I heard a letter being read aloud on the radio. It was from a listener, a stay-at-home father of two, who had recently been told by his wife that she wanted a marriage separation. Between the politely penned lines you could sense the terror this man is going through. He noted how he had given up work in 2009, he loved being at home to raise his two daughters. His wife worked long hours at a demanding job. They had been under financial pressure in recent years, but had gotten it under control. One of their daughters is on the autism spectrum, which comes with many challenges. He knows he should do more around the house, but some days it's all he can do to deal with his daughter's frequent melt-downs. He loves his wife dearly. He doesn't want his marriage to end.
I felt for this man on so many levels - the shock at his wife's announcement that their marriage was over, the plea for understanding that some days putting a dinner on the table for his family is as much as he can achieve while addressing his daughter's additional needs. What really struck a chord with me was this man's utter vulnerability in the situation he now finds himself in.
I stay at home full-time to look after our two small ones. It's a really difficult job - and the difficulties are well documented. - but I absolutely love it, warts and all. On an ever so slightly more important level than my enjoying it, my husband and I really believe in what I do. This is the way we want our children to be cared for and so it is absolutely a joint venture. This stay-at-home parent malarkey only works if there's a bring-home-the-bacon worker malarkey and this does not an equal match make in terms of two key lifestyle-drivers; money earning and career progression.
There is no escaping the fact that it is very difficult not to be in receipt of a pay check and (beyond any dream of financial recognition) minding your own children, full-time, in the home is not a job that is valued. It isn't valued either by our Government, which consistently pushes the institutionalisation of child-care in the interests of maximising the work force, or by society, which emphasises career and house building over home making. I am sure that most couples work it as well as they can - what's mine is yours; but where people are trapped within manipulative, perhaps abusive relationships, the lack of income can only serve to further isolate. Even within the most equitable of relationships, the total reliance on one person for money undoubtedly adds a variety of pressures - both financial and emotional.
It could be argued that when you're the bring-home-the-bacon element, you rely on your partner for a short-term return - the nurturing of small children, probably into full-time schooling or as long as you both judge it a priority for your family. The stay-at-home element of the partnership is forced to rely on a longer-term return because as everyone knows, returning to the workforce isn't as easy as undertaking a 6-month refresher course and slotting back in. Depending on what profession you work in, what level you once operated at, the 'restoration' of a once-going-well career will most likely be very difficult if not impossible. Add to that the fact that stay-at-home parents receive no back to work support, no contributions towards further education upon re-entry to the working world and zero pension contributions.
It's a trade-off. When you take time out of the workforce to raise children you are usually severely upscuttling your career path and future financial welfare. The idea being that when there is no longer a need for someone to be at home full-time, you can both work out the next steps needed to get the balance thing back on an even keel. If one person decides to pull the plug, declares that all love & hope is gone and you must go your separate ways, it must be near-catastrophic for the person left wondering how they can possibly mind their children and work a full time job to try and sustain a lifestyle that, let's be honest, will most likely be totally unmaintainable as two separate entities.
Many view staying at home as a luxury, but that is a shameful reflection on society - it should be a right. Just as going back to work is supported (dismally also, but at least it's a stated Government priority) staying at home to raise your family should be recognised for the huge contribution it is making to the building of our future world.
Unfortunately, I don't have a solution for this gentleman - his inevitable financial woes or his apparent heart ache. And I think that's really because his entire life-arrangement was built on a trust which was founded in love. And now that the love is gone, there can be no trust and so the arrangement is worth nothing. How can you legislate for love lost?
He's poured himself into his children and that can never be a negative. He will pay a high price, however, for having been a stay-at-home father. He has my absolute sympathies.
A version of this blog first appeared at http://www.iamlauriem.com