My Ex-Husband Never Prioritized My Work. Now He Has To

parenting after divorceAssigning parenting roles based on gender stereotypes has been chipped away at for years now. So I really don’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 “he was too busy with work.” 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 ex’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 power—at this point in time—was higher than mine. He understood. Or he claimed to understand. It doesn’t even matter, I guess, if he understood or not, because he kept to our original schedule and I haven’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 town’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 town’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, I’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. He’s still adapting to the fact that I don’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 it’s taking some getting used to—for both of us, really. I was always so quick to accommodate him. Not because I didn’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 isn’t the only one who has outside obligations, a fact that he’s adjusting to slowly but surely.

(photo: StockThings/ Shutterstock)

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  • LiteBrite

    I can relate to what you are going through in that, although my husband and I are not divorced, my husband is and always has been the primary breadwinner, thus his job generally takes priority. It never used to cause much of a problem; my former job was part-time, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., so I did a majority of the child-related pick-ups, drop-offs, etc. in addition to dinner-making and housework. If DH had to work late or had a major project going at work it wasn’t an issue. My less-demanding schedule allowed me the time to handle whatever came our way.

    Then, I was laid-off and three months later I took a full-time job across town. Not only do I work longer hours than I used to, I have a longer commute. It’s not uncommon for me to get home well after 6 p.m., and though he still makes more than I do, I am not any less busy than he is a lot of days. (In fact, his company has been lagging while mine has been going gangbusters.) So he too has had to adjust to the idea that I don’t have the same flexibility that he does. We try not to play the games of who makes more, but sometimes it’s hard not to take that into account. His income is higher than mine, and yes, it pays for many of the things that we have and do, but I don’t feel my job is any less important because of that or that my own profession responsibilities and aspirations need to take a backseat simply based on income.

    Your last paragraph summed up exactly how I feel. I don’t have any advice for a resolution because there really isn’t any. It’s an adjustment process and even after two years of me being employed full-time, we’re still working through it.

  • Lastango

    When you write, “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 accomodate his schedule”, that’s exactly what we now repeatedly hear high-earning women expect from their lower-earning husbands. In fact, there has been a torrent of advice that ambitious women still in university should seek out men prepared to accomodate them.
    But of course it’s only sexist and disrespectful if the men are doing the demanding. I remember when Barbara Corcoran came back from Fortune’s “Most Powerful Women in Business Summit”, and said, “I don’t think any of them are married to really successful men… All these men wrap themselves around their wives’ schedules much like a trophy wife would.”
    Just imagine if a male executive had come back from a conference and described the female spouses there as “trophy wives”… bloggers here would still be decrying it. (No wonder Corcoran and her husband have been in endless therapy.)
    I don’t see anything surprising in your accout. At one time, it could work that way for the two of you because you had more flexibility. Now it can’t. It sounds like both of you are adjusting, not just him. Of course it takes time and talk, because you know the reality of your new situation and he doesn’t until you explain it.
    I guess what irritates me about your tone is that you make it sound like you’re heroically striking a blow for feminism against primitive, slow-to-change male attitudes. I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. All that happened is that your own lives changed, and the two of you needed to work out a new plan.

  • Jacqueline Tourville

    At the root of this, should you go back before a judge to have your custody order modified? It sounds like “getting it in writing” might be in your best interest. I can empathize!!!