Menu

Breadwinner? Homemaker? Make peace with gender roles that work for your marriage

Who does the housework? The paid work? And who decides?

Breadwinner? Homemaker? Make peace with gender roles that work for your marriage

As a couple therapist and professor who trains graduate students to do couple therapy, I have up close access to lots of marriages, and lately, I have been talking with my students, colleagues, and clients about a tender and complicated trend.


The trend is this: a couple comes to therapy for “stated reason A,” but it soon becomes clear that something else is going on.

The couple’s so-called communication problem is actually a clash between their expectations and their reality with respect to gender roles.

For heterosexual couples, this typically means that she is doing far more bread-winning and he is doing far more caretaking than either of them had planned. If this sounds familiar, here are some ways that you can make peace with your modern family!

1. Create YOUR story

From our first days on this planet, we internalize tons of messages about what we should think and feel and do based on whether we inhabit a boy body or a girl body.

When the realities of our lives are aligned with the gendered messages we are being given, everything is groovy. But all too often the messages end up feeling like prisons, restricting and limiting our potential. One of the secrets to a happy romantic relationship is being aware of (and able to talk about) all of the cultural messages about gender that you and your partner have internalized. Talking about gender is so important that I devoted an entire lesson to it in my new book, Loving Bravely: 20 Lessons of Self-Discovery to Help You Get the Love You Want (New Harbinger, 2017).

When it comes to gender and marriage, the messages are loud! Our culture has lots to say about what “good wives” should do and what “good husbands” should do…especially about balancing work and family!

Although we have done a decent job shattering the glass ceiling for women, we continue to do a fairly lousy job supporting men as caretakers. This is particularly problematic as some have observed that today’s job market plays to women’s strengths and more households than ever have a female breadwinner.

In order to stay happy and healthy as you (by choice or by necessity) shake up traditional notions of breadwinning and caregiving, you must create a couple story—one that you both can get on board with and one that answers the following questions.

  • In what ways does your division of labor serve your needs—financially, emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually?
  • How is your division of labor a source of pride?
  • What are the benefits of your division of labor?
  • What does your division of labor allow you to witness in each other?

Creating a shared story about your choices keeps you connected with each other and reminds you that even if you occupy different realms, you are on the same team.

2. Shift your paradigm

When you boil it all down, every household has two basic needs:

  • The need to bring income into the household
  • The need to convert income into resources in the form of goods and services (groceries, dental care, new snow boots, etc).

Simple enough. But we as a culture do weird stuff with these two basic needs. We have decided that the first need is the responsibility of men and the second need is the responsibility of women. And, because we live in a patriarchy, we label the first need as higher value and the second need as lower value.

In order to live comfortably outside of traditional gender notions, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much less stress would you and your partner feel if you treated these roles as different, interrelated, and of equal value?
  • How much more compassion could you offer each other if you felt and expressed empathy for the challenges (and opportunities) inherent in both roles?

3. Be flexible

When her career takes off and his career does not, leaving her to occupy the traditionally masculine provider realm, she risks harboring feelings of disappointment and resentment.

The degree to which men and women can move beyond rigid and limited gender roles is the degree to which they can flexibly adapt to the ever-changing demands of life.

Even if you and your partner entered into your marriage agreeing to a particular division of labor, life (and the economy) may not cooperate! Resilience is about doing what needs to be done. Prevent disappointment and resentment by broadening your definition of what it means to be a provider, looking together for all of the other ways in which he provides for you—emotionally, sexually, spiritually, etc.

4. Build a loving fence

For some couples, the discomfort they feel about their division of labor is amplified by a chorus of friends and extended family (“When is he going back to work?” “Are you OK with him being home?”).

Marriages need boundaries.

When the boundary between your marriage and your tribe is healthy, you and your partner are able to feel connected to your network but also protected from input that feels undermining. Try being direct with your extended family—“I know that our marriage looks different than yours, but we could really use your support. This isn’t always easy for us either.”

Marriage is such a moving target! What worked for one generation does not work for another, and what works in one part of the world does not work in another. Factors ranging from economic to psychological lead couples to gender-bend when it comes to balancing the needs of work and family.

If you both commit to being aware, compassionate, and collaborative, you can create a modern family that ends up enriching the lives of everyone involved!

marriagegenderroles Motherly

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

Keep reading Show less
Our Partners

Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Talking to kids can come so easily. They have thoughts about everything and stories for miles. They see the world in a completely different light, and could ask enough questions to fill an afternoon.

But sometimes finding the right words for talking to kids can be really, really challenging. When choosing how to respond to the marker on the wall, or the seemingly unending why-can't-I battle, or in simply keeping healthy communication open with kids who don't want to talk, the words don't seem to come so easily.

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play