As Lynette on "Desperate Housewives" gets into her new job, her husband, Tom, tries to adjust to life at home caring for the kids. When roles reverse, real-life couples often face unique and unexpected challenges.
Since every relationship needs a healthy dose of respect to balance work and home, there are some important issues to keep in mind.
Don't treat dad like a baby sitter. I don't mean any disrespect to baby sitters. In fact, my kids' baby sitter has worked for our family for more than six years and she has my greatest admiration and respect. Even though the work is being done in your home on a personal level, it's a form of an employee/employer relationship. Typically, mom gives instructions about her wishes to the baby sitter about how she expects the kids to be handled when she's at work. Mom decides what to feed them, when to feed them, bath time, play time, school work -- the whole nine yards.
Dad is not a baby sitter. He is not an employee. Mom is not the employer or boss. You're both parents who've jointly decided that dad will stay home with the kids, whether it's for economic reasons, for parenting reasons or both. Dad deserves to be treated as such.
Even with the best intentions, sometimes when mom works outside of the home, she becomes frustrated at how things are going at home -- whether it's the meals the kids are eating, the frequency of cleaning or the overall schedule. Even though Lynette opted to let out a mouse to make her point about the need for Tom to clean, there are other options to make your point.
Create an ongoing dialogue. It's rare when two people will perform the same tasks completely equally. Just like any kind of work, parenting and household work is subject to scrutiny by observers and outsiders.
Together you should decide how things around the house will be handled -- household chores and the kids' schedules. But also remember, that since dad's the one doing it, he should have considerable say. He shouldn't be expected to take mom's orders, but he will hopefully take mom's thoughts and desires into consideration as he figures out his routine. Similarly, mom wouldn't expect dad to give her orders on how to handle her work outside the home, as it's assumed that he's capable of making those day-to-day decisions.
Don't criticize, compromise. When things do bother you, which they will, resist the urge to criticize. Instead, focus on compromise. Maybe the house isn't spic-and-span, but the kids are healthy and happy. Compliment dad on the good things, and calmly ask him to consider taking into account your feelings about the problem areas.
This is the same strategy that works so well in an office. When you want something out of your colleagues, berating them isn't the way to get it. Instead, you can compliment someone on their strengths, and suggest areas of improvement, while also offering constructive solutions.
For couples thinking about having dad stay at home, consider a few key factors when making the decision.
Can you afford it? Will mom's salary pay all the bills? Does mom's employer offer the same or better benefits, especially insurance coverage, for the family? You even want to be sure that you can secure (either on your own or through your employer) life insurance for the stay-at-home parent since he'll be providing a service that would be expensive to replace. Can you both continue to save for retirement? When one parent doesn't work, you should be putting money into an IRA or other savings plan. So can one salary cover all of this?
What's more cost-effective: child care or dad staying home? Consider all of the costs of working -- taxes, commuting, business attire, etc., and weigh that against the cost of child care. Sometimes it's just more effective to give up dad's salary than to pay for him to work and to pay for child care. Many families come out ahead financially by having one parent at home in lieu of paying for outside child care. Other times, parents would prefer caring for their children themselves as opposed to working just to cover child care costs.
Can you both live with it happily? This is perhaps most important of all. Some dads worry about the unfair stigma associated with staying home -- "Oh, he couldn't get a real job, could he?" -- and moms sit in their offices worrying about their husbands having a ball with other moms at the park all day. This stuff might seem awfully mundane, especially when compared to the financial realties, but these are the kinds of things that drive wedges into marriages. So consider all of it -- financial, emotional, petty and not-so-petty. Is dad willing to clean, cook and care for the kids? And is mom willing to carry the financial pressures of making all the money? Can both perform their jobs while believing they're contributing equally and without resenting the other?
For more advice from Tory Johnson, including information on various career choices, visit www.womenforhire.com.