When Mom Becomes the Breadwinner

PHOTO PHOTO Since the recession began in December 2007 more than 80 percent of pink slips have been handed out to men

Ann Pleshette Murphy is "Good Morning America's" parenting contributor. The advise she dispends is her own opinion and in no way endorsed by ABC News.

Since the recession began in December 2007 more than 80 percent of pink slips have been handed out to men, which means more dads are home with the kids, while moms are bringing home the bacon.

But a sudden role reversal can upset the balance within a family, causing stress and tension.

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Rick Hemmert, a salesman from Ojai, Calif., used to spend his days calling on clients, not doing laundry. But since he was laid off in November, Rick has found his time consumed by housework and the care of his 7-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.

To keep the family afloat, his wife, Eleanor, also in sales, has increased her hours significantly, often getting up at 4 a.m. and coming home long after Elizabeth is in bed. She said she never imagined that Rick would be the full-time caregiver.

"I don't even like hearing [the term] 'Mr. Mom,'" she said.

The reversal of roles has turned their marriage upside down.

"I think it is in every man's DNA to be the breadwinner. It's very humbling for me," Rick said. "It changes the dynamic of our relationship immensely. There is a wedge that has appeared. I feel the anger. I feel the tension. This house is not as joyous as it should be."

His wife said she also resents the increased time she has to spend away from home. And she admits to seeing her husband in a new — and far less attractive — light.

"It's the respect," she said. "I wish I could say something different, but I've lost so much respect for him. And I think the dynamics with a man and a woman is a woman has to respect her husband. And if she doesn't, that relationship just goes away."

Although Eleanor's honesty is harsh, counselors say her feelings are quite common.

"Often, in the cases where couples are facing role reversal ... there's significant resentment," family therapist Bruce Gregory said. "And the biggest problem with the resentment is not the resentment itself; it's that people act it out. And they end up punishing each other and withdrawing, and more tension develops in the home and nobody benefits from that."

Recession Impacts Family Roles

Children, who often suffer silently, can be especially affected by the tension. When her parents get mad, Elizabeth said she struggles to find ways to respond to the situation.

"I feel like I have to go outside and go on the swing and swing, and then stop, and then go upstairs," she said.

"We don't really have arguments, per se," Rick said. "But Elizabeth picks up on the snippiness. She'll go 'stop it, stop it. Come on you guys.' And that's about as bad as it gets. ... But Elizabeth definitely is picking up on it to say that."

Eleanor said she also notices Elizabeth picking up on the tension.

"I remember ... we were sitting here in the kitchen, and she held one hand out to him and one out to me and just said 'stop,'" she said.

These days, the Hemmerts aren't just arguing more, they're also sleeping in separate bedrooms. And the emotional pain is evident.

"In spite of being laid off, I feel I am so blessed when I get a phone call from my daughter, and she says 'daddy, I don't feel well,' I can be there for my daughter," Rick said. "But the bad hand comes from that I don't have the support from Eleanor."

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