By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor
Maybe some Chinese restaurant alchemy has been working its magic on us, because things have been all Freaky Friday in my house. Instead of a mom and her teenage daughter trading lives and perspectives, this year my husband and I have made the switch.
A corporate-world type for decades, my husband suddenly couldn’t stomach the skyscraper shuffle any more. With my blessings, my rush-off-to-the-corner-office guy – not to mention our family’s majority breadwinner – quit his job and started working from home to start his own business, which won’t garner any income for at least two years. Our roles have shifted in a way I’d wished for so long: my husband now understands the pleasures, the burdens, and 5:30 witching hour hideousness of grumpy kids that comes with being the primary caretaker. And I’m under a new kind of pressure to provide for our family as the primary breadwinner. Lickety-split, I’ve become the 1950s-era guy rushing off to work earlier than I used to, arriving home later, and asking the question that plagued me for years: “What’s for dinner?” (OK, last night it was tuna on a piece of toast, but it's food.)
The queen has fallen
But I’ve learned to beware what I wish. These days, Steve ferries our two children to and from school, jazz piano, violin, swimming, and juggling lessons; picks up crickets for the bearded dragon and food for the fish; writes notes for absences; and organizes the morning carpool with parents I couldn’t name in a line-up. I knew we’d made the complete switch the day he reminded me not to be late for our daughter’s back-to-school conference. Recently, my son called him (not me!) when he felt sick and wanted to come home from school! It’s destabilizing to have the scepter wrested from my maternal hands; I, who for these many years, long-suffering and self-righteously, silently sighed that I had to manage everything, that our world would implode without me to hold it together. Then, wonder of wonders, while he’s not the OCD housecleaner I am, my husband holds it together just fine. Lately, I’m feeling less territorial and more grateful that’s he’s taking up the slack and not being Mr. Mom, exactly, but being more of a dad.
The unexpected change is that my husband is actively there in my children’s lives in a way he hadn’t been for the past 15 years. While our household income has been more than slashed in half, the worth of his presence – and studies can back me up – has been (thank you, Mastercard) priceless.
Involved dads, happier and healthier kids
According to the Child Welfare Association, children who have a more involved father, “are more likely to be emotionally secure … [and] are less likely to get in trouble at home, school, or in the neighborhood.” They also point to studies that have found children who live with their fathers are more likely to have good physical and emotional health, achieve academically, and avoid drugs, violence, and delinquent behavior.
My husband and I aren’t alone in our Mad Men do-si-do. I can name five couples who’ve traded hats lately. According to the U.S. Census Bureau – which looked at families with children under 15 – as of 2010, 32 percent of fathers with a wife in the workforce take care of their kids at least one day a week. That’s up 26 percent since 2002. What’s more, in 2012, 18 percent of dads with preschoolers regularly cared for their children during the mothers' working hours.
For my husband and other dads I know, the househusband shift happened by default, but the recession gave these numbers a lift. Underscored by a statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they were casualties of a recession in which 4 million men lost their jobs between 2007 and 2010; during that period, 2 million women lost their jobs. Now, in almost 40 percent of U.S. marriages, the woman makes more than the man. Thankfully, tough economic realities didn’t force our switch, but it’s been a year of growing pains nonetheless as we experience the Ma-Pa renaissance in our household. Shifting-roles struggles aside, we both parent in a way that never seemed possible just two years ago.
Watered-down Mother's Day? Not so fast.
So here we are in June, 2013, almost exactly a year after he left his office job, and Father’s Day is upon us. For so long, Father’s Day has been to Mother’s Day what Groundhog’s Day is to the Fourth of July, which is to say, almost a non-event. It falls after most kids are out of school, so dads don’t even get the ceremonial paean – the ceramic bowl, the painted candle holder – to mark the occasion. In our house, my kids might scrawl a card on Sunday morning in pencil (not even pen!) and quickly mumble, “Happy Father’s Day, Dad.” Then we might let him read the paper on the couch longer than usual.
But this year Father’s Day feels like something. I want to celebrate this man who has so graciously and seamlessly stepped up to the kitchen plate – even while launching a business. So this Sunday, it’s breakfast in bed, daddy-o, and if you’d like, a day off from all things work and family. Whatever you do, please have a happy Father's Day - you've earned it!