real life

House husbands. Do they get respect?

Next time you’re throwing a dinner party — you may want to save a seat for journalist Derek Rielly.  More on him in a sec. So.  Stay-at-home dads have been in the press a bit this past month. It seems the issue of respect has been raised. As in, the 12,000 or so Australian men who choose to be stay-at-home dads don’t get any.

First up Fairfax columnist (and self-confessed quasi-house husband)  Derek Rielly didn’t pull any punches when he recently dared to ask the question: Do women see stay-at-home dads as “lost men with no career prospects?” He wrote…

Derek Rielly

Put aside the prevailing Hollywood wisdom for a second and tell me, what do you really think about house husbands?

Think about it. Do you see a sexy, easy-going lone ranger scooping up his children at the school gate or a lost man with no career prospects or status standing slightly to the side at the playground while women engage in gossip and character assassination?

Let me fill an obvious blank here. I ain’t a house husband. But I kinda am. Two kids in school and a wife who brings home a good chunk of bacon every week means I do a lot of the lifting. At two-forty-five every afternoon I drive to school, a muscular Audi in the daily flotilla of Honda Odysseys.

Like Penguins heading to the sea after spring’s ice melt, we cross roads in great groups and dive into the school community. Our kids play. Our kids fall. Our kids cry. We pick them up, wipe away tears, offer pieces of fruit and then chocolate biscuits as special treats from our Tupperware containers.

You can read Rielly’s full column here.

Excuse me while I get off the floor and sit back on my chair.  Yowza. (I told you Rielly would make an interesting dinner party guest. Fireworks, anyone?)   Then to add sea salt to that gaping wound, the Herald Sun reported that stay-at-home dads were still battling for respect in the community and better support services.  This is despite the number of house husbands being on the rise (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there was a 35% increase in stay-at-home dads between 2006 and 2008). You can read the Herald Sun story here.

Mamamia regular Clint Gregan of Reservoir Dads knows about being a stay-at-home dad and  is well aware of the fact that his position is not the norm. He writes:

Clint Gregan

“I have been a full time stay-at-home Dad to three boys for five years and my wife Tania has been the full time earner.  The gender issue didn’t feature much at all when we were deciding on how to structure our lives. It was only the first six months when we took up our new roles that we felt some ‘societal pressure’.

There’s no denying the constant societal whispering, housed in throw-away-lines from everyday people and reinforced through media and advertising, that suggests that what we’re doing is wrong. And even though we are confident and comfortable with our lives now, for the first six months of our new family structure Tania and I battled periods of uncertainty and doubt. For Tania it was the suggestion that she wasn’t a good mother for pursuing her career. For me it was that I wasn’t ‘providing’ because as a man I should be bringing home the bacon – the walking wallet stereotype.

The traditional arrangement still works for many families but it also puts undue pressure on many others. For a lot of families it is simply not the best option – career goals, earning potential, personal family issues, individual temperaments, injuries, lay-offs, boredom and a thousand other issues mean that the best roles for Mum and Dad will be different for each family, and may change from year to year.

Men, women and families will benefit when these roles are no longer ‘assigned’ to one gender or the other. A flexible approach to family life is crucial to long term happiness of every family member.

One thing I know for sure is that men and women are not cardboard cut-outs. We’re all capable of being both carers and nurturers regardless of whether we’re ‘at home’ or ‘working’.

So what do you think? Is Derek Rielly right?  Do women see stay-at-home dads as careerless and lost?  Would you be comfortable if your male partner was the stay-at-home parent? And a reminder: dinner party rules please….