Stay at Home Husband? One Lawyer’s Story

Ilise*, a female attorney at a big New York law firm, is the envy of most of her female peers, at least those with children. Unlike most of the other lawyers at her firm, who have to juggle unpredictable hours with inflexible and costly childcare arrangements, Ilise has a built in child care system that doesn’t make her feel as though her two daughters, ages 18 months and 4 years, are being deprived of quality parental time. After Ilise came back to work from her second maternity leave, her husband, a writer, decided to stay home with the girls.

Ilise’s situation is unique, but hardly unusual among professional woman these days. In fact, stay at home husbands have been a hot topic in the blogosphere.

While it was a decision that Ilise fully embraced at the time, and she still feels lucky when she hears about other working moms having nanny nightmares, or having to race to pick their kids up from daycare and drop them off at a babysitter’s, only to return to the office for some late night work. While one of her co-workers wistfully praises Ilise’s “no cost, no hassle” day care arrangement, Ilise herself isn’t so sure, about the no-cost or the no-hassle part.

Certainly, her husband had to take a pay cut when he left his job as a science writer at a magazine and started freelancing from home. Though he is still good at what he does, and well recognized for his writing, it is acknowledged amongst their friends that his career took a backseat to her ambition to make partner at the firm. So, the arrangement did come at a cost, though fortunately Ilise feels that she makes enough money as an attorney that her husband’s pay cut didn’t compromise their lifestyle significantly. Still, the arrangement didn’t come without hidden costs, which is a significant complaint of other career women with stay-at-home husbands. An article on MSN Money explored the idea further in a segment entitled “Can You Afford a Stay at Home Husband?”

Still, when interviewed for this article, Ilise expressed envy for one of her colleagues, whose husband was a top hedge fund manager, and whose substantial income as an attorney was really just spending money. She also envied her friend’s army of nannies and household help. Though Ilise’s husband takes care of her daughters during the day, she often finds herself coming home from a long day at work only to find dishes piled up in the sink and many household chores unfinished. She and her husband are still trying to work out the division of labor in a way that “doesn’t make him feel emasculated” according to Ilise, but still recognizes that she has less time available for domestic duties than he does.

Having her husband stay home might take some pressure off of her at the office, but she explains that it puts additional pressure on their relationship in some respects. She admits that they often argue about childcare and household duties, and that her husband sometimes feels insecure about her role as the breadwinner. She explains, “At a recent dinner party, the husband of one of their friends made an insensitive remark, calling my husband “Mr. Mom.” He tried to laugh it off, but I could tell that it got under his skin.”

Ilise’s tips for making the arrangement work?

Try to affirm and support your husband, both in his caretaking role and his professional endeavors. Recognize that his ego might be taking a hit from the gender role reversal, and try to validate and support the professional initiatives that he defines himself by.

Divide up financial responsibilities. Even if you are the main breadwinner, don’t be too controlling with the purse strings. Make a monthly budget and put money in a joint checking account that you both have access to. That way, your partner will not have to come to you, hat in hand, asking for money.

Be willing to reconsider roles as life changes. Ilise doesn’t necessarily plan to be the breadwinning spouse forever, but sees the stay at home role for her husband as a function of the career opportunities that were available to her at the time. If a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes up for her husband to take an amazing job or even relocate, she says she would carefully consider it, even if it meant making changes in her career path a few years down the line.

With these pieces of advice, hopefully our charge ahead readers with stay at home spouses will be able to handle the work/life balance juggle a bit more efficiently. Still, Ilise’s story is just one variation on the theme. Do you have a partner who works flexible hours so you can work full time? Or a partner who stays home and doesn’t work so that you can pursue your career dreams? Or have you done what Ilise is considering someday and switched roles, from breadwinner to stay at home mom? We want to hear about your experience, so write in and join the dialogue.

* Ilise would rather keep her identifying details confidential, as not everyone at her firm knows about her work/life balance decisions, and she would rather not be known as the woman with the stay at home husband, preferring instead to be recognized on the job for her substantial professional achievements.