An estimated 40 percent of households with children now have the mothers as the primary income providers, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.
To help people make adjustments to that changing work role for couples, John Reinert, a licensed clinical professional counselor with the North Central Behavioral Health Systems, said there are things which couples can do to make their adjustments as easy as possible. The North Central Behavioral Health Systems serves the counties of Bureau, LaSalle, Marshall, Putnam, Stark, Fulton and McDonough.
There are a broad range of factors which enter into an individual’s or a couple’s attitudes and feelings about the woman being the primary provider, Reinert said. Those factors include whether the situation was forced upon the couple by the market place or was created by the couple's preference. Other factors can include the couples' ages, socio-economic status, education level, cultural beliefs, levels of support from family and friends, and the emotional willingness to go “counter the current,” Reinert said.
In his experience and study, the greater degree of choice for a couple yields fewer problems and concerns in most situations, Reinert said. If both partners “buy into” the decision they will “live it” more easily and with fewer problems, he added.
The Pew Research Center study, with a focus on married breadwinner mothers, also showed that younger, more highly-educated couples will better accept “running counter to the current.” Also, these couples will frequently be more flexible in their acceptance of the situation even if it is imposed on them.
But regardless of their age and acceptance levels, men generally seem to face some loss of self esteem and self worth if they are either under-employed, less well-employed than their partner, or are stay-at-home dads, Reinert said.
He also said support systems are of significant importance and may range from the acceptance of family and friends to the availability of outside support groups, which have been traditionally available primarily for women.
Looking at easing the transition for men into a lifestyle in which they are no longer the primary breadwinners, Reinert said the responses to that change will be impacted by the man's other interests and parts of himself he values. The most problematic situation is one in which the man is fully focused on his job or career and has no significant other interests upon which he can focus and can gain worth.
However, adjustments are not always easy either for the woman who becomes the primary breadwinner, Reinert said. Society continues to view women as primary caregivers for their families all too often, including care to children, spouse and parents. A woman who is career focused, as many primary breadwinners are, may continue to feel the need to be both breadwinner and caregiver, he said.
"This is generally a Herculean and unrealistic role expectation," Reinert said. "Generally, the stronger her support system the easier the transition will be."
Reinert said for couples in non-traditional roles, they will need to be in solid communication with each other to safeguard their marriage, adding they will also need to seek external support systems individually or as a couple.
The couple whose lives are “running counter to the current” will need a special strength to succeed, Reinert said. While the woman can support her partner to explore his other strengths to gain self worth, the man will need to be equally present to support his partner and understand the non-traditional value she brings to the relationship and family.