Thursday, January 13, 2011

Yay for Mr. Woodhouse!

I was at pub trivia awhile back (we totally came in first, fyi) and I made a joke about a friend becoming a stay-at-home-father.  No less than three people (two guys and a girl) pulled a face.

And it occurred to me that I would never want to be with someone who wouldn't consider being a stay-at-home-father.

Now, I'm not saying he would HAVE to, or even that he would have some PREFERENCE to.  I'm just saying that the option would have to be on the table, and there's a very simple reason why.

It's not a matter of "fairness."  I do not anticipate a relationship where every five years my hubster and I swap the unenviable task of raising our brats and/or slaving away for the man just to maintain equality. Hopefully we'll be the kind of people who like both our spawn and being productive members of society.

It's a matter of basic competence.

Here's the dealio--at the age of 26, I know myself well enough to know that I could be a working mom, stay-at-home-mom, sole breadwinner, or any combination of the above.  I also know I will probably change my mind a half dozen times over my lifetime about which one of those roles I would like to fill.

Note that I said I COULD be those things.  Granted, as someone has never done any of them, I don't know which ones I would like or which ones I would be best at.  (Sure, I currently support myself, but I don't think you can call yourself a "sole breadwinner" unless there's someone else at home eating your toast.) 

When I was a kid, I heard from a plethora of adults that I needed to get a good education "in case."  The implication, of course, was that I should have a good job because I might ever land a man, wind up divorced or widowed, find myself in a situation where my husband was incapacitated or where one income was just no longer going to cut it.  (I would personally like to add, "Because an adult should be capable of supporting themselves without assistance from anyone else," but that's too big of a tangent to elaborate right now.) 

The problem is that boys don't tend to get that advice.  Boys are rarely told they should babysit the neighbor's kids for practice or take a child development course "just in case."  If boys are taught to cook and clean and iron, it's not "just in case."  It's because grown ups know how to cook and clean and iron regardless of gender.

In many cases, mere willingness to do something makes up 75% of your ability to actually do it.  When you contemplate a future where you are a primary caregiver or a sole breadwinner (or anything in between), then you naturally do the things you have to to make these possibilities realities--even if it is merely mental preparation.  (Thanks, Coach Lombardi.)

In general, girls are told to be capable of everything*; boys are told to be capable of some things.  The problem is, at some point we all should grow up and realize we should all be capable of everything. 

And if a guy told me he would never even consider being a stay-at-home-father, all I would be able to think about is this:

"So if you lost your job, I could go to work, but you would not do as good a job as I would staying at home.  If we both had to work, I would get home every day and start a second job because you would only be pulling your weight financially.  If we got divorced, I would have to support myself and still do the majority of the parenting alone.  And if I died, you'd ship our kids off to distant relatives like a damn Jane Austen character.  In short, I am capable of doing anything for the people I love -- you are capable of being a dentist.**  Why the hell would I sign up for this, again?"  

In the end, it's not a matter of who actually would or would not be at home with little Lola and Dempsey.  It's a matter of who could be, and the answer better be "both of us." 

* I don't want to start a "have it all" war.  I'm not saying that is possible to have it all.  I am similarly not saying it is impossible to have it all.

I am saying that it "all" needs to be within the realm of possibility.  You don't have to be the best of anything, but you need to be able to attempt anything and fog a mirror at the same time. 

** I have nothing against dentists.  It's just that I read a wedding announcement the other day where the groom was majoring in "pre-dentristy." 

Kiddo, that's not a major.  That's an announcement of your intention to someday be rich.  Pick a major, or just say what you mean: "The groom aspires to unrealistic levels of financial success."***

*** "Unrealistic" in that anyone who thinks "pre-dentristy" is a major probably will not hack it in dental school.  Yup, I'm an intellectual snob like that. 

(And total sidenote?  Strangely enough, this refusal to consider the SAHD life possibility only irritates me when it comes from men who take it for granted that someday they will have children.  If a guy who didn't wants kids at all -- or was unsure about it -- expressed this attitude, I would be more-or-less ok with it.  But a man who knows he wants kids, but at the same time is unwilling to consider he might just have to do ANYTHING for them, strikes me as a bad bet.)


  1. Agreed on all counts including the "pre-dentistry".

    It reminds me of a similar peeve I have. My dad died when I was 6. So, when anyone assumes that you will always have someone there to help in the parenting they have no idea how life can work. Women who quit school with the excuse "I just want to be a mom and you don't need a degree for that." are setting themselves for disaster should the bread winner not look twice before crossing a street.

  2. Amen, and amen.

    I always suspect that people who want kids, but don't want to hang out with them long term, don't WANT the kids, but see it as a requirement to replenish the earth. they NEED kids to get into heaven.

    which makes refusing to consider SAHDhood even worse, in my opinion, because it basically says "I didn't want you, child, I just wanted the blessings associated with having you. In fact, I don't want you so much that I will marry someone for eternity so she can look after you."

    It just takes all the love and mutual respect out of the relationship and reduces it to a celestial business transaction: I'll earn a shitload of money to buy you new boobs after you have the kids I won't see."

    obviously, i share your rage, and have issues of my own.

  3. You area hilarious. Just thought I'd let you know.

  4. I completely agree. What sucks is that this is somehow a radical notion.
    I cringe every time I hear a woman say her husband is babysitting the kids. Oh hell no. That's called parenting, not babysitting.

  5. I love this. Wait, actually I hate it, but you said it so well.

    I despise the construction of a "stay-at-home" anything. Is the primary function the staying? The emphasis is so backward.

    You're right that the crux of the issue is the power of expectations - a power that leads prepares some women to do anything and others to do only a limited range of things. Meeting either set of expectations can trap a woman into working the second shift or being the solitary parent. People can choose how to arrange their lives, but so often there is no deliberate choice involved because of the basic issue of expectations that shape development of competency.