We have had an enormous change here in the Bitchypants household. Mr. Bitchypants, who has been unemployed for six years, went to work yesterday.
It’s been a long time. His unemployment started out by choice when the line he worked at in a hospital-equipment company moved to Mexico. Thanks, NAFTA. Anyhow, he was having a hard time finding a position to replace his earnings. Evan was in half-day kindergarten and we were paying full price for him to go half-days, and another $50 per week for the school bus to take him to school from the daycare in the small, rural community in which we lived. Instead of him just taking any job with a paycheck and paying $1000 per month for that arrangement, it made more sense for him to just stay home. Yes, I said it.
That is when it all started. Having him home was….different. First of all, while I am a feminist of sorts, my husband is the Man’s Man. USMC veteran. Country Boy. His wife supporting him while he stays home? Ummm, it didn’t sit well. Not with him, not with his family, not with society. Regardless of how progressive we think we have become, there are some deep-seated traditionalist views we all have. I had no problem with it, but the world in which we live had big problems, and I could see it everywhere we turned. I found myself defending our lifestyle. If the roles were reversed, and a man had an infinitely larger earning potential than his wife, and it cost the wife almost as much in childcare as she was earning by working out of the home, we would not bat an eye at her choice to stay home.
Make that woman a man. That wife a husband, That mother a father. Replace the vagina with a penis. Does the arrangement make any less sense?
Regardless of the rationality of our choices, we faced mud-slinging from everywhere. To my colleagues, my husband was constantly a “bum”. To our debtors, there was disbelief that he didn’t work. They wanted to put everything in his name, and he would tell them that his wife was the breadwinner, much to their shock. His parents would lecture him to get a job, that he would have no retirement when the time came. Of course, this was coming from his mother, who was living on her husband’s pension, with none of her own because she retired too soon. And the other objection: “What if Andrea leaves you, John?” Well, “Andrea” has been here for almost 12 years. Through homelessness, hunger, illness, poverty. And when the going got tough, I am the one who pulled myself up by the bootstraps, got a higher education and pulled my family out of that situation. And what of all of those stay-at-home moms? Does anybody ask them what they would do if the husband left them? So yeah, we heard it.
A couple of years ago, with the introduction of Zachary into our family, we really could use the extra income of John’s work. He began looking for work. The arrangement no longer made sense with diapers to buy and another mouth to feed. But with my establishment as the breadwinner for so many years, he couldn’t just take any job. We needed something that would A) not conflict with my odd schedule, or B) pay enough to compensate us for putting 2 children in childcare. And if one child was expensive in rural Indiana approximately 4 years earlier, the cost of 2 kids full-time in Cincinnati was damned near prohibitive. So John had trouble just finding positions for which to apply, let alone accept a position.
Enter the tension.
With two kids, we began bickering and fighting. I would come home from working God-awful hours to a house that was trashed. I would get ready to go somewhere and have no clean clothes. You see, John never was much of a housekeeper and I’m a little obsessive-compulsive. So we would fight. I would be upset that, while I was working my ass off to make ends meet, he was showing flagrant disregard by allowing our house to get trashed. I remember a particularly awful day where I found some of the boys’ expensive designer clothes molded because hey were under a wet towel in the basement laundry room for God knows how long. I began to try anything to get him to understand my point of view. That is where I made my near-fatal mistake. Since he is a hard worker when he is getting a paycheck, I thought it would motivate him to do better by presenting it as if he was getting paid. With food and shelter and medical benefits, all provided by me.
How awful of me. I didn’t mean to hurt his self-image. I did not mean to completely emasculate him. I just wanted clean laundry and felt that I deserved it.
And with the pressure I was dishing, John issued his own counter-pressure. He wanted a job. Desperately. But he was still limited on the types of positions he could take. Then when he would find one that could work, he had to explain a years-long period of unemployment. Society still just could not handle that from a man. “You were a what? A stay-at-home-dad? What’s that?” So even if he made it through to an interview from the piles of applications, he never got an offer. In the meantime, I wanted him to find work. If I was going to clean the house anyway, at least he could bring home some money so I could maybe stop working all of the overtime. But nobody would give John a chance. And in John’s eyes, it was all my fault. I am the one who said, all those years ago, that he should just stay home. That it made more sense. And now, he couldn’t find work.
The man who served his country. The man who is such a hard worker. The man who, despite his own desires for his own life, put everything on hold to meet the needs of his family when the time came for it.
Well, yesterday, the phone rang. He was backing out of the driveway to go and put in yet another application, and I had to flag him down. It was a job offer, but the employer really needed someone. They wanted him to start then and there. So he left. The pay is only a quarter of what I make, but it is enough to compensate for childcare for Zachary one day a week. The only time we will need it is on Friday so I can sleep a little before going into work. Evan is old enough to play on the computer or watch a couple of movies while I nap, and he knows to wake me if he needs something. And we found a center that will do just one day a week without charging us for full-time care. In the fall, when I start my MBA program, they also allow flexible scheduling so I can pay by the hour while I am in class three afternoons a week. John’s schedule is 8-5, Monday through Friday, no weekends. In other words, perfect.
So the tides have shifted. Because while he may not have been a great housekeeper, I never had to worry about the kids destroying the house while I take a simple shower. If I mentioned that I wanted coffee, he would brew it for me before I even thought of moving. When I had to get ready for work, he would have my clean scrubs waiting for me. When we were hungry, he would cook…
I never realized just how much he did.
So while, with my career now and my future MBA, I will always be the breadwinner, John’s new job has done something monumental in our little family. I have a newfound appreciation for the partner I have had in John. I have taken him for granted. And with the first day of work, I have seen a change in him. He smiled all night last night. He was slower to lose patience with the boys last night. He seemed….fulfilled. And I had to realize that working is so much more than a paycheck. Being as into my career as I am, as motivated and driven as I am, I should have realized this all along.
Benefits to a job include medical, dental, vision, life insurance, vacation time, 401K. They also include self-esteem, self-worth, dignity. I feel like I have robbed John of that. I said it was all about the math, but I was so wrong. It’s more than math. It’s more than a Women’s Rights Statement and a big middle finger to the “establishment”. I’m still the breadwinner. I am stil the tough woman who will take the male-dominated world by storm one day. But this way, we all get what we need. Most of all, John.