Stay-at-Home Dad: Why My Wife Is Embarrassed by Me

The truth is, sometimes my wife is embarrassed that I’m a stay-at-home dad. She is afraid of what people may say or think ... about her

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Stay-at-home dads have been in the news a lot this year. Whether it’s investigations of how more men are staying home to allow their Wall Street wives to succeed, or a new A&E reality show that finally gives us the level of cultural recognition long ago awarded to pawn brokers and duck-call manufacturers, it seems we’re having a bit of a moment.

But a question lingers in the background for many Americans: Isn’t this all a bit … embarrassing?

The truth is, sometimes my wife is embarrassed that I’m a stay-at-home dad. She is afraid of what people may say or think.

But not about me. About her. Namely, she’s worried they’ll think she’s a bad mother.

Obviously nothing could be further from the truth, but while I long ago got over any notion that staying home with my kids makes me less of a man, she still has that nagging voice in her head that yells at her for not making enough time for her children and living up to our society’s expectations of a wife and mother.

She has no interest is being the primary caregiver — just the thought makes her laugh in terror — but she loves our kids more than life itself and hates how much of their lives she’s missing.

(MORE: Study: ‘House Husbands’ More Common Than Ever)

My wife Allie and I have two beautiful and hilarious children. Penny is 5 and Simon is almost 2. Allie is a senior-level fundraiser and event planner for a New York City nonprofit. Compared with most people in the country, she earns a pretty damn good salary. Compared with the people who work a few blocks over on Wall Street, she’s a pauper. She works long hours — sometimes until midnight or later — but most nights she is able to get home early enough to spend a little time with the kids before bed.

I have been a stay-at-home dad since Penny was born. Circumstances at the time made the choice an easy one. But, regardless of circumstances, it was what we both wanted.

Allie gets visibly angry at people who imply that staying at home with the children isn’t work or that being the primary caregiver makes me “less of a man” than a guy with a paying gig. Whenever these thoughts creep back into my own subconscious, she kindly lets me know I’m an idiot — and then reminds me of all the wonderful experiences I’m giving the kids as well as all the obstacles I encounter on a daily basis, both physical and mental.

I’ve learned to hop over baby gates, high-step Legos, and give my son “the Heisman” as I relieve myself of all the coffee required to keep up with my high-octane children. Her pep talk usually leads to “I couldn’t do what you do.” Then, almost inaudibly, “and that’s why I’m a lousy mom.

The fact that people seem to think staying at home is, well, child’s play makes Allie feel all the worse — because that makes it all the more inexcusable, in her mind, that she isn’t cut out for it. Whenever she has the kids home alone, both of our mothers ask if she needs help. Allie says it’s because they don’t think she can hack it without me around. I think they’re just being nice, that she’s being paranoid and, maybe, she’s projecting. (A little.)

Of course, Allie is wonderful with the kids when she gets home. She gives me a little breather when she walks in the door. She doesn’t just play with Penny and Simon, she changes diapers, disciplines them when necessary and helps with homework.

(MORE: Stay-at-Home Dads Will Never Become the Norm)

But think of how differently we treat men and women here. Dads who are truly equal-parenting partners get credit for going above and beyond. Their culturally mandated role is to make money, and they have done that before they even come through the door. Everything else is gravy.

On the other hand, if Allie came home, kicked her feet up and had a glass of wine while I continued caring for the kids, that voice in her head would shout: You are a terrible mom!!!

Meanwhile, Allie’s stress at work and guilt at home have had unmistakable consequences: for a while, she started losing her hair. This may be the ultimate gender-role reversal.

Allie would be the last to say so, but she has two full-time jobs. She feels guilty when she’s not giving 100% to either. But it’s impossible to do both.

She does what she has to do to excel at her job, so she can earn a salary and we can all eat food that isn’t ramen and live with a pretty decent roof over our heads. She is always going to feel that twang of guilt, because she’s always going to miss something in our children’s lives.

But I’m here. And that’s kind of the point of marriage. You can’t do everything individually, but as a unit you have it covered. The working-wife/stay-at-home-dad unit is the one that works for us. Nothing to feel guilty or embarrassed about.

Lesser blogs at Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad.

29 comments
DickonMoon
DickonMoon

Latest research has shown that more and more men today are choosing to be work at home dads, leading happy, fulfilling and productive lives. In an age when gender roles are being redefined and old stereotypes slowly crumbling there has been a noticeable shift in people’s mind-sets about concepts like workplace, family and care-giving. As home working becomes increasingly popular, statistics reveal an interesting trend that dispels many old myths and stigmas about the roles that men and women play as a family. http://blog.arise.com/uk/independent-business-owners/why-home-working-is-not-just-for-work-at-home-mums/

ColetteLaRueWirth
ColetteLaRueWirth

Seems to me she should not have had kids if the very thought of spending more than the daily 2 maybe 3 hrs with them makes her shudder.

lmmm
lmmm

I am glad this arrangement works for you and your family. As a 25 year old stay at home mom, I know that you do a lot of work because it is the job I do myself. However, I would never want this arrangement for my family. Maybe it is my traditional upbringing, but I believe men should support their families. I also do not respect women who do not stay at home with their children unless there is an economic need to work outside of the home. Part of being a good mother is being there. You cannot be at the office and be with your children at the same time.

Zion
Zion

It wasn't long ago that adopting children had a stigma. The best way to overcome stigma is ignoring and dismissing the stigmatizers. The people who find working women and men caring for children distasteful will all be dead or socially marginalized in a few decades.

paul.abarge
paul.abarge

<i>...But not about me. About her... </i>


Dude. Did you even read the title of your article? <b>

Why My Wife Is Embarrassed by Me</b>

See the part where it says <b>by Me</b>?

Who is your editor, Quasimodo?

Dad-On-The-Run
Dad-On-The-Run

Good piece, Dave! Sometimes seems hard for SAHD's to get respect. Seems to me if you respect a stay home mother (and I do) then you should also laud men who do the same work. 

BeverleySmith
BeverleySmith

step one of any liberation movement is to get others to understand and the self-esteem of dads at home can parallel the low self-esteem of moms at home as they walk a mile in our shoes.  They now get it how society really values more paid work. The mother who earns feels the conflict intensely because society gives her guilt for leaving the kids but no validation if she stays, certainly at  least no money or status.  We can resolve this lose-lose when we value the role of the parent at home, whoever that is. In a society that runs on money we do need to provide funding that flows with the child. Australia and Singapore have a birth bonus and mat or paternity funding.  The problem is not just that the law is gender biased right now. it is that it is tax biased against the at home role. We can change that. To do so would raise everybody's confidence in the choices they had freely made.

Thomg57
Thomg57

I was a stay-at-home dad beginning in 1991; neither family, friends, nor neighbors understood and it was at time embarrassing for both of us until we grew into acceptance. My wife was, I believe, embarrassed for these same reasons, but also because she didn't want people to think she had to be the breadwinner, or that I had to have some business pursuit besides being a dad. Two well adjusted children later--22 and 20 years old-- even my mother-in-law gets it. 

jonmagidsohn
jonmagidsohn

As soon as you break one stereotype, another one takes its place. 

eatknitanddiy
eatknitanddiy

How refreshing to read such  a level headed piece about such a contentious issue.  Expectations for mothers and fathers continue to be different, no matter who stays at home and who goes to work.  And sometimes the conversations about them get strident.  Thanks for  writing a great article about the women's perspective seen through the SAHD's eyes, and doing it with grace and humor.  Well done.

blotzphoto
blotzphoto

I'm a fellow SAHD and I completely get where you are coming from. Luckily for my wife the primary response she gets from her co-workers is "Where can I get one of those!". Especially after they taste my cooking.  I think our secret has been that I am woefully bad at some of the parenting things she is great at.  

Beersheva
Beersheva

That's right, it's a unit. It's teamwork. If the team objectives are achieved then both team members have done their job. No need nor room for guilt.

BloggerFather
BloggerFather

Great stuff. I also wrote about it after watching a commercial that implied mothers were no allowed to have days off ( http://www.bloggerfather.com/2013/11/when-youre-mom-there-are-no-sick-days.html ). The guilt is strong here, and it's great that you know what's going on and that you're there for your wife. She has society and history on one shoulder, laying out the guilt, and you on the other, telling her she's doing more than enough. It's not easy.

IceToes
IceToes

Women will feel guilty until we're not shamed for not being wild about squeezing out kids and raising them perfectly, while having a great job and maintaining a perfect house. I'm glad the author is happy with their situation and realizes that there's a double standard. Society expects women to successfully juggle all the ideal roles. Focused on career? You're a cold and unfeminine bitch. Don't want kids? You're not a "real woman." Happy stay-at-home mom? You're an uneducated free-loading baby factory. Can't win.

chokingkojak
chokingkojak

Women can have the corporate life, because dudes have already been there and done that.  


Home life, on the other hand, is a world of opportunity -- all sorts of things need improvement there.  And there's lot's of entrepreneurial money to be made on it if dudes apply themselves to solving home-life problems for a mass market...


Puppet_Dad
Puppet_Dad

Great article Dave, very enjoyable. Would like to see more like this on Time. 

LanaN
LanaN

@ColetteLaRueWirthI'm PRETTY sure that's not what was meant here. Wow. Go you! How good do you feel about yourself now that you've virtually put someone down on the internet? I'm sure you feel so validated in whatever frustration you are dealing with in life because you made a snide comment. A nonsensical one at that.

AliusUmbra
AliusUmbra

@lmmm  Congratulations! Your statements shows that you are part of the problem... the reason that society still "looks down" on stay-at-home dads and working moms. It's the fault of close-minded, backwards-looking people like YOU.


This is a fairly old comment, but I hope that you've matured since then. But probably not.

LanaN
LanaN

@lmmm What about being a good father? Is no father a good one? Your words have more weight than you imagine, I think. "I also do not respect women who do not stay at home with their children"? Ouch. It sounds to me like you are just struggling to find validation for yourself by trying to bring others down. No need for that. I respect you and your efforts as a mother for your family. I also respect this man, AND his wife for their efforts as parents to their children. Let's all respect each other a little more, shall we not?

hisfrogness
hisfrogness

@paul.abargeI had a similar reaction. He also says:


"The working-wife/stay-at-home-dad unit is the one that works for us. Nothing to feel guilty or embarrassed about."

Really? Because you just wrote an article for Time that describes a life filled with anxiety and fear over what people think about you.


This whole article reeks of a passive-aggressive tantrum. Ultimately, very few people care about what you do with your life or the choices you make so your fretting about it is really more of an internal conflict. Get over it.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@IceToes Point of fact, the "Happy stay-at-home mom" thing is the social EXPECTATION.  If you feel stressed by that, thank your fellow feminist Nazi women who seem to have set those ludicrous expectations in YOUR mind.  Men, typically, feel better being the sole breadwinner because that's what society expects of them.

I can't count the number of people who see kids running rampant and demanding the parent (eg Mom) stay home to take care of them.  Females are 5:1 more likely to win custody even though 3:1 they aren't the primary income maker and will likely provide a lower standard of living.  Females receive about 30-40% of the sentence lengths for the same exact crimes as men.  Men who stay at home are viewed as the uneducated, free-loading, beer-swilling, lazy, welfare cases by society.

The myth that both parents can do it all (Perfect kids, full-time jobs, perfect house, fulfilling careers) defies reason and history and should die the ugly and painful death that the reality of our existence reflects.  No one is perfect.  Nothing ever goes exactly as planned (except in the movies).  And social expectations can take a damn leap because they're based on the idealistic 1950's BS that totally screwed up our country.

So try to remember that it's not up to society to decide how you live your life, what your goals are or, ESPECIALLY, how YOU feel about YOUR place in life.  That's all based on your attitude toward yourself.  When you use THEIR yardstick to decide what YOUR level of happiness is going to be, you're always going to come up short and unhappy.

P.Phoenix
P.Phoenix

@LanaN @lmmm Thank you LanaN.  Immm's "traditional upbringing" and youth blind her to the realities of modern life.  My husband stays home with our daughter while I work.  This was not even a question when I got pregnant. 


My salary is sufficient for one parent to stay home.  His is not.   I am grateful to have a career I enjoy and a wonderful, caring, amazing husband.  There is nothing inherently superior in mothers vs. fathers.  


We all make the choices that work best for our family.   Judging others for those choices is just immature.  

AmateurIdiot
AmateurIdiot

@hisfrogness @paul.abarge: Haha, yeah, what a jerk! Oh, wait, I wrote the article. Sorry about the misleading title. Paul, obviously my wife's not embarrassed about what I do (in contrast to how other recent articles have portrayed the relationship between working mothers & SAHDs). As, hisfrogness pointed out, it's an internal struggle she has: loving her job & wanting to work outside the home on one hand and the guilt (and yes, embarrassment) she feels about missing her children on the other. Maybe she should just get over it. However, as parents, a lot of us are dealing with these internal struggles. I think other parents that dealing with similar issues appreciate hearing that they're not alone. 

chokingkojak
chokingkojak

@DeweySayenoff @IceToes 


Mostly the usual Do-We-Say-Enough speculation lol

KarliPearson
KarliPearson

@P.Phoenix@LanaN@lmmm I work and hubby stays home. I'm in a much better paying job than he was ever in, my holidays and benifits are much better than his were and he really wanted to be home with the kids. If he went to work instead of staying home with the kids, I would also have to work to top up our income. The kids would only have one of us home part-time. With me working, he can be home full time and the kids have someone home, full time. This works brilliantly for us.


I get so angry with people who try to make me feel guilty for not being a "good mother". i know I'm a good mother because I'm part of a great family that ensures that our children are loved, cared for, provided for and supported in everything they do.

hisfrogness
hisfrogness

@AmateurIdiot@hisfrogness@paul.abargeCallin' me out on Twitter, huh? Fair enough.


I was also going to comment on the flip side of all of this; how many guys are actually envious of your position? I bet it's a larger number than you would estimate. I'm not a parent, however, and I know that I would be in a 24-7 freak-out mode if I were so I didn't mention it. 

My wife and I both work and I'm looking forward to the day when her salary eclipses mine so I can retire and spend my time in a more fulfilling way. I feel that your lifestyle is probably closer to that objective than mine.