Can a marriage survive when the breadwinner is forced to become a househusbandHigh-flier KEITH KENDRICK reluctantly swapped roles with his wife. A year on, the results have astonished them both
A mother eyed me curiously at my sons’ school fair, where I was manning the kitchen, baking baguettes and heating up soup.
‘You’re a real Beta Male, aren’t you’ she said. For a moment, I thought I’d misheard her. ‘You mean a Better Male’ I asked. ‘No,’ she replied. ‘A Beta Male, as in, not an Alpha. An Alpha Male would never be caught dead in the kitchen. Mine certainly wouldn’t. He’s a classic Alpha Male.’
I didn’t know how to take this. Was she insulting me, or paying me a compliment There was no question, however, that she had a point: I’m not an Alpha Male. But I used to be.
Man of the house: Keith has learnt to love his new role
Exactly one year ago, my 42-year-old wife Rebecca and I swapped roles.
I went from being a senior executive at a magazine publishing company to one of thousands looking for work after redundancy. Then I became a reluctant housedad to our three children — my stepdaughter Daisy, now ten, and our sons Tom, seven, and Sam, four. At the time, I was devastated.
I loathed my new domestic existence, which required nothing more intellectually demanding than working out the settings on the washing machine. I envied other people who had jobs and what I saw as purpose.
I envied my wife, for her success as a magazine editor, but, primarily, for her ability to bring home the bacon. All I was good for, it seemed, was cooking that bacon with a couple of fried eggs. Sunny-side very much down.
What I didn’t realise then was I was part of a growing trend — and that many men would chew their right arms off for the chance to do what I was resenting.
The number of men living as househusbands while their wives go to work has tripled in 15 years. A recent survey for insurance company Aviva suggested up to 1.4 million men in Britain were their children’s main carers.
'I didn't want to be a househusband. I wanted to work, earn my keep, maintain my status. Feed my ego'
Many believe that one of the reasons behind the trend is that society’s attitudes to the roles of men and women have changed.
Among the fathers polled, 43 per cent said they felt lucky to have the opportunity to stay at home and bring up their children, but 46 per cent said the decision to stay at home was taken to allow the family’s main earner to keep working.
I fall into this latter category. Before my wife and I swapped roles, I had applied for dozens of jobs. I came close a couple of times, but ultimately failed.
And so, after nearly ten years as a mum and freelance writer, my wife started job hunting too — and was successful.
Our traditional views on what our roles should be — Mum at home looking after the children, Dad at work earning a salary to pay the bills — went out of the window. This wasn’t about ideology; this was survival.
And so my wife went back to the workplace, and I lived in denial for a while.
I didn’t want to accept that I was a ‘house husband’. The term brought to mind weirdy-beardy blokes knitting sweaters out of lentils and dressing their children in gender-neutral smocks. I didn’t want to be a part of that tribe. I wanted to work, earn my keep, maintain my status. Feed my ego.
So, for the first three months, I continued to apply for jobs.
Daddy's boys: Keith with his sons Tom, left, and Sam
In between loading and unloading the washing machine, ironing children’s uniforms, ferrying them to and from school and scraping fish fingers off roasting trays, I put together ideas and presentations for potential employers who had been kind enough not to write off my abilities at the age of 47.
Twice I made it to a shortlist of two. Twice I got knocked back. And then, to my delight, I was offered a job. The salary was less than half what I was on before, but it was a job.
Then reality dawned: the salary wasn’t enough for my wife and I to swap roles even if she’d wanted to — which she didn’t. After tax and travel costs, I would have been taking home just enough to pay for childcare.
So, around nine months ago, I decided that if nobody else wanted me in their executive team, I’d create a position of my own. I’m now head of domestic logistics and child-related enterprise projects.
As soon as I changed my thinking about the hand that life had dealt me, I actually started to enjoy it.
I drew up a homework rota and called it the Housedad’s Homework Club. I taught my oldest boy to swim and cycle and, now, I’m teaching him how to play the guitar so he can become the rock god I wished I’d been.
'We've grown to accept our new roles, and we've discovered we're better at them than we were in our old ones'
I taught my stepdaughter how to help with the chores that are the bane of any stay-at-home-parent’s life. And there’ll be an iron in her brothers’ hands as soon as they’re old enough not to burn the house down.
While the children were at school, I started writing about my experiences for various magazines and websites.
But my biggest achievement has been becoming a half-decent cook.
My wife pays a monthly amount into my bank account, with which I manage the household budget. I plan meals ahead for the whole family, and I even bake for school cake sales.
At first the mums found me a bit of an oddity, but now I’m welcomed as ‘one of the girls’.
It took a while for me to get into the swing of my new responsibilities, however. Take, for example, the time I got a call from my son’s nursery.
Closer: Keith values the relationship he has developed with his sons and daughter Daisy as a result of being a househusband
‘Hello, Mr Kendrick’
‘Your son’s here.’
‘You’ve forgotten to collect him. It’s a half day today. We did tell you. He’s a bit upset.’
Time-keeping is not the only thing that’s sent me into a flap.
Other stresses have included emptying the washing machine to find the children have left tissues in their pockets; anything involving sewing (some things are, and must remain, women’s work — end of); and forgetting to buy cards and presents for my children’s friends’ birthdays.
Then there’s DIY. I know men are supposed to be Bob the Builder clones, but I spent nearly 30 years in a job that largely involved tapping on a keyboard. Leaky bathroom taps are beyond my remit.
There’s also the more serious issue of the Green-Eyed Monster paying me a visit once in a while.
For example, I was ironing my wife’s dress when I received a text message that made steam come out of my ears. ‘Home late. Still at lunch,’ my wife wrote.
It was 5pm and lunch was at the Savoy Grill, a posh London restaurant. She was sitting at the chef’s table with her boss, who had ordered more wine.
‘Fine,’ I texted back.
Breadwinner: Rebecca had been a stay-at-home mum until she landed a job as a magazine editor
And then I let the iron linger a little too long on the dress I was pressing for her to wear to an imminent industry dinner.
The reason for my petulant act was envy. Simple. I should be eating at chefs’ tables. I should be living it up at glamorous events. I should be the successful one. There’s guilt, too. My wife’s job is stressful and I find myself powerless to help shoulder her burdens.
But the biggest revelation during my year as a housedad has been how we have all adapted to the new order.
Before our role swap, the children would look to their mother for everything — guidance on homework, approval for a job well done.
My role was restricted to the wait ‘til your father gets home back-up when their behaviour was seriously out of hand.
Now they look to me — and that can be very hard for my wife.
The other day, our youngest son, Sam, fell and hurt himself in the playground.
When his mum got home from work she went to comfort him, but he brushed her aside and he headed towards me. ‘I want Daddy!’ he wailed.
I felt a pang of guilty betrayal for comforting him but, overall, we’ve grown to accept our new roles, and we’ve discovered we’re better at them than we were in our old ones.
I’m a bit of a taskmaster, and more routine-driven, so I draw up lists of what needs to be done and by when.
A quarter of women now earn more than their husbands
I’m better with budgets. Oh, and did I mention that I’m a better cook
My wife’s a better manager of people and has blossomed in a creative environment.
But I do miss the office camaraderie. Isolation is a problem for many stay-at-home parents.
There are only so many times you can play Guess Who with your children before you find yourself longing for some adult company. Thank God for social media. Before I became a housedad, I thought Twitter was for twits. Now I rely on it for company. I have 2,000 followers and have made some great friends.
It’s through Twitter that I learned there are loads of other housedads out there just like me.
Not weirdy. Not beardy. Just down-to-earth, funny guys going through the stresses and strains of raising their children, but who don’t take themselves seriously.
It has been an interesting year.
It would be Polyanna-ish to say our role reversal hasn’t had an impact on our relationship. There have been times when I have felt less than a man, which I put down to my working-class background as the oldest of four boys. But these moments are not significant.
If anything, our situation has brought us closer as a family.
Modern family: The new set up is working well for them all
I appreciate what my wife does for us, in terms of the stress she is under and the money she brings in; she accepts that I’m making a fist of something that wasn’t of my choosing, and that there are pressures to being a stay-at-home parent.
She knows because she’s been one. We’ve both walked miles in each other’s shoes.
Who knows what the future holds Will I be carted off to the funny farm after being forced to make one collage too many Will my wife run off with a businessman because he earns a packet, when all she has at home is a husband who spends it
On the same day last week’s report about the rise of the housedad was published, the issue was debated on a local radio station. The question being asked was: Are you embarrassed or proud to be a housedad
I’d never really thought of it in those terms before.
For me, being a housedad is a necessity. But when I think back to the mum at the school fair, I have another response. Am I proud You Beta believe it!
KEITH'S WIFE, REBECCA, SAYS
Rebecca Kendrick: 'Our priority was our children'
For the first few months after Keith lost his job, we both just assumed he would soon find another one.
But as the months passed and Keith’s
redundancy money started to run out, we realised we were going to have
to do something drastic.
Our priority was our children. We
wanted them to experience as little disruption as possible, and that
meant one of us being at home with them.
I had brought up Daisy, Tom and Sam
while building up a freelance writing career, but when Keith was turned
down for yet another job, we decided I’d have to look for work, too.
It was pure serendipity that the job I
have now became vacant. Before I gave up work to have children, I was
deputy editor on the magazine I now edit. The previous editor had left,
so I threw my heart and soul into landing the job.
At that stage, it wasn’t just a
question of desire, but also of necessity. As soon as I started work, I
quickly got into the swing of things and, to be honest, I wouldn’t swap
back even if a top opportunity came Keith’s way.
At first it was a struggle. Keith was
hardly a domestic God — he found it difficult to run the home, and to
deal with the fact that he was no longer the breadwinner.
Those first few months were the
hardest. Keith threw himself into tasks and put on a false front. He
never showed it to us, but I could tell how unhappy he was.
Meanwhile, I was enjoying my new job. I loved the buzz of the office, the banter with the girls.
It was stressful, but it was a different kind of stress to the one Keith has to deal with.
I completely understood how he felt
unfulfilled ferrying the children backwards and forwards, keeping the
house tidy and endlessly nagging the children to do their homework or
pick up wet towels after themselves.
But I also knew how rewarding it would be for him. He just needed time, and to accept the status quo and get on with it.
Most importantly, our children are
happy and thriving, and that is in large part due to the fact that Keith
is such a great, hands-on dad.