigh*

I learned this because working with/for my Mom is very much like that. You do it her way or not at all. If you don't do it to meet her tough standards then the complaining starts. I personally think it is one of the fastest ways to scare off someone from pitching in and doing their share.

As to whether or not it is in their DNA? I have no idea. I suspect that some people are not cut out to be stay-at-home-parents and it has nothing to do with gender.

Posted by: Billie_R | March 19, 2009 9:05 AM | Report abuse

I agree with interestingidea. It obviously doesn't apply in every case, but a lot of the time in a "forced change" of roles, the wife still expects to be "in charge" of the household even though the husband is doing most of the work. That's where the resentment and the problems occur - the wife expects the husband to take care of the house kids, but to do it her way.

A lot of women (not all of them but a lot) feel that the household is ultimately their responsibility, regardless of whether they and/or their husband work outside the home or stay at home. I've heard some women state flat out "if the house is messy, the wife is the one who is judged poorly, nobody thinks badly about the husband."

The bottom line is couples need to divide up he responsibilities in a manner that they both agree on and then let the other one handle things their own way.

Posted by: dennis5 | March 19, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Yep, with few exceptions, a woman would rather have a husband that wraps a tie around his neck every morning than one that wraps an apron around his waiste every evening. That's just the way it is.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | March 19, 2009 9:17 AM | Report abuse

What I am saying is that most women I know (so my personal opinion) can let go of how to load the dishwasher when faced with huge shifts in their lives.

If they can't - too bad for them. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff, so in essence I agree with Billie.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | March 19, 2009 9:29 AM | Report abuse

DH and I have spoken for years about our roles in the house. I quit work last year because two working parents wasn't working for us and I didn't like the family life it created. Now, with DH really really miserable, well, we both started looking for work. And I've been having a little more luck (waiting on an official job offer at the moment, turned another one down). So, as we've discussed for many years - he will stay home and I will work.
He will then have time to spend on the business ideas that he has (and yes, he'll do it, not as ambitiously as he thinks, since he thinks that he will have SO much free time - but he works on stuff now, when he has a full time job...).
So, we'll see how it goes - it should end up fine, and we'll see...we're in for an adventure...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 19, 2009 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Well, my DH already does the dishes, so that's one less argument for us. :-)

We've actually dealt with this several times, but it's a little different. He is one of those people who needs to work (just like I am), so we have considered layoffs short-term issues to manage, not long-term role-changes. Which means he focused on getting a new job, and any adjustments in the routine were temporary based on who had more time. And we're lucky that he did find new jobs quickly each time (knock on wood).

If it happened again now, our juggle wouldn't be so much on the family side as the "how do you balance two careers" side. In the past, I took a couple of hits as we followed the tech crash around the country. Now I'm back home, with the job I want, and with kids who are settled into schools, friends, and family. Which means if it happened again, I'm going to be a lot less willing to just uproot -- but being much more geographically limited may make it harder for him to find the job he wants. We've seen that happen first-hand with friends (one friend in CO was still delivering pizza 2 years after the layoff, because he wasn't willing to move). It would be hard to balance out the "hit" he may take locally against the hit the kids and I would take if we needed to move. Now THAT's a negotiation!

Posted by: laura33 | March 19, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I'm still waiting to see how any of this relates to parenting (the suppposed topic of the blog).

Posted by: 06902 | March 19, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

I'm still waiting to see how any of this relates to parenting (the suppposed topic of the blog).

Posted by: 06902 | March 19, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse


"Honestly, you site Newsweek and GMA as "the U.S. press" and THE DAILY MAIL! (UK) for examples!?

Hahahaha. Oh man.

Stop being so sensitive. If you have to go digging through infotainment articles to pick gripes, you either have too much time on your hands or you are really just looking for controversy where none exists."

_______________________________


your contribution was awesome though. thanks. the rest of us will try harder.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | March 19, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

Ooo, right, I forgot, we abhor unconstructive posts because they remind us that we're pointlessly pontificating on perposterous platitudes.

I'll try again....

Yes, OMG Brian! You are so right! Dads and Moms are seen as unequal in today's crazy modern society! It's unfair! When we will learn? I just don't know. Hmmm. I think everyone should be perfect and help out around the house and not complain (even though this is a complaint). Goodness, me. I love you all.

Posted by: 06902 | March 19, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I do think it's interesting to ponder the long term ramifications of the layoffs in terms of how they affect gender roles, not only in one's family but in society in general.

One interesting trend I've seen is more men seeking out new jobs which are considered good jobs but ones which have traditionally been viewed as female. I don't know what the actual statistics are, but I wonder if more men are now applying to be nurses and teachers -- jobs that in a booming economy they might have eschewed as women's work. In the long run, this could change how these professions are viewed.


Also, in houses (like mine) were men have not always been very supportive of a women's desire to work, it's interesting to see how the dynamic has changed. I've always worked but my husband (who comes from a long line of sexist people) has always echoed his mother's complaints about how the house is dirty and the children are being 'neglected.' now that every single female member of his extended family is back to work and DARNED GLAD to have a job, I just remind him of how incredibly lucky he is to have a working wife who works hard and has flexible hours. I'm glad to hear a lot less complaining about working wives.

Also, I've noticed that the amount of "busywork" being produced by our local PTA has dropped significantly. The fundraiser was cancelled due to lack of participation and there's FINALLY an acknowledgement that the women who have oodles of free time to devote to make-work activities at school are a very small minority indeed. HOping that this is a trend which will take root forever.

Posted by: Justsaying4 | March 19, 2009 11:39 AM | Report abuse

justsaying4: um, you married the guy - stop complaining about him (oh, he's sexist). I mean, you obviously like that he's sexist - YOU MARRIED HIM. Right? Or was there a gun to your head?

If your husband thinks the house is dirty - well, he can clean it. If your MIL thinks it's dirty - she can clean it or tell it to your DH.

Just sayin'

Posted by: atlmom1234 | March 19, 2009 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Justsayin, When the PTA is at rest we are all a little happier...

Posted by: cheekymonkey | March 19, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse

spelling police:
losing - not loosing
cite - not site
waste - not waiste

Posted by: robjdisc | March 19, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

I think there is a big difference to being a SAH parent due to lay off or by choice. There is all sorts of tension and anxiety due to economic security. My guess is these Dads would rather being working out side the home for a whole host of reasons. So when staying at home is thrust upon them, there is a learning curve and acceptance curve. Both are not easy.

Posted by: foamgnome | March 19, 2009 12:26 PM | Report abuse

"Most women I know also suffer miserably when they have to play by someone else's rules, especially when the rules apply to how to load the dishwasher."

Thank you for this. Also, I have a hard time believing that breadwinner moms really care about how the dishwasher is loaded. I'm not a mom and in fact not a breadwinner, but if I had a stay-at-home husband, as long as the work got done, I'd just be eternally grateful that I didn't have to do it!

Posted by: Monagatuna | March 19, 2009 12:41 PM | Report abuse

For all the stay-at-homers: Offspring's "Now Why Don't You Get a Job" (Chipmunk Version):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOPO0u5pn2c

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | March 19, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

where's all this nastiness coming from?

can't Justsaying4 describe the situation in her household without people jumping on her case?

this site is usually fairly interesting and civil. maybe it's the nasty weather.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | March 19, 2009 1:05 PM | Report abuse

interesting, if you consider these responses to be "nasty" (an overused insult on the web), don't wander your sensitive soul on over to any of the other Post blogs.

Monagatuna, you speak the truth. Any time someone else does housework, gratitude is the rule of the day.

Posted by: anonfornow | March 19, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

DH did have a tough time adjusting during the first few years he was the SAHP, even though it was thought-out and planned, and completely his choice to give up WOH. But all of that was more than 15 years ago, and with the passage of time he's seen as much less of a "freak" or something...
(Both his self-image, and the way he's been perceived by other people.)

OTOH, if something were to happen to my job and I found myself at home all day every day - I'd either find another job ASAP, or I'd be completely mental in a very short time.

If MSM wants to generalize - well, it probably works for the majority of their audience. Otherwise, they'd lose their audience, their advertisers, and then be out of business.

But I think reactions to being a SAHP are much more related to the individual personality type.

Posted by: SueMc | March 19, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

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