INTERVIEW WITH A FORMER AT-HOME DAD | BY MARY ANNE BISHOP
Not all marriages survive when husbands and wives flip traditional roles. In our next few posts, a few big flip divorcées have generously agreed to share their story. From first love to marriage to breakup to life afterward—their stories will help us understand the challenges big flip couples must overcome for love to endure.
Our ex-Big Flip husband—we’ll call him Mr. K—is a former attorney who currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona and works part time as a legal secretary. He has 4 children that live with him full time.
AGE WHEN MARRIED: He: 25. She: 25
OCCUPATIONS: Legal Secretary/Paralegal
Where did they grow up?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles.
Where did you meet your spouse?
It was in law school that I met my future wife. We went out on a few dates, we liked each other, and then we got engaged after school. Our wedding was a year later.
Why attracted you to your spouse and why did you decide to marry?
She is a very dynamic person. A lot of energy, a lot of excitement, and really feisty (in a good way).
Prior to starting a family, what was your life like?
We worked at different places and had demanding jobs. When we were going out and planning our life together, we did talk about starting a family. In terms of being parents, we didn’t talk a lot about what he would do, what she would do. We were both from fairly traditional families. I was later proven to be incorrect, it reversed itself, we assumed when we started a family, she would go to part time or stop working for a while and we would see how things went from there.
While we were working, she became pregnant with our first child. We were really happy and excited about it. Right around that time, before we had told anybody, she was offered a really good promotion at her work and that would have her making twice as much as me. After a few months, we had a really long discussion about it. The fact that she was making a lot more money kind of turned the tide on that issue. We agreed that it would make more sense for her to keep going. We agreed to both keep working.
Prior to the promotion and her first pregnancy, how were the responsibilities shared?
She definitely was doing most of the work around the house. I thought I was pitching in but in hindsight, I really wasn’t after staying home after all those years. It was a very traditional division of labor.
Did you ever discuss how the responsibilities would change once you had children?
She took her maternity and then I worked out something where I worked part time. I remember when I started this, I realized it was a big change, the last thing that I wanted was for her to do the cooking and cleaning. So I took over all that. She taught me a lot of stuff with our son and helped me learn to cook.
We both went back to work and I was working out of the home a bit and then out of the office. I guess what I was doing was what a lot of women do, I was juggling between work and home. It was a struggle and I realized that my work had deteriorated. I was on a different track now which was understandable.
It was not too long after that we became pregnant again. I remember thinking that was a huge decision. I was struggling with one, it will be harder with two. I finally brought it up and said, “If it is ok with you, I am going to stop working”. I told her that when that happened that it was important that she should be able to do her job and spend as much time as possible with her family. I told her that I would be the wife and do everything.
How do you think this affected your children with you being home and your wife working?
I think the original idea that it is good for parents to be home with the children is great. Also, between the wife and me, I was the more patient person. It was better for me to be home with the children though my male ego got in the way at first. I know my wife always felt bad about not being home and seeing us. She missed out on a lot of stuff in the similar way where I felt like I should have a job. I felt we were both missing out.
What were the flags or initial sign that ultimately led to your divorce?
She was advancing and she was doing things in the outside world. I found it confining to be home with the kids. In many ways, it was wonderful. I think what eventually happened is that the dynamics were such that she just got used to doing what she wanted to do. I just got taken for granted. I got discouraged and so did she. We just stopped interacting a lot with one another. Eventually, we got to the point where we were living separate lives.
What were the key issues that pushed you apart?
She knew people at work and in the community and we were growing more separate. I was getting the treatment that many housewives got. Eventually, she came to neglect the situation at home. I felt like she was devoted to the kids but she lost track of me along the way.
Did you try therapy?
We eventually did go to therapy because she had an affair and I was devastated. I had found out that there had been more than one.
Did you find yourself less attracted to her or less of a desire to spend time with her?
I was mad at her but I wasn’t less attracted to her. I still loved her and I still wanted to spend time with her but it just wasn’t the same as it was before.
When did you decide to separate and how old were you both at that point?
It was 5 years ago, we were both 42 and she was the one who decided.
How did you feel about that?
I was scared to death. I knew she was right that we had lost our connection between us. But here I was, 40 years old. I had not worked and I had no position.
What was the divorce process like?
Well we thought about it for a while. We agreed we would go to a mediator for both of us. It didn’t work because I felt that financially I needed someone to protect my position. We eventually hired our own lawyers. We both got to a decent settlement. There was tension but I got alimony. There was no issue between the kids or using them to bargain.
Did you feel any sort of stigma during this process or feel judged?
Being the at home person, yes. I know a lot of men complain about divorce. But in the end, they always come out okay because they can usually work and support themselves. If the wife is not working or has a part time job, it is women who are traditionally screwed. I knew that going in to the divorce, I was afraid. When I met with my lawyer who was a woman, she laid it on the line for me. She was like, “Mr. K, you’re like a housewife from 40 years ago and I will do what I can to get what I can for you “. And she did.
I did the best that I could at this role, at this job but I can really appreciate what it’s like to be a woman and how many things exist for women. I had everything turned around for me. I’ll be honest with you. I enjoyed things until they went south. I was happy and I didn’t care about the comments. I trusted my wife.
How did you start over?
I eventually landed on my feet. I got a good settlement and alimony. I found a job working as a paralegal/secretary. it’s a part time job right near my house. Also, I met a woman lawyer there and she is now my girlfriend.
After the divorce, how were the responsibilities shared?
The children stay at my house, we didn’t want them to shuffle between two houses. My ex lives 2 miles away and comes over all the time and we come over her place all the time. We do have something written that says every other weekend but we ignore it. She can see them whenever she wants, we do things together as a family. We are parents and that is something that will never change, even till we die.
Anything about life after divorce?
From a day-to-day standpoint it isn’t much different. I am not scared anymore. I’m not too happy on how this worked out, but I dont dwell too much about this. You can’t do that.
What do you wish you knew back then that you know now?
Our gender roles are societal, they are not innate. When you put someone in the position to be the breadwinner and they are good at it and you put someone in the position of the stay-at-home spouse, you rearrange the power relationships and our minds are welled behind that. Our actions reflect that but our attitudes are still stuck in the past and there is a dichotomy, that took me a long time to realize that.
If my wife had not gotten that promotion and things were different, who knows, I could have been a terrible breadwinner.
Why do you think Big Flippers are more likely to divorce?
Even a Big Flip man still feels like he has more independence and more options than that of a traditional housewife. I think there are a lot of traditional marriages that don’t end because of how afraid women are, she is more afraid than I was. I was scared when I first had to face the prospect for fending for myself. On the other hand, I still think that a husband has more freedom regardless if they stay-at-home.
If you could say anything to those who are in a Big Flip Family today, what would you say to them?
Your arrangement is going to become more common. If it works for you, keep doing it. If it is not working for you, be honest about it and talk about it just like any other couple in any given arrangement.
How is your relationship with your ex spouse?
We don’t talk as much as we used to as time goes on.
Given your experience on the other side, what is your personal perspective/outlook on Big Flip families?
There is going to be more women who are high achievers who will have more opportunities and men will have less. I believe these arrangements are going to be more and more common than in my day. I think and hope that if it is, people are accepted and women are not afraid to be married to someone who is not a high earner and men are not bothered with not earning as much. I never felt demeaned by that.
I don’t know if this is an untold story but it is definitely an under-told story. I gave up my career to be a dad and while I cherish the time I had with my kids, I regret the decision. My ex-wife was joking about my role as the stay-at-home parent almost immediately was had an extra-marital encounter three months after we started the new arrangement. The cultural/societal expectations can’t be swept away with a conversation. When you are the parent at home, you are suddenly not as interesting. When you are a dad, you can quickly be seen as less virile. The same thing happened to a good friend. If I knew a father who was contemplating being the stay-at-home dad, I would attempt to talk him out of it.
Rick, thank you for sharing your story and perspective. You’re right, that cultural and societal expectations take time to change. We see that as our mission in making The Big Flip—we want people to see positive role models of stay-at-home dads that are nurturing, creative, purposeful and attractive.
A guy says:
It’s so good to see a blog dedicated to this topic! As more and more professional enter the workforce while their husbands become stay-at-home husbands it’s important to elicit both advantages and challenges. As a husband that’s home it’s important to stay exciting, not just the one who does the chores. While a partner at home should expect to do the majority of chores by far, it’s also important to set aside time to keep the relationship alive and spice things up.
What works for me is:
- Small “day-to-day” surprise here and there. It can be a nicer dinner, a romantic walk in the park etc. Be active and ask her out to do stuff, she really appreciates it.
- Get away weekend trips, it’s much easier to have time to plan better when not working. We’ve been to quite a few!
- Have a hobby, she’d like to hear your stories about your day as well, not just “um, I was home all day”. Be an active partner who doesn’t let life pass by just because you’re not working! I I started doing some more tennis.
- Stay fit and even consider improving your level of fitness. I’ve always liked sports and the gym, but now I exercise everyday and is as toned as I’ve never been. My efforts to be attractive to her has really improved intimacy.
Mary Anne Bishop says:
A guy, thank you for your comment. You bring important thoughts to light. A relationship, regardless of who does what, is still something that requires time and attention along as the same vein as being a parent. We really appreciated your detailed suggestions. Thank you for stopping by.
Mr. K says:
I am the “Mr K” in the interview and I think that “A guy” makes really good points, ones that I did not follow up on in my marriage.
A guy suggests that the Flipped husband should “stay exciting,” “set aside time to keep the relationship alive and spice things up,” “be an active partner who doesn’t let life pass by just because you’re not working,” and “stay fit” because “efforts to be attractive to her . . . really improve intimacy.” These are all excellent suggestions, but let’s really analyze what’s going on here. These things are all typical “female” strategies that play out in traditional breadwinner/homemaker marriages. A guy’s insight is that when things are Flipped, the husband should throw himself into these things. I just took a quick look at some Ladies Home Journal covers over the past few years and here are some of the titles of articles: “Surprising Little Ways to Improve Your Marriage,” “New Ideas for Family Vacations,” “Find Your Happy Weight,” and “Simple Ways to Keep Your Marriage Strong.” These are exactly the sort of things that the Flipped husband should at least seriously consider and probably do. A lot. The fact is that in a truly flipped marriage, each spouse is (generally) playing out the role that he or she is in, and that that usually trumps the person’s gender. I learned this when it became apparent that my wife was taking work home with her, spending lots of time making financial decisions, and generally drifting away from me. I probably should have, in A guy’s words, tried to spice things up with her and made mopre efforts to be attractive. I didn’t, and eventually we drifted farther and farther apart.
I’m the breadwinning wife. We have an interesting story. We’ve been in this arrangement for 5 years. We started off strong but with lots of resistance from my parents who are traditional. The judgement was difficult to swallow even though it wasn’t blatant. I’ve always been very sensitive to my parents opinions. When I got a huge promotion and we moved away, everything changed. It was now just me, my husband and daughter. I was able to thrive in my career and he was an incredible stay at home parent. Better than I could ever be. Our roles just fit. After a few years, I felt it was time for my husband to establish a new career path or begin a home business of some sort with flexibility to still juggle the stay at-home dad duties. We tried different paths with some small investments: Real estate school, work at home opportunities, health and nutrition certification (as he’s very involved in wellness and fitness) and even part-time work in the evenings and weekends for local retailers. Nothing seemed to stick and we found the added responsibilities stifling to our hectic schedules, so in the end, we didn’t see it through. We probably quit too soon. I might add that prior to these attempts to help my husband find his calling, I came up with an idea. I had dreamed of starting a childrens book series about a stay-at-home dad and breadwinning mom. I thought my husband could engage himself in this exciting endeavor and make it his own, from blogging to developing the website to marketing the books, etc. Even though he was supportive of the idea and helped greatly with the book production process, it became more my ‘baby’ than his. I ended up managing most of the operation. We now have 2 books out and are very proud of our accomplishments, but in the end, it wasn’t his passion as much as it was mine. He was still looking something to call his own. We traveled back home this past Christmas and not surprisingly all those negative feelings returned. It made me understand more clearly why I choose to live away. Judgement from my parents, feelings of speculation, trying to convince everyone that what we’re doing is working even if others don’t agree with our arrangement or that it’s still not societally accepted, especially in our traditional Hispanic family. I feel like we’re constantly having to defend ourselves. To make matters worse, my daughter shared some personal details with my parents in privatethat fueled this speculation. Many of you can relate I’m sure…when grandchildren and grandparents ‘chat amongst themselves’…anyway she divulged to them that my husband and I had a big argument a few months back about our finances. He came clean that he’d opened personal credit cards and ran up some substantial debt. This caused a lot of grief for us as we were about to purchase a new home after 3 years of repairing our financial situation. You see, we’ve been struggling with my husbands closet spending for years. He’s even sought counseling for this dependence on spending and credit card abuse. This particular incident almost led to divorce, but again, as I’d done many times, II decided to give him a chance to fix the situation. He promised he would and going back to work would be the only viable option, however 4 months later, I’m not seeing the will or determination to rectify his situation that I’d hoped for. He’s a wonderful father and does a lot for us domestically, but I feel our financial situation has been gravely hindered by his lack of regard for our finances over the years. The bankruptcy, credit card abuse, constant paying off of debts with my retirement savings and hard-earned income. We’ve battled several financial obstacles because of his frivolous spending and constant cycle of paying off his debts every couple of years. I’m st the point where I must take matters into my own hands and fix the situation or it will never change. I am giving my husband an ultimatum. He must move out of the house for 6 months and go live with family back in AZ and make a go of it on his own. He will still have his vehicle and a modest allowance to get him by and I will take over all the household duties and caring for my daughter along with my job and school responsibilities (masters studies). It will be a tough road ahead but I feel our marriage and family is worth it. If he can prove to sustain himself, learn basic economic principles and begin paying off his debts and learn to be a responsible adult not only as an at-home parent but as an equal partner in all other aspects of our life, then he will move back into our home and we will begin to shift our household into a more balanced arrangement. As our daughter gets older, he will need to position himself for lasting career that will lead him to a comfortable retirement without relying solely on me for stability. I love him so much and want him to succeed. This is the only way I know how.