Love Lifts Us Up, To Where We Probably Belong

February 14, 2012

This will seem like a statement of the obvious, but still, it bears stating: when we moved to New York City, everything changed.

Everything changed, of course, in the ways that you might expect: we went from living in Canada to living in the United States, we went from living in a very small town to living in a very big city, we went from living in a detached house with a basement and a yard to living in a loft, we went from socialized health care to totally not socialized health care. But it changed in this way, too: we went from being a household in which mom worked in the home and dad worked away from home to the reverse. And that, my friends, has made all the difference, and a difficult difference at that.

My husband saw this as an experiment, of sorts: he’d devote some amount of time – six months? longer? we didn’t know – to being a stay-at-home dad while we negotiated the transition to living and working in New York, and we’d revisit that decision later, at which point he’d secure the proper visas and seek work here, or full embrace stay-at-home fatherhood, and maybe take up homeschooling, or something. I, of course, would work. We would be reversing the previous order of things, sort of. I hadn’t been a stay-at-home mom, exactly; I worked from home, and contributed significantly to the family bottom line. But still: I was the one who stayed home with the kids when they were sick, who picked them up from school and daycare, who prepared their meals and got them ready for bed. Kyle worked long days and nights in the film industry. He was the working parent, to any outside observer. I was the dependent spouse. We both liked this arrangement well enough, but we were confident that turning things on their head would be fine, too.

They were not. Are not.

I keep nagging Kyle to put his own words to this subject, to tell the story of his experience, because it is, after all, his experience, not mine, and in any case, if I write the words Kyle does not like being a stay-at-home dad, Kyle does not like being dependent upon me, Kyle is not comfortable being the ‘wife,’ it just sounds wrong, it seems open to misinterpretation, to misunderstanding on the part of anyone who would read those words and not get that he loves his kids, and that he loves being with his kids, and that he loves me and is proud of me, and that he wouldn’t want me to be anyone other than who I am, that all of these things are true and important, more important than the ‘and yet…’ that follows them. And yet he doesn’t like being at home. And yet he feels challenged, you know, as a guy, to be entirely reliant upon his wife, to have no other identity, here, beyond that conferred by his status – noted, even on the visa in his passport! – as the ‘dependent spouse.’ I cannot do justice to the complicatedness of his reality. I cannot do justice to the complicatedness of his feelings. I cannot do justice to his narrative, because it is his, and this is an old, old story, but it is an important one, here, because it is a story that is so fraught, and so unique.

I can, however, say this: I could not ask for a better, more supportive husband. Things are really difficult right now, but that things are difficult only underscores how much that support matters, and how much it costs. The costs here are high. Kyle’s made some really big sacrifices for me – as I have for him, over the course of our marriage, but this is the now, and in the now, in the right now, the sacrifices are mostly on his side – and I couldn’t be pursuing the adventure that I’m currently pursuing if he weren’t there, behind me, holding me up, lifting me up, extending my reach, making all things possible.

If this were easy – if that lift, that reach, didn’t put such a strain upon him – would the effort say as much about who we are, and how we love? I don’t know.

All I know is that it is such a love. And it does lift me higher.

And that is everything.

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    { 27 comments }

    Kristi February 14, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    We switched as well. It was interesting. The way I feel like it is working for us is that my husband LOVES staying home with the kids. He loves getting on the floor with them and playing.

    As for that other stuff? The lunches, the clothes, the laundry, the play dates, the organized activities? Well… he does it differently than I did it. And that’s okay. I had to give up control and let him do his thing. Granted, I have no idea what clothes to put on the kids now. I don’t know what fits. I don’t know what goes in their lunch. But that’s okay. That’s his job.

    Good luck to your husband. I hope he finds his own way.

    Lise February 14, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    I would love to read Kyle’s words on the subject. I think I could relate to what he has to say. I spent many years as a stay-at-home mom, and found it essential to my self-esteem to have a work-at-home job. And now I work in the film industry and have been mostly unemployed for a year as my state lost its tax incentive program. I am back to feeling uncomfortable with the life I’m leading.

    Laura February 14, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    We have a two-nationality reality in our house which has necessitated one at home, one at work as each of us navigate the complicated adjustment to the other’s homeland (education, language, work, visas, healthcare…it is a lot to think about)…each in her/his own turn. And I would not trade that for anything. It’s just that important to our family and to how our family works …and it is also just so personal. So glad you are shining the light on your man…and what a perfect way to say Happy Valentine’s Day. Sometimes photos are better than words, and sometimes they add to words what words cannot say. Your photos are always just priceless.

    Jadzia@Toddlerisms February 15, 2012 at 8:28 am

    We have something similar going on (I am the foreigner in this scenario). Unfortunately, my husband has not risen to the occasion and still won’t look for a damn job. : ( While it sounds like the move to NYC has been difficult indeed, I am impressed at the graciousness and love shining through in this post. I have not been able to be nearly as kind.

    Erica @ Expatria, Baby February 15, 2012 at 8:10 am

    I can’t speak for your husband either (obviously), or can I say that I truly understand how difficult the transition from breadwinner to stay-at-home / work-at-home dad must be. But I can say that I can relate to the experience which you describe, and I don’t think that it is necessarily a gender thing. I have a very similar experience in that I followed my husband to a new country, well several new countries. I transitioned from being an equal partner, who earned a paycheck to a dependent partner. In fact, I had, have, a dependent visa. I couldn’t work, even if I wanted to. So, I stayed home with our girl, and I spent his money, and I socialized with people I met through him, and new acquaintances asked me, “What does your husband do?” as if that were the most important thing about me, a marker of my own social status.

    Just as that experience emasculating, I’d also argue that it’s effeminating. Maybe, better, it’s dehumanizing. There’s something about the act of moving to a new country, leaving all the things that once defined you behind – friends, family, work, hobbies, and starting anew, but following your partner. Being dependent on them for everything, including your own legal status. It is a big sacrifice. And Kyle is so very lucky that you recognize that, that you don’t take it for granted.

    I see my own personal decision to move at the behest of my husband’s career as a sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice that serves our family, and our future. And so, like your husband, it’s one that I’m glad to make. I make it lovingly and willingly for him and for us. So bravo. This has given me a lot to think about. Thanks for writing.

    Marty Coleman, The Napkin Dad February 15, 2012 at 9:31 am

    You gave a very moving and loving description of what your husband is going through and how much love you feel that he is supportive in spite of his own struggles.
    I am also the dependent male these days. I am building a business but my wife is definitely the bread winner and that does make a difference in how I see things and what I do, from purchasing to attitudes.
    It really is something that more men would benefit from experiencing, if only to help them be more empathetic to their spouse if the situations were reversed to be the more traditional model.
    Thank you for the story, I appreciate it!

    moosh in indy. February 15, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Our roles are similar to what yours were in Canada. I contribute significantly but do it all from home while being the primary caregiver of these two little girls. Cody jokes that he’s ready for me to be the breadwinner and he’ll become the dad but I know that part of his livelihood is providing for his family, it’s how he was raised and it would be hard to beat that out of him, or any man for that matter.

    When we went through enormous changes with moving across the country for Cody to attend school we came very *very* close to breaking. But we fought and came out of the other side stronger than I could have ever imagined. That’s what love did for us.

    Lauren February 15, 2012 at 11:23 am

    I’m going through a similar experience. I’m leaving grad school and while I have some possible work options, most likely I’ll be SAHMing it up next year. I would love to be totally on board with this, but I am worried that I might end up being, ya know… desperately unhappy without some kind of professional life to balance domesticity. Even though spending more time with my kids sounds dreamy, I don’t know if I’m cut out for that life. It’s the kind of thing that might sound great in theory, but be hard in practice, depending on your personality and all that.

    I wish you all the best of luck working toward a solution for this dilemma. I hope it’s possible to honor you both!

    Sandra February 15, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    When we moved to Toronto ten years ago I was the one without immediate paid work. And I had just finished grad school after a career change so it was ALL new. The man slipped into his new job (a transfer) with immediate community.

    And that for me was what I found the hardest – not just the lack of identity but the lack of having that lunch room birthday cake with the coworkers. I started from scratch. Finally got there and made friends and such but it was hard!

    If I had it to do over, I’d jump in to SOMETHING right away – a volunteer position or even a barista. Something where I could meet people daily.

    And I can only imagine that it’d be harder for Kyle too being a SAHD – not much immediate community there either. Hang in there – it WILL get better and easier…

    Christina D. February 15, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    I hear you. Truly. Our situation is on a MUCH smaller scale, but yes – it can be a challenge to understand and honor without marginalizing/minimizing what my husband does by staying home with our son while I venture into AdultLand every day. The sacrifice that act requires him to make as a human, as a man, and what our society says about him as a result. It can really sting. Even here in oh-so-progressive Seattle.

    Thank you for your perspective and insights into that struggle. I think it’s an important one to understand.

    Miss Britt February 15, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    I’m with you; I wish Jared would put it into words.

    I think I may go nudge him again. ;)

    Maija @ Maija's Mommy Moments February 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I don’t think Kyle’s situation is as “unique” as perhaps it seems at first glance. My husband left his policing job (can’t get much more male-dominated/masculine than that) so that I could pursue an amazing professional opportunity 3,000kms away from home. While we stayed in the country we might as well have left given how different our current province is from the last one. My husband does not have job and while he is looking it is clear that he doesn’t really need to have one if he doesn’t want one. He may go back to school for a professional degree. We went from a 4,000 sq. ft. home in suburbia to an urban 1500 sq ft. townhouse. My husband went from spending 12 hours/day with his “squad” aka his “best friends”/his “other” family to not having any friends at all and only relying on me for his daily adult conversation. He definitely does not want to be a stay-at-home dad and while our 8y/o is in school all day our 4y/o and 2y/o go to pre-school. My husband doesn’t cook, doesn’t clean (though he tidies) and while he is home with our sick child today it is still my responsibility to make the doctor’s appointment. People are floored when they hear we moved for me and that my husband is home all day by himself. He refers to himself as temporarily retired and is (mostly) enjoying the time to ponder what he wants to do with the rest of his life. We came here together. We made the decision together. If he hated it we would leave, but our last life – our dual income, shift-working, cop-family life – wasn’t that awesome either. I’ve learned not to question what he does all day. He’s learned to appreciate all the stuff I do that he never actually saw (you mean the kids have a bath every single night???). My husband went from having absolutely no responsibility for our family routine – he couldn’t because his cop schedule was so unstructured and completely not conducive to family life – to learning what it means to play an active role. Our children went from not seeing their father four days a week to being driven to school and picked up by him every single day. We are all learning the ways of our new life. Our experiment is very similar to yours (and may become even more similar as other European opportunities present themselves). But never once has he made me feel like our new life – the one where we grasp onto the opportunities being offered to me – is a “strain”. Of course it is difficult, for a multitude of reasons, but we work very hard to ensure that we are not making it more difficult on each other. I hope this all works out for you… for your family… and I will gladly send you my husband’s email address if Kyle ever wants an ally.

    Maija @ Maija's Mommy Moments February 15, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Oh and we just recruited an American woman who is moving here to Canada and whose husband will be leaving his job and helping the children “transition” into their new Canadian life. I know this is happening more often these days… I wonder if it is because in this economy, some of the professional areas that continue to flourish are the ones women have been dominant in? A completely non-researched theory of course but I have been recruiting heavily these days and most of the people I am speaking with are women, with families, whose husbands would leave their jobs so she could pursue hers.

    Angel February 15, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    My heart goes out to your family. When I’ve had difficult days at home being the dependent spouse, my husband tells me there’s no way he could do what I do. I think it takes a special man to even attempt staying-at-home full time. Has he tried joining some stay-at-home-dad meetups? Best of luck!

    Kat February 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    What’s beautiful is your commitment as a couple to finding a way down this road. All the while admitting the difficulty when so many gloss over the issues. Keep strong, stay supportive.

    Jennifer S.S. February 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    After my son was born, I returned to work and my husband stayed home. I was so disappointed at the negative perceptions people have of a ‘non-traditional’ arrangement. Because I was at work, people thought I was being a bad mom. Because my husband was at home, people thought he was lazy. I had to tell people, we all eat the bacon and it doesn’t matter who brings it home.

    I also know my husband struggled with not wanting to be home. It wasn’t because he wanted to be totally independent or didn’t love our son. He just wanted to do something else and that did not in any way diminish the way he loves his family. So unfortunate that others require an explanation of such things.

    Great read. Thanks for sharing your story and all the best to you!

    Nadine February 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Yeah, with us, I would come home and J would say, “I feel like I’m getting dumber.” He needs someone to provide structure for him and felt like he was floating a lot of the time. I think. He enjoys it immensely in small bursts, but when he did it for three months straight, it took its toll. It’s the same for women — when at work, there’s a lot of factors you can control and usually no one might die as a result of a mistake or distracted moment. At home, it’s all life and death and future impact all the time. Being a working parent makes for challenges with time and basic domestic management, but in some ways it’s easier because of what you have to let go of. Anyway, I think you did a great job capturing this and so I took my head out of my bum to tell you. Now back to work.

    Natalie@FourJedis February 16, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    One of my college roommates was dumped by the love of her life because he said he was not going to be able to handle her being more successful than he would be. He wanted to be the bread-winner. She wanted to be an ophthalmologist as well as his wife. Until that moment, I never understood that men desire to feel those masculine feelings of providing for females, being able to protect them in every way, taking care of a family… much like gals want to dress pretty and wear high heels and be taken care of (even if it’s on an emotional level rather than a career for some – me-included in this group). He’s making a huge sacrifice, but you love him and appreciate every bit of that. I hope that is enough, at least for the time being.

    Deanna Wigmore February 16, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Even though this might seem like a bump in the road, or at the very least a challenge, it is giving you both incredible perspective.
    I’ve been at home with my children for ten years now – which has its ups and downs, let’s be honest. My spouse is an incredible father, but can’t for the life of him understand what I go through.
    We need a Freaky Friday, whereby we each exchange lives for a while, in order to better empathize. Unfortunately not likely to happen…

    Bec February 16, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    So, can Kyle work in New York? Is the issue that it’s difficult for Canadian to get work permits/visas in the U.S., or that there are no jobs for him?

    Lisa February 16, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    You worked AND did all the meals AND did bed AND got them off to school? That is a helluva lot of sacrificing you did for years.

    I dunno, sounds like the family is seriously due for some role reversal. Sounds like he missed out on a lot due to his job. And missed out on the mind-numbingly boring infant months.

    Not that it makes any of it easier for him. He went from having a job that ran his life, to having no job. Hard for anyone, but especially for men who have to face societal expectations.

    a Book for My Daughter February 18, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    The power behind your words, especially at the end of this post, brought tears to my eyes. My husband and I have been married for 12 years (we have 2 kids, ages 11 and 7), and you capture EXACTLY how I have felt at times when it comes to making sacrifices for one another. I moved to Istanbul to be with him, and then three years later, he moved to the US to be with me. We decided to stay in NJ because of a career opportunity for me, and then four years later I supported him when he decided to quit his job to start a business. The lists goes on, and on, in the numerous ways we have sacrificed for one another. It wasn’t always easy, it still isn’t, but it’s worth it. Thank you for your words.

    terri February 19, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    They say it takes one year for fathers and children to adjust to a new place and two for mothers. Hang in there………

    Tammy February 20, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    We have 2 generations of this going on in our house. My husband is a retired military officer between jobs with sporadic consulting to do. My son dropped out of college with a terrible depression and hasnt been able to work so he cares for his son. Me & my grandsons mother are both old fashioned women who might stay home given the chance but she has to work and God chose for me a vocation that requires that I work.

    Oh and my younger son also dropped of of college in a bad depression. Teen daughter is in Highschool…so our days consist of the 3 women in the house going out into the world while our men stay home…its bizarre.

    Mommy to the Max February 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    My husband often jokes that he’d love to change places with me and be the stay-at-home parent. However, we both know that it really wouldn’t work for him. Like most men, he derives a good chunk of his self worth from his role as provider and his job. This is probably what is draining the joy out of this season of your husband’s life.

    Perhaps there is a way to help your husband regain that aspect of what has been lost during this season at home. Can he use this time to work on scripts? Maybe he can start a dad’s blog or do some online classes or evening classes?

    Just because he’s at home it doesn’t mean he can’t find the kind of affirmation he needs as a man through something work related.

    love is all you need February 22, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Such a lovely blog!! So glad I found you!!

    Laura February 24, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    You are very, very brave. My husband and I are in a similar place in that we are trying to move forward in our new home in Detroit, while we sort of kind of wish we could go back “home” to Atlanta, where all of our family and many of our friends live. I have no wisdom on how to deal with the uncomfortableness of transition. It just takes time. In some moments, I think about being here and I feel lonely. In my better moments, I think about being here and I find things to be grateful for, such as that experiencing this feeling of unrootedness and in-between helps me to understand a little better and empathize with those who have never had a safe space or a home in the true sense of the word. Sometimes it’s just yucky and I have to remind myself to be patient with myself through the yuck- feelings aren’t wrong, they’re just feelings. I’m rambling. All of this is to say that I hear you and you are not alone.

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