It's the 21st-century people. So what?
It's a well-known fact that women are earning more college degrees than men these days. And yet, the first time my husband showed up at a local playgroup (often still called a "moms' group") with our son, the mothers there looked at him like he was an alien — or possibly a criminal.
While it's not uncommon to have one parent stay at home part-time or all the time, most of these family arrangements involve a breadwinning father and stay-at-home mother.
"What's the big deal?" we'd say. "It's the 21st century."
But over the years our marital arrangement has taken a toll on both of us, mostly in surprising ways. We both had to put effort and compromise into our marriage, and the creation of an optimal home environment for our son.
But today we're both happy with our family roles and lives outside the home.
Here's how we did it:
1. We made peace with our different upbringings.
We may be born as blank slates but the culture you're raised in quickly imprints messages about how boys and girls (and the adults they'll become) should behave. My husband and I began our soul-searching by examining our own upbringings and the assumptions we held about gender roles.
While my mom was home with me for the first few years, she got back into the workforce part-time — and then full-time when I entered middle school. As she progressed in her career in financial services, her earnings exceeded my dad's.
He had a small consulting firm that went through ups and downs in profitability. Since he had the more flexible schedule, my dad was often the one to pick me up from school when I was sick and put dinner on the table every night.
He wasn't necessarily as good as my mom at every domestic task, but he tried and their arrangement gave me a more flexible view of gender roles in marriage. I expected to be equal with my future husband in everything, including housework.
2. We realized traditional gender roles changed over time.
My husband had a more traditional family structure. His mom was home full-time with him and his two siblings, and his dad was the breadwinner.
My husband still marvels at his mother's ability to "do everything" and keep the house immaculate. It's also hard for him to not have as much control over the finances and major family decisions as his father had.
But he recognizes that he's a different man than his father, living in a different time. My husband never wanted to do anything other than play music, so he's grateful my salary allows him to work as a professional musician while caring for our son to avoid the cost and other tolls of daycare.
Once we were honest about the ingrained beliefs our families and culture had handed down to us, we were able to shake free and embrace our different arrangement, focusing on the ways it worked well for us as individuals, and as a family unit.
3. We found ways to value the contributions of the "lower-earning" spouse (my husband).
We found that while my husband did plenty of work in and out of the home, logging as many hours or more than I did at my desk, both of us tended to take his contributions for granted. Our society values money, so work that's rewarded with a fat paycheck is more valued than the work stay-at-home parents do "for free."
So, my husband and I looked for ways to recognize his efforts and make him feel more valued. To start with, we recognized the many hats he wears.
In addition to his work as a musician, he's our son's primary caretaker, completes most of the household chores and maintenance, and also puts a college accounting class to work as our family's "CFO."
It's not just about making sure bills are paid on time; my husband also looks for ways to cut costs on expenses, thereby contributing more money to our bottom line. For example, he did some research on how to lower our car insurance bill and also arranged for our mortgage to be refinanced at a lower interest rate.
It takes time and research to save money on daily expenses, and I'm grateful to my husband for putting in the effort I wouldn't have time or energy for.
4. We focused on the big picture.
If we're lucky, our lives and our marriage will be long. We focus on the big picture as much as our current situation. In this chapter of our lives, I make more money, but no one's job is secure anymore. I could be laid off or see my income decline for other reasons.
If that happened, I know my husband would step up to the plate and find a full-time job to support the family. We could also end up on more equal financial footing someday, both earning closer to the same amount of money.
The most important thing to us is to remember we're in this together. We're partners; we're a family. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks.