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Just a Guy Handling Role Reversal

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Who does what and what we expect from each other is often murkier than depicted in the July issue of "O."

man in apron holding wine

Being the stay-at-home dad is supposedly accepted in our diverse and accepting culture. But the reality is different, as this dad has experienced, especially when introducing a new woman, my new wife, into the family. Who does what and what we expect from each other is often murkier than depicted in the July issue of "O."

In a nutshell, she goes to work; I stay home with the boys. I take them to school and deal with all their extra-curricular activities. I carry the larger load of discipline issues, and I do the majority of the shopping. She takes care of the house and does most of the cooking and cleaning. I'm the biological parent; she's the step. She teaches them manners; I teach them how to burp louder.

Should I be waiting, drink in hand, apron around my waist, to greet her after a long, hard day at work? Should she be interested in the minutia of how much I saved at Ralph's, using coupons, after she has just driven 90 minutes in traffic after a frustrating day in real estate ('nuff said about her career and its difficulties nowadays)?

We struggle. And, we have a teenager. He has said "You're not my mother," as every kid says to a stepparent at one point or another. That was instantly stopped, but it's still confusing to him after his biological mother abandoned my boys completely. Our younger one, desperate for a mother in his life, worships at the altar of my new wife.

Role reversal? Yeah, to the max. Working it out is our daily challenge. But, what do I know; I'm just a guy.

next: Nanny Diaries: CPR is a Must!
42 comments so far | Post a comment now
denise July 11, 2009, 4:11 PM

Hmmm. The idea of a man greeting me at the door, wearing an apron, holding an ice-cold mojito, is sort of appealing.

daniela July 11, 2009, 4:17 PM

From my point-of-view as a single mom whose dad is not in my kids lives at all, i don’t really care who does what, just that it’s a shared job - parenting alone is plain hard work though i wouldn’t give up my kids for anything. Love your blogs Bruce.

Bobby July 12, 2009, 11:52 AM

Hats off to those Dads that do stay home. I could not do anywhere close to the job that my wife does. I truly believe it is more tiring than going to work. Anyway, I still can’t figure out what is considered white and color for the wash!

michelle July 13, 2009, 11:21 AM

OK, let’s get this straight. Your kids are 12 and 15. They’re in school all day, so I’m going to guess they don’t need the minute-by-minute disciplinary intervention you so proudly claim credit for. Meanwhile, your wife works full time while taking care of the house and doing most of the cooking and cleaning. Bruce, can you clarify what it is that you do all day? I would think you have more than enough time to mix your wife a martini, which she can gulp down in the five minutes between coming home from work and starting on the chicken.

Bruce Sallan July 13, 2009, 1:22 PM


Okay, it’s summer time and the boys have lots of play-dates and shuttle requirements. During the school-year, it’s to and from two different schools, plus all their extra-curricular activities. I also “work,” but out of the house. I pay for the majority of our lives, from both my work and investments/savings, while my wife’s work is secondary income and doesn’t pay for our day-to-day living expenses. We do help with the cleaning, but it’s something she cares about much more than we do. My boys do their own wash and clean their own rooms, while my older son cleans the bathrooms, the poop from the dogs, takes in and out the trash, along with other chores. My younger son sets the table, ALWAYS helps my wife with dinner, and clears the table after which my older son does the dishes. I do the majority of the shopping, watering of our considerable outdoor and indoor plants, take care of and pay all our household bills and credit cards, walk our three dogs several times a day plus the last walk before we go to bed, fold the laundry some of the time (I won’t say all of the time), take care of most BBQ-ing which is at least half our meals, plus the CostCo runs, pharmacy, and vet visits (most of the time). We also have a housekeeper, every other week, who works ALL DAY and does the heavy cleaning. My wife and I go out to dinner EVERY Wed. night, which is our “date night.” And, invariably, we are also going out or doing something on weekends so the cooking she does is not an every day thing, by any means, though we love her cooking and appreciate it thoroughly. Does that clarify things for you better or do you still think I’m lounging around? BTW, I’ve also suggested to my wife that she stop working altogether, but she wants to work and likes the added security it provides her (so I support her decision).

A Real Working Mom July 13, 2009, 3:40 PM

As a single working mom, I agree with Michelle. Stop whining and get a real job or start cooking and cleaning full time and give that wife a martini or anything else she wants when she gets home.

Luke July 13, 2009, 4:19 PM

I don’t see any whining in Bruce’s post or his reply to Michelle. Was the martini question a bit passive aggressive? Perhaps, but to me, he is trying to find a positive solution to a challenging situation in his relationship. Credit to him for THAT. I am sure he is appreciating all feedback, including the not-so-positive above, but, come on, take it easy on him! On the other hand, a martini would not hurt and Bruce could have one too.

Eddie July 13, 2009, 8:44 PM

Great post Bruce! I know it must be hard supporting and taking care of the family so major kudos to you!

I think the martini, or whatever drink your wife likes, would be an excellent idea. It would be a great way to handle the romance department! I would TOTALLY stay away from the apron on the other hand. :) Maybe a “Super Dad” or “Super Husband” cape! I think that would be funny and give your wife a lovely chuckle after a long day of work and traffic. And while you are at give her foot massage; women LOVE that! :)

With regard to some of the comments made on here, I don’t see you whining at all. If anything, you are sharing yourself with us and allowing us to be a part of your life and I commend you for that! I think these women are acting like little girls and just craving attention and it’s not your job to play the role of “dad” for them. Maybe it’s just a misunderstanding or maybe it’s man-bashing; either way, I wouldn’t pay much attention to them and their comments.

These women are not a part of your daily life and therefore do not know the intricate details of your relationship so they really have no right to judge. If anything, your wife is the ONLY one who has the right to judge you in that way not these women who don’t know you.

With that said, your wife is your best feedback. If she comes home and acts like any of these women, which I doubt, you need to take care of and nurture her ASAP. If she is pleasant (for the most part) then you’re on the right track.

Jeff July 13, 2009, 9:50 PM

To Michelle and Especially to “A Real Working Mom.” I don’t see either of you exposing yourself and your lives, publicly, by name and photo as Bruce does every week. You sign your name “A Real Working Mom,” having the anonymity of the internet and implying that somehow you’re “real” and Bruce isn’t? OMG, are you full of it. Reading Bruce’s background, if you knew, might give you some insight into where he comes from and might make you both re-think your callous criticisms. When his two boys were quite young, he and his first wife divorced, and she left town, leaving their two boys in Bruce’s 24/7 care. She’s hardly been in their lives since. This I know from reading his columns and other blogs. Maybe “Real Mom” you don’t know what “real” is? And, Michelle, maybe you should read Bruce’s reply to your comment and offer an apology? But, like Bruce says, I’m just a man, so what do I know? BTW, I completely share in the raising of my two boys with my wife, whom I’m still married to, so I do know about the challenges of parenthood. Kudos to Bruce.

Marc July 14, 2009, 2:07 AM

Sounds like you hit open wounds with some of your readers here. I’d feel sorry for the WOMAN whose husband has taken the role reversal too seriously and forgot he is a MAN. I don’t understand where the nastiness is coming from with a couple of the comments above. Maybe they need to look at why they felt a need to slap you. You seem pretty aware of the challenges in your household and willing to work thru them. May the force be with you.

David July 14, 2009, 10:17 AM

I was reading one of Bruce’s other writings in which he addressed the importance of QUANTITY time. He is giving his sons quantity time. That is to his credit. Also, his other writings also tell me that he is a writer; it’s all on his website. So that takes up some chunk of the day. He is a “working dad,” so to speak. Cut Bruce some slack. I think that some of the women posting comments who are single moms are envious of Bruce’s situation, in that they would like to have a man around the house doing what he does in his home.

michelle July 14, 2009, 1:21 PM

First, Bruce, thanks so much for clarifying. I had no idea. If only more of that information had been in your original piece! I’m guessing this is due to the space constraints imposed by site editors, but the piece included so little detail that it left the impression that you didn’t spend much time on household or child-rearing tasks. Respectfully, the point I would like to make (one writer to another) is that your piece relies on the familiar meme of “look at how we’re reversing traditional gender roles,” even though (1) those roles largely don’t exist anymore, and (2) what your story is really about, and what seems to be the more fraught dynamic in your relationship, is your blended family. How do your and your wife’s domestic arrangements and your family’s struggles reflect our shifting notions of what a parent is and the difficulties children have in coming to terms with change? I would love to read more about that, because I suspect that this is where you can offer some insights to momlogic readers that no one has offered before.

Bruce Sallan July 14, 2009, 1:51 PM

Michelle - I’m so glad we got the chance to clear things up. I respect your willingness to revisit your position and I want to acknowledge that my first long reply comment may have been a bit over-the-top. That was probably inspired by the next comment from “A Real Working Mom,” which was annoying. That’s my nature…lol. Yes, we are limited by space considerations and the nature of blogging. I’d love you to read my “A Dad’s Point-of-View” columns which you can find on my website - - and let me know your thoughts on those. I like to think I am more serious in those, though they’re always leavened with some humor, and the length (800-900 words) gives me time to fully develop a concept. I think the “apron drink” reference in my blog was a bit polarizing. I still believe our particular situation is not at all common. I do largely support the family, while also doing the parenting thing. That is because I ended up having my boys, alone, as a single dad for so many years. My wife has wonderfully stepped into the step-parenting role when she hadn’t been a parent before. The “values” she brings to our house our incalculable, especially (no joking intended) in the manners and cleanliness departments of which we still resist. A future blog will deal with this directly. And, what I experienced when I was a full-time single dad was a tremendous amount of sexism in reverse. The moms at the elementary schools just didn’t know what to do with a participating dad. They talked it up supportively but otherwise pretty much treated us as outcasts (well, me mostly). So, I don’t think we’re yet over the expected roles anymore. And, during those years I wasn’t working, I always got the oddest reaction to my declaration that I was being a full-time dad. I doubt a mom would’ve gotten that reaction. So, I sincerely believe the gender stereotypes still exist in spite of our cultural meme than might make you think otherwise. Thanks for that word - did I use it correctly - it’s a new one to me and I had to look it up. I hope to hear back from you after you’ve visited my site.

Susan July 14, 2009, 4:11 PM

It sounds to me like a great partnership. What’s most relevant is that you and your wife are both doing the jobs you want to do. She wants to work. You want to be home with your boys. It sounds like everybody is contributing what they want, and getting what they want. What could be better?

As far as waiting with a drink in hand…I don’t think anybody, male or female, is expected to do that anymore. But it is kind of nice to do once in a while.

Bill July 14, 2009, 4:14 PM

Michelle and “A real working mom’s” anger-fueled posts proves that men do not have a monopoly on jumping to conclusions, insensitivity or wanting it both ways when they are out there bringing home the bacon. In no way am I saying “all” women or “all” men - just that some women. I’ve read almost of all Bruce’s columns and if anything, I have to say that he goes out of his way to see all sides when describing his experiences and opinions about his own. Not an easy thing to do. What is easy, as someone else said, is hiding behind the anonomynity of the internet while venting what just may be issues with men in general.

Another Eddie July 14, 2009, 9:38 PM

Thanks for your article, very entertaining.
There are a couple of things that that struck me.

“Should I be waiting, drink in hand, apron around my waist, to greet her after a long, hard day at work? Should she be interested in the minutia of how much I saved at Ralph’s, using coupons, after she has just driven 90 minutes in traffic after a frustrating day in real estate (‘nuff said about her career and its difficulties nowadays)?”

That depends if you’d like more sex and romance in your relationship. I’m pretty confident that your wife would not be particularly interested in hearing about the boring (even to you) “minutia” that comprised your day, as she walks through the door.
If your intention were to take care of her after a rough day at work, you could think of other things to talk about than the coupons you used at the store today. Have her feel special and appreciated. That would serve your relationship much more.
Besides, why are you even wearing an apron? You aren’t doing the cooking….

Which brings me to the second thing;

“We struggle. And, we have a teenager. He has said “You’re not my mother,” as every kid says to a stepparent at one point or another. That was instantly stopped, but it’s still confusing to him after his biological mother abandoned my boys completely. Our younger one, desperate for a mother in his life, worships at the altar of my new wife.”

This is a much more compelling and difficult aspect of your relationship. This is not an easy situation for anybody but it’s perhaps most challenging for your wife. She’s in a no-win situation. She can only be “mother” with your sanction. If you are expecting her to take that role, than you better back her up.
Parenting is very challenging but a lot more difficult if the two of you aren’t on the same page.

Another Eddie

Heidi July 15, 2009, 9:51 AM

Love the thought of a man in an apron, with drink and paper in hand, greeting me at the door as I arrive home from a hard days work! There is nothing more exciting than being pampered by a man. It sounds like you are handling the fair share of the duties and your wife is obviously one who appreciates you for who you are. Men do handle home stuff differently from how we would do it, most often neither is right or wrong, just different. My husband usually runs the water too long for my liking (I am a conservationist) so I am always turning off the tap when he is in the kitchen. I just cant help it, I dont want him to drain the lake! LOL
You are doing just fine with your role as house husband, and some stay-at-home moms could learn a thing or two from you.

Erin July 15, 2009, 11:12 PM

“Real Working Mom” needs a life, not a job. I thought “we” were so past this gender based sort of dispute! Except for the second Eddie (who may be a “she” and not a “he” - certainly wrote that way), this seems such a silly dispute between the sexes. Can’t either sex work or parent? Isn’t that the point of the past few decades? What is the argument about? I support Bruce and his wife.

Kathi Browne July 16, 2009, 9:51 PM

It’s nice to see a man in this role can have such caring thoughts. I would have loved being greeted at the door with a glass of wine… of wait, I HAVE been. How quickly we forget (men OR women).

My husband told me he was most touched when I greeted him with a kiss and asked how his day was. Maybe you should try that and see where the conversation goes. If your talks develop into indepth explorations of her career goals and the like, look me up. I’ll recognize you as the first official male wingspouse I know. Until then, keep up the good parenting and providing your posts!

O July 18, 2009, 1:07 AM

Try greeting her with a pisco sour Bruce- you’ll win extra points and hey, great fore foreplay (re: Just a Guy Talking About Sex-> attention. sensuality. sharing… all the ingredients for good sex - got nothing to do with mechanics)… anyway, it’s all about caring and sharing isn’t it? -household chores included! All the best with wife and kids!………… O

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