Watching Madame Vice President Kamala Harris during the inaugural proceedings evoked strong feelings in women across the country. So many tears were shed, tears of pride, tears of relief, tears of joy. Being able to tellI my daughter on our way home from school that the new vice president is a woman was hugely gratifying. I was not surprised that seeing a woman in a never before held position of power in our country’s government would be so touching to so many of us.
I was surprised by the feelings I experienced watching her husband, our country’s first second gentleman, Doug Emhoff, stand beside her in support. While first lady Dr. Jill Biden will continue her teaching career, making her the first wife of a sitting president to hold a job outside the official duties of first lady, Emhoff left the law firm he was working at to support his wife and her political aspirations.
As a stay-at-home parent, watching Emhoff stand next to and behind his wife during the pomp and circumstance of the inauguration touched me deeply. When people talk about stay-at-home moms, the focus is on the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing that takes up most of our time. Very rarely does anyone acknowledge the work I put into my husband’s career.
I love my husband, and his career would be important to me even if it weren’t our main source of income. But, of course, it takes on more importance than when we were a two-income household. Yet the work I do to support his career is invisible. Everyone knows I manage all of the scheduling, shopping, and emotional labor involved in maintaining relationships both within and outside our home. When we discuss the worth of stay-at-home parents, we add up the dollars saved on things like daycare, cleaning services, laundry, and personal chefs. I know that my husband appreciates the work I put into our children and our home, but I don’t think he has ever considered the work I put into his career.
Culturally, our frame of reference still tells us that although I may be doing work that has value, I am still living off of my spouse’s income. There is not a check with my name on it being deposited in our bank account, after all. When it comes to my husband’s earnings, no one sees the work I put in behind the scenes, and therefore no one sees that money as my money.
Call me his life coach, personal assistant, analyst, advocate, resume builder, stress management guru, the work I do to support, encourage, and propel my husband is expected but completely ignored. It is the American ideal to have dinner ready, house and children clean to alleviate any stress of a hard work day on our spouse. “How was work?” is expected after-dinner conversation. I would be remiss if I didn’t show my love by being truly invested in the politics, grievances, and celebrations of my husband’s daily life at the office. But we don’t acknowledge or appreciate any of that work.
As a nation we have grown very used to the political spouse standing proudly by her husband’s side and taking on initiatives in support of his political goals and ideals. Watching former President Clinton campaign for his wife was a fairly new experience for most of us, and everyone wondered what he would do if she made it to the White House. Well, here we finally are. Though instead of a first gentleman we have a second, watching him stand beside his wife while she stepped forward to perform her political duties was very moving.
This visual, in stark contrast to what we have come to expect, is moving because as a man, the work Emhoff does (and the work he gave up) is automatically seen as more valuable than the work done by the countless second and first ladies before him. But I see myself, and all other supportive spouses in him. No one would negate the self-sacrifice involved in leaving a position at a prestigious law firm to support his wife’s career. In the same world, I am seen instead as profiting from my husband’s career. Everything I do is seen in relation to what he does.
We need to start acknowledging and appreciating the work stay-at-home moms put into our spouses’ careers. I am not only benefiting from the income my husband brings home, I am a part of the work that goes into earning it. We applaud the work political spouses put in, campaigning for and otherwise supporting the ambitions of their partners, we even recognize it as a full time job with its own title. Watching a man step into that role, watching Kamala Harris step in front of him to the second-highest position of power in this country — this is something I didn’t know I was waiting to see. I cannot wait to see more of it.
Add these books starring girls of color to your children’s bookshelves.