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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!

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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!

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

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

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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