The Changing Role of Man in the Modern Family


Throughout my 15 year relationship with my wife, I have generally seen myself as the provider, the breadwinner of the family. I had a career, I brought in the money, I made the big family decisions, I took charge of our lives. Perhaps this dynamic was not always healthy, but this is how it has been.

This dynamic has now changed. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced me to quit my job and take care of our two children. My wife has got a new job, she is the one going out to work and I’m the one staying at home. I’m making dinners, cleaning the house, raising the children. She is going to work, making money, providing financially. She is the provider and I am the provided-for. For the first time ever, she is the breadwinner.

We’ve dealt with the division of chores. I do the washing and the cleaning, I get the kids ready in the morning, I make sure dinners are cooked and prepared for everyone. My wife goes out to work, she brings in a salary, pays the bills, buys the food, and so on.

But there’s something else we haven’t come to terms with. A bigger change that we can’t quite put our fingers on. A change in how we see each other, how we operate, and the roles we play in our family life. The problem we haven’t tackled very well is the psychological shift in our relationship, a change in our dynamic. It’s proven a difficult hurdle to overcome for both of us.

Before we swapped roles, I was taking on a very stereotypically male role in the family, and my wife taking on a very stereotypically female role. Now that my role as a stay-at-home Dad is not stereotypically male, what does that mean for me?

What does it mean to ‘be a man’?

During a disagreement about something inconsequential (they usually are), my wife in her grievance snapped at me saying “oh be a man!” This cut deep. In the aftermath of the discussion, I asked her to write down what she meant by this. Here’s what she wrote;

“What I mean here is, sometimes I want male dominance. When you do that assertive, take what you want thing, I like it. I guess I associate this with ‘being a man’, because that’s what society has taught me. Take ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ characters. These are powerful, alpha male characters who take what they want and don’t give a fuck about anyone else. As much as society tells men they’re not supposed to behave that way anymore, I feel like society is also telling women we’re not allowed to find that attractive. The fact is, I do, and I want that man. The same man who takes charge of a situation and asserts his dominance is the same man who is going to protect his family if they are under attack. If someone breaks into my house and threatens me and my children, I don’t want a sensitive “damp squib”. I want an alpha male who is gonna be my hero.”

How can a man be both courageous and sensitive?
How can a man be both dominant and submissive?
How can a man be both caring and assertive?

As a man who has been the provider for almost 15 years, it’s challenging to come to terms with the fact I’m no longer the person providing financially for my family. What is man’s role in the modern family if not to provide? Cook and clean? Are these my new responsibilities? Is this what defines me?

One morning my wife asked me to take the bins out. Being the person now responsible for house chores, I reluctantly agreed. My wife, still coming to terms with our new roles, immediately tried to back out of it. She could see it burdened me and didn’t want that, so quickly tried to take back responsibility for the chore. I didn’t let her, I re-iterated that we needed to come to terms with our new relationship dynamic, that I am the one responsible for the home.

But how can a house-husband also be a hero?

In my newfound role as a stay-at-home Dad, my kids don’t want a dominant, assertive father. They want a loving, caring, sensitive one. My previous traits of being dominant, assertive, and determined didn’t help me when I helped my daughter to stop having toilet accidents. Somehow I need to figure out how to be the same assertive character in a newfound role that doesn’t appreciate these attributes.

Is it possible to be loving, caring, and sensitive, but also an alpha-male? Should I aim to be a different person, to different people, at different times?

There’s no such thing as a man

I’ve come to believe that man is as many different things as there are stars in the sky. Man can be whatever man wants to be. He can be an astronaut or a nurse. He can be a UFC fighter or kindergarten teacher. He can order a pint of beer or a cosmopolitan. Man need not be a stereotypical man.

I’m changing my role in my family, learning new skills, and taking on new responsibilities. Just like switching jobs, I’m grappling with the new environment and the challenges it entails. It’s not always easy, but I’m learning that is possible to be powerful and compassionate, it’s possible to be assertive and sensitive, it’s possible to be a hero and a servant. It’s possible for me to contribute to the family in ways other than bringing in a salary, just as my wife has done for many years.

In the pursuit of equality between the sexes, women are adopting more traditionally male roles, just as men are adopting more traditionally female roles. I wrote about how I encounter sexism against me as a stay-at-home Dad and how I thought we were far away from achieving equality between the sexes. I still very much believe this, but to be the same as each other is not what we strive for. I have a new role as a stay-at-home Dad, but I do not aspire to be my wife, nor does my wife aspire to be me.

A man need not be all things to all people. A man should stay true to himself, let his strengths shine, and work to improve areas of weakness. Like T-shaped people, we all have core strengths, as well as other weaker skills that we strive to develop. My core strengths are my confidence and my drive, but I’m branching out into new skills, like compassion, sensitivity, and patience. Perhaps I’ll never be as compassionate as my wife, and perhaps she’ll never be as confident as me, but that’s ok.

I’m learning that the concept of man is changing, it’s ill-defined and open to interpretation. The stereotypical view of man is still deep-rooted in the bowels of society, but I need not conform.

For now, I’m going to focus on being me. To be the best father and husband I can be, and challenge society’s pre-conception head-on. I’ll make sure my kid’s bums are clean, there’s food with some vague resemblance of nutrition on the table, and the bins are taken out no matter how much I dislike the chore.

I’ll be a man, whatever that means.

This post was previously published on A Parent Is Born.


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