Why a stay at home dad needs to be the breadwinner
My wife is an outstanding breadwinner, so by mutual consent I’ve been the stay at home dad to our four children. But a decade + of diaper-and-daycare duty has undermined my self-esteem. Although Victoria appreciates the career sacrifices I’ve made to raise the kids, I can see the disappointment in her eyes as she explains to her well-heeled associates what it is I don’t do for a living.
And I need to regain my sense that I could provide if needed. I don’t even have a life insurance policy. I want to get a doctorate, position myself to provide, and be Da Man.
So, yes, I know this sounds adolescent, but I’m worried about how to present it to Victoria so she doesn’t feel like I’m starting all over again at mid-life, undermining the family stability, etc. Am I being ridiculous to feel all of the above? And how do I present my needs to Victoria?
Although many women experience angst if the Home Years become the Home Stretch, it’s different—and science predicts, worse—for men. To be a man is, in a very real psychological sense, to feel that you are what you do, and that what you do had better generate an income and economic security. That’s true no matter how supportive or rich your wife is.
And you’re not being one whit ridiculous to be conscious of these feelings. In fact, your psychology is doing its job—safeguarding you from losing at love by remaining finely tuned to even the remotest possibility of rejection or defection. As last week’s column covered in detail, women everywhere have an almost overpowering tendency to desire and require Provision and Protection from our mates. Recent research shows that even wealthy women prefer men who provide better-still in the world of work…or at least in the world of finance. Consequently, you men have inherited a motivating push towards giving women what we want, so you’re not left out of the mating market, left alone once you’re smack-dab in the middle of it, or left in the genetic dust through cuckoldry.
Which means being a stay at home dad is likely to whip around a big, fat red psychological flag—even if both parties agree that’s the arrangement they prefer, and even if your wife weren’t looking at you askance over cocktails with the Joneses. And recent cultural changes in gender roles usually don’t eliminate the discomfort, because our emotions are in part s-l-o-w-l-y evolved; our Genes haven’t even heard of the 1960’s yet, never mind 2010. A quote from Genes on the subject could well be: “Sociology, schmociology.”
So, although it does not sound as if Victoria is likely to abandon you over your non-traditional roles, enhancing your self-esteem is a valid reason to begin moving towards greater employability options. And unless she would leave you a huge windfall in the event of her death, it’s economically essential for you to be able to survive and thrive if something happened to Victoria, too.
But whether that entails a doctorate is another matter. It’s perhaps too-little-known that there’s an inverse relationship between income and education beyond a master’s degree—meaning an education above a master’s is usually associated with less rather than more wealth accumulation. And for many professions, a master’s is all that’s necessary; a doctorate may over-qualify you. So if you haven’t already, figure out what you want to do, what amount and type of education is truly required to do it, and then present your idea to Victoria. (If you’re not absolutely sold on one career already—or even if you are—you might read I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was by Barbara Sher.) As for undermining the family stability, there are now many ways to attend graduate school part-time so that you’re not compromising your family’s needs.
Having identified your core educational and career goals, simply and clearly present your desires to Victoria. For instance, you could say, “Victoria, you and I have long agreed that you’d make the money and I’d make the home. That worked out well for a long time, and I’m proud of what we’ve built together. But now, I want to prepare for the next phase of our lives. For many reasons, including our security and my self-respect, I want to enter grad school now and plot out future economic and career success from my side. I’ve thought it over carefully, and would like to talk to you about it in detail.” Then set a time for the talk, keeping the discussion framed in non-critical terms so your relationship has the best shot at happiness, and your goals have the best shot at being supported by Victoria.
Moreover,—unsolicited, non-science-based advice warning—it is vital to insure yourself. Immediately. Ask any financial planner: Homemaking may not pay much in income, but it’s of tremendous economic benefit. If you were to pass on, it would cost your family dearly to replace everything you do. Tutoring, after-school care, meal planning, cooking, cleaning, bill paying, summer care, holiday planning, pet sitting, taking stock of who-needs-what-when, running errands, running a taxi service, home maintenance, lawn upkeep, medical dealings, trip planning, making life Good—all these things take time that someone besides you would charge a lot for. Get a term life-insurance policy and be done with this decision.
Finally, remind yourself: Although your self-esteem has worn thin during your time at home, you are doing an important job in your family, and you are worthy of an equal voice in this partnership. Happy couples support one another in their ambitions and dreams, to the greatest extent they can, and it’s time for you to feel support for your own career goals and needs now. I would say the same thing to any stay at home dad ready for a transition who is going to feel emasculated if he has no profession waiting when the kids are grown. Your status will indeed rise with your wife as you become more employable—and perhaps even more vital, it will rise within yourself, too.
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