Dear Carolyn: I married my high school sweetheart when I was 19. We were both mature for our ages, so we made a plan to get educations, jobs and to one day support a family. Fifteen years later, we’re very happily married still. I work full time making a generous salary and I have my master’s in business.
My husband worked as a security guard to support us both while I was getting my education, neglecting his own since he had trouble settling on a major. Since my career took off, he stopped working and I am the primary breadwinner.
The problem isn’t us; it’s other people’s judgment of our situation. I make more than enough to support us both, and since I am not a very clean or neat person, my husband has taken it upon himself to keep our home clean and orderly. He does my laundry, cooks our meals, runs our errands, pays our bills and basically treats me like a queen! And yet every time I say “househusband,” people look at him as if he’s some kind of lazy moocher and I know it’s affecting his self-esteem as a man.
Even his parents sometimes give him that look that says, “So when are you going to find a job?” I’ve encouraged him to do whatever makes him happy, and right now he’s happy pursuing his artistic talents (he composes music) and running a part-time Christian ministry online.
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I am perfectly fine with this, but again have a hard time answering questions like, “What does your husband do?” I can’t say “nothing” or “unemployed,” and when people learn we don’t have children (I can’t), “househusband” falls flat since people picture stay-at-home dads. If he were a woman and I were a man, this wouldn’t be an issue!
So how would you respond? Is there a way to save my husband’s feelings or should we just be honest and resign ourselves to other people’s judgment?
He Does Support Me
Other people’s judgments are the mosquitos of being human — and going off the expected path often means getting besieged — so a degree of resignation makes sense. If you didn’t choose your path, you just remind yourself that you can hardly be judged for something you didn’t choose.
If you did choose it, you remind yourself that you did so because it was the better option, no-nothing bystanders notwithstanding.
Ignoring these mosquitos completely is difficult bordering on unrealistic, though, and like the real ones they can sometimes be dangerous (bullying, ostracism, depression … ); accordingly, reasonable prevention also makes sense.
Specifically, you can choose words that make you less of a target.
Not that homemaking is so wrong that it needs crafty fig leaves — it’s that some answers to some questions catch the socially unskilled off-guard. Those “housewives” and “stay-at-home moms” you suggest are a non-issue? They get judged plenty, if not as harshly. So do the unemployed, the oddly employed, the controversially employed. (“I work for the IRS/TSA/DMV” — just imagine.)
For anyone in that position, anticipating and pre-empting awkwardness is perfectly defensible. “He’s a stay-at-home husband.” “He’s a composer, and runs an online ministry.” “He takes care of me.” Be honest, clever, proud — and, unapologetically, a step ahead of critics. “Are you kidding? He supports me. I can’t believe my luck.”
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.