Your Husband's Feelings About Your Staying Home Full-Time: 7 Issues You Can't Afford to Overlook
When you are in the midst of your transition from career woman to at-home mother, it’s easy to focus so intently on your own concerns that you overlook the adjustments your partner is making. After all, you may think, the only changes in his schedule are good ones—the less hectic pace at home has to make his life easier.
But change, even change for the better, sends unsettling ripples across the surface of your relationship. You and your partner need to discuss, frankly and frequently, how this change affects him.
Listed below are seven common concerns that are important for every couple to consider:
The drop in your income presents budgeting challenges, and is one of the biggest hurdles a couple has to address. Reduced income means foregoing some luxuries and perhaps even making radical changes in your lifestyle. Although your partner may offer to take sack lunches to work daily, if he has been accustomed to eating out regularly with co-workers, he could, eventually, find the change a harder sacrifice than he expected.
Also, if your partner is now the sole income source for the family, he may feel that the additional responsibility is a heavy burden. When a couple has two income sources, a temporary setback may strain the resources, but there is still money coming in. With only one breadwinner, any upset could mean no bread at all. In today’s world of down-sizing and mergers, jobs that once seemed secure sometimes disappear overnight. It's natural for your husband to feel anxious about his job security.
When you admit to being scared, the fear loses its grip and you can think creatively. You can then brainstorm ways to survive if something happens. Solutions might include letting Dad be the at-home parent while you work or finding part-time jobs on alternating schedules. For your husband, the knowledge that you are willing to be part of the solution will reinforce his awareness that you are partners. Be careful, also, not to complain about the reduction in income. When you fuss about not being able to afford luxuries you once took for granted, your husband may hear it as criticism that he is not earning enough. Make it your personal statement of courage (and creativity) to come up with substitutions for those luxuries or with previously unexplored income sources. I once substituted on a newspaper route during the weekdays to earn enough to pay for enrichment classes for the children. I could do the route in the early morning while the children (and my husband) slept and the income covered the class fees. My self-esteem got a boost and my husband realized that I was part of the income-producing team.
For some men, a career wife has a higher status than an at-home mother. If this is true for your partner, it’s critical to determine the source of this attitude. Does he feel that without a career, you will lose contact with the adult world, be able to talk only about potty-training and recipes? Is it worry that you will start looking dowdy, or that you will allow your intellect to atrophy? If he was attracted by your independence and self-confidence, he may fear that you will become a clinging vine, dependent on him.
You can alleviate those fears by scheduling mind-stretching activities into your at-home mother routine. This can be as structured as taking certification classes in your career field or as low-keyed as joining a local group such as a book club, a church choir or an art guild. Consider volunteer work, an at-home business or correspondence classes. Any activity that exposes you to other adults or to new ideas can provide fodder for stimulating discussions with your partner and his colleagues.
Another status issue for your partner may be the desire to "keep up with the Joneses." Remind yourselves that success is not measured by the outward trappings but rather by the inward growth and satisfaction you achieve. This is where a mission statement posted in a prominent place can help keep you focused on important values rather than monetary
This may be the most sensitive issue for you as a couple to address because attitudes about power may be so ingrained that decision-making is automatic. For instance, in your household, who has the final say on large purchases? Who makes decisions regarding the children? How do you decide on vacations, budgets, how to spend holidays?
When both partners work, these decisions may be shared, but a change in income may trigger a shift in decision-making. In many families, the person making the money starts to feel entitled to make financial decisions and the one taking care of the children begins assuming more control over parenting decisions, even when the couple has previously acted as equal partners. This may happen gradually and subtly—until a crisis erupts because one spouse forgot to include the other in a major decision.
You can avoid the crisis if you talk in advance about how you want to approach decision-making. For instance, you might collaborate on writing a budget with short and long term goals. Or, you might agree on which parenting decisions take two parents (bedtimes, curfews, allowances, etc.) and which can be left to the parent who is available (clothing purchases, discipline for minor infractions, play dates, etc.). Although finances and parenting are the most common arenas for power struggles, you’ll want to identify others that trigger tension within your family. These may be related to work, vacations, holiday celebrations with families, the use of free time, social gatherings, and even health issues.
Now that you’re an at-home mother, how should household chores be divided? Unless you’ve discussed this issue in advance, you may find that your partner assumes you can take over most, if not all, the chores. But if you are focused on meeting your children’s needs during the day, you may not have any more time for chores than you did when you worked full-time. Sure, some days you might finish the laundry, housecleaning and gourmet cooking within eight hours, but on other days, you may spend every moment rocking a colicky child. The problem is that you never know what kind of day you will have until it is over. At-home mothers need to be particularly careful about keeping their partners "plugged in" at home. You can get so used to doing everything yourself that you unconsciously lock your husband out the joys of being included at home.
Children need to see their daddies actively participating in family life, in the chores and childcare as well as the fun and games. If your partner has difficulty understanding why chores need to be shared, it may be worthwhile to arrange for a few days when he can be the primary caregiver. My husband learned a lot about the everyday challenges and pleasures of parenting and housekeeping when I attended my college reunion in another state one weekend.
If your partner works a standard 40 hour week, or even longer, he may have little time with his children each week. Fathers often fear becoming strangers in their own homes. Does your partner get quality time with the children? Do you make him an active participant in their lives by sharing funny (sad, naughty, delightful) things they’ve done? Do you encourage him to spend time alone with them? Do you appreciate his style—even when he interacts with them far differently from the way you do? This is one issue where your attitude can make a significant difference in how fathers and children view one another. Make it a point to enhance the relationships.
Another side to this issue is the father who, because his job is stressful, lacks the energy to be an active parent. He may disappear behind a newspaper, sink into a chair in front of the television, bring office work home, immerse himself in a solitary hobby or make plans to socialize with friends. The one thing he doesn’t do is plunge into family life. If you’re facing this problem, remember that nagging will not change the pattern. Try to come up with a way to transition your partner from work to home. Maybe he can stop a block from home and unwind for five minutes. Perhaps he needs a light snack with the children as soon as he comes in the door. You can take a ten minute family walk or send the children outside for a few minutes while Daddy reads the mail. Determine what would reinvigorate your partner and make that part of your everyday pattern.
At-home mothers often concentrate so much on their home and children that they shortchange their partners and themselves. Remember that your spouse chose you to be a partner, not a servant.
Invest time in yourself so that you can be a stimulating companion. Take a class, read books, join a professional organization or volunteer—find ways to interact with other adults.
Maintain a social life. Invite people into your home, meet friends for dinner or a movie, and plan family outings with other families. If not taken to excess, these interactions will relieve your isolation without making your partner’s life more stressful. It may take time to find a proper balance of group activities and at-home time, but both play an important role in family life.
Finally, find time to be alone with your spouse. Whether this is half an hour nightly after the children go to bed, a weekly date, an occasional night out, or a rare weekend fling, this time alone will re-energize your relationship. If you make time together a priority, you will soon find that it becomes the glue for keeping your relationship solid. For fourteen years, my husband and I have gone out one evening a week. We budgeted for babysitting and dinner out (although at times it was cheap fast food) because we believed that our marriage was a high priority.
The final issue you and your spouse must address is how you will handle emergencies. Plan for the unexpected. What if he loses his job? Someone gets seriously ill? A major expense wrecks your budget? Think creatively. Is there an at-home business that could supplement your income? Have you, or could you, set aside an emergency fund that you could tap in a hurry? Do you have a support group of family or friends who could step in to assist if necessary? Are you staying current in your career field or developing new skills that will make you easily employable? Do you have negotiable assets. An emergency plan is the security blanket that frees you to enjoy your at-home mothering profession, so you can’t afford to stint on this. Even if your plan proves inadequate to handle the emergency, it gives you a starting place for brainstorming solutions.
Now that you know the issues you need to discuss with your husband, you may be wondering how to get him to talk about them. By nature, many men shy away from talking about feelings. It may take patient persuasion on your part to get your partner to admit his worries. The following techniques may help you get the discussions started:
1. Get your partner out of the house and away from distractions. Taking a walk is an excellent way to get away from the television and telephone so that you can concentrate on conversation. Other options are long car rides, dinner at a quiet restaurant, or even taking the children to the park. I’ve observed that my husband is most open when we are positioned so that he isn’t looking directly at me while he talks. (My son is the same, so I don’t know whether this is a family trait or a "guy" thing.) You might watch to see whether this helps your partner open up as well.
2. Introduce the problem as though it is your concern. Use I (but not "I wish you would…") statements such as, "I’ve been thinking about how my being an at-home mother will impact our budget and I’m worried that you might have to give up your weekly lunch out. Does that bother you?" When you broach sensitive issues, it gives him permission to think aloud about it.
3. After you’ve prodded the discussion, keep quiet. Women are often natural talkers, so this takes discipline. Try to keep silent for a whole block. Most likely, your husband will start talking to fill the silence. Some men need lots of quiet time to marshal their thoughts before they voice them.
4. Listen actively. Act as a sounding board for your partner. Parrot back to him what you heard him say so that you’re both certain his meaning was clear. In some ways, it’s like allowing your spouse to converse with himself. He says something, you repeat it in different words, and he responds to it. You’ll discover that gradually, he’ll sort through his feelings and find a solution. Since men are generally solution-oriented, this will be comfortable for him. (By the way, don’t worry that by listening actively, you’ll have no influence in the solution. You’ll be surprised at how your rephrasing of his thoughts prompts him to look at it from another viewpoint.)
5. Tackle only one issue at a time. With a reluctant talker, a one-hour talk is a discussion marathon, long enough for only one topic. Besides, a topic introduced during a walk will perk in your husband’s head for days afterward, and he will re-introduce it when he has had thinking time. Your goal is to encourage regular discussions, so focus on ways to make your time together pleasant and comfortable. Eventually, he’ll be the one suggesting a walk!
The time spent exploring your husband’s feelings about your staying home full-time will smooth your transition to at-home motherhood, and strengthen the support he provides. It will also give you a basis for on-going discussions when your family faces new challenges. It’s a process you can’t afford to overlook.