Daily Mail (Britain)
10 July 2007
Reference DailyMail UK
Househusband backlash as high-flying wives ditch men they wanted to stay at home
By Diana Appleyard
It's the bitterest of ironies: thousands of men who've given up work to care for their children are being ditched by their high-flying wives - who wanted them to stay at home in the first place
At the time it seemed like a good idea. After all, Richard Dean told himself, he was earning less than his wife Louise, a high-flying marketing executive. And did it really matter who was at home to look after their children?
With that in mind, it was not such a difficult decision for him to give up his career as a manager in the manufacturing industry to look after their ten-month-old son, Jack.
He hoped it would bring them closer together as a family. In reality, it sounded the death knell for their marriage.
"I sensed that Louise was becoming more detached and less interested in me sexually within a year of becoming a househusband," says Richard, 50. "She was always picking on me for silly little things she said I hadn't done, like the washing up or not tidying away the toys.
"It was as if she was losing all respect for me, just because I was the one at home, doing the domesworktic duties. Then, one day two years ago, she announced she was leaving me - and taking the children with her. She told me she was going to go and live with her mother 20 miles away. To say I was devastated does not do my feelings justice. It was as if the bottom had fallen out of my world."
For five years Richard, from Watford, Herts, had worked hard to become a perfect "mother" to their sons, Jack, who is now nine, and Edward, seven. But from the moment he gave up his job, Richard says Louise, 47, failed to see him as a "man".
The phenomenon of the househusband is an increasingly popular one. The number of men deciding to become househusbands has increased by a staggering 83per cent since 1993. According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, there are more than 200,000 fathers in the UK choosing to give up their careers and raise their children at home.
But are the couples who go down this domestic route sowing the seeds of marital disharmony? It seems that in many cases the rise of modern career women has had an unexpected - and disastrous - knock-on effect on many husbands who assume the traditionally 'female' role.
In short, having a man whose primary function is not as alpha male breadwinner, but domestic drudge just ain't sexy.
Divorce lawyer Vanessa Lloyd-Platt says that in her experience, the decision to allow the wife to be the main wage earner will have a detrimental effect on as many as half of these relationships, and that
divorce statistics in these cases have risen by at least five per cent in the past two years.
"My warning would be to think long and hard about letting the man stay at home,' she says. 'I know it is very trendy for the wife to be the breadwinner, but in my professional experience this decision will strain
the marriage. It may be fun at first to say 'I have a househusband', but the wife will quickly begin to resent the fact the man is not pulling his weight financially.
"She will think: 'You're not supporting me' - within all of us I think there is still a very deep-seated belief that men should be the protectors. A gradual lack of respect begins to eat into the relationship, and it puts men in a very vulnerable position.
"The role these men are performing at home is, of course, very valuable, but women can find it very hard to recognise and respect a man who is doing it."
It's a marital timebomb which exploded under Richard Dean's relationship with little warning, yet he and his wife embarked on their "househusband" experiment with high hopes.
Richard says: "Our elder son was just a baby and I was intrigued by the thought of spending all day, every day, with him. It didn't offend my masculinity at all - we'd also just moved into a bigger house and there was a lot of renovation work to be done, so when the baby was asleep I would don my hard hat and do some building work.
"I know my grandfather and my father could never have been househusbands, but I didn't see why there should be a social stigma in this day and age." Balance quickly shifted
But Richard says the balance in their relationship quickly shifted.
"I was happy to do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping and washing, but I began to feel that Louise was taking me for granted," he says. "She'd come home exhausted after a ten-hour day, and I'd be desperate to chat, to have some adult conversation, but she'd say she was too tired."
He says he poured his heart and soul into being a good "mother", more so after their second son was born two years later. 'I made sure I structured my days with the children - I took them swimming, we went to the park and I did lots of activities with them, like reading and crafts. I lived and breathed those children, but not once did I regret the decision to put my career on hold.
"Yes, it's hard not making your own money, but I was doing the essential job of bringing up our children."
But then the hammer blow fell, and Louise walked out, taking the boys with her.
"I begged her not to go, but I think she had simply decided she could find someone more dynamic than me," he says sadly. "Suddenly, the children I'd cared for since they were babies were being taken away.
"It's all very well to be a househusband, but she had come to look down on me, to think of me as not very masculine, and not hard-working. It was as if all the things I did around the house didn't count - that was nothing compared to how hard she had to work in her mind, which was so unfair.
"And the great irony was that we'd decided together that I should stay at home with the children."
While the pain of the separation was humiliating enough, worse was to follow when Richard attempted to establish proper contact with his children.
For two years he fought through the family courts, desperately trying to gain full access to Jack and Edward. And at the same time, he was forced to find to meet maintenance payments. Having effectively quit his career five years earlier, he had to start at the bottom all over again.
"I was left out in the cold," he says. "It left me in an impossible situation, because I'd been out of the workplace for five years, caring for my children, and yet now I was expected to get straight back to work and start paying her some maintenance."
The moment Richard's wife said she was leaving him and taking the children, she changed her working hours from full to part-time so she could spend more time with the boys, while her mother helped with the rest of the childcare.
"It was very cleverly done," he says. "I've had to take a series of menial part-time jobs just to keep me going financially, and on top of all that I've had two years of solicitor's bills in taking my wife to court to get better access to the children, which has cost me at least £12,000.
Richard is still desperately fighting for better access to the two children he did so much to raise, but now sees only every other weekend. 'It's no wonder I am suffering from stress, and have gone from living in the lovely home we owned to a two-bedroom flat in a much rougher area of town.
Vanessa Lloyd-Platt says there is a huge problem built into the legal system at a time when more and more fathers are becoming primary carers for their children.
"There has been a massive turnaround in roles within a marriage, but there is still a very strong belief in the legal system that allowing the father to have residency of the children is somehow against the natural order of things, and many judges still believe the children will be better off with their mother."
It's a conundrum which is all too familiar to 46-year-old James Thomson, who works as a mechanical engineer, but prior to this was a stay-at-home father to his three daughters, Alice, 14, Chloe, 11, and Amy, eight. He lives in Manchester, and like Richard, he found that his marriage to Angela - a 43-year-old who runs her own communications company - began to crumble once he had given up his job.
James says: "We made the decision that I should stay at home when Alice was 18 months old. Angela was earning twice as much as I was. Up to that point we'd had a child-minder, but it felt as if neither of us was spending much time with our child.
"Alice would scream when we dropped her off with the child-minder, so it was obvious that all was not well. We then had a two-week family holiday in Greece and talked about the future. It became obvious that by the time we'd paid a child-minder and both of our petrol costs, there wasn't a lot left from my wage. It actually made financial sense for me to be at home.
"To my surprise, I slipped into the role with real ease. I shopped, cleaned, washed and cared for Alice, and then Chloe and Amy once they came along. Alice was with a childminder for just under a year before I gave up my job, and I was a househusband for about 11 years until we split."
James says that as a househusband 12 years ago he was very much in the minority, and many mothers were very distrustful of him.
"There weren't many couples doing this when we first made the decision, and I think some other mothers thought I was trying to seduce them when I'd chat to them at coffee mornings and play groups,' he says.
"In the park, they'd all be sitting chatting to each other while I rushed around physically playing with my kids and they ignored me.
"Then when my wife came home she'd plonk herself down in a chair and put on the TV or read a magazine and ignore me, too, while I was still running round with the children.
"I suppose I did resent this, but I thought that was the trade-off. The children meant the world to me. But then, in 2005, our relationship broke down completely. We were hardly talking to each other, and she was spending longer and longer out of the house.
"One day she came home suddenly and told me that she didn't love me any more, and she was fed up with being the main breadwinner.
"It came out of the blue to me - we'd jointly agreed that this was the best plan, and it was as if the rug was being pulled from under my feet to be told that she was not happy and deeply resented having to earn all the money.
"Further arguments followed and over the course of several months they got more and more heated until in the end I told her to pack her bags and get out if she was so miserable. At first the children stayed with me and she visited them, but then she took me to court."
As both Richard and James were to discover, the British courts still favour the mother when it comes to deciding where the children should live in divorce cases, even if the father has previously been the primary carer.
James has 50-50 care of his children - he has them for one week, his wife the next.
"I suppose I should be grateful that I have a half-share in my children, but it doesn't feel like that to me at all - I miss them so much," he says.
"I just have to put up with what little time I have with them, and be grateful for that.
James says: "It's madness that in this day and age fathers do not have more rights over their children. I think it's appalling that courts should be able to rule that a father's needs are somehow less than those of a woman. Just because someone gave birth to the children doesn't mean they love them more.
"I cope by working very long shifts when my children aren't here, and my company has been really helpful and understanding in letting me work flexible hours when I need to pick them up from school."
David Williams, 48, from Cardiff, is still fighting his wife Mandy, 39, for custody of their four-year-old daughter, Alexandra, after they split up two years ago.
He used to work in social services, but is now retired through ill health. His wife used to work as an administration officer, but has given up full-time work to care for their daughter.
Like Richard and James, he feels much of his masculinity and power in the relationship was lost when he gave up his job to become a househusband.
"It is ironic, given that for hundreds of years women have been perceived solely as housewives and mothers, and yet their role has been regarded as essential to society and they have been respected and valued for it," he says. "But once I gave up my career, I lost prestige both in society and in the eyes of my wife. It was as if I had no value.
"There were times in our marriage when I felt as if I was being treated like a subservient Victorian housewife. I'd be criticised if the washing wasn't hung out exactly how my wife wanted it and she used to check to make sure that I had cleaned the house perfectly, checking for dust and badly-washed plates.
"My wife was a real control freak and she wanted everything to be done perfectly. My standards weren't good enough, even though I had run a house perfectly successfully on my own before I met her. I spent my days cooking and cleaning, as well as doing everything for our daughter."
David is still very bitter about the outcome of their divorce.
"Even though I had been looking after my daughter for two years, when it came to our divorce the judge assumed my wife should be the one to have custody of our child - just because she's a mother," he says.
"This was despite the fact she was working full-time, and I had been the primary carer. Now that she has full custody of Alexandra, she works part-time from home. It is a situation that makes me weep - I miss my daughter so much."
He now lives alone, in the little cottage he owned before he married, and sees Alexandra only every other week.
"She lives 110 miles away from me, away from the friends she made when she lived in our village, and my family, in the area that was her home. I'm allowed to see her for two weekends a month. That means a round trip for me of more than 200 miles. It is annihilating me, both emotionally and physically."
If current trends are anything to go by, the number of men deciding to become househusbands is set to rise even more dramatically.
But how many of those men - who no doubt start out by regarding themselves as paragons of sensitive modern manhood - will end up wishing they had never left the office at all?
- Names have been changed to protect the identity of the children involved.
Househusband backlash as high-flying wives ditch men they wanted to stay at home
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