It’s 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon, and instead of a gaggle of mothers waiting outside the elementary school to walk the kiddies home, there’s a herd of dads in Bermuda shorts who look a little embarrassed to be there.
It’s being called the Mancession. Men have lost three out of four jobs since the recession began in December 2007, and what once was deemed a temporary situation – or a hilarious scene from “Mr. Mom” – has become a new reality for many families.
Moms trek off to work while many of the men who once climbed the corporate ladder or strapped on a tool belt to make their living are now spending their days hunting the Internet for jobs as their self-esteem plummets faster than their bank accounts.
The Shriver Report – a study by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress – reveals that for the first time in our nation’s history, women are half of all U.S. workers. Mothers are the primary or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of all families.
It’s a dramatic social shift that was well under way before the recession, which is only accelerating the trend.
Said another way, June, Ward, Wally and the Beave left the building a few decades ago, and now the numbers prove it.
It’s the new normal. The problem is that many of the people experiencing it feel like they’re the ones who are the aberration.
A quick survey of the elementary school dads reveals that physical evidence aside – they’re standing there with a bunch of other dads – many men feel like they’re the only guy in the world who isn’t bringing home a big pile of bacon. And there’s often a huge amount of guilt and shame associated with not meeting what was basically a 1950s TV show standard.
So how do we cope? The first step is to be honest about the facts.
Olivia Morgan, a senior adviser on The Shriver Report – officially titled: “A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything” and available at www.awomansnation.org – says, “If we start by looking at the numbers, it will allow a more fruitful dialogue.”
Morgan, a mother of two who works at a small consulting firm and is also a recent appointee to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, suggests, “Having a national conversation about the realities of how we work and live today can move us toward solutions that actually benefit everyone involved.”
What might happen if instead of making value judgments about the way we think we should live, we turned our attention toward supporting the way we actually do?
I have to believe that much of the angst surrounding the Mancession isn’t just about money; it’s also about pride and emotions. For every man who is embarrassed to be at the 3:30 school pickup, there’s often a woman who feels guilty that she’s not there.
Many couples experiencing this role shift find themselves frustrated, depressed and often angry at each other, just at the time when they need each other most. Fights over who should do what, and who is or isn’t meeting expectations, are common amongst couples navigating new terrain.
But perhaps one of the reasons people find it so challenging is because they don’t realize how many others are in the same boat. Whether you got there by choice or by force, the new mash-up we call work and life doesn’t look like it used to.
The sooner we make peace with that, the quicker we’ll get over our embarrassment. It’s time to support what is, instead of wishing for what was.