The "Loving" Gift
Time and time again, I read stories of women who become miserable trying to balance a career with family, only to be told by their husbands: 'Honey, don't worry, you can stay home'. Most of the women describe this by saying 'I'm so lucky that we can afford for me to be home with the kids'. These stories are about women who loved their careers and didn't plan to end up at home after they became mothers, not women who dreamed of such a stay-at-home life.
Here's such a story from Babble - a typical high-achieving woman who tells of dropping out of the workplace after her husband suggests she do so to raise their baby. She spends the rest of the story describing how miserable she is staying at home, despite how much she loves her child, and how she lives for the day when she can once again reclaim her career (albeit at a much lower rung than before).
I'm surprised women like this feel so lucky - or perhaps they think they are supposed to feel lucky. Here we have a guy who gets credit for doing the manly provider thing, bestowing a supposed 'gift' on his wife that turns out to be the unraveling of her professional life and years of less-than-fulfilled days. She gets to make all the sacrifices; he gets a wife who handles all the domestic chores and daily grind of baby care. To be fair, he does get the burden of sole breadwinning and seeing less of his kids, but presumably only for several years. This all comes with the premier status of Man-Who-Supports-Wife-at-Home. Meanwhile, her career is forever behind now and she's certainly not living a happy, balanced life today. She's opting out of her job; he's opting out of a chance at equally involved parenthood.
Situations like this underscore the labeling of women's careers as the workplace equivalent of playing house - not completely bonafide. Men's careers are the 'real' ones, and our ability to make more money is therefore a circular argument.
What if a man gave a truly loving gift to his overstressed wife instead? Is there another option besides relieving her of the need to go to work? What if he said this: 'Honey, you don't have to do it all. Let's together figure out a new way - let's actually solve this balance problem so we can give our baby what he needs and keep what we need for ourselves as well.' If men really said these things, and were willing to step back from their own high-power career tracks together with their wives in order to equally share childraising, what would women's reactions be? Would women accept this gift of balance and happiness? Or would they think their men weren't playing the manly role of 'savior' and financial provider?
You can't have it both ways. If both partners want balance, they have to share it and let go of stereotypes. That's an easy choice for me. What about you?