Money is power in a relationship. And the person who earns the most money, generally holds the balance of that power.
Another reality is, the partner who elects to stay out of the workforce to be home with the children is usually the woman of the pair. This may be a generalization, but demographics bear me out on that one.
I see lots of young women getting into the marriage and baby years, and they are not having those preliminary negotiations with their partners. It is alarming that many of them don’t consider that the money earner has the unspoken advantage. Their mothers knew it in the 60’s and 70’s and it is what made them break out of the home to embrace careers.
We owe a debt to the women who were brave a long time before the current generation made our way through the maze of careers. They are the people who paved the road for our current vast selection of life choices. In the 1950’s to 1970’s they were simply expected to stay home. They didn’t even have to push out children, they could stay at home and do wife things (whatever those are). More importantly they were generally not welcomed in the workplace anyway. I watch Mad Men and it reminds me of working in a financial industry that looked a lot like that for real. I remember learning the hard way that the old boys club was really old, and very boy.
There isn’t a right or wrong choice to work or stay home when we raise a family. Our parents’ generation gave us the luxury of choice. But every time I hear women discuss the issue, they do so from the narrow-minded perspective of the here and now. Working or not we should really think ahead a little. We need to talk about the repercussions of the choice ten or twenty years down the line.
Another challenge is that modern gals who have the bigger money job often don’t understand how to wield it properly and still do most of the chores and kid stuff anyway. Or if they stay home, they choose to be the lower earner, but then neglect to prepare for how much it tips the balance in their relationships.
During the many discussions that bubble up around the issue of work outside the home, childcare, stay at home Motherhood, homeschooling and all the options, there is a huge gap that isn’t often acknowledged as important. Nobody talks about income. It is like this big scary drooler in the corner that we ignore and try not to notice.
Before I talk about why money is important, I want to pull out and look at the emotional issues around having no income of your own, and what it feels like to get an allowance from your man. Call it what you want, but it sucks, and it is one of those things that causes women to feel like they just can’t cope, or catch up to the person they were before they gave it up to stay home. And if hubby happens to be a dick about money, the whole thing feels a bit like hell.
Many women who choose to stay with the children consider the years at home as a deterioration of their skill sets. Across the gap are those who work and adjust their home lives to fit around their careers, all the while worrying like hell about their kids.
The circles of home-Moms and work-Moms don’t always overlap unless one is doing childcare for the other. I work, and always have. I am a professional and have made some sacrifices to stay on track and also to be a Mom. The best conversation I ever had on the topic was incredibly eye opening for me. I was chatting with a mother from my child’s school who stayed home with her kids. We had an honest moment beyond the usual small talk and shared our thoughts and worries. She assumed I had my shit together, and I thought she was the one with the peaceful vibe, and was all chill and happy. Neither of us were entirely comfortable with our own life choices, and neither of us had the capacity to trade roles. So be it.
What I chose not to address in that conversation was the money. I knew she earned nothing and her husband footed the bill for their life. There is no delicate way to bring that up, nor is it any of my business. To discuss it doesn’t keep your friendships whole, so nobody speaks of it. If you do bring it up, the angry cat with claws will talk about how much value her work in the home actually has and she is right. Unfortunately, she just doesn’t really believe it herself.
I remember a friend who was making about 20% of what her husband did. I asked her why he had to do so much of the housework when he had “primary breadwinner privilege”. She was shocked at the idea and made damned sure I didn’t talk about that little gem around her husband.
Like it or not, primary breadwinner privilege exists and is often the crux of the power balance issue. Wielding it constructively for either spouse is a matter of fair and honest negotiation. Whoever earns the least should have to pick up the difference in other ways for there to be truer equity. If you are the primary money source for the family, for crap’s sake don’t do all the housework and kid stuff as well.
The point of all of this is about protecting yourself as a female. I know enough about the legal system in most places to say that it is a shit show when the wife has to fight in divorce court when she has been a Stay at Home Mom. She not only has to fight for and get living expenses, she often has to deal with moving to a smaller home and finding a job. Even if you get 50% of everything, it doesn’t work out to a great lifestyle. Then, having been at home with no concept of the workplace anymore, it becomes stunning and scary to reenter the workforce.
So now, in this worst case scenario, you have no way of staying in the family home, a complicated custody sharing schedule that often ends up in court and the man has found a way to hide all the income, or a large part of it, in his girlfriend’s back pocket. Your life sucks and you wonder why the hell you stayed home once the kids were in school full time?
Do something. Anything. Have your own income, and meet people who have jobs and ask them to mentor you. Get to know some of the tricks it takes to balance life and get some new clothes. People who are frenzied overachiever Moms and volunteer the hell out of everything are limiting their reach and need to at least consider having money of their own. If you have three or four kids, fair enough, daycare is crazy, but when they go to school (like actually go to school, outside your house) then you need to do something that isn’t a hobby. It is important to get real and stop focusing on justifying your position as a no-income worker bee at home. It is a grind and you know it.
You also need to understand that it is very possible your husband doesn’t really need you to be at home and without income. Men used to have pride in being an earner, they no longer follow that line so much. Now many of them are happy to do their part with the kids, and also earn some money. You should too.
And finally, it is a big deal for your children to see you work outside the home and have your own control of money. Think about what those snippy “why do you never give me enough money?” fights between you and your dude teach them. They learn to make damned sure they aren’t going to be subject to an allowance when they get married, which is good, but the downside is an unbalanced relationship might be all they know.
I know, it is hard to talk about because your husband is perfect and would never starve out your children, or you.
But he might.