Equally Shared Parenting - Half the Work ... All the Fun

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Here's where we keep you updated on news about parenting as it relates to division of responsibilities, career versus home decisions, work/life balance, and legislative and grass-roots movements toward equality or better choices for families. We'll also throw in our opinions of life as equal parents in a nonequal world, regardless of what's in the news.

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Equality Blog

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Marriage and the Stay-at-Home Parent

I've read some interesting discussion lately about whether marriages with a stay-at-home father are more likely to end in divorce than other family models. On the one hand, there is no specific evidence of such. On the other, theories and experiences suggest a level of unhappiness for some when reverse-traditional arrangements become long-term.

Men who become SAHDs are as varied as women who become SAHMs. A man who finds himself in the home role by default is very different from a man who purposefully chooses to be the primary childraiser. SAHDs have the same potential difficulties as SAHMs - isolation, financial dependence, boredom; they probably also have some challenges most SAHMs don't, such as cultural stigma and possibly extended isolation from even other parents. This can't be easy to weather, especially if a man doesn't really want to be doing it.

I believe the family that chooses a lifestyle that truly makes both parents happy is the one that will stand the test of time. If a stay-at-home parent really wants to be home with the kids (and I mean really, truly) and if the working spouse really wants to get out there and support the family (and forge ahead with a career that will allow this), we have a winner. If, however, one or both spouses is not fulfilled by the chosen arrangement, the truth will eventually come out.

Are women divorcing their SAHD partners because they are not manly breadwinners any longer? That's like saying that men divorce their wives because they are no longer as physically attractive. Are men divorcing their primary breadwinner wives because they can't stand the power imbalance? The same can be said about SAHMs. These are all stereotypes - probably true in some instances but hardly applicable to an individual couple. More than likely, divorces in any family happen because the couple grows apart; what was once a marriage of equals and a true partnership becomes an uneven one-up-one-down arrangement between strangers.

According to experts like Kathleen Gerson, most young couples today want equal marriages. But, they don't know how to get them. So they settle for something more traditional (or perhaps, reverse-traditional) - a big mistake if this isn't their first choice. In the end, the price a couple might pay to get the lives they really want is very small compared to the damage of a divorce. I'd much rather settle for less money, a messier house, fewer things or a less prestigious job than take that winding and torturous road to divorce court.

Go for what you really want!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely said. It's not the role relations themselves that determine the fate of a relationship, it's how well the couple is communicating about what's going on, and how flexible the partners are. I buy the data about strong marriages based on mutual consent and equality, but this implies that you have a good sense of who you are and what you want, which not everyone does; and then life can always throw you a curve ball and land you in a situation you had never predicted.

9:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This whole thing, which has been a topic of discussion over at Daddy Dialectic, is in my opinion one of those collective neuroses that accompany changing social mores. It's a sort of extrapolation based on our emotional prejudices about cause and effect. The history of feminism and women's emancipation is FULL of this stuff. Women riding bicycles; women not marrying; women voting; women having disposable income and living alone; men becoming more like these women -- the moral fiber of the nation will be broken, pathology will result, and civilization will collapse! This divorce thing is just the latest iteration.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Chicago pop,
I agree - if you read almost anything about how marriage is evolving these days, you hear loud and clear how we're re-making the very reasons why we marry (and stay together or divorce). Marc and I think the end result will be a good one, but the growing pains will lead to finger pointing such as "SAHDs cause more divorce".

By the way, I truly enjoy your writing at Daddy Dialectic - some of the finest I've read on up-close parenting!

6:36 AM  
Blogger chicago pop said...

Thanks! I'm learning a lot (and enjoying doing so) from all you guys.

6:45 AM  

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