Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Breaking the Traditional Family Model

I recently attended a law conference in connection with my job. Since it was in Boston, one of my favorite cities, and since the hotel had a pool, I brought my husband and toddling son along.

Is the pool important to my story? No, but the fact that I noticed and cared whether the hotel had a pool or not was a stark reminder that I constantly walk the line between my dual roles of mother and lawyer. As a lawyer, I couldn't care less whether a hotel has a pool. As a mother, I know that pools are high on the list of hotel priorities.

Back to the story . . . While at the conference, I was discussing my family with an older, male attorney. When I told him that my husband stays home with our son while I work full-time (my husband is a writer, which affords him flexibility), he said, "Oh. He's a house-husband!"

Now, if the term "housewife" is insulting, what makes him think that "house-husband" is any less so? How repugnant! Luckily, I live in New York City where it is not unusual for parents to take a dual role in the raising of their children. In fact, so many fathers stay home with their children or share childcare responsibilities with their spouses, that my husband hosts a weekly dad's group. Times are a changin'.

Growing up in the rural Midwest, our neighbors across the street had three boys. Bud stayed home with the kids, while Cyndi worked outside the home. Each of the boys struggled to explain to their friends why their dad was home with them. Each went through a period of embarrassment, anger, and confusion regarding the family's failure to fit within society's traditional model of family life. In the end, each of the children came to peace with their situation and ended up being well-adjusted, forward-thinking adults.

My son will have a different experience. His friends will not question why his mom goes to work each day while his father stays home. His friends will not wonder why his dad cleans the house and his mother does the bills. And hopefully, one day, my son, together with his spouse, will decide the best model for his own family--whatever that means.

In a recent conversation with a group of attorneys, we discussed the impetus for the rise in sexual discrimination cases. I proposed that societal attitutes towards the family are changing, and women are affronted when the workplace fails to follow suit. In other words, "If my husband and I are fine with me working full-time and him staying home, then who are you to tell me that the workplace is not the right place for a mother?!"

I'm not saying that I don't miss my child when I am at work (I do), nor do I mean that I love my son less than I love my job (I don't). [The fact that I even feel the need to mention this is a sad reminder of how deeply engrained societal roles are--people would never assume that a man who works loves his family less].

It's just that the workplace is the right place for me.


Blogger Jessica said...

Amen, sister!

For a while, when my son was 3-6 months old, my college-aged (college drop-out, actually) brother lived with us and was basically our nanny. When I described this arrangement, I sometimes got puzzled looks and questions like, "Is he good with babies?" Or, "Why isn't he working?" These questions would not have arisen if he were my sister instead of my brother. It's so disappointing.

(By the way, my brother is back in college now and has moved away, about which my son is still very sad. Still sometimes at breakfast he reminds me I'm "sitting in Uncle Ben's chair!")

7:31 PM  

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