What do you do when the old model no longer works? Our culture used to take it for granted that women would sacrifice their careers to raise the kids, while men sacrifice their family life to build their career. It's still tilted that way despite decades of effort toward a more egalitarian society. But the balance is beginning to tilt toward equality. And men are discovering new roles, not to mention the difficulty of the balancing act.
I asked men in STEM fields for their stories. Gilbert responded with an arrangement that will become more common as more states adopt same-sex marriage, and society becomes increasingly comfortable with the idea of house husbands.
I've done the work/life balance by mostly not doing it.
I'm a software engineer by training, and had a highly successful career (at least as measured by money). I'm a gay man, and I met my now-husband when I was 31 and he was 24; that 7 year gap is accentuated by the fact that I was over a decade into my career while he continued through extensive postgrad training (since we started going out, he's earned an MS, MD, another MS and 95% of the way to a PhD). He started bringing in serious paychecks only a year and a half ago.
We've been together 20 years. We had our first child 9 years ago; I took paternal LOA, and returned to work to immediately submit my 2 week notice. We had twins 5 1/2 years ago. So I'm a stay-at-home parent. I do miss working, and sometimes have a difficult time tolerating the lack of a sense of accomplishment (or at least durable accomplishment; putting the kitchen into a usable state for the bazillionth time is only a fleeting pleasure).
I don't know that I have anything unique to contribute to the conversation about the joys and annoyances of being a stay-at-home parent; we're basically following the 1950's model, with a twist.
When I pointed out that raising kids was also an enduring accomplishment, Gilbert answered, "Yes, the much hoped-for result of raising decent, competent human beings is an enduring accomplishment. The time scale of decades does make it tough to see progress sometimes; I've got to look at it as more as a geologist looks at time, not a programmer." This is a beautiful metaphor for raising children, and I hope more stay-at-home parents will start thinking in geological time.
As more men become house husbands, they'll run into the same issue women have been dealing with for decades. Staying home to raise a family is devalued. It leaves the caregiver feeling as if they're doing nothing of importance or lasting value. They aren't recognized by society for their hard work. Being a full-time parent is more than a full-time job. It's a career that has you on call 24 /7. It's filled with challenges. Periods of routine are interrupted by moments of crisis where the parent has to be EMT, ambulance driver, and medical director. Sometimes, they're called upon to be police officer, detective, and judge. They have to be diplomats, teachers, cooks, housekeepers, and quite often accountant. And at the end, with luck, they'll have a set of well-adjusted humans ready to join the adult world, while they end up trying to start a career late, if they can do it at all. And they do this with no negotiated salary, no independent pension, and no awards, accolades, and workplace skills to put on a résumé.
I hope we can change this. It's time for stay-at-home parents to be as respected as their career spouses.