Falling into gender roles

One of the more identity-warping aspects of parenthood is the way that it has pushed certain traditional gender roles into my marriage.  I didn’t expect this: I grew up in the “girls can do anything” generation and married someone who had no interest in being a stereotypical breadwinner.  But then BAM! societal structures whacked me in the face.

Some of it seems to make sense in the context of our family.  My husband is older than me; he has a real job and I’m a grad student.  Now that he’s working outside of academia, he makes a lot more than me.  My status as a student means that my hours are flexible, my vacation is not tracked, and, well, it just makes sense for me to be the one who stays home when the kid is sick.  To be the one who takes at-home days so that we can save money on daycare.  If we have a second kid after I finish my PhD, it’ll be totally logical for me to be the one to take “leave” for a few months or maybe longer.

But…  Would that calculation change if my husband’s new job offered paternity leave?  (It doesn’t.)  Would I have chosen to stay home as much as I did if daycare were more affordable?

What happens when we move somewhere where daycare costs even more?  Where the waiting lists are months long?  Who has to stay home then?

What happens if we have that second kid and I take some time off to parent—will I be losing forever the opportunity to have the kind of career I once imagined?  Am I doomed to be the secondary breadwinner, looking at a life of trying to sell jewelry and fake nails to my friends?

My husband and I had a fight the other day about money.  He’d started to say things that sounded like he thought of his salary as something he earned for himself and partially distributed to me for stuff, as opposed to something he earned for our family.  It turned out we were taking our worries out on each other: he felt bad about spending less time with our son (he’s had to work weekends recently), while I was worried (jealous?) that I made so much less.  It bothers me very much that we’ve been pushed in these directions.

Today is one of my at-home days, and I’m busy trying to fill the hours with dishes and knitting and crayons.  Likely my husband will be working again this weekend.  I feel unfulfilled, like I’m turning into the stereotype of a bored 1960’s housewife.

I’m not sure where to go from here.

6 thoughts on “Falling into gender roles

  1. Have you two had a conversation about how you would like to see things in three, five, seven years?

    Are you able to discuss the fact that perhaps the inevitable looking outcome (you having to give up your career path because it’s “logical” since you’re making less money) is quite unattractive to you?

    For example, if he’s going to be moving into a new job between now and then, is he going to prioritize companies that offer paternity leave or if they don’t, make sure that he prioritizes it by saving vacation time? PiC’s company offered a small amount of parental leave and we discussed the best way to use that and the best way for me to create my maternity leave because my company offered next to nothing. We sat down and calendared our idea leave situation so that we were sharing the burden as equally as we could, given our respective jobs.

    About staying home – I was worried that it would just seem logical / natural for me to make the sacrifices. So I shared similar fears to your situation a few years before we decided to try and have JuggerBaby. My income and PiC’s leapfrogged each other but at that time, mine had fallen behind by about $30K. I didn’t like where that was headed, especially because I do have a problem with needing our incomes to be equal lest I feel like a lesser contributor, so we had to have a talk. We had to have about fifty talks, in fact.

    He knew that if we ever had kids, I never wanted to be a SAHM. Now my health precludes that option anyway. We talked about my worries on that front and we agreed that childcare was always going to be a (high) cost and factored that into our budget. We started saving for childcare, and learning to do without that money in our budget, a few months before JuggerBaby was born. If we have the option to have a second (which, right now, ha… I don’t think we can afford it) then we’ll do the same and do it much earlier.

    We also discussed the fact that his salary and my salary = our money. We do combined finances, I know some people who do wonderfully with split, but combined works best for us. One thing we split down the middle out of each of our paychecks is the childcare. We don’t do that with anything else but it made me feel better knowing that we are both actively responsible hands on and financially and we act like that.

    There are other things we do to maintain equality, that I’ve blogged about recently, but this is already a wall of text so I’ll leave off with this: I hope that if you have conversations about this, you can envision the life that you’d like to have instead of feeling pressed into one that you “have” to have.


    • Great comment, thanks. We haven’t had that kind of discussion about the future in a while, I think because we’re both too scared of the unknowns. There was so much uncertainty around when I would finish my PhD (although that’s largely settled now), and then we both had such a hard time after Little Boy was born that we put off making a decision about a second kid (even though we’d originally planned on two). You’re right, it’s time to talk again.

      My husband’s “new” job is the one he started this past year, so the leave situation is already fixed there. He could (and will) save up a couple of weeks of vacation, but that’s it. We too do combined finances—I had a post about it a while back—but we’ve been taken off guard by the fact that he’s getting bonuses and working extra hours for extra pay. “What do we do with money that we weren’t planning on having?” is a question that we didn’t realize we needed to discuss.


      • Boy do I hear you about fear of unknowns. I do NOT do well with them, and turn into a furious hamster spinning a wheel when confronted with future stuff that I can’t plan and plot and structure.

        “What do we do with money that we weren’t planning on having?” – of the unexpected questions, this would be a favorite of mine to discuss but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. My husband’s eyes glaze over a little when I get too into the money talk.

        I wish you some fruitful discussions!


  2. Wow, this really hits home and is a very real concern of mine when my husband and I have children…my husband, like yours, is older, and works in a more lucrative and stable field and is naturally more progressed in his career whereas I’m going to be a broke grad student. I’m “off” work between now and when I begin my program in the fall, so I naturally have transitioned to doing 100% of the cooking, cleaning, housework, what-have-you. And I suspect that while, hopefully, I won’t be responsible for this amount when I start school, it certainly won’t be 50/50, and it probably won’t ever be again. I’m sure this is exacerbated when there’s a child involved. I feel conflicted about fulfilling a housewife stereotype that I never wanted, and doing what makes sense and is easiest for my husband and I at this point in our lives (he is stressed, he is working long hours, he is navigating a new, challenging role). But I don’t want to lose sight of my own goals.

    I guess I have nothing else to say (or advice, obviously) except that: I empathize. I hope you are able to find fulfillment.

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    • *fist bump of empathy* I know what you mean about wanting to lessen the stress on your husband—that’s another reason why I’d want to take on more of the infant childcare if we have another kid.

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