What do you do when your husband, father of your child, love of your life, is not the role model you would like for your preteen son? My husband is a wonderful man who has overcome a lot in life. But since I make so much more at my work (he works part-time for minimum wage), he’s been content to let me do the heavy lifting for the family. My son (12) has started to “skate” on his homework. I worry that he doesn’t have a model for the value of hard work, or aspirations for success in life. What can I do?
The Family Breadwinner
It seems like your son does have an excellent model for the value of hard work and ambition—that role model is you. You say yourself that you’re doing the heavy lifting in your family, monetarily at least. And I’m sure your son isn’t missing the fact that you’re primarily responsible for supporting your family of three with your own earnings. I hope you aren’t discounting the power of the good example you’re setting for him just because you aren’t a man. To do that would be to do both you and your son a great disservice.
I also hope you aren’t suggesting that your husband can’t be a good role model for your son simply because he isn’t the primary breadwinner. To my ears, your husband sounds like an excellent role model, albeit not in the financial sector. You call him a wonderful man, the love of yourself, and mention that he’s overcome a great many obstacles to achieve the life he’s living today. From your compelling description of him, he sounds like an ideal person to help inspire your son to become his best self.
I want to push back a bit, too, on your sense that your husband can’t model “hard work” or “aspirations for success in life” while working a part-time job at minimum wage. There’s a lot of information missing from your short letter, but I’d ask you to probe into your impressions of him more deeply if you can. Perhaps your husband isn’t pushing all of his energy out into the workforce, but I’d wager that energy is going somewhere.
Does he work hard at home, keeping the house in order, preparing meals, helping your son with his homework? Does he have a hobby in which he works hard to excel? Does he play guitar or train Labrador retrievers or crochet? Does he know every clap and chord on every Beatles’ B-side ever recorded? Is it possible that your son is seeing ways that your husband works hard that you just don’t see?
Your definition of ambition could be similarly expanded. I happen to think that raising a kid into the tweenage years is a very ambitious project indeed. I’m sure your husband has other goals as well. Maybe you should ask him to share them with you, explicitly. Make sure he’s sharing them with his son, too.
I think the problem here isn’t that your son doesn’t have a good role model. He has two! I think it’s that your ideas about what qualifies someone to be a good role model are a bit too rigid. Why should you have to be a man in order to model for him the satisfaction that comes from reaching your full potential in the workplace? And why should your husband be deemed a failure because his accomplishments have come in other arenas? You seem to view your little domestic microcosm as a failure when, to the outside observer, it seems like a runaway success!
You have a fantastic opportunity here to send an important and lasting message to your son: that one’s successes in life should not be defined by one’s gender. To give him this gift would awaken inside him myriad possibilities for a life well lived. It would also expand his worldview in ways that could pay off down the road. When it’s time for him to arrange his own little universe at home, he won’t have just one idea of what a successful household looks like. Instead he’ll see lots of possibilities and arrangements. The future can be a mysterious and fertile place, if we let it—a map whose landmarks are limited only by our vision of what we can build.
You and your husband have built something really spectacular. Don’t discount it just because it doesn’t look exactly like you thought it would.
Aubrey Hirsch is the author of “Why We Never Talk About Sugar.” Her work has appeared widely in print and online. You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch