This week’s question comes from Dr. Laura’s YouTube channel. Transcription was done by yours truly, because I couldn’t find a transcript for it, and it was that important.
Question: If a mom works and the dad stays home with the children, does this have any psychological effect on the kids with respect to their relationships later in life? You talk a lot about stay-at-home moms but I don’t recall hearing much about what happens when the roles are reversed. Is it better for boys if the dad stays home, or does it matter?
Dr. Laura’s response: Well, this is one which gets very sensitive, because in general, that means there are exceptions everywhere, okay, but in general, when the moms are working, and the dads are at home, the moms, the women, the wives tend to change their feelings somewhat about their husbands. They tend not to see them as the heroes, the warrior, the man, the caretaker, the provider, the protector. And those feelings are really very significant, and I have found over the years that there often is more marital strife when the roles are reversed. Whether you’re a feminist or not, whether you like it or not, them’s just the facts. Now, it often works very well, and when it works very well, and when it — okay, when it works very well, it’s good for the kids, when it doesn’t work very well it’s not good for the kids. So the point is not are the roles reversed and does it hurt the children, the point is are the roles reversed and are the parents — grrr — about it. Is dad being treated with less respect? Is mom coming home sort of bitter that she’s not with the kids, and feeling like, since she earns the money she’s the boss? If there is this kind of negativity and dissention, that hurts the kids. But the families where there is role reversal, it doesn’t seem to matter for the future for the kids, the boys can see this and still decide they want to be the person who goes out to work. So, the real issue is how do mom and dad treat each other. Do they show each other love, patience, and compassion, and shmooziness, or not? That’s what makes the difference for the kids. Not who’s bringing home the bacon. Or who’s frying it. Whatever that is. I’m Dr. Laura, see you next time.
Oh, Dr. Laura, you pretend-progressive ultra-conservative, you. Dads can stay at home, but only if moms don’t fuck it up. See? What her “advice” says is that as long as the woman can still muster the requisite hero-worship for the man, it will work out. No word on what men should be doing, if they can handle the pressure of running a household, nothing about sharing responsibilities. Nope. As long as dad is, “being treated with respect,” and mom, “is not bitter,” (translation: mom is to blame for the success or failure of this, regardless), it can work.
As usual, I’m calling bullshit. Granted, there is a tiny nugget of truth, and that is that if it works well, it’s good for the kids and if it doesn’t, it’s not good for the kids. She should have stopped there, though.
The truth of the matter is that in heterosexual marriages, 40% of women currently outearn their husbands, and that number is on the rise. Dr. Laura’s anecdotal evidence that this doesn’t work is just that, and the Internet is flooded with “but I knew this couple who” stories, both positive and negative. If a relationship with a stay-at-home dad doesn’t work, it’s not because the dad isn’t seen as the protector and the woman is bitter that she “has” to work. It’s because the relationship had fundamental problems to begin with, fundamentally different expectations and beliefs, and the stress of having children and juggling responsibilities brought those problems to the forefront.
If anything, feminism helps with this kind of problem — when women feel empowered to speak their minds and communicate their needs, relationships get stronger. What Dr. Laura talks about, where the man stays at home and the woman gets bitter and loses respect, is not a result of feminism. It’s because of a shift in physical situation that is not accompanied by a shift in mental situation. The man stays at home, but both parties are still of the belief that Men Do These Things And Women Do These Other Things. Introduce feminism, get people to think about what it means to be equally responsible for the relationship regardless of genitalia, lose the machismo, and those problems can be dealt with.
Successful relationships, romantic and otherwise, require give and take from both sides. Dr. Laura thinks that a good relationship is one in which the man takes and the woman gives, and everybody smiles through the misery. It is difficult to respect somebody if you are constantly martyring yourself for them; it is also difficult to respect someone if you expect hero-worship from them at all times.
My relationship may eventually fail, many do. But if it does, it won’t be because my husband stays at home with our daughter while I work; what he does at home and what I do at the office are equally important to our shared life. To suggest otherwise just means that you need to think critically about your own hangups and biases, and work through them. Can roles be reversed in heterosexual marriages? Only if you believe in the roles to begin with. Otherwise, it’s just called “sharing responsibilities.”