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Real Life Stay-at-Home Husbands

Men pick up the slack as women for the first time make up a majority of American's workforce.

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If the decision was easy, adjusting to it wasn’t. With thick, dark hair and a nice smile, Joe, now 35, isn’t the type of man women usually ignore, but he found the very female world of playgrounds and playdates alienating. He faithfully attended playgroup sessions in their suburban neighborhood, the only adult male in the room, and as babies drooled on toys and ignored each other, their mothers dished. "It would be a gripe session about their husbands, then they’d take it to the next level and talk about the hot guys in the neighborhood," he says. "I’m like, What can I add?"

One day at his daughter’s tumbling class, a woman sat down next to him and struck up a conversation, to his delight after months of being ignored. But their talk turned into an interview. "Are you a stay-at-home dad?" she asked. "How does that work? Do you do the laundry and the dishes?!" He sighs. "I was like a science experiment to her."

It could be worse, says Todd. Sometimes the moms are downright unfriendly, offering only judgmental looks from across the playground. "If your kid is crying and you can’t console him, you think, Oh, my God, I haven’t calmed my baby down in one minute. These moms think I’m a hack," he says.

And the second-guessing doesn’t always stop at the park. Michelle Quiogue, a physician whose husband, Jason Sperber, stays home with the two kids, finds she has to curb her critical impulses when she walks in the door after a long day of seeing patients. "It’s a challenge not to say anything when there are dishes in the sink," she admits. "But I have to check myself — he wasn’t Martha Stewart when I married him, and he won’t be Martha Stewart now." Still, there are some things a mother can’t tolerate. Jason, a former teacher, is a wonderful, patient father, "but Lucy’s hair is often not properly combed," says Michelle. "I know he tries, but I don’t think he tightens the ponytail enough."

And what happens in the bedroom, when the Adonis you fell for has traded gym visits for mommy-and-me classes? Karen Gail Lewis, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist with practices in Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., says sexual issues can easily arise from the radical role reversal. "A wife may be initially drawn to a man because he is nurturing and willing to do this," she says. "But he can later look weak and inadequate," particularly if she spends most of her day with men who are ambitious, like herself. Lewis says she has clients in this situation who wound up having affairs — a man with another stay-at-home mom, and a woman (not in the same family) with a colleague.

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