Mar 172015 21 Responses

Partnership: When Dad Works and Mom Stays Home

Partnership is one of the cornerstones of a healthy marriage. When both spouses feel as though they are not alone in this life, but are jointly pursuing goals and aspirations, their marriage can flourish.

In response to an article on the importance of partnership, a reader asked this question:

“How do we feel a sense of partnership when the husband works and the wife stays home?”

I love this question. Some women do not. Without reading this article, some women want to shoot me because the headline is built off of the question. But I love it. (See: Marry a Partner, Not a Child)

(Side note: Like any question, I am assuming intent based on the questioner’s words. It’s possible I have misunderstood the question and maybe the questioner simply misspoke, but I’m going to answer based on how the question was asked.)

The question itself reveals two problems. It shows biases which are hindering the couple from experiencing the true benefits of partnership. The question reveals two assumptions which are creating the tension in the marriage.

The two incorrect assumptions are:

1. That when one spouses receives a paycheck for their job and the other does not, then only one spouse is earning money.

2. That work is the centerpiece of partnership, so if one person does not receive a pay check, they cannot be a true partner.

Both of these are faulty assumptions. (See: This Is Who You Want to Marry)

First, for a married couple, money is never hers and his. One or both of them might receive a paycheck. Separate checking accounts might be kept because it’s the best financial plan for the couple. But all the money belongs to both of the spouses because all of the money is earned by both of the spouses.

I cannot do my job without Jenny. It would be impossible for me to meet every responsibility required both at work and at home to keep our family going. I have to have her. Without her, I would have to drastically re-order my life. I could keep doing my job, but many other things would have to be sacrificed if I were a single parent.

The same is true for Jenny. She can’t do her job without me. Even though I know nothing about media buying and very little about advertising, I am vital to her business because I can assist her with other responsibilities which frees her to spend more time working on her business.

We both receive separate paychecks, but we both play an essential role in the money the other earns.

This is true for every couple. “When dad works and mom stays home” mom is still playing a key role in the money dad earns. The paycheck might be in his name, but it is their money. He has no right to assume he is making all of the money, because he is not. Together they have designed a life based on one paycheck, but they jointly share the responsibilities to make that life happen. (See: The Math of a Good Marriage)

One of the first steps to experiencing true partnership with your spouse if one stays home and one works outside of the home is to recognize the contribution the other person is making toward your career.

I often laugh when someone thanks me for my time when I’m with them at an odd hour. Whether it’s a hospital emergency, a death, or a marriage in distress, I’ll meet with someone late at night or on a weekend and they are very grateful for my time. I always tell them, “You shouldn’t thank me; you should thank Jenny.” Whenever work demands my time, she is left to pick up the slack with kids and every other responsibility.

When Jenny is required to visit a client out of town or have a conference call at dinner or stay up late to work invoices, I have to pick up the slack for her.

We might earn separate paychecks, but we earn them together.

The second misconception the questioner had regarding partnership is that it is primarily about work. It is not. Work is an important part because it is a place where we spend a lot of our time. However, partnership is not solely about work. It is about life.

Jenny is my partner in life, not just work. She plays an important role in my work. She listens, advises, gives her perspectives, shares what others have told her, and does many other things which help me in my job. But my job is just one aspect of my career. And my career is just one aspect of my life. She is my life-partner. We are partnering together to create the lives we want. (See: Does Having a Child with Down Syndrome Make Marriage Tougher)

Jobs and careers are important, but so are children, home, family, fun, dreams, aspirations, spiritual connection, and many other pursuits. Partnership does not have to be primarily about work. It is about joining together to create meaningful lives.

Even if Jenny never assisted me with work, we would still feel a deep sense of partnership.

We parent as partners. Parenting is not left to her. We are a team. While there might be specific roles one of us plays the lead on, there is not a single issue regarding our kids in which we aren’t both fully involved. Our children know we are a team when it comes to parenting. While they try to divide us (by asking one parent the same question they just asked the other parent) we keep a united front before them. Not only does it make us feel united, it also gives them the security of a stable home.

We dream as partners. Part of my job as her husband is to help her make some of her dreams come true. Many things cannot be accomplished alone. We need help. A spouse can be a constant source of encouragement, hope, and prodding. We can refuse to let our spouses give up on the things which are truly important to them. We can confront them when we feel as though they are settling for less than what is possible or using excuses. Consider: in a healthy marriage, someone is waking up every day wondering “How can I make your life better?”

We play as partners. It is not important for spouses to share every hobby. It might actually be beneficial for each spouse to have some separate pursuits. But it is also useful for spouses to share some hobbies. Too many marriages get stuck in the routine of work and raising kids and they lose the element of fun in their relationships. Having a shared hobby can invigorate a relationship. Jenny had never played tennis much before meeting me, but now we enjoy it together. I had never been hiking before meeting her, but now I often look for good hikes while planning vacation. (See: Playfulness–One Sign of a Healthy Marriage)

Partnership is an integral role of a good spouse. Without a good partner, life can feel overwhelming. The demands are too many and the responsibilities of family are too much to go it alone. Each spouse needs to be operating at a high level in order for a marriage to flourish.

21 Responses to Partnership: When Dad Works and Mom Stays Home
  1. Mike Reply

    My wife has been a stay at home mom for 16 years. All of this rings so true. What she has provided for our family is worth much more than any paycheck I’ve brought home.

    Great post!

  2. Jeff Reply

    “Together they have designed a life based on one paycheck…” What if that’s not what you’ve designed together, and your spouse, after 16 years and no good reason not to, will not get serious about looking for a job?? I never dreamed I’d be the sole breadwinner for this long…it’s been an exhausting 16 years…

    • Shawn Reply

      Jeff, I’ve been in those shoes almost for a few less years.

      I actually wanted to be strong, successful, and have the same in a wife/mother who stays at home and makes s wonderful place to come home to!!

      It hasn’t been so easy, but one thing that frustrates me is that I can work 6, 9, or 11 hours in a day, come home (or come up from the basement office sometimes) and kids are out of control; dishes left on the table (from the supper I cooked), and just a general mess in the house.

      my work has seasons, and I’ve tried to be as gracious as I can be, but after more than a decade of this I’m not sure what to do.

      She’s now looking at education, a career, etc -and I think it’s good. I still can’t help wonder what could be if she took her work at home seriously!

      I’ve come home for meals in between work and had to scavenge the cupboards for something while planning some new decor or…. I don’t know; dreaming of change??

      If we talk without erupting into anger it seems to come back to me not providing enough structure (varying work hours), income (to buy more things to store/organize with), or quality time (meaning quantity time, which isn’t easy while providing a family sized income).

      I don’t understand why dishes can’t be washed anyway; why food can’t be planned, purchased, and cooked ahead of meal time; and why the children are…. Not sure I can go on.

      I love my family, I love my wife. Maybe I’ve expected too much. Now there are 3 little ones to take care of. I must expect a lot; from her as well as I!

      We just had a great time together, and today I was back to work, a split totaling 9.5 hours. I know her day was long, but she was home all evening, and not at least trying to say “honey, I’m exhausted but thank you for working hard today!! I just need to go to need and rest and I’ll catch up on things tomorrow”…

      I know, I know, counseling right??

      • Gert Reply

        Hi Shawn, what you are not accounting for in your assessment of the division of labor is the emotional and psychological labor that a caregiver provides. Your perspective is considered “patriarchal” in modern gender politics. When all factors are considered, including the loss of socioeconomic mobility and challenge to ego structure required by a caregiver to do a proper job of nurturing alone, at home (not an institutional setting with support staff), then there is no question that caregivers are marginalized and even exploited both in the marketplace and the home. Maybe not counseling, maybe more introspection and education.

        • chris Reply

          The caregiver is nearly always NOT marginalized and respected.

          I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a caregiver ABUSE the one who works and that relationship. They say that the one focusing on work should share the caregiving work.


          Caregiving is hard, you’re right. AND IT DOES NOT MIX WITH WORK. I have tried this, it DOES NOT WORK. My wife’s biggest mistake was in trying to share caregiving and thinking she was marginalized if I didn’t.

          And what happened?

          Now I cook, I clean the cooking mess, I plan the meals, I bathe the kids, and that STILL isn’t enough in some cases.

          Doing all these things at most gives her two hours, not much time, but it takes two hours out of my day, and exhausts me beyond reason. 8 hour work days, getting home at 7 when I work out (in other words may have to neglect my workout due to the pressure caused from the negligent care giver, and I have seen this a lot too) is a real problem when going into trying to give the caregiver breaks from the kids. I will be blunt: That is not my job as the worker. It’s not. Wives need to find other breaks, use day care places for a few hours during the weeks, use friends for this as well, and more often than not they try to say they are marginalized, and that it needs to be the husband, and it breaks him the bloody hell down, like the male above, who you said marginalized his wife. No. That wife needs to clean. She needs to take care of those kids better, and him being a good man, tried to pin it on himself and you didn’t notice. She’s not being marginalized. She’s failing. It’s time for her to suck it up, and deal with the care giving. My mother used this. My grandmother used this. My wife uses and used this, and I’m sick of people like you supporting it. I am always at the epicenter of snapping from it, but because I cannot tell her to “toughen up” and do her role, because 1,000 people for every one will support her as opposed to me, I GET MARGINALIZED and I get abused. Not the caregiver. When there is an imbalance it is a majority of the time a caregiver failing.

      • William Holleman Reply

        Shaun, You story resonates like no other. reading through all the comments there are certainly some unequal and or unfair relationships. But I think and hope most men and husbands are men and do provide for their family with the utmost effort and responsibility, working and helping with the household.

        I think like you, we do understand that taking care of kids is hard work, and staying at home is hard. We know this because we contribute in these chores at a level that just doesn’t seem right. We pick up the slack for a spouse that cannot or will not do their share.

        I think of all relationships as partnerships, business, family, friends. But when your wife is basically a child and takes no responsibility for the success of the family it is the hardest thing to live through.

        I understand what you are going through, as it is what happens in my household daily, my wife won’t cook, clean, do chores, help plan, build social networks, go to work or school, it is all about her and its my fault because I am critical because my partner wont help. For those women who don’t feel appreciated I understand, but for those that just don’t put 100% into their family, I have no sympathy. I give 100% to my family everyday, I expect that same in any partnership. I am pushing on knowing that I need to make my way without the support, making sure I don’t compensate, but it is not the life I want my kids to learn, and their mothers apathy and lack of engagement will impact them now and later in life, this is my real pain and why I don’t leave. She can barely take care of herself, how can I leave knowing my kids will suffer even more?


    Just to add my 2 cents….I am the mother of 3 kids ages 6, 5 & 4….my husband is a paranoid schizophrenic on and off medication and right now as we speak drained every penny from our bank account, and decided on a whim to drive across the country leaVing me here alone to care for our children ALONE. I am alone and it is horrible. I don’t think most men understand how much work it really involves raising children…keeping a house…and everything else. I have been like Martha Stewart (pre incarceration that is) for YEARS! Every meal homemade, taking hours to prep, chasing behind messy toddlers aND kids all day, isolated from the world while my husband spends time with his parents because hes on disability, he brings home an income pays the bills…so his job is done (yeah uh huh) so standing in the kitchen prepping & cooking over a hot stove for hours a day 7 days a week, for him to never be home at 5, then hearing “I don’t want this i want cereal” throwing plated of food in the trash & whining and throwing fits…meanwhile not even feeling human because when is the last time I took a shower or shaved? Good question….it gets exhausting ESPECIALLY never hearing a thank you. Never being lent a helping hand. Never an “it’s OK honey…yes I’m tired but I will sacrifice for you the same way you sacrifice everything for me.” I feel like I’m stuck in movie Groundhog Day…monotonous, stressful, craziness…I can’t even enjoyb my children because I can’t ever get 5 minutes to myself! Do you guys know what it’s like to not even get to use the bathroom in peace?? I would trade off and be the breadwinner any day! Many men want to criticize us Stay at home moms…but yet they could NEVER do a third of what we do in a day in a week! Ya know…I went back to school, maintained a 3.86 gpa all honors classes, worked full time , still had to come home and do EVERYTHING…he couldn’t even feed our kids, or watch them while I took timed exams online. I come home from work to find my youngest 3 at the time missing. I thought I was going to die….luckily thank God I found her wandering down the main road (50mph) in the dark wrapped up in her Blankie at 11pm…walking to my job because she wanted a hug and kiss and to get tucked in her special way. Yet I constantly hear about how I don’t contribute to this family. You have ABSOLUTELY no idea. Please go home and thank your wife for what she does do, buy her flowers hug her and tell her how much you lover and appreciate her… instead of griping about dishes on the table or unrealistic expectations. Because you won’t agree but being a mom and a sahm at that is the hardest job there is….everything we do has the potential to ruin a little person, every decision we make determines the outcome of what kind of people our children become. I much rather get paid get a day off, pushing paper or working construction…but as mom’s we don’t get that opportunity. I can’t chose to go on a road trip or not pick my kids up from school. We don’t get a day off, and we are always busy putting every one else ahead of ourselves that we get lost, it loses its enjoyment, and that’s sad.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Jamie, thank you for your story. I’m sorry for your experience. I will say, your experience is not universal. There are many men who play a proper role as a partner in their relationship and have great empathy/compassion for their spouse.

  4. […] I do not expect my children to be an equal partner in the family. They will not contribute as much a...
  5. Christina Reply

    Hi im a mom of 5 kids age 1 , 5 , 7 , 8 , 9 im a nurse aide my boyfreind is a warehouse worker we make equal pay but guess what? ive gotta take two kids to work while the other three are at school because he wont wach them he only makes $300 more than me of which he spends that on his food and who knows what but we pay equal bills and im a mechanic so i have to fix all the cars ne tears up he has killed 14 in 6 years we have to buy him a car every year and he doesnt help with the kids he acts like one he only compares himself too them.
    I will approach him and ask him for help like this- hey im really overwhelmed can you give me a hand picking up the kids toys? he will throw a fit and pack his crud and run off its borderline abuse if i run to the store and dont take all 5 kids with me nothing is equal he does nothing but show up at his job 2 hours late on average and stay until he belives the kids are sleeping some one give me advice on this

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Time for the boyfriend to either step up or you should move on. If he won’t embrace the responsibilities of a relationship, he doesn’t deserve it’s privileges.

  6. Jenny Reply

    This is wonderful encouragement to my husband and I 9 years married 2 kids under 3. Thank you for this!-J

  7. work from home Reply

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  8. Christine Reply

    My common law husband of 16years insisted I stay home to raise our girls for the last 15 years. Don’t get me wrong I love that I’m raising my 2 girls but, he does hold money over my head. I have to justify every dollar I spend. A few years back I agreed to watch a friends kids and I have taken on several families on over the years. This has afforded me my own cash but now I’m responsible for any financial support the kids need as well as the groceries and any matienince our house needs. I barley squeak by every month and when I ask for help he’s says he can’t. I feel that I’ve made a huge sacrifice staying home and leaving my career so he could grow his. Now I feel stuck because I’ve been out of the workforce so long I’m worried I’ll never get out of this. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to support my girls and myself without a proper income or a supportive spouse.

  9. Nick Reply

    How do you handle a situation where there are no kids, but wife won’t help out in general. She won’t do cooking,cleaning, any general house keeping. Doesn’t help with financial situation and won’t get a job to help out. She refuses counseling.

    She wants kids but can hardly look after herself.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      I wouldn’t have kids…not yet. I would make an appointment with a counselor and invite her to go, but tell her you are going with or without her.

  10. Amanda Reply

    It’s good to see an article written by someone with faith that does not put all the responsibilities on the women to raise the kids, run the house and serve the husband. My husband and I have our struggles (mostly because having young children on one income is hard) but I do not feel undervalued in my contributions to our family, which is staying home with the kids. When all the kids are in school, I will be returning to the workforce but it won’t be in a position where I left off. It should be recognized that parents who stay home to raise the kids are sacrificing their career advancement for the family and in no way should be minimized for all the hard work they do. Our marriage is as you described and it functions well. I work every bit as hard as my husband and when he is home from work at 5, we are still BOTH working because we BOTH chose to start a family and we parent together. If I was left to do all the parenting, errand running, cooking, cleaning, doctor’s appointments, finding ways to save money, finding household necessities like clothes at low cost, setting up all bill payments and dealing with household business by myself 24/7, I would go ahead and become a single parent because then at least there would be the hope of a better life. Leaving any one parent with an unfair load is bad for mental health especially when there is no end in sight. Thank you for this article.

  11. Jo Reply

    When my now 30 yo daughter was about 2 years old, I was a homemaker. I went to the doctor one day and had to take my small daughter with me. The doctor asked me, his new patient, if I worked. I replied, “Do you mean do I get paid for what I do?” His reply was a relaxed, somewhat chagrined, somewhat funny, “Gotcha.” He learned a lot that day!

    The question isn’t when we parents at home are working, it’s whether we are paid. And often we women who stay home and raise children are demeaned by the question, “Do you work?” Duh…raising human beings is work!

    From what I read in the comments, some are only seeing what wasn’t done. Try finding out what was done that day! Also, the fact that we are women and mothers doesn’t necessarily mean we are particularly good organizers! I

  12. Nichole Reply


    I got pregnant while in my last two semesters of college (with the boyfriend I lived with and had been with for 4 years). I worked my but off to get a job offer BEFORE graduating, I did (making over 50k a year). And he had an opportunity come up making about 200k a year but would be out of country a lot. WE decided I would stay home and raise our child. Well now he throws it in my face that it’s all his money, everything we have is because of him and only him, I do nothing for him, and he has even been going behind my back and giving his friends $3k+ for lawyers and whatnot, and supposedly we will get that money back…

    I have also been recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and hypothyroidism, making it impossible to lose weight, but when I get upset about it and try to talk about all my symptoms and just in general what I’m going through, he tells me I’m just making excuses and it’s stupid.

    What am I suppose to do now?

  13. Shana Reply

    I love this and how it sympathizes with both parties. I’ve been a sahm for 7 months and just want some advice. My husband works anywhere from 8-12 hours a day and pays the bills and has a high savings account. I stay home and take care of the home and the baby and have been actively looking for a job for two months. I honestly feel like he thinks he pays so much in bills that that is enough and I have to beg and borrow to meet my needs. I’ve been sick and have had a bad cough for a week and yesterday when I went to the store I asked him if he could get me more medication and his response was, “I’ve bought two boxes, I’m not buying anymore. It is a waste of my money.” Even though he sleeps nexts to me and hears me up all night coughing. This is one example of many. So I feel like I need to resign on doing everything at home if I can’t have my personal needs taken care of because he doesn’t want to spend the money. I am trying to do it in a nice way without causing conflict. So I told him, as embarrassing as it is, that I need an allowance. It started a huge fight, of course. But I think from now on I am going to care for myself and our baby and make him do his own stuff. Mind you, I cook dinner, do his clothes, do every dish and bottle, and am lucky if he even “plays” with the baby for 30 minutes out of the day..much less change a diaper, feed her a bottle, wash a bottle of her clothes. She even sits in the walker every night and watches me cook so he can play his game. Which she loves doing, but my point is that I try to let him have his free time even after keeping her all day every day. And Saturday and sundays when he’s off I still get up with her every day and let him sleep until 1-2pm. It’s just not fair to me that I can’t even have him provide medication or hygienic needs. But he makes me feel like I’m so crazy for being upset about it. What are some guidelines in your opinion? Since I can see you are open to being honest and will tell me if I am wrong. Maybe it would bring me some sanity. Thank you!! I feel better just for venting

  14. Jamie Reply

    I sent this to my husband, but he will ignore it and read politics instead.

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