When our son, Colby, was 18 months old, in 1980, Douglas and I knew we had to dismiss the young woman who watched him while we were at work. She preferred socializing and smoking with her friends, while Colby sat in the stroller. She also had his beautiful curly hair cut “like a boy” because that’s what she thought best. She hadn’t consulted with us.
Douglas didn’t love his job at the time and wanted to quit and stay home with Colby. Even though “house-husbands” were pretty unconventional 33 years ago, I thought it was a brilliant idea. If Douglas stayed home, I wouldn’t have to worry when I stayed late at the office or travelled out of town. Colby would be in good hands.
Besides, I couldn’t quit, even if I had wanted to (I didn’t), because I was the “primary breadwinner.” We could never make do on Douglas’s salary alone. I loved my job, and, at 33, my career was steadily moving ahead, as was my salary.
That was then. This is now: A new report from the respected Pew Research Center shows that almost 40 percent of women are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. This is likely the result of the recent recession, as well as the increase in births to single mothers. The number of married mothers earning more than their husbands nearly quadrupled, from 4 percent in 1960 to 15 percent in 2011. Single mothers, who are sole providers for their families, increased from 7 to 25 percent during that time.
Although I grew up hearing that men should take care of their families, financially that is, I never really thought that made much sense. Why should a man shoulder that burden? My talents and drive were just as meaningful as any man’s. Why wouldn’t I use them?
Interestingly, more and more young men today are deciding to “lean out,” and participate more in their children’s lives than they ever did, as well as shouldering more domestic responsibility. It doesn’t mean they’re giving up their careers to stay home, like Douglas did, but they’re also not sacrificing their families to stay at work.
Balancing work and life is challenging and complicated for everyone and I don’t think one size fits all. Each couple has to decide what’s best for it, not base its actions on what anyone else is doing. Douglas and I did. I know my daughter and her husband will.