The secret is out. When it comes to women hitting the corporate glass ceiling, the elephant in the room has broken through. Women can have it all... as long as they have a wife at home to take care of the kids.
Is it a push for universal lesbian parenting? No, but a recent New York Times article, "Wall Street Mothers, Stay at Home Fathers" simply highlights what pre-feminist wives and mothers, from June Cleaver to Carol Brady, knew all along -- if one parent is going to succeed in the highly competitive, hour-stealing, travel-heavy world of upper management, then babysitters and housekeepers just won't cut it. The brutal demands of Wall Street finance or Fortune 500 executive leadership simply do not allow for the distractions of multiple school pick-ups, doctor visits, science projects and parent-teacher conferences.
Men Have Masculinized the Stay-at-Home Model
The good news, though, is that it doesn't seem to matter which gender the stay-at-home parent is, contrary to many assumptions about proper societal roles, as long as it is a parent. Most of the fathers interviewed, and many of the commenters, played down the myth of emasculation that's usually associated with stay-at-home fathers. Instead, they emphasized their personal satisfaction in their role as nurturers, albeit with a decidedly masculine twist, such as spending time with their kids building birdhouses or throwing a football, over baking cookies or doing crafts.
Dads Are Less Fussy
Which brings up the other interesting component of the stay-at-home-father phenomenon, and why this once-derided idea might just have some legs. Ask a group of mothers what their biggest complaint is when the father is "in charge" of the kids, and most reply with the same two answers -- housework and hygiene, or the lack thereof. It seems that fathers, generally speaking, are simply not as obsessed as mothers about whether the kids are wearing yesterday's socks, shower only every other day or have dirt under their fingernails. If little Johnny falls and scrapes his knee, far fewer fathers go sprinting for the Bacitracin and a Band-Aid. Johnny will get brushed off and sent back to play. And isn't that a good thing?
Contrary to the 1950s dads who came home at 6 p.m. and buried their noses in the paper after dinner, or the 1990s TV dads depicted as clueless boobs who never knew the names of their kids' teachers or favorite stuffed animal, today's fathers are hands-on. They approach parenting much the same way they approached their jobs -- identify the problem, fix the problem and move on. They bring an ethic of teamwork and fun to the "job" of parenting, that, let's be honest, many mothers seem to lack. Minus the fussing and hovering of stereotypical mothering, kids of these stay-at-home dads may very well grow up with attitudes and skills that the rest of us, raised by mothers or non-parent caregivers, didn't develop until late adulthood, if at all.
Children Can Be Career-Killers
That's not to say you can't succeed as a mother in the corporate world unless you have the luxury of a stay-at-home father (and don't kid yourself, it is a luxury). After all, the other secret of the glass ceiling is that it's not a male vs. female battle at all -- it's a children vs. career battle. Unlike years ago, the modern woman usually isn't prevented from professional success by the demands of her husband; it's the demands of parenthood that'll kill her career.
If you're married but childless, then a housekeeper can conveniently take care of most domestic duties, freeing up both spouses to pursue their careers. Children, on the other hand, are inconveniently in need of at least one parent. Which is why, aside from anomalies like Yahoo's Marissa Meyer or Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, most of the extremely successful women are either childless, like Oprah Winfrey and Condoleeza Rice, or have achieved their highest successes after their children were grown, like Hillary Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. So, if you're a single mother pursuing a very high-profile, demanding career, the deck is probably stacked against you until the kids are out of the house.
Of course, if you don't have a compliant husband willing to raise the kids, or if you're a single or divorced mother without a partner, you needn't despair. In an age where we take for granted the conveniences of take-out food, "smart" appliances and video-conferencing, it's just a matter of time until some smart entrepreneur comes up with "Rent-a-Wife." And I'll probably be first in line.