Changing Family Roles

Changing Family Roles

  • Jodie Leister, LPCC-S, Counselor, Ohio State Employee Assistance Program
  • June, 2019
  • Emotional Well-Being
An example of how the traditional nuclear family is evolving.

The idea of the traditional nuclear family seems to be evolving now more than ever in American culture. Gone are the days when the predominant household was a single-family home made up of a male breadwinner, female stay-at-home mom, 2.4 children and a pet. For many reasons, our idea of family and family roles has changed, and for some, including myself, that's a welcomed evolution. One of the shifts that has a growing trend behind it is the change in traditional male and female gender roles related to primary household caregivers.

Pew Research reported in 2014 that the number of stay-at-home dads was approximately 16% in 2012, up from 10% in 1989, with 21% of the stay-at-home dads reporting the main reason they're home is to care for their home or family. Our household falls into this category. For all intents and purposes, I'm the “main breadwinner” of my little family. My husband, Dan, has been working as a fulltime illustrator for the last 14 years here in Columbus. When it came time for us to have children six years ago, the natural thing was for him to move to a more part-time role with his art and take on the role of stay-at-home dad. It was something we talked about throughout our entire relationship, and we knew it would work for us. I've always been a very driven person at work, and my career and personal growth in that area are paramount to me as a person. It's one of the things Dan loves most about me, and I cherish that. 

It wasn't an easy transition for Dan or for me as a mom. He says the idea of not being a primary provider “goes against the norm for sure, but I don’t mind it or anything. The hardest part is not making much money, [because] it goes against what I've grown up to think of my role as a husband and dad. But as an artist you never really think of yourself as making a ton.” 

He says “I do contribute financially to the household with my art and with the money we save for child care, so it’s a little different for us. If I didn’t think that it would be much more difficult for me.” 

Overall, he says, the biggest challenge he faces is the isolation and being the only male in the room most of the time. “At first I felt awkward taking the kids places. It was a sea of moms and kids and then me. Now that I've been doing it for five years, and we're going to be starting over again with a new baby, it's fine and I don’t think about it really. At the park and story time, I'm the only guy, and I can feel out of place. Most of the time I think people assume that I lost my job or I can’t find one. When they ask and I tell them I’m an illustrator and I have my studio in our house, they typically think it's really cool, but many don’t ask. Juggling getting work done and being present for the kids is hard. I have two full-time jobs, but so do most parents, I think.”

Dan says that while he knows it isn't the typical male role in a family, he feels fortunate to be able to be with our boys as much as he can. “Everyone says ‘appreciate this time, it doesn’t last.’ It took a while to really understand what it was that I was supposed to appreciate about this time with them. I didn’t get that for a long time. Now I do. I try to be present and enjoy the time while they're affectionate and interested and little sponges. They want me around and think I’m great right now. Eventually it goes away. That makes me sad to think about, but I’m glad I get this time. I wish more dads got that. But I know I won’t fully understand it until they don’t want to be around me anymore.” 

There are a growing number of supports here in central Ohio, but more are needed. One of the community support efforts is the Columbus Dads group. They're easy to find via Facebook and online, and offer regular outings and activities for dads and their kids. If you're a stay-at-home dad or just a dad who wants to find fun things to do with your kids and other dads, check it out.

Families are all special and unique, including mine. It's important that we all be provided the space to find what works for us and helps us to live our best lives. For some people that means stepping away from what is traditional and embracing what works. The goal is the same: to live happy lives with those we love, doing the best we can. 

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