the shape of a family

by Elaine

making orange juice
My Mister and my girls, making Orange Juice in our kitchen

Recently I heard an interview on KPBS These Days with a couple of stay-at-home-dads. I only caught the tail end of the program, but as the wife to a mostly stay-at-home-dad, I desperately wanted to call in and discuss. Alas, I never made it to air, but it got me thinking about the traditional family structure, how so many of us in theatre ignore it, and how recent politics (think prop 8 ) have asked us if it even really matters anymore.

Last month I interviewed a guy for a bartending position at the Pub I manage and watched him slowly break down as he discussed why he was so desperately in need of a job. With two kids and a recent job loss, he was looking for anything to keep them afloat. “My wife had a great job, but I told her she needed to quit. I couldn’t take care of two kids! I need to provide!”

Wait.

So your wife has a full time gig with benefits AND you’re out of work, but you ask her to quit? Ultimately, after discussing this further, it came down to a matter of pride. In his world, it wasn’t OK for his wife to be the provider while he cared for their active kids. So, instead of hanging on to what they had (one full time job in this economy), he asked her to stay home while he hit the street to find a job fit for a man. One that could take months, if not years to find.

Um, I didn’t hire him. Not because the feminist in me was screaming (though she was very much ruffled) but because I knew this gig could not sustain his family & (if lucky) he’d soon be on to something that could. And I hate training people just to have them walk out the door.

It’s things like this that make me so happy to be in my marriage, with my Mister.

For our family, we’ve always been flexible and accommodating to the structural needs of our family as it stands right now. My Mister and I have traded places through the years, he carrying the full time gig while I stay home and nurse babies, me working outside the home full time while he drove kids to school and the park. It’s allowed us to grab onto the gig that is there, rather than the one that may show up later. It’s given us a unique perspective, knowing exactly what it’s like to be in the others shoes. But mostly, it’s allowed us to be the most fulfilled people AND parents we can be.

Working in the theatre allows this flexibility more than the average field, I suspect, though it’s not the most lucrative world in which to work. We’ve traded things for a lifestyle that allows us more time with our kids and while it can be sometimes difficult (I do like things, after all) I cannot imagine life another way.

How do you follow your family needs? Do you have a more “traditional” structure? Have you ever traded places with your partner? Where do you think the shape of a family is headed?

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