Assigning parenting roles based on gender stereotypes has been chipped away at for years now. So I really donâ€™t think it was some sort of archaic misogynistic attitude coming into play as my ex-husband texted me for the third time in two weeks, asking to switch the night when he was supposed to pick up our sons because â€śhe was too busy with work.â€ť I texted back that I was busy with work too.
This reply was followed by a long silence. So, I called him. Which is what adults do, even those of us who revel in a world where we never have to talk to people on the phone but can instead fire off a few, well-chosen words. But, no, I was going to be an adult. What followed was an interesting discussion, if only because I felt vaguely like I was in some sitcom from the 80s where I was supposed to just toss up my hands and write off my exâ€™s behavior as typical male stubbornness.
But it is not the 80s anymore. And even in the 80s we had Cliff Huxtable, who was the epitome of a modern, involved dad. Plus, he was always wearing great sweaters. And giving Clair Huxtable foot rubs.
What happened on the phone was that my ex-husband explained to me, patiently, I suppose, that since he made much more money than I did, it only made more sense for me to accommodate his schedule. I was quite proud of myself for not yelling at the top of my lungs directly into the receiver after hearing that. Quite proud! Instead, I explained to him that monetary compensation has nothing to do with job importance, and that the 10 years I spent as a SAHM raising our children contributed to the fact that his earning powerâ€”at this point in timeâ€”was higher than mine. He understood. Or he claimed to understand. It doesnâ€™t even matter, I guess, if he understood or not, because he kept to our original schedule and I havenâ€™t heard another word from him since about whose job is more important.
But it has gotten me thinking about how couples transition from having a primary breadwinner into having two working parents. And also, about how some primary breadwinners might have to take a backseat to their partners following the all-too-common occurrence of being let go from their job. There was an article in The New York Times recently that revealed how a town in Alabama had undergone a sudden and dramatic transformation when a local company that had employed a substantial number of the townâ€™s residents laid off thousands of people. What happened in this town was that the women found it easier to land employment, whereas the men were floundering.
This particular townâ€™s experience seemed so far from my own as to be incomparable. After all, I live in an urban environment where I am just as likely to run across stay-at-home dads on the playground as SAHMs. What could I have in common with the women of a rural, Southern town who were comfortable referring to their husbands as the heads of the house and the ultimate decision makers? I was an independent feminist! And yet, Iâ€™ve found that just by virtue of having stayed home for such a long time, my ex-husband took for granted that his job would get primacy over anything that I would do. Heâ€™s still adapting to the fact that I donâ€™t have the fluidity that I used to. Gone are the days of my flexible schedule. Now I have the rigidity of deadlines and meetings.
And itâ€™s taking some getting used toâ€”for both of us, really. I was always so quick to accommodate him. Not because I didnâ€™t value what I was doing, but because it seemed easier. Now I have to be firm about what I need as both a parent and a professional. And my ex-husband has to adjust to the fact that he isnâ€™t the only one who has outside obligations, a fact that heâ€™s adjusting to slowly but surely.