- Liz Gendreau, the Chief Mum Officer, is a 38-year-old MBA who works as an IT program manager at a large company, making a six-figure salary. Her husband, Todd, stays at home with their three boys, ages 14, 10, and 3.
- She’s been the primary breadwinner since shortly after they were married, over 16 years ago.
- She’s spent over a year interviewing dozens of other successful women in her “Breadwinning, Six-Figure, Millionaire Women” series.
- A few of the biggest things she wishes people understood: Dads who stay at home aren’t babysitting, her situation isn’t “lucky,” and there are more female breadwinners than you may think.
Being a breadwinning mum with a husband who stays at home with your three boys can be amazing.
When I need to travel for work, I don’t need to worry about who will watch the kids. When I stay late and have dinner with the executives, I don’t need to rush home to relieve the sitter. I’m able to go to conferences across the country and Skype with the boys without worrying about them. I come home from a 12-hour workday to dinner already made, kids shuttled to and from their activities, a clean house, and laundry already put away. When someone needs to get the car fixed, run to the bank, or take care of a sick kid, the “someone” isn’t me.
That doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and roses though.
My husband, our boys, and I are all happy with how we run our family – but other people often aren’t. Sometimes they’re confused, other times they’re defensive, and they often make assumptions about us that just aren’t true. I’ve gotten so many different comments over the years that it’s pretty obvious there are a lot of things other people don’t understand about families like mine.
So today I’m going to dispel the myths and talk about some of the things I’ve noticed other people just don’t understand.
I’m happy and proud to be the breadwinner
In the mainstream media, I see a steady stream of negative articles about families like mine. Millennial women are “worried” about and “ashamed” of being the breadwinner. Stay-at-home dads suffer from “stigma and isolation.” Let’s not forget all the articles telling us that our marriages are unhappy.
If you’re the family breadwinner and a woman, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re supposed to be unhappy about the situation. And trust me, other people read these kinds of articles and think that I must feel that way too.
No, I’m not unhappy. In fact, I’m proud of all my accomplishments. I’m not at all worried about out-earning my husband – I wouldn’t want to be married to someone who’s bothered by that anyway. I’m not ashamed that I work and he stays at home. To be honest, I’m extremely happy that I can be successful at work, pursue my passions, and have things taken care of at home so I still have plenty of time to be an awesome mum.
My husband is proud of me
The other side of the stereotype coin is that men are supposed to be embarrassed by their successful wives.
I’ve heard so many stories about men being ashamed of their wives paying for everything, resentful of having to take care of the kids, or generally unhappy about their wife’s career success outstripping theirs. So people assume my husband must feel that way too, right?
Not here. My husband is extremely proud of my accomplishments, and he’s never been embarrassed about my success.
When we were first married, we both made the same amount of money. Then I got a job in IT about a year later, and that all began to change forever. I started pursuing my MBA when our older boys were 6 and 2 and finished when they were 10 and 6. Guess who baked and decorated a cake to celebrate my graduation? And who watched the boys so I could go off to class after a full day of work? Who took care of things at home while I studied abroad in France and China?
The only thing I’ve ever heard from him is excitement about my success.
Dads don’t babysit
One of the most annoying comments a stay-at-home dad can get out in public is: “So you’re babysitting today?”
My husband has heard this one more than once while out with our three boys. Can you imagine the reverse, someone commenting to a mum out and about with her kids that she was babysitting? No, you can’t. I’ve literally never had anyone say that to me, and yet more than one person has said it to him.
This one is particularly frustrating because of the assumptions behind the statement. People assume that a dad out and about with his kids is a once-in-a-blue-moon type of scenario. His wife, their mother, must be having a rare busy time. So Dad is out with the kids, struggling to manage them, and probably feeding them junk food.
Dads don’t babysit their own children. It’s called parenting.
“Traditional mum” stereotypes are alive and well — and annoying
When my oldest son was in second or third grade, I went to a Mother’s Day event at his school. Now, this was in the late 2000s, so you’d expect the school to not assume all mothers are wearing pearls, vacuuming the house, and baking cookies at home during the day. Right?
Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
Instead of a song or performance about how much the kids loved their mothers, I was treated to the most stereotypical “mum” song you’ve ever heard. My son had to stand on stage and sing with his classmates about how Mum greeted him after school every day, brought him to his activities, made dinner, cleaned his clothes, and (not joking) had fresh cookies waiting for him when he got home.
The only problem: I don’t do any of those things. And neither do the 40% of mothers who are breadwinners, or many of the 71% of women with kids under 18 who work outside the house. It was as if the school had sung the same song since the 1950s and hadn’t bothered to make any changes.
I had a talk with my son after that, asking how he felt about the song. He laughed and said it was silly and nothing like our family. I explained that there are all types of families with all different kinds of working arrangements and that all families are wonderful. Sometimes there’s just a mum, or a dad, taking care of the kids. Sometimes Grandma and Grandpa head up the family. Maybe only Dad works, or just Mum, or both parents. And sometimes there are two mums or two dads! All families are wonderful and should be celebrated.
My son’s school isn’t alone. I’ve seen all kinds of stereotypes over the years. People think I must need to rush home after work to get the kids off to activities, or that I won’t want to travel for work because I have young kids at home. My husband is made to feel like someone has sighted a rare unicorn in the wild when he mentions he’s a stay-at-home dad.
We’re not “lucky”
“Oh, you’re so lucky!”
I get that a lot.
No, I’m not “lucky” that my husband is a stay-at-home dad. We’ve had a number of different working arrangements since we became parents. We’ve worked split shifts for several years. He was laid off when his workplace closed during the Great Recession – not a good time to find a job. We had a year where my husband couldn’t work because he almost died of septic shock. He started working again, only to need another major surgery shortly after our youngest son was born.
And I’ve worked hard to increase my income, and our savings, over our 16-year marriage. While we’ve been married, I received a BS (with high honours), started a career in IT, pursued and received an MBA with two young kids at home, changed companies, and moved into different positions to increase my income. I’ve also been saving and investing for the future since I was a teenager and investing for college for our three sons since they were born.
It’s the combination of being used to getting along with one income (due to the job losses and illnesses), increasing my income through a lot of time and hard work, and making smart money decisions over a few decades that has led to my husband being able to stay at home with our boys.
It wasn’t luck.
Talking about it is still taboo
People often ask me, “What does your husband do?”
When I respond that he’s a stay-at-home dad, I get a lot of looks and quick subject changes. Talking about having a wife who stays at home is very much culturally acceptable, but people are uncomfortable talking about a husband who’s at home. I’m sometimes made to feel as if I should be embarrassed that my husband stays at home, or as though it’s something I shouldn’t really talk about.
My husband is also avoided by other mums at events like library storytime, preschool, or swim lessons. The other people there are mostly mums who have formed their own clique of friends, and they’re not very welcoming of a stay-at-home dad. People just don’t have many follow-up questions as they do with stay-at-home mums.
That’s too bad, because my husband has been the primary caregiver for our kids almost since our oldest was born 14 years ago. He has a lot of great advice and tips on raising boys and would love to chat about all of their activities.
We’re not alone
Though you don’t hear a lot about women whose husbands stay at home, and I don’t know any personally, I know we’re not alone.
Not only have I spent the past year interviewing other amazing women in similar situations, but I also know the statistics. A2017 Bureau of Labour and Statistics report on employment found that in 7.1% of married-couple households, only the wife is employed. That figure may include couples where the husband is retired, unemployed, or disabled, but we still are definitely not alone. Particularly in families where Mum works in a career that’s highly demanding – lots of travel, atypical hours – having a stay-at-home dad can be pretty common.
Part of why I started interviewing other breadwinning mums was to show them that they’re not alone – and to help find other families like ours. And you know what? They are out there. We’re not alone.
My husband isn’t unemployed or lazy
Another common stereotype is that stay-at-home dads either (1) don’t want to be stay-at-home dads, or (2) are lazy, hanging around the house watching sports while the kids run around doing whatever they want.
First, let me talk about the unemployed assumption. There are a lot of people out there who think that men who are staying at home must wish they were back at work. They must want to be working and are unable to find a job, right? Not necessarily.
And any parent who has stayed at home with kids full time – much less three boys – can tell you that there’s nothing lazy about it. In a typical week, my husband:
- Gets up at 5 a.m. to wake up the oldest, make lunches, and start getting ready for the day.
- Drops off our oldest son for the bus at 6 a.m. and picks him up at 5 p.m. (He goes to an arts magnet school.)
- Gets the middle son ready for school and off to the bus, and greets him when he gets home.
- Cleans, cooks, does laundry, grocery shops, and runs errands.
- Brings the older kids to and from after-school activities like drama club, band, and Boy Scouts.
- Cares for a 3-year-old all day, bringing him to swim lessons, library storytime, and soon preschool.
- Oversees homework, attends school events, and cares for the kids when they’re sick.
There’s nothing lazy about running a household of five.
It’s been invaluable for my career
Having my husband stay at home – or care for the kids while working off shift or part time over the years – has been one of the keys to becoming so successful in my career.
I know many women at work who have issues travelling or staying late because they just don’t have the support they need at home. Many two-income couples have issues when the kids are sick – who’s going to stay at home? – or stress about someone getting to daycare for pickup on time.
I’ve been able to get my MBA and grow my career to the point I’ve reached specifically because I have such a supportive husband at home. Not only is he here to encourage me, but he’s able to take care of all those tricky kid situations that can derail other women’s careers. I haven’t needed to downshift to a “mummy track” style of working.
Though there’s nothing wrong with deciding to downshift your career when you have kids – I’m a strong proponent of doing whatever works for your family – it’s not something I’ve ever wanted to do. I feel sad when other women feel forced into it rather than deciding that’s what they want to do, simply because they don’t have the support they need at home.
I don’t secretly wish I were at home
Many people assume that I secretly wish I were staying at home with the boys and that I must be resentful of needing to support my family.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I love my kids, and I enjoy spending time with them, but I also enjoy working. I love solving complex challenges, learning new businesses and technologies, and generally being part of turning an idea into technology that can be used by many. I love writing on my site and being a part of helping other women with their money, work, and frugal family life to pursue financial freedom. Heck, I used to read the Harvard Business Review and The Wall Street Journal for fun in my early 20s – that’s part of why I decided to go ahead and get my MBA.
I’m happy to be a working, breadwinning mum. Not only do I support my family and get to pursue my dreams, but I’m also setting an example of hard work for my three boys. When they grow up, if they get married and have kids, I hope they will feel confident in deciding on whatever working arrangement works best for their families – even if that arrangement isn’t a typical one.