A lot of guys say it three beers in or, as I have, no beers in: If my wife made enough money, I’d love to be a househusband.
Now, I don’t have a house, just an apartment in Brooklyn. And I’ve had a wife only as of December. But I do have a couch, and I’d love to sit on it even more than I already do. Especially if it were with the blessing of my new spouse. I’d keep our place tidy, grocery shop, do laundry when the hamper filled up, and clean the shower just often enough. Maybe I’d even get into cooking.
If we were to have kids, I’d become the cool dad: unencumbered by the stress of work, able to hold a baby in one hand and a Reuben in the other, all while kicking a soccer ball with the neighborhood kids who’ve heard about this mythical parent.
My wife, the person all this hinges on, sometimes indulges this fantasy. “As long as you’re happy,” she says, before pointing out that she’d need to make a lot more money for me to quit my job. Still, I’m not the only man to feel like this role shift would work. A friend of mine in his mid-20s, Matt, has repeatedly mentioned his desire for his future wife to be the breadwinner. “I don’t want to go to work anymore,” he says. “I’d take care of the chores, and if I had time, I’d even pick up a woodworking project.” (Trust me, ladies, Matt can rock a pair of safety goggles.) And women friends of mine have heard dudes drop the “I’d love to be a stay-at-home husband” line on a date.
The numbers prove a change is happening: A 2015 study of 1,100 millennial professionals by the Boston College Center for Work and Family found that 51 percent of the men would be comfortable not working if their spouse made enough money. According to a 2012 Pew study, two million dads in the United States are their families’ primary caregivers (read: stay-at-home dads). In 1989, it was barely half that. Partly, says Noelle Chesley, PhD, a sociologist at University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee who specializes in family studies, the movement is due to men losing jobs during the recession, but it’s also that women are getting more college degrees than men are, and there are more women, if not enough, in the C-suite. Today, 5.1 million breadwinner moms are bringing home higher incomes than their husbands. A recent New York Times op-ed titled “Men’s Lib!” argued that if women are taking on more traditionally male roles at the office, men should be as comfortable taking on traditionally female roles at home. And the dudes agree. Think about it. If my wife and I decide one of us should stay home to take care of our future kids and she has better career opportunities than I do, why should she be expected to give up her job? If we see women as equals in the office, why can’t men be seen as equals in running a home?
To see what it’s really like, I talked with four very different stay-at-home husbands (SAHHs)—some new to the gig and some who have done it for decades. Since it’s not so crazy to imagine your guy may be one of them someday, their thoughts are worth paying attention to.
1. It Gets Weird at Parties
All the men I spoke with agree that you (and your SAHH) should plan on having an answer to the question: What does your husband do? “Nothing” might get a laugh, but it also begs more questions. (My plan: I’ll tell people I’m an online trader. It doesn’t take much backstory and is not interesting enough to prompt follow-ups.)
2. You’re Going to Feel the Pressure
If your husband is sitting at home enjoying the fruits of your labor, you’ll inevitably feel more pressure to perform at work. One SAHH, Tim, 38, quit his full-time job to pursue his dream of becoming a writer, not exactly a lucrative endeavor right off the bat. Which was fine…until it wasn’t. “She felt stressed that she had to have this job for us, for our security,” he says. “Ultimately, she said, ‘Look, I hate it, but I’ve begun to resent you.'” So they evened things out: He took a part-time job while continuing to freelance so she could leave her 9-to-5 and try out comedy writing.
3. You’ll Think About Money Differently
Right now, if I want to come home with a new flat screen, I can. Because I put money into the pot, it feels fine when I take it out. But if I stop contributing financially, I don’t want to have to justify every purchase to my wife. In Chesley’s research, “some men felt that they couldn’t spend the way they did before. In fact, a few of them had part-time jobs for that very reason,” she says.
4. People Worry About a Man Among Kids
You’d obviously trust your own husband with your kids…but would you look askance at another SAHH at the playground? One I talked to, James, 41, said a lot of the moms saw him as a possible predator at the playground. Not that he didn’t understand. “If I see another man there, I’m keeping my eye on him,” he says. The SAHHs I spoke with said the other moms eventually warmed to them. I can be patient.
5. Sex—It Will Definitely Change
Here’s where the SAHHs say the traditional gender-role switch gets a little depressing. It can be tough wanting to mess around after 12 hours spent on the phone with the cable company, picking up dry-cleaning, making breakfasts, changing diapers, and schlepping groceries. You grab peace in increments of seconds. As one dad, 44-year-old Brooke, told me, “There are times when I can’t wait till 8:30 when the kids are in bed and I can just go to sleep.” This will obviously vary depending on the couple. A 2015 study at the University of Alberta suggests that men who help out around the house have more sex (that’s why they call it choreplay!). I like to think that my wife will be so turned on by me in an apron that she wouldn’t be able to resist some action.
I get that the SAHH situation can get tricky, but after talking to the men who are making it work with their wives, I see more positives than negatives. Ladies, you can be free to be as ambitious as you want to at work, knowing more of us guys who are lucky enough to be with you are happy to take care of things at home while you work. Another added benefit for me? If we have kids, those kids would become my job, and I could finally let my job define me. This really is the future. Embrace it. I’ll be on the couch if you need me.
This article was originally published as “What If Your Guy Wanted to Be a Stay-at-Home Husband?” in the April 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan.