As the struggling economy leads to layoffs, some Alberta families are seeing mom and dad undergo a traditional role reversal.
More and more husbands are spending their days at home with their children, while their wives are working outside the home in order to pay the bills.
The Kelly family in Ponoka, Alta. has been operating that way since father, Justin, was laid-off from his job as a drilling field safety supervisor in September.
“Gone are the days when you talk to other adults and with my job too, sometimes you’re on the road and you’re checking into a hotel,” explained Kelly. “There’s nobody tugging at your shirt going, ‘Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!'”
Justin said the transition to being a stay-at-home-dad came with challenges.
“You can’t go to the bathroom without two kids climbing on you and asking what you’re doing.”
His wife Lauri started working full-time as a social worker, and is now looking for a second job to make ends meet for their family of four.
A typical morning in the Kelly household sees Lauri out the door early to get to work, while Justin wrestles with getting the kids up, fed, and changed.
Three-year-old Sloane is keen on helping dad make breakfast.
“Is it ready?” she asked, poking at the pancake batter on the grill. “No, not yet,” Justin said. “We’ve got to let the bubbles come up a little more.”
Meanwhile, 16-month-old Brock is half-eating, half-playing with his food in his high-chair — all the while sneaking treats to the family dog, Trigger.
The scene means Justin will have a mess to clean up when breakfast is over.
“For an unemployed guy, I’ve never worked this hard in my life, for sure,” Justin laughed. “It’s the worst paying job I’ve ever had too.”
Since the role reversal, Justin is especially appreciative of everything his wife has done.
“You always knew it was hard. But you notice how draining it is. You go 24/7, there’s no spare time. They don’t care if you’re sick, they don’t care if you’re feeling lazy, they don’t care what your mood is for the day.”
Justin said it took time for him to adjust to his new role within the family.
“As a man you’re used to being the breadwinner and going to work and providing for the family. Now my wife’s doing that and I’m here at home making pancakes and painting pink snowmen.”
Registered psychologist Jason Jones said it’s normal for parents to struggle with the swap.
“Dads should not expect themselves, nor should their partners or their kids, expect them to just come into it and be great, and be happy and love it and everything it going to go well. It’s a very difficult job,” Jones explained.
He said it’s important for take the time to come to terms with being laid-off and express the emotions they’re feeling.
“That’s a part of their identity that they’re losing. So they have to grieve that. Then they have to adjust to what their new life will be like. And it’s not really by choice,” he said.
Jones said everyone handles hurdles like being laid-off differently.
“They’re not the breadwinner anymore. Now they’re the caregiver. Some people are going to be more comfortable with that than others. For some people it’s going to come much more naturally. For others it’s going to be really tough because they have to mourn at the same time they’re trying to create a new sense of who they are.”
Justin’s new outlet is a blog, called “Mister Mom,” where he chronicles his days at home with Sloane and Brock. He said he wanted to leave behind something his kids can look back on when they’re older.
He’s pleased with the feedback he’s getting from other parents, especially when he’s lacking adult interaction at home.
His personality is also helping him enjoy the role reversal.
“I’m a pretty easygoing guy and if we get dirty, we get dirty. If it looks like a bomb went off, it went off. Then we deal with it.”
He also credits his kids with putting a smile on his face every day. He said it’s a form of therapy.
“You don’t worry about the price of oil or jobs when these guys are doing goofy things and you’re spending time with them.”
“One thing I’ll probably always remember is Sloane getting in the truck and asking for AC/DC’s ‘For Those About to Rock’.”
For now, Justin is trying to look on the bright side of the position his family is in, thanks to the low price of oil.
“It’s fun to watch them grow, there’s a lot of stuff I’d be missing otherwise. Years down the road I’ll look back on this time and be thankful that I had it.”