USA Today published a column from Sean Dunbar, 32, who is married with two children. “Why I won’t let my wife quit her job” is about how Sean won’t “let” his wife quit working even though she would like to. It sounds like controlling spouses’ career decisions is a general problem with his friend set. He begins by noting that his “friends are telling their wives to quit their jobs and be stay-at-home moms.”
Sean says he makes decent money so his friends ask him why his wife works. The wife is always referred to as his, never by name. None of the women who are being forced to stay in the workforce or to leave the workforce are named in the piece. Sean concedes that if his wife were to stay at home with their children, it would have “many benefits for the entire family.”
But, he says, “I want better for my wife. Am I a bad man for wanting this?”
I mean, we’re all stained by sin, so Sean’s not particularly special by being a bad person. But yes, he’s a bad man! There are all sorts of problems with this attitude. Namely, Sean is spending a lot of time thinking about what he wants and not a lot about what his wife wants. He lists all the reasons why he wants her to work and so by the time you read in the piece that Sean’s wife specifically said she’d like to stay home with the kids, you want to send her a help line. This is the picture of the couple that accompanies the USA Today column.
A friend sent the article to me with the note, “Area man doesn’t see he’s making decisions for his wife.” That he’s announcing the decisions he’s made for her under the claim of wanting “better” for her is particularly patronizing.
Sean says that other women look at him as if he’s insecure for wanting his wife to work. He admits he fears her staying home. He discusses how proud he is of how hard she fought for her college degree (working full-time and going to school full-time). He says that she’s proud of her college diploma and is a good worker. When she was pregnant with her second child, her mood began to change, though. He thinks it was because her bosses were concerned about maternity leave but it sounds like she simply wanted to raise her children:
She started asking me whether she could quit her job and stay home with the kids. I danced around the issue, telling her things would get better.
But my wife could not wait to have the baby and be done with work.
But what Mrs. Dunbar wanted was not relevant. See, Sean says he was “so afraid of my wife becoming stagnant,” which is, I guess, what he thinks of women who are homemakers. I am a stay-at-home mother, albeit one who has also worked full time for a few years, and trust me on this: the least stagnant I’ve ever been in my life was when I got to stay home to be with my children. They are a never-ending source of joy and challenges that are unmatched by any job I’ve ever held. Every day was different, unlike many years of office jobs I held. But yeah, Sean, thanks for the dig.
Sean’s wife is working a new job from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and he says she loves it. He admits that making time for the kids is “just harder.”
His friends think he’s a jerk and he wonders, again, if he’s a bad man for making her work “even though she says she wants to stay home with the kids.”
He justifies this by saying he’s “terrified she’ll lose her drive,” which I think is a reference to how he values her only in terms of her market value.
Take this line:
The happiest times I have seen my wife (besides with the kids) is when she has achieved professionally. I don’t want her to look back and say, “I could have done ‘this’ with my degree.”
Isn’t that sad? He realizes she’s happier with their children but he is so focused on her (unstated) professional achievements that he denigrates that vitally important work of motherhood and fails to see how much women who stay home achieve in their home lives. There’s an old saw about how “no one ever says on his deathbed that he wished to spend more time at work.” But this conventional wisdom is becoming hate speech in an era where women are pressured to work full-time no matter if they want to or not.
Sean is a bundle of fears, saying he’s worried that if he doesn’t force her to work, she’ll feel inferior to him and resent him. And he goes on to note how much he hates women who raise their children at home:
More so, I think about our daughter. I don’t want her seeing mommy at home, thinking she needs to do the same because that’s what she grew up seeing.
I lay in our daughter’s bed at night, talking to her and listening to her dreams about going to Mars or being the first female president.
We don’t talk about her dreams of becoming a trophy wife or stay-at-home mom.
What the what? He equates raising one’s own children rather than paying someone else to do so with being a trophy wife? In what world does that make sense?
Anyway, let’s get to the end of this trainwreck:
A self-sufficient, independent professional also keeps a husband on his toes.
I mean, no offense, Sean, but you don’t really seem to be on your toes so much as on your back, on a digital therapist’s couch, telling the world about all of your greatest insecurities. And you’re making your wife — and your children — pay the price for your issues.
Listen, I’m sympathetic to the idea a husband would want his wife to work. Sometimes I talk to my husband about whether I could quit working and he strongly encourages me to keep working. But it’s because he genuinely thinks it’s good for me. And he doesn’t tell me what to do or make me do things against my wishes! And I don’t think I ever felt so valued as a woman as those early years with my children when I was so appreciated by my husband and babies.
This guy’s denigration of stay-at-home mothers combined with forcing his wife to work some 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. job against her wishes, shows how confused our messages to women are. It reminds me of when President Obama said of women who leave the workforce to raise their children, “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”
Actually, women leaving the workforce to raise children is an excellent decision for a woman to make. Another important thing to remember is that this discussion should not be about simply full-time work or leaving the workforce. Some six in ten women with children at home say they’d like to work part-time. If it occurs to Mr. Dunbar to be so generous as to “allow” his wife such an arrangement, that might be the best of all worlds.