Mailvox: of mice and men at home

JE asks how a man can head a household as a stay-at-home father:

I am an avid reader of your columns and your blog, as I appreciate the refreshing perspective of a “Christian Libertarian”, a political view that I personally hold. However, reading your current column brought a question I hope you could answer…you see, I’m a stay-at-home father.

My wife and I have been married for four years, and we have a two and a half year old son. We both graduated with engineering degrees, but after I quit my post-college job as an engineer with the transportation department due to financial issues, we were faced with being unemployed with a child. After six months of parental basement living, my wife found a job that pays triple my old salary, as well as offering free PPO health benefits, etc. Needless to say, she accepted.

We now live very comfortably, and my wife works a 40-50 hour week. She’s home nightly for dinner, is a wonderful mother, and our relationship has never been stronger. That being said, I’ve found cold to non-existent reception in the local (and national) Christian community because of my decision to stay home. My wife and I both feel that a parent should stay home as opposed to dumping another kid in the public daycare system of our country. Our son is considerably advanced intellectually among his peers, which to us proves a tangible benefit for one of us having stayed home.

My point is, do you feel that my decision makes me “not a man”? Most mainstream Christian leaders won’t even address the issue, whether in person or via e-mail (where it would be extremely easy to offend w/o issue…unlike a personal discussion). What are your views on this?

My view is that one should never mistake the functional for the ideal, nor the sub-optimal for the unacceptable. While I don’t think your situation is ideal, it is certainly much better than the previous alternative, furthermore, the fact that you’re playing the short end of the probability game doesn’t mean that you will necessarily lose. In fact, knowing that and adjusting accordingly as problems arise will significantly increase the chance that your marriage will survive and prosper despite its non-traditional structure.

Specifically, it is better for a wife to stay home with the children than for the husband to do so. But it is much better for the father to stay home with them than for no one to.

The idea that it is the production of income that defines the head of a household is a mistaken one based on feminist ideology. This is typically illogical, every other ideology from Marxism to the far right considers those forced to work for wages as being the labor class and more prone to exploitation than oppression. Indeed, given that in a traditional household, men produce most household income and women control most household spending, one is forced to remember that basic logic is as hard for feminists as math is for Barbie.

Indeed, the likelihood is high that in most of those critical Christian households, the wife is the leader, not the income-producing husband. Still, there are real dangers to your currently happy situation, as your wife is less likely to feel able to have more children under the current circumstances, she may begin to resent having to support you when her friends are supported by their husbands and she may begin to find herself attracted to men who are less likely to be dependent upon her. But these are only possibilities, the key is being sensitive to any changes in her acceptance of the situation and reacting accordingly. If I were in JE’s position, I would continue to actively look for employment and encourage my wife to switch to a more traditional model once I found a job comparable to hers… assuming that’s possible. At the very least, attempt to have some employment options lined up in the event that she becomes dissatisfied with the present arrangement. What looks great to her when she’s living in the in-laws’ basement may not be quite as satisfactory two or three years down the road when she’s missed yet another afternoon birthday party or whatever.

Never forget that women are not static creatures. They are extremely dynamic, and while this tends to make them interesting, also means that you cannot assume that because everything is fine today, it will be equally fine tomorrow.

Do I think the situation makes you “not a man”? No, of course not. A man has a multiple responsibilities and failing to shoulder one does not make one a complete failure as a man. But failure does make you somewhat less of one in many people’s eyes including your own, and you will likely not be completely comfortable unless you either rectify the situation or find a way of adequately compensating for it.

No one lives in an ideal manner. We do the best we can under the circumstances in which we find ourselves. To be blunt, the particulars of LE’s situation concern me less than the passive-aggressive whining in his follow-up email, which complained about my failure to prioritize his email. That sort of thing will cause a woman to lose respect for a man a lot faster than mere unemployment.