According to the Daily Telegraph, a Rutgers University study has found that “men whose partners are the primary breadwinner can suffer stress-related conditions such as ulcers, heart problems, and chronic lung disease as a result of their sense of masculinity being diminished.”
The study was originally published in the Journal of Ageing and Health. Essentially, researchers from Rutgers University followed 1,100 married couples over 30 years. What they found was a greater number of health concerns in the men whose wives were the primary breadwinners.
“Men who do not uphold the male breadwinner role may feel like a professional failure, or may feel that they are failing their families by not providing for them economically,” study co-author Deborah Carr told the Daily Telegraph.
This study really got me thinking about the summer of 2013 when my wife took an internship, and I took the summer off to be a stay-at-home dad. I’d just finished graduate school, and my new job at the university was a nine-month contract, leaving me with summers off. I learned a lot about parenting that summer, honestly. I learned a lot about my children — we had two under the age of 6; we have three now. I learned that being the full-time caregiver is actually a million jobs mixed into one: chauffeur, time manager, cook, maid, hostage negotiator, the list goes on. But I also learned that being a father, alone with children during the day, is incredibly stressful, and oftentimes, socially awkward.
When I took my kids to the park, I received suspicious looks and snide comments — for being a grown man at the park at 2 p.m. even though my kids were in tow.
Once, I ran into friends at the grocery store, and they asked me if I’d lost my job. And when I explained to them that Mel and I had switched roles for the summer so that she could pursue an internship, their response was something along the lines of “That’s very sweet of you to take on that burden for your wife.” Then they gave me a suspicious look as though my wife working a internship outside of the home was somehow a bad decision or I was hiding something more mysterious.
But I suppose none of this is any more frustrating than when someone asks a working mother why she isn’t home caring for her children. What I’m trying to point out here is that the findings of this study are accurate. But what do they mean?
I think they do little more than validate the fact that being the sole caregiver of children, regardless of one’s gender, is a very demanding job. This role has been downplayed for generations, when in reality, it’s a hell of a lot of work and stress, and I think regardless of who the stay-at-home parent is, we all need to realize that caring for children is, in fact, real work with real challenges, real demands, and plenty of very real stress.
I have to assume all stay-at-home mothers reading this article are rolling their eyes right now at the results of this study, and it is with good reason. They are living it, and it’s nice to see the shoe on the other foot.
But rather than make this an us-against-them sort of thing, I think it might be best to look at the results of this study and find unity. The fact of the mater is this: Regardless of what end of the equation you are on (caregiver or breadwinner), and regardless of your gender, raising children is stressful. It can lead to health concerns. It can make you want to pull your hair out. It can cause you to lose sleep. It can make you want to run from your office screaming, and it can make you want to park your minivan on the side of the road and run into the woods, never to be seen again.
So men, the next time you come home and your wife looks stressed out and exhausted and she asks you to help with the kids for a moment, don’t scoff, assume that her day was a cakewalk because she was home and you were at work, and say something totally asinine like, “You’d probably get more done if I took your phone away,” (not funny, dude) and realize that her frustrations do, in fact, have validity. A lot of validity.
Then roll up your sleeves and pitch in. Let the kids climb on you, set the table, do something. And do it without a crappy attitude.
And the next time any of you see a dad struggling with children at a grocery store, don’t ask if they are babysitting. Ask if they could use a hand or give them a nod of solidarity because what they are doing is just as important and stressful as any high-stakes career.
I think it’s time we all agree that raising a family is, hands down, the most stressful thing in the history of ever. Now let’s take the findings of this study as a sign that we need to back each other up in all that we do, regardless of where the gender lines fall.
Sound like a deal?
Now let’s go change some dirty butts.