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Ask Surly Amy: Pants Wearing PhD

Ask Surly Amy

Dear Surly Amy,

So, I’m in a relationship that is not traditional. My boyfriend of 5 years does not work and keeps up the house, while I am working on my PhD and working full time. We don’t want to get married and we do plan to have children one day.

The difficulty comes from my family who has vocally decided he is not a “man” because of our reversed traditional roles, they also are openly critical because he is Mexican, making jokes about how they won’t be cooking any beans and rice for him, etc… :(

When the mention of children comes up, my family is up in arms because we’re not “doing it right”. They openly discuss how they cannot have respect for him because he stays home. It doesn’t seem that anything I can say or explain to them can get them to give him an ounce of respect.

Any advice on how to get my family to show him, myself, and our relationship more respect?

~Pants Wearing PhD

Dear Pants Wearing PhD,

Ultimately, it’s your life and you need to to be at peace with whatever decisions you make for your love-life and your future family. If you are happy with your choices than approval from others won’t seem that important.

I see a lot of parents and extended families who can’t accept the choices made by their sons and daughters. I usually run across this attitude because of freedom from religion decisions and not so much from gender role and race issues but it ends up being a similar situation. The only worthwhile way to garner respect (if ever) for your decisions will be to show your extended family that the new family you are building is a happy, healthy, stable and loving one. One that works for you and your partner. This will undoubtably take time.

However, if they are ultimately unwilling to accept your partner because of race issues then you will probably be faced with a very difficult situation. You can politely but firmly ask them to keep their opinions to themselves but if children are brought into the mix I think it would be best to not expose them to any type of criticism based on their race. Perhaps tell your family that if they can not treat you and your partner (and potential children) with respect and acceptance then you will have to limit your time spent with them.

As for the working situation, I’m sorry but I have to ask this. Why are you working on a PhD and working full time? Many universities don’t even allow that. You mention that you don’t have children now, so what exactly is your boyfriend doing all day? Gender role reversal is one thing and not a big deal but we all need to pull our fair share of the weight. One very important part of a healthy relationship is being able to work together as a team. One of the reasons your family might not have respect for the boyfriend (race issues aside) is the fact that it seems like you are doing all the work. One would have to assume that if children were brought into the mix, you would be expected to do this work too. This is not ‘right or wrong’ but could lead to a very unfair and difficult situation for you to handle in the future especially when times get tough and that will lead to relationship trouble.

Got a question you would like some Surly-Skepchick advice on? Send it in! We won’t publish your real name, unless you want us to and creative pseudonyms get bonus points! Just use the contact link on the top left of the page.

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. I agree, my first thought was “Wait, she works and goes to school and he doesn’t work and they don’t have kids??”. This isn’t based on gender, a good female friend of mine who is frankly a little spoiled was for awhile a non-working wife. She said her job was “taking care of her husband and the house”. I thought she was lazy, and if this guy is not at least looking for work or increasing his education I’m afraid I think he’s lazy too. I mean okay, if you’re doing ALL cleaning, errands, maintenance, and cooking that is a lot. But lots of people do that much and manage to work full time. And if you don’t have kids, the housework is a LOT less – two adults typically don’t make that much mess.

    Kids are different – I would never judge a stay at home mom or dad. Being responsible for another human being IS a full time job. And racism from her folks is just not acceptable.

  2. Yeah – Pants wearing PHD’s family can go screw themselves, especially so far as racist comments are concerned. But Surly Amy makes a great point in the last paragraph. One person doing nothing but “keeping the house up” just doesn’t make any sense to me, whether they’re male or female. If there are children to be tended, I can understand, but having one person work full-time *plus* work on a PhD while the other just tends house makes no damn sense whatsoever.

    Really – tending house takes what, maybe 2-3 hours a day, max? You’ve gotta maybe cook a couple meals, vacuum a couple times a week, take out the trash, clean a litter box, dust, get the mail, pay bills? Sounds to me like Pants Wearing PhD has let her boyfriend get into a lazy rut.

  3. The question I ask is: Is there a medical or mental health reason the man isn’t working. I have a chronic medical condition and for years I was unable to work while trying to balance out my medications. The Husband and I didn’t advertise what was going on and I was able to do volunteer work so we didn’t get overt criticism. Perhaps a similar situation exists here?

    Or perhaps he’s lazy. If he’s lazy that she need to decide if he’s worth supporting and carrying for the rest of her life or if she could do better (I bet she could do better!). But that is HER choice, not the choice of her blatantly racist family.

  4. I’m going to agree with the majority, both in the “tell your family to politely go and fuck themselves” and the “what does he do all day” questions. Hell, I have the same questions about a friend of mine’s wife, who constantly complains that she wants more hours at work and she wants to work and… their house is a pigsty. He has an insane shift work schedule, with a lot of heavy labor on the Houston docks, but he still does his share of work around the house.

  5. Whew, glad to know even though I TRY VERY HARD to be open minded, I’m not alone in thinking the home-husband need to do a little more to balance the scales.

    Of course people have no respect for the grown adult who sits at home all day and does next to nothing! No matter what race or sex, unless your partner is disabled or locked up in a cage in full fetish gear, there’s no excuse for them to be pulling their weight in the relationship.

  6. holy crap, PWPhD and I must live parallel lives. My partner is of another race (First Nations), which had lead in the past to all sorts of conflict with my family, including having them sit me down and tell me that if we ever had children, he could run away with them to the reserve and I’d never see them again (despite the fact that he’s never lived on a reserve and hates it there). He’s less educated than me, it’s true, but he’s not lazy. He used to work in mining, but while you can make a lot of money at it, those types of jobs require you to be away from home a lot and we decided that the 2 week on/2 week off schedule wasn’t for us. He tried going back to school, but found it wasn’t for him. For the past year, he worked mostly minimum wage jobs while he tried to find something better to do, and those jobs have now led to a modest management position. My family is still of the opinion that he has no business being with a woman with an advanced university degree and constantly harass me about when he’s going to get off his butt and support me, which I find kind of offensive. I understand that in our current situation, we might not make as much money as we could with 2 significant incomes, but we manage to be happy with what we’ve got. So I’m attempting to ignore them and live my life as happily as I can. It’s all I can do, really.

  7. PWPhd is not asking for advice on how to fix her bf. Dumping on him is not helping her.

    Amy’s advice is good. I would like to add:

    You and your bf need to present a united front. What that means is that you need to make it clear that any disrespect of your bf is also disrespect of you. Part of that is insisting that if they want a relationship with you, they must be accepting of him, and your relationship with him. (Acceptance is the most you can demand.)

    If you back that up by walking out any time a family member starts in on him, no matter what, you can probably make it stick. If they don’t come around, there is probably nothing you can do. Give them time, though. Be prepared for a period of estrangement.

    At some point, you may be forced to make a choice: family or bf, as it may not be possible to have both. At least, not happily.

    Good luck.

  8. I’m going to withhold judgment, based on the lack of information here.After all, it is not clear if the man is looking for work or not,and in this economy, he might be unable to find a match for his skills right now.Also, “taking care of the house” could be just cleaning up,but it might be that he is actively remodeling it,which is an enormous task,but we just don’t know.
    She sounds as though she is OK with the situation,so maybe he is doing much more than is implied.

  9. I pretty much agree with all points posted regarding the proper response to family and the concern for the partner contributing equitably. And of course “equitable” is subjective.

    A little of this parallels my life. I’ve got a PhD and work full time. I generally refer to my spouse as a stay-at-home-cat-daddy, because he’s not employed. He matches my economic contributions with funds that he has inherited. He does most of the cat care, especially the medical care of our fosterlings. He runs errands. It’s awesome to have somebody else renew your car registration! And do the grocery shopping. Neither of us does a whole lot of cleaning, but he’ll clean the bathroom before we have company. We both have pretty high tolerances for squalor. He vacuums. I do most of the cooking, he does most of the washing up. I do most of the laundry. I do most of the yard work/gardening. He takes out the garbage. He does a lot of volunteer work for the local cat trap-neuter-return group. He rubs my feet and shoulders whenever I want. He’s the bee’s knees and the cat’s pajamas and I love him bunches. We’re both pretty satisfied with the equitableness of our life.

  10. I know it’s not what most people want to hear, but sometimes it really is just better to cut off contact with certain family members, especially when kids are involved. Just being related to someone doesn’t make us obligated to be friends with them.

    However, in this economy I wouldn’t be judgmental at all about one partner not having a paying job. He might be looking but not finding anything. It’s really not that rare anymore, but I do hope he is doing the vast majority of the housework. And if I could find a man who would do almost all of the housework, I would be completely willing to support him financially, even without kids.

  11. there could very well be a green card or other immigration status issue as a reason why the boyfriend is not working, as she says he is not a US citizen. I don’t really see any problem with their arraignment if it works for them, and especially if it’s an immigration status issue, when they have kids he’ll be able to step up to the plate. I wouldn’t assume he’s lazy just on this information, as people seem to have done.

  12. Pants Wearing PhD is taking advantage of this guy and I’ll tell you why: She openly states that they are going to have kids but the don’t want to get married .

    This means the poor guy will be a stay-at-home dad and housekeeper for a few years and once PhD lady is bored with him she’ll kick him out and he will have zero claim to the house, the kids, her income etc.

    I don’t have any issues with their work/home arrangement. But they need to be married if they want legal protection for their relationship.

  13. As a stay at home father who actually chose to quit his job to stay at home with the kids, I have been quite lucky that both our families support us. If I could only get them to stop muttering about me being an atheist behinds my back…

    Someone commented on him being out of a job because of the economy. Again as somebody who chose to stay home with the kids I get really upset when men qualify staying home with the kids by saying they are unemployed — like its a stigma, but the excuse of not having a job makes it OK.

  14. @here_fishy: My family is still of the opinion that he has no business being with a woman with an advanced university degree and constantly harass me about when he’s going to get off his butt and support me, which I find kind of offensive.

    I have a similar problem and I find it very irritating. My boyfriend is an artist – mostly graphic design and animation – and I’m a pharmacist – traditionally a pretty highly paid job, but I currently work in a hospital at a basic level. My boyfriend is extremely industrious but as his work is freelance his income is not regular or guaranteed.

    We’re both currently pursuing postgraduate degrees and are basically pretty broke. We don’t live together or have any solid plans for ‘the future’ but my mother, although she likes him, has expressed concerns that he won’t be able to ‘support me’. Sure mom, after all that lecturing about not ending up dependent like you were on my dad, and 4 years of university to get a professional degree, that’s what I look for in a partner – someone who’s really good at paying my bills.

    On the topic at hand, I would echo what others have said about taking a back seat from your family. If explaining your feelings and asking nicely isn’t working, then I’d imagine this isn’t only the only area of your life they’ll give you trouble in – especially if you have children. And there is never an excuse for racism.

  15. @icewings: The lack of a marriage license will not lessen anyone’s rights to a child if paternity is established or on the birth certificate. Visitation and custody are settled in the same legal manner if there are conflicts through a parenting plan, which is not dependent on a preexisting marriage or divorce decree. Also in many states a common law partner will have the same property claims as a spouse when there is a break up.

    As to the question, family can be quite the irritation with all their expectations and demands on other peoples lives. Shut up and smile are the most fundamental skills every relative needs to learn. Well that, and never loan money to, hold drugs for, or keep stolen property for a family member. And as far as no kids and not working goes, all I can think of is how nice it would be if the at home partner was at least working part time to save up for a house, condo or to throw money at an IRA. I have trouble imagining not working, unless your working at parenting, unemployed and working at finding a job, going to school, volunteering time, or retired. And it’s always seemed to me that productivity appears to be a hallmark of normal healthy human functioning.

  16. I think it takes a real man to take on a historically traditional female task. All the pansies are afraid that doing “a woman’s job” is going to expose the fact they’re not actually real men.

    If I was given the opportunity to be a “house-husband” and primary childcare-giver-person, I wouldn’t hesitate. Except I’m probably not the best choice when it comes to keeping a place tidy :/

    Anyway, as for family being openly racist, well, I’d say that means you’re also allowed to openly give them crap for their racist remarks. Don’t hold back and tear them a new one. I suggest including words like “Nazi” and “KKK” for extra shock value. If they don’t get the idea that they should just STFU, they never will.

  17. @exarch: There was a particular phenomenon my ex and I referred to as “Man Clean”… meaning that everything was nicely in order visibly, but anything I didn’t know where it was supposed to go got shoved in a closet, or in bins that were more or less “miscellaneous”.

  18. @Skept-artist:

    I was in no way being sarcastic. It may not be de rigueur , but I believe that men are important when it comes to raising children and they should have equal rights when it comes to custody and child support regardless of whether the female partner earns more money than they do.

    @ James Fox:

    Thank you for the clarification. Would a common-law partner also have rights to alimony in most states?

    I would suggest that anyone living in a situation where one partner makes all the money look into the laws of their state to make sure they are protected in the event of a break-up and particularly if they plan to have children together.

    As for the original question, to heck with the lady’s parents. She needs to grow a pair and tell them off if they make blatantly sexist or racist comments about her partner.

  19. I’m another full-time working, PhD-in-progress wife with a “house-husband” and no kids. I actually encouraged my husband to quit his job right about the time I was going back to school on the condition that he handle nearly all of the cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc. He was experiencing some health problems and work-related stress that were heading him for depression. Plus he didn’t really make that much money.

    He has since picked up a new career as a photographer and works between zero and 40+ hours any given week. When he started working again, I seriously had concerns about the fact that my dinner wasn’t going to be ready as soon as I got home everyday. House-spouses are a fantastic luxury even for the working spouse.

    My parents were a little concerned he might have been taking advantage of me but they hid it well. Now they love him and my dad (who refused to “let” my mom go to college back in the day) thinks that it is the greatest thing ever.

  20. My current graduation plan is to become a bum for about 6 months. On purpose. I will live off my husband (and any residual grad student stipend) and recover from a difficult 5-6 years of getting my PhD. But I won’t be a housewife- I won’t agree to clean/cook/do laundry. The 6 months is for rest… I very well may do a fair amount of housework, but as people have pointed out, housework for a couple living in a 2-bedroom apartment doesn’t take that long. I plan to brush up on a couple of foreign languages and write a book and do lots of rock climbing. My friends & family from overseas will visit, and we’ll go sightseeing. I’ll learn how to drive stick-shift on the opposite side of the road. And so on.

    After 3-4 months, I’ll probably start to get bored of staying home all the time and will start filling out job applications…. but right now 6 months- or even a year- of no-work sounds fantastic. I can travel and write and read and study verb conjugations. And watch TV. Lots and lots of TV.

    I’ll be a bum. But I’ll make everyone call me Dr. Bum.

  21. @icewings: I know that you were not being sarcastic. However I was being snarky.
    And I agree in general (sort of) with your assertion that
    “men are important when it comes to raising children and they should have equal rights when it comes to custody and child support regardless of whether the female partner earns more money than they do.”

    HOWEVER, in your first comment you made some really big assumptions:
    “This means the poor guy will be a stay-at-home dad and housekeeper for a few years and once PhD lady is bored with him she’ll kick him out and he will have zero claim to the house, the kids, her income etc.”

    You start out by characterizing him as ‘poor guy’, based on… what exactly? How do we know he will be the one at home with the child? We do not. And if that is the case, why is it bad? (I would LOVE to be a house husband one day.) And then you invent a story where the Bored PhD Lady runs off with @davew‘s cabana boy. What? Why is she suddenly cheating on him?
    We don’t have a whole lot of information to go on and lots of us are curious about some of the details about their current situation.
    But writing a fictitious future for them doesn’t have anything to do with anything.

    @jes3ica: Thanks for that :)

  22. IDK, sometimes being “nice” is just about as grating as the straight up bigotry. After I pointed out to my mom that she tends to be a bit judgemental of those who are not “from here” she started calling Mexicans “Spanish people”.

    When I politely reminded here that “Spanish people” are from Spain and that Mexican is not a dirty word she got all huffy at me. Apart from that I’m am simply amazed by how many “English people” there are here in Illinois.

  23. @James Fox: thanks!

    Sometimes, the thought of being able to sit in my PJs and watch TV all day (after graduation) is all that keeps me going day-after-long day.

    I am fortunate to have a wonderful partner who is supportive of my temporary bum plan. He’s even going to give me an allowance for clothes & other goodies.

    As he puts it, we’re trading off. I *will* get a decent paying job at some point, and he plans to go to grad school in a few years (I’ll support him then). He’s welcome to take 6 months off and be a bum after grad school if he wants :-).

  24. I would definitely tell the offending family members that if they can’t respect me and my SO, then good-bye! I don’t give family much of a free pass to be jerks.

  25. Short answer:

    Your relatives don’t approve of the way your immediate family (and he is family, whether he’s *legally* so or not) chooses to organize itself? Screw them. Not their decision.

  26. I’m with people who think that the judgment flew a little hard and fast against the guy taking care of the house. What we don’t know is any more than what PWPHD wrote, that he is taking care of the house.

    Her family has the problem, as a couple they don’t have it. I’ve been a stay at home dad, and I loved it.

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