Uncommon Couples Struggle With Stereotypes

Role Reversal

Utah natives Kristine and Pete Widtfeldt may fit into the same "cute-a-gory," but they've been breaking another norm among couples. Pete walked away from his career in Internet marketing to become a stay-at-home dad to the couple's three children.

The Widtfeldts' marriage bends gender stereotypes in ways even they find surprising. "We find ourselves making stereotypical comments to each other that are usually reserved for the other partner," explained Kristine. "I'll get the Visa statement and I'll look at it and I'll say, 'You spent $200 at Wal-Mart'? And he'll say, 'Do you have any idea how much a pair of child's shoes cost these days?'"

According to the the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 5.6 million American mothers stay home to raise their children, compared to 159,000 stay-at-home dads. And in the conservative Mormon community where the Widtfeldts live, Pete sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Different Benchmarks

Kristine said she hears comments like, "So, when is your husband going to get a job?" She thinks there are still a lot of stereotypes about stay-at-home dads. "There is still some of that lingering around where people assume that if a man's at home, it's because he's a slacker. It's because he can't or won't work, rather than choosing to do something different."

Even though the Widtfeldts' decision was a practical one, there's a price for breaking the lingering "breadwinner taboo." "As much as we talk about … society's expectations, I really believe that the biggest struggle we've faced has been internal," Pete said. "You grow up with a certain sense of what your role is going to be in life…And…as a man, that's a different set of benchmarks, typically, than it is as a woman."

So do these couples see society changing its attitude towards them? Do the Widtfeldts see more couples deciding to reverse gender roles at home?

"I hope so," said Kristine. "We made the decision we have because it was right for our family." As for the Kloses, Sharon is less optimistic. "I'm going to be 43 this year and I've lived with this all my life," she said. "I would think by now things would have changed. So many other issues have progressed -- and this one seems to have just stalled and stayed put."

The Kloses do still hope that someday instead of seeing a heavy woman with a thin man, onlookers will merely see "two people in love."

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