Sarah 1Comment

There are lots of articles, blog posts and social media memes about how hard it is to be a mom. Working mom, stay at home mom, it’s all hard. We give up our identity. We put everything into our kids. We may not want sympathy, but we want everyone to know how hard it is. How we need a break. How we need a chance to pee alone. To eat in peace. To have a girls night out.

And that’s all true.

But we don’t often talk the same way about dads. Most memes put dads in a funny light, laughing at the silly things they do. (Did you see the recent one where dads were competing on how many Cheerios they could stack on their sleeping infants??)

But there’s a dark side. Just like motherhood can bring stress and chaos to moms’ lives, there can be a similar consequence, and maybe even worse, for men, specifically when they’re the primary breadwinners. In a recent article published in The Guardian, called, “A Letter to My Wife who Won’t Get a Job While I Work Myself to Death,” the author, a working husband states,

“We have the trappings of middle-class success – a nice house in a safe, quiet neighborhood; annual holidays; happy, healthy children; money saved for their college years. But it has come at enormous personal cost to me. My stress level has increased dramatically with added responsibilities at work and my health has deteriorated. People who haven’t seen me for years flinch when we meet again and I’ve attended more than one event at which I have overheard someone remarking on how much I’ve aged.”

The letter is written to this man’s wife because he’s bitter that she doesn’t want to go back to work even though their kids are grown. But I wanted to look beyond the personal point of the letter and focus on the more global theme. Are men really this bitter and resentful? Should they be? We never talk about the “daily grind” that men go through when they’re the primary breadwinners. We never talk about the little things they miss with the kids, the outings they are absent for, the interactions and bonding moments they don’t see because they’re working during the day, or late at night, or sometimes even weekends or holidays.

Because it’s not just the job. It’s the pressure. The pressure to keep a family floating financially. To save money. To have emergency funds. To be able to pay for preschool and then activities, and then eventually, college. And in a single-income home, this is an enormous amount of pressure. And then, there’s the exhaustion. The constant tedium of having to get up every morning by an alarm clock to then have to get ready for work, spend the entire day in an office, and then come home, just to do it again the next day. For decades. And during this time, while they’re working to support the family, the family gets to go on outings. Bus stops, soccer practices, lunches, play dates. We complain sometimes as mothers, especially those of us as as stay at home moms. It can be isolating. It can be so tedious. It can cloud our mind. We can become so entrenched in motherhood that we forget what it’s like to be women, wives…people! But the parent who has to work all the time, who has to ensure the family has the resources to enjoy life, doesn’t necessarily get to enjoy all the things they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Parenting is hard. No matter what angle you are coming at it from, no matter what your responsibility is…it’s all enormous and it all deserves credit. I thought this letter was a unique angle to write from, one I hadn’t considered, unfortunately. But I’m curious. What do you think? Is this is common reaction?


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photo credit: Alaska National Guard via photopin (license)

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One thought on “In a One Parent Working Household, Does the Working Parent Get to Be Bitter?

  1. Wow! There is so much to consider here and I respect you for taking into account the burden on your partner as a sole breadwinner. That can be hard to do when you’re in the thick of life. Sole breadwinners do have tremendous and exhausting responsibility, but SAHMs work equally hard and are equally, but differently stressed. The hard work of bread-winning is still more recognized in our culture as valid or important work, while child-rearing is still viewed as the easier route…and goes unpaid! I know all that stuff about teamwork and the “family income” but the breadwinner “earned” it -there is a distinction.

    As an empty-nester who was a SAHM and has worked full-time in an extremely stressful profession for years as well, I can say that being a mommy was, by far, my most challenging job! Raising children is an act of love and brings great joy and satisfaction, but it’s exhausting, self-sacrificing, endless, and mentally and physically draining. And…no paycheck!

    Children do grow quickly, and life changes. My husband and I enjoy a freedom we never had in our youth, but nothing brings us more joy, satisfaction, and pride than our children and grandchildren. There is no easy way around the immense task of raising children, and it’s probably best that none of us know the full extent of what we’ve signed up for when we become parents! It’s nature’s way of keeping the species going!

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