Dr. Susan vs. Dr. Laura: reverse the roles at your own risk

There is a pressing issue on all of our minds these days, and that is this: if daddy stays home with the kids, will it ruin everything? I’m glad Dr. Laura weighed in, since my husband stays home with our kid, and I should probably be prepared for just how much therapy she’s going to need.

Dr. Laura
Dr. Laura: living a life made possible by feminism, and then bitching about feminists.

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.”

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

22 replies on “Dr. Susan vs. Dr. Laura: reverse the roles at your own risk”

Fantastic job, Susan, as always! I love it that she says “them’s just the facts” without citing any facts, hahaha.

I am naturally more of a work-oriented person and Mr. Donovan is more of a nurturer. We balance each other out, and we both appreciate each other’s strengths. I don’t think it’s so unusual.


Based on the comments here and what I saw on my Facebook page when I posted it, I think it’s way more common than most people (ahem, Dr. Laura) think.  The stereotype is mom at home, dad at work, but that seems to be changing, and fast.

I just don’t understand why it’s a problem to match each person in the relationship up with their skills.

the caretaker, the provider, the protector.

Ummmmmmmm doesn’t the father being at home to Take Care of his children, Provide them with entertainment, love, lessons, food and Protect them from bears strolling through the garden completely kill this ‘problem’ of not being seen as caretaker/provider/protector? This isn’t a very strange conclusion I draw from this, is it?

Dr. Susan, you are so much better at this than Dr. Lauren. :) Congrats.

Also, my SO and I were discussing (way off) future plans with kids, and when I said I wanted to go work, he said he was happy to work from home. (I think we’ll need both salaries…it is hard to live off one. Hats off to those who can). Then again, my dad stayed home with me for the first year, then we moved. That first year is a very formative year, and I think I’m ok.

My boss works and her husband stays at home. It works. And her children seem perfectly well-adjusted. I’ve always liked the idea of one parent staying home with the kids (I was raised by a stay-at-home-mom) and if one parent can stay home, I think that’s great, and who gives a rat’s ass if it’s the mom or dad.

Right.  It’s the people who care a lot about the application of strict gender roles for whom this kind of thing won’t work.  But not because of the situation!  Because of the inability of those people to think critically.

I also like the part about how the woman is “feeling like, since she earns the money, she’s the boss,” because the idea of women having decision-making privileges in their own homes is just silly. Everyone knows that when women work, they become mad with power. Gah.

I was just coming into comment on that part. I think most marriages are pretty fucked once one person decided they’re the boss, regardless of the sex or gender of the participants. Surely that’s what Dr. L was implying, not that the one with the penis is always the boss, right? Oh, who am I kidding, of course that’s what she meant.

Yeah, I am less than willing to give Dr. Laura the benefit of the doubt. Households do not need a “boss,” though I will admit that the Mister and I have come to an unspoken agreement that each of us gets the tiebreaker vote in certain situations.

This isn’t the best quality, but this is what I IMMEDIATELY thought of when I read “mad with power.”


Of course, in a hetero relationship if the man is the person “in power,” then he’s just doing his manly duty. If the woman is the person “in power,” she’s an overbearing nag.

Oh, and in homosexual relationships one person has to be “the man” and the other “the woman.”


“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.”

Yes, yes, yes. She should have stopped right there. Because as you pointed out, if there’s a resentment problem in these situations where there’s been a “role reversal,” the real problem is that such roles were ever established in the first damn place. When men resent women for performing “male-coded” behaviors, and feel that they are being diminished by performing a “female-coded” role, that it is a really good indication that the man in question has an ugly, ugly attitude toward women. And that any women in his life fucking well should resent him. Dr. Laura does not grasp/accept this; too bad she’s not the only one.

I wonder if the kind of tensions she identifies in role-reversed marriages (ha!) are the result of the wife being still expected to cook/clean/child-rear when she comes home from work. “Thank God you’re home, honey, the kids have been driving me nuts! Can you shake me up a martini?”

The hypothetical husband above may or may not be played by Jon Hamm.

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