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Suzanne Power: If mum earns most who minds the baby?

A SCARY development of the current economic crisis is the number of women who have become sole breadwinners as well as procreators.

Not every man is happy to be a stay-at-home father. Some of the women I've spoken to are deeply resentful that Jack gets to be at home with the baby while Jill goes up the hill to the office.

"I wouldn't mind if he was any use at it," one of my friends says, whose son is being minded by a father who didn't realise that his nappy would have to be changed during the day. "He thought it could be done when I came home! If I had known it would end up like this I would never have agreed to have our son. It's like leaving him on Mars."

Before the crash he ran a successful construction business which had a niche market. But the property bomb destroyed all niches, so they ended up relying on her work as a teacher.

"I had to go back after six months to make ends meet. His worst nightmare is being in the house with an 18-month-old, and mine is not being there. We're trapped in each other's lives."

One of my closest friends went through the '80s recession and the same thing happened to her. "I came home from the first week back at work to find my husband on the floor, beside our girls, making me promise I would never leave him with them again. He went out to get a job and didn't come back until he had found some menial work that he could do at nights. We paid for the child daycare with this."

To me that sounded like he didn't give it a chance; in time he might have adjusted to the role. She is adamant he wouldn't have done: "There's a reason why men are men and women are women," she maintains. "A lot of the guys who took risks are unemployed this time round. Entrepreneurs tend to be mostly male -- look at Dragons' Den. If you marry one you end up rich or starving! Often both."

Her ex-husband and she starved and are now rich. They divorced five years ago and neither will ever have to work again because of how well he did in business. If she had forced him into the role of childcare their marriage might have ended a good deal earlier.

A woman who is more my sister than a friend is right now deciding whether she's going to get pregnant or not. She loves her man but knows that he is not likely to find a job for some time. He wants a baby, so does she, but she doesn't want the responsibility of being the sole breadwinner while he works on an idea that will take years to come to fruition: "Not only will I have to support him through that, and it's going to be a lot of work, I'll have to bankroll us. It terrifies me."

She has the womb and the job. She has the pressure and the pain of no choice in this matter. It's a dilemma more 30-somethings than ever face and there is no easy answer.

I'll leave it to my older, wiser friend who went through it all 30 years ago to answer it: "I never went through a crisis without coming out of it a better person. I think if you're honest about who you are and how little the situation suits, you can cut down on tension and arguments. Just by knowing neither of you wants it this way round means more than anything."