Monday, March 1, 2010

Role Reversals in the Family

I found an articles that address the changing roles in our families regarding parenting, work and money in the United States.

The first one is in "Working Mother" magazine from Feb/Mar 2010
By: Sara Eckel, Illustration: Aaron Goodman

Amid bruised egos, resentments and confusion, families are struggling to find their footing as they cope with the financial, emotional and who-does-the-dishes-now restructuring of their lives brought on by the recession.

On a cold, rainy November morning, Christine Fruehwirth’s 5-year-old son showed up at preschool without a coat—or even a sweater. “The sweater was dirty,” says Christine’s husband, John. He also had taken their 7-year-old daughter out to run errands in the ballerina pajamas she’d slept in. “I didn’t know. I thought it was an outfit,” John says of the wardrobe mishap, one of several that have occurred since he took over many of the household and child-care duties two years ago. That’s when he lost his job as the managing director of a Washington, DC, private equity firm. To support their family of five, Christine began working part-time as a career consultant for George Washington University in addition to the career-coaching business she was already running out of their home.

Like many families coping with the turmoil brought on by the recession, the Fruehwirths have been fumbling to find their footing now that the roles of family breadwinner and household caretaker have been shuffled around. Though Christine, 40, had planned to work while her three kids were young, she was thinking one job, not two. But now she says, “Maybe this was meant to be.” She’s appreciating the chance to further develop her professional life. And although John is adamant that he’s not a stay-at-home dad—he’s developing a private equity company he purchased with his severance pay—he’s enjoying extra time with the kids now that he’s the one taking them to and from school and helping them with homework.

With job loss comes heightened anxiety, as well as recast parental and household duties, causing a major upheaval in many families. Working moms are increasingly logging extra hours in the office—and spending more time away from their children—while more men are finding themselves without an office to go to. Getting the bills paid and cutting back on nonessential spending is a strain for sure. Yet for many, the greatest challenge hasn’t been financial; it’s been psychological. Amid all the changes, moms and dads are trying to adjust not only to new daily schedules but also to bruised egos and growing resentments.
We talked to couples about how their families are coping with this shift—and learned what they’re doing to keep the peace.

Shattered Self-Esteem

After Stefania Sorace Smith’s husband lost his security job last May, she landed a higher-paying position in her profession, as the residential programmer at a home for mentally disabled people. But she also doubled her commuting time, and her workweek soared to 60 hours from 40—a particular strain since she’s now pregnant with the couple’s second child. Even with her higher salary and the part-time work her husband, Darren, has secured, the Dingman’s Ferry, PA, couple has not made up the lost income. Now charged with the family’s financial security, Stefania, 26, is more stressed than ever. “Bills definitely get behind,” she says, adding that she sometimes plays “Russian roulette” with her checkbook by alternating which bills she pays—and which she skips—each month. At home, Darren is doing more of the basic cleaning, and he makes their 2-year-old daughter breakfast and prepares dinner for the family—but the major scrub work still falls to Stefania because he “just doesn’t do it the way I want it done,” she says.

For Stefania, one of the biggest disparities in this new structure is free time. She spends most of her day working and commuting. Darren—while doing handyman work and pitching in with the household chores—still spends a fair amount of time playing Flight Simulator on his computer. “This transition has been tough,” he says. “I started building houses when I was twelve. I’m used to working ninety hours a week. All I ever did was work.” Though he’s enjoying the time he spends with his daughter, he feels unproductive. “It’s difficult to go from self-sufficient to depending on someone, but we’re making it work,” he says. “It is what it is.”

The ego blow of job loss leaves many men unable to find fulfillment in their new role. In the months after Ron Mattocks was laid off two years ago, he admits, he had a tough time transitioning from his former life as a vice president of sales for a major homebuilder to Daddy Day Care. “I was an officer in the army and then an executive in the corporate world.

Suddenly, I’m packing lunches and making sure the kids have everything in their backpacks. My entire self-image pretty much got shattered,” says Ron, 37, from Houston. “I had to really rethink myself, and that’s been a long, discouraging process.” He misses the external validation he got through his work—the backslapping for a job well done—and is struggling to find that same sense of confidence internally. It has helped, however, to see his wife, Ashley, gain confidence in her career. “Though I don’t bring value to the family the way I used to, my role is important,” he says.

Why Men Don’t Do Windows

Wives should be mindful of the fact that a recently unemployed husband is in a fragile emotional state, says Ellen Ostrow, PhD, a psychologist who works with professional women reentering the workforce. “The psychological impact is enormous,” she says. This is one reason many men don’t automatically start picking up the scrub brush after a job loss. According to the 2008 American Time Use Survey released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployed women spend almost six hours a day on child care and household chores like cleaning and cooking, while unemployed men spend only three hours a day on such tasks—and also spend more than four hours a day watching television.

Often men with a very traditional view of gender roles will refuse to do housework, as a way to gain control, says Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. “They think that they have to compensate for their loss of masculinity by asserting masculine privilege in other ways.”

But the reasoning may be even more subtle than that. Jeremy Adam Smith, author of The Daddy Shift, suggests that most men simply don’t see housework and child care as a vocation that could give them a sense of identity and pride, as many women do. “For a lot of women who lose their job, a pathway presents itself,” he says. “They decide, ‘I’m a stay-at-home mom. My job now is to take care of the home and kids, and I’m going to be good at that.’ But for many fathers, that pathway doesn’t exist in any well-developed way.”

Teaching the Basics
However understandable this aversion to scouring bathtubs and laying out school clothes may be, the fact remains that the work needs to be done.

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