Do stay-at-home dads have a jobette?

Here’s an interesting factoid. Stay-at-home dads are five times more likely to have an affair than other men. One hypothesis is, feeling emasculated by not being the primary breadwinner, they sleep around to prove they are still macho. Interesting theory, but I’d like to propose an alternative. Stay-at-home dads do not have an inferiority complex. Rather they have too much time on their hands.

Here are the facts. According to research from the Pew Center stay-at-home dads do 18 hours of housework and 11 hours of childcare per week. Sure, this is impressive compared to dads that work for pay but their efforts pale in comparison to stay-at-home moms. Stay-at-home moms perform 26 hours of housework and 20 hours of kid care a week. If my math is correct, this means that stay-at-home dads do 15 hours less work than their stay-at-home mom counterparts.

So, here’s a question. Who is picking up the slack for the “unfinished” housework and childcare not done by the stay-at-home dad? Let me go out on a limb here and guess that is it their working spouse. And if the working mom is slogging away all day at her paid gig only to return home to a second shift finishing the stuff her stay-at-home hubby didn’t get done during the day, my guess is she is pretty pissed off. Chances are she’d rather cut her husband up into little pieces and scatter the body parts all over the country than have sex with him.

And here is the nub of the problem. Since the husband’s stay-at-home jobette isn’t keeping him fully occupied, he has extra discretionary hours in his day. He’s not getting enough sex at home given his wife’s exhausted state and her inability to see his Inner Adonis through the clutter on the floor. Why wouldn’t the stay-at-home hubby seek sexual gratification elsewhere?

I’m posing the hypothesis because it seems like a reasonable one to explore. I know full-well how unfair it is to generalize and paint all men with the same brush. There are armies of devoted stay-at-home dads who conscientiously perform their stay-at-home role brilliantly, provide unconditional nurturing and support to their spouse and kids with purpose and passion – and don’t shag the yummy mommy they met on the playground.

No, I don’t want to pick on stay-at-home dads. Rather, the real issue is the adverse consequences of mismatched expectations. The mismatch goes both ways. I know of a number of husbands who resent their stay at home wives too. It is easy to think the grass is greener on the other side. The working partner may resent their stay-at-home spouse for not contributing financially and not having to endure the stress of work. They may think staying at home is like an extended holiday, getting to play with the kids and hang out with other parents at the local coffee shop or Gymboree. They may feel they are carrying more than enough weight and have earned the right to put their feet up at the end of their working day.

The stay-at-home parent may see things differently. They may resent their working partner for getting to spend all day with adults who don’t throw fistfuls of macaroni at the wall, and who get to enjoy a latte in peace without worrying about little Jimmy flinging himself down the stairs if they take five minutes for themselves. They may feel they are making a huge sacrifice by putting their own career on hold to raise happy and well-adjusted children. They may feel their work day should not be a 24/7 deal and that they have also earned the right to put their feet up when their working spouse walks in the door. Is it any wonder that sexual sparks aren’t flying at the end of the day?

Who is right? Both sides make valid points so it is easy to see how problems can seep into the relationship. No one likes to feel they are being used or that their efforts are not being appreciated. What’s the solution then?

Here’s my idea. Couples should craft a job description for the stay-at-home parent together before one of them signs up for this role. The job description could list key accountabilities and deliverables, as well as hours of work. If couples took the time to do this or at least talk about it, their respective expectations could be made more transparent, disconnects resolved, and a reasonable deal stuck before differences of opinion lead to resentment later.

Here are a few considerations in thinking through the relationship deal between a stay-at-home parent and their working spouse:

  • What is the relative weight between “kid-friendly” activities and “household drudgery” for the stay-at-home parent?
  • How do the stay-at-home parent’s responsibilities shift when their spouse walks in the door at the end of the day?
  • Does the role of the stay-at-home parent have a termination date? Is the plan to stay home until the kids are in college, or does their gig end once the kids start school?

Like any job, there are many ways to execute the job of the stay-at-home parent. There may be conflict when assumptions are made about what the role entails, and a couple finds out too late that they had different understandings of the role. The job of the stay-at-home parent should be defined collaboratively in the context of the couple’s unique priorities and values. “That’s not in my job description” is a yucky thing to have to say or to hear once the work has already begun.

Previous: Do you really want to find your soul mate?
Next: Love in the time of dementia