Perspectives: FORMER STAY-AT-HOME DAD TALKS
Not all marriages survive when husbands and wives flip traditional roles. In our next few posts, a few big flip divorcées have generously agreed to share their story. From first love to marriage to breakup to life afterward—their stories will help us understand the challenges big flip couples must overcome for love to endure.
Our ex-Big Flip husband—we’ll call him Mr. K—is a former attorney who currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona and works part time as a legal secretary. He has 4 children that live with him full time.
AGE WHEN MARRIED: He: 25. She: 25
OCCUPATIONS: Legal Secretary/Paralegal
Where did they grow up?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles.
Where did you meet your spouse?
It was in law school that I met my future wife. We went out on a few dates, we liked each other, and then we got engaged after school. Our wedding was a year later.
Why attracted you to your spouse and why did you decide to marry?
She is a very dynamic person. A lot of energy, a lot of excitement, and really feisty (in a good way).
Prior to starting a family, what was your life like?
We worked at different places and had demanding jobs. When we were going out and planning our life together, we did talk about starting a family. In terms of being parents, we didn’t talk a lot about what he would do, what she would do. We were both from fairly traditional families. I was later proven to be incorrect, it reversed itself, we assumed when we started a family, she would go to part time or stop working for a while and we would see how things went from there.
While we were working, she became pregnant with our first child. We were really happy and excited about it. Right around that time, before we had told anybody, she was offered a really good promotion at her work and that would have her making twice as much as me. After a few months, we had a really long discussion about it. The fact that she was making a lot more money kind of turned the tide on that issue. We agreed that it would make more sense for her to keep going. We agreed to both keep working.
Prior to the promotion and her first pregnancy, how were the responsibilities shared?
She definitely was doing most of the work around the house. I thought I was pitching in but in hindsight, I really wasn’t after staying home after all those years. It was a very traditional division of labor.
Did you ever discuss how the responsibilities would change once you had children?
She took her maternity and then I worked out something where I worked part time. I remember when I started this, I realized it was a big change, the last thing that I wanted was for her to do the cooking and cleaning. So I took over all that. She taught me a lot of stuff with our son and helped me learn to cook.
We both went back to work and I was working out of the home a bit and then out of the office. I guess what I was doing was what a lot of women do, I was juggling between work and home. It was a struggle and I realized that my work had deteriorated. I was on a different track now which was understandable.
It was not too long after that we became pregnant again. I remember thinking that was a huge decision. I was struggling with one, it will be harder with two. I finally brought it up and said, “If it is ok with you, I am going to stop working”. I told her that when that happened that it was important that she should be able to do her job and spend as much time as possible with her family. I told her that I would be the wife and do everything.
How do you think this affected your children with you being home and your wife working?
I think the original idea that it is good for parents to be home with the children is great. Also, between the wife and me, I was the more patient person. It was better for me to be home with the children though my male ego got in the way at first. I know my wife always felt bad about not being home and seeing us. She missed out on a lot of stuff in the similar way where I felt like I should have a job. I felt we were both missing out.
What were the flags or initial sign that ultimately led to your divorce?
She was advancing and she was doing things in the outside world. I found it confining to be home with the kids. In many ways, it was wonderful. I think what eventually happened is that the dynamics were such that she just got used to doing what she wanted to do. I just got taken for granted. I got discouraged and so did she. We just stopped interacting a lot with one another. Eventually, we got to the point where we were living separate lives.
What were the key issues that pushed you apart?
She knew people at work and in the community and we were growing more separate. I was getting the treatment that many housewives got. Eventually, she came to neglect the situation at home. I felt like she was devoted to the kids but she lost track of me along the way.
Did you try therapy?
We eventually did go to therapy because she had an affair and I was devastated. I had found out that there had been more than one.
Did you find yourself less attracted to her or less of a desire to spend time with her?
I was mad at her but I wasn’t less attracted to her. I still loved her and I still wanted to spend time with her but it just wasn’t the same as it was before.
When did you decide to separate and how old were you both at that point?
It was 5 years ago, we were both 42 and she was the one who decided.
How did you feel about that?
I was scared to death. I knew she was right that we had lost our connection between us. But here I was, 40 years old. I had not worked and I had no position.
What was the divorce process like?
Well we thought about it for a while. We agreed we would go to a mediator for both of us. It didn’t work because I felt that financially I needed someone to protect my position. We eventually hired our own lawyers. We both got to a decent settlement. There was tension but I got alimony. There was no issue between the kids or using them to bargain.
Did you feel any sort of stigma during this process or feel judged?
Being the at home person, yes. I know a lot of men complain about divorce. But in the end, they always come out okay because they can usually work and support themselves. If the wife is not working or has a part time job, it is women who are traditionally screwed. I knew that going in to the divorce, I was afraid. When I met with my lawyer who was a woman, she laid it on the line for me. She was like, “Mr. K, you’re like a housewife from 40 years ago and I will do what I can to get what I can for you “. And she did.
I did the best that I could at this role, at this job but I can really appreciate what it’s like to be a woman and how many things exist for women. I had everything turned around for me. I’ll be honest with you. I enjoyed things until they went south. I was happy and I didn’t care about the comments. I trusted my wife.
How did you start over?
I eventually landed on my feet. I got a good settlement and alimony. I found a job working as a paralegal/secretary. it’s a part time job right near my house. Also, I met a woman lawyer there and she is now my girlfriend.
After the divorce, how were the responsibilities shared?
The children stay at my house, we didn’t want them to shuffle between two houses. My ex lives 2 miles away and comes over all the time and we come over her place all the time. We do have something written that says every other weekend but we ignore it. She can see them whenever she wants, we do things together as a family. We are parents and that is something that will never change, even till we die.
Anything about life after divorce?
From a day-to-day standpoint it isn’t much different. I am not scared anymore. I’m not too happy on how this worked out, but I dont dwell too much about this. You can’t do that.
What do you wish you knew back then that you know now?
Our gender roles are societal, they are not innate. When you put someone in the position to be the breadwinner and they are good at it and you put someone in the position of the stay-at-home spouse, you rearrange the power relationships and our minds are welled behind that. Our actions reflect that but our attitudes are still stuck in the past and there is a dichotomy, that took me a long time to realize that.
If my wife had not gotten that promotion and things were different, who knows, I could have been a terrible breadwinner.
Why do you think Big Flippers are more likely to divorce?
Even a Big Flip man still feels like he has more independence and more options than that of a traditional housewife. I think there are a lot of traditional marriages that don’t end because of how afraid women are, she is more afraid than I was. I was scared when I first had to face the prospect for fending for myself. On the other hand, I still think that a husband has more freedom regardless if they stay-at-home.
If you could say anything to those who are in a Big Flip Family today, what would you say to them?
Your arrangement is going to become more common. If it works for you, keep doing it. If it is not working for you, be honest about it and talk about it just like any other couple in any given arrangement.
How is your relationship with your ex spouse?
We don’t talk as much as we used to as time goes on.
Given your experience on the other side, what is your personal perspective/outlook on Big Flip families?
There is going to be more women who are high achievers who will have more opportunities and men will have less. I believe these arrangements are going to be more and more common than in my day. I think and hope that if it is, people are accepted and women are not afraid to be married to someone who is not a high earner and men are not bothered with not earning as much. I never felt demeaned by that.
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