“Forcing your wife to work”? Or sharing the load?

“Forcing your wife to work”? Or sharing the load? May 12, 2015

In other news this week (because, remember, I don’t like what’s going on in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, or Garland, any more than you do, but I’m not particularly well-equipped to talk about it):  USA Today published an op-ed by one Sean Dunbar, “Why I Won’t Let my Wife Quit her Job,” and The Federalist published a critique, “Modern Feminism Means Forcing Your Wife To Work.”

The quick summary of the former article is that the author’s wife, when pregnant with child number 2, wanted to quit her job and be a stay-at-home mom, and the author, as the title says, wouldn’t “let” her.  (Was he really, Promise Keeper-style, saying “I’m the man of the house and I say so”?  Presumably the discussions and decision-making were more complex than that.)  He says a number of appalling things, such as “I was so afraid of my wife becoming stagnant,” and “I’m just terrified she’ll lose her drive,” and other comments that imply that to be a stay-at-home mom is to surrender any intelligent thoughts, which, of course, the Federalist author, Mollie Hemingway, recoiled at.

But it’s not as simple as that.  True, he admits that they’re not financially dependent on both their incomes, but he worries that “if something were to happen to me, she’d have to start over at a much older age,” and says he doesn’t “I don’t want our daughter — or my wife — to ever be in a bad marriage and feel they are stuck because they have no experience, no options or can’t make enough money to sustain themselves.”  Both of which are legitimate concerns.  And, depending on one’s career, it can be quite easy, or rather difficult, to return after a significant time away from work.  And he implies, though he doesn’t state, that her desire to stay at home was not the result of a carefully-considered decision that it’s what’s best for the children, but borne of frustration with specific problems at work at the time.

Dunbar reports a happy ending, of sorts, in that his wife found, it seems, a new job (or maybe a role change at the company) with a fixed 7-4 schedule — not part-time, but still something that allows her to the ability to be home reasonably soon enough to have some more sanity in the late-afternoon early-evening hours that are otherwise a frenzy of daycare-pickup, quick dinner prep and eating, bathtime, storytime, bedtime.  (Whether mom bears the burden of an early-morning frenzy and a super-early drop-off, or whether dad handles the morning childcare isn’t stated.)

The story that’s told of mothers, working or staying at home, is that they either choose to pursue a career, or scale back/quit entirely for the sake of their kids or family sanity, or stay at work to support the family.  But here’s another piece to the puzzle that Sean and Lauren Dunbar’s story highlights:

In the first place, husband and wife are partners.  Whether the family “needs” the wife’s income or not, it is a major decision that impacts the family; sure, you can portray it as a husband bossing around his wife, but it’s not that simple.

And secondly, there are two entirely different perspectives to the question of employment.  In some families, it is taken as a given that it’s optional, in some way, for a mother to work, due to a belief that a child is best off being raised by parents rather than hired caregivers of some kind or another (this was, of course, the reason why I have worked part-time since my oldest was born).  In others, both-parents-working the default, for the simple reason that (if you’re not troubled by day care centers) there’s no reason why both husband and wife shouldn’t be contributing to the household finances, both sharing the responsibility to support the family.  Even in cases where the husband earns a good living, there’s an issue of being responsible and pulling your own weight.  Heck, though we’ve struggled through the early years when even working part-time meant for some stressful mornings and nights, my kids are now all in school, and I could, if I had the self-discipline, bump my work hours up to near-full-time without inconveniencing the family too greatly — though now my husband is also earning a comfortable enough living that it’s equally tempting to imagine quitting and spending my days blogging, crafting, exercising, and the like, but it feels wrong to say to my husband, “hey, I know you work long days, but I don’t feel like it any longer”!

Which brings me to the Dutch, and an article in The Economist which repeats what I’ve read in the past, that “in the Netherlands 26.8% of men and 76.6% of women work less than 36 hours a week.”  From what I’ve read, a part of the case is that many more professional jobs are open to part-time work (as I’m guessing is the case with the female colleagues I deal with, from the fact that they’re perfectly happy to say about a project, “sorry we didn’t finish; we’ll do that in a couple days” and go home).  But these aren’t just  moms, let alone moms of small children; Dutch women, it seems (and see the comments, too) have come to expect that, even if they’re not even married, their spouse/boyfriend will contribute more than their fair share so that they can take it easy.  Are they lazy?  Not pulling their weight?

What do you think?

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