How becoming an SAHD may affect your marriage.
What every soon to be stay-at-home dad wants to ask out loud, but often doesn’t, is if becoming a stay-at-home dad increase my chances of divorce? It’s the number one googled question.
What comes back from that search is a bunch of doom and gloom. Sensational articles and personal blog posts saying how things didn’t work out. It can be quite depressing to read with multiple people and writers weighing in on the subject.
My personal favorite was a person who said they knew five stay-at-home dads and how four of them were cheated on by their high-powered executive wives. The scandal of it all! Drama sells headlines, so take a deep breath. It’s not as dire, nor as understood, as those articles seem to suggest. And honestly, it’s hard to see how becoming a stay-at-home dad increases your chances from any other divorce statistic.
Where the information comes from.
Many of those articles rely on studies done years ago. Here is the Harvard one that you can take a look at from 2016, and a Time article from 2011. When writers reference these studies, it seems like your chances of divorcing are almost assured.
How can a woman be happy with a man that stays home? What’s the benefit to her at all? We need macho men with great big masculine muscles to go out and kill stuff! Now everyone spit and grab your crotch.
Each and every writer that takes this approach completely misses what the studies say. They are all wrong.
The studies in question looked at unemployed men, and that is the difference. Stay-at-Home Dads do not hold ourselves out as unemployed. We have a job, just not one that society is ready to recognize on the same level of stay-at-home moms.
There is a huge difference between stay-at-home dads and unemployed fathers. This is not a knock at dads that are looking for work. We’ve all been in those shoes at one point in time, and I think it’s a huge double standard that men face these days that they are judged by how much money they make.
My point with all this is that stay-at-home dads are not unemployed. We work hard to raise our kids and the thought that we don’t is not only disrespectful but also condescending. It makes it seem like fatherhood is a part-time gig. Yes, we are only fathers for the hours of 6 pm to 7 pm, and then maybe one day on the weekend.
So, when that is taken into account and then compared to current divorce rate, everything seems a bit confusing. The bottom-line truth is that there is no real information that becoming a stay-at-home dad will increase your chances at divorce. Right now, 2.3 marriages per 1,000 ends in divorce, and they are for many reasons, but none that seem overtly specific to becoming a stay-at-home dad.
Here’s a nice write up on why people get divorce, and notice that none say, “because my husband takes care of the kids.” You could argue that financial issues play a factor with one parent staying home, but again, that’s with any at-home parent.
So will becoming a stay-at-home dad lead to divorce? Not any more than any other marriage.
How to protect your marriage from the start.
Let’s start with my own anecdotal evidence. This carries no weight, mind you, but should at least begin to combat others that have offered their own insights. I have been married to my wife for 21 years. I am part of a dad’s group and have raised my kids with four other fathers. All of them have been married to their partners for over 20 years. Yes, we don’t even meet the overall divorce statistics and can be seen as an aberration. But the fact remains, there are 5 stay-at-home dads here that have been married longer than most. Make of that what you will, but the guys on the Dadhouse Podcast have been in their marriages a long time.
Now, that you have a positive example rather than the doom and gloom headlines, we can talk about how to protect your marriage when you become an at-home dad.
- This is a job. It’s not a hobby, and it’s not something we did on the fly. If you make the decision to become an at-home dad, no matter if you quit your job or it’s the result of being laid off, treat being home with the kids as your new career.
- Set expectations from the start. This is the number one mistake that I see new at-home dads making. I have a job description that I wrote with my wife. It covers everything. What I will clean, what I won’t, what happens when chores don’t get done, what is expected of me with the kids, what I do on the daily—everything. What this really does is set expectations for both me and her. It’s a document that we have added to and deleted from over the years. When my last kid went to kindergarten, we wrote a new job description. Trust me, being this in depth will help erase many arguments down the road. My wife’s version of clean is way different than mine, and it’s helpful to work those things out at the start.
- Both parents have to be on board, or this won’t work. This advice comes from one of the wives of my dad’s group when we discussed this for the book The Ultimate Stay-at-Home Dad Manual. This is a truth that needs to be heeded before you start. If one parent isn’t on board, resentment can build. That resentment let’s other factors into your marriage. It’s something that many of us have seen personally.
- Have a serious money talk. One of the big reasons people get divorced is because of financial strain or a lack of teamwork when it comes to finances. To be sure, there is a strain when there is only one income in a household. My advice, and the advice of many of the at-home dads that I know, is that you have to have an honest talk about money. From who pays the bills to what the budget looks like. And when you fail in that budget, because that happens, then you need to have open communication from the start. My wife and I have a daily scrum where we go over the day’s spending or what was unexpected from the day before. That way everyone is on the same page.
- Day to day communication. There is no substitute to spending real quality time with your spouse. It seems almost impossible with small kids around. But even if it’s at night at the two of you are reading in bed, take a minute to relive the day and LISTEN to your spouse do the same thing. Carrying the burden alone is never a good idea, and this is your time to share it. I mean that with both the financial burden that your spouse has, and your primary caregiver burden.
- Don’t ignore your mental health. This may seem an odd one but becoming a SAHD can be isolating. That isolation can cause depression which can often express itself in anxiety and anger. That’s going to affect everyone around you. So, take stock of yourself, and then proactive with getting help or changing things to combat that. There will be other articles soon that will teach you how to find your dad’s group and friends. This is the best way to start protecting your mental health.
- Be prepared to walk away. This is the hardest advice I give to new stay-at-home dads. You can walk away and go back to work if this isn’t working for you and your family. There is no shame in that. You are not letting anyone down. If you tried it for three months, and it’s not working, walk away. It’s ok. As men, it’s tough for us to admit defeat. It shouldn’t be. This is one of the cases where you need to be thankful for the time you had and go back to work. No one can take those memories away, and that’s your victory.
This is where you can start protecting your marriage. There’s much more to do that we don’t have space for here in this article. But this is a good starting point. In the Ultimate Stay-at-Home Manual, you’ll find more information.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet hundreds of dads, both working and stay-at-home fathers. And yes, I’ve known at-home dads that have gotten divorced. But I’ve never seen the reason for the divorce being because they stayed with their children, and I’ve read no study where that is the main cause. Becoming a stay-at-home dad may increase stresses in your life. That I cannot argue. But these stressors are typically already in a marriage and would have come out anyway.
So, will becoming a stay-at-home dad increase your chances of divorce? Nobody knows, but if you are proactive, you can protect your marriage from the start and build the family that both you and your spouse deserve.
Previously Published on dadhousepod.com and is republished on Medium.
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The Ultimate Stay-at-Home Dad manual takes the best advice and wisdom from a dads’ group, and puts it into a format to help new stay-at-home fathers. Characterized by actionable and direct advice to fathers, the book takes on parenting from a father’s point of view and encourages dads to use their natural talents to become a better parent. That advice is further bolstered by an additional 57 other dads who also give advice. All this advice is framed by the author’s personal stories, which help the reader connect with the content and drives the advice home. This is a book that takes on day-to-day parenting, not just as a stay-at-home dad–working fathers could benefit from this book as much as at-home dads.
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