Behind the Scenes With A Female Breadwinner – And A Mom
Hi all! I’m Liz, the Chief Mom Officer, and I’m so happy that Millennial Boss invited me over to her site today to talk all about one of my favorite subjects – being a breadwinning woman and mother of my family of five.
I’m going to tell you the background of how we got to this work arrangement, talk about some of the challenges, and discuss a bit about how we manage money together.
Background – Or How We Ended Up This Way
My husband and I have had a number of different working arrangements since we first me twenty years ago.
When we met, we both worked in similar jobs making similar amounts of money. But by the time we were married four years later, I made slightly more than he did, but we were still roughly equal.
As I finished my undergraduate degree, and later my MBA, my income skyrocketed while his stayed about the same.
Part of this is because we decided it made was best for me to work during the day, and him to work second shift or part time nights and weekends, so someone was always home to care for our kids.
Then my husband lost his job in 2009 when the place where he worked closed. In the middle of the Great Recession, jobs were hard to come by, and so he stayed at home with our (then two) sons while I worked full time.
Spouse Health Challenges Made Me the Breadwinner
In 2012 my husband went into septic shock following what was supposed to be a relatively straightforward surgery with “a 99% chance of everything going well” according to the surgery.
He was in a coma in the ICU for a week, and away from home over a month in the ICU/hospital/rehabilitation. He wasn’t able to work, care for the kids, or even look for work for a long time after that.
A few years afterward, he did try working part-time for about a year with UPS, but suffered extensive damage with that job directly connected to fallout from that original surgery.
He had to leave, and then undergo an extensive reconstructive surgery when our youngest son was six months old.
After a months-long recovery, he’s been a stay at home dad to our now-three sons ever since.
Over the years I’ve been through many different work arrangements, but one constant since we were married is that I’ve been the primary breadwinner.
Part of why I write today is to help and encourage other women who are experiencing the same thing.
According to the Center For American Progress, 42 percent of mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner for their families. And yet somehow, we always feel alone, and it’s something no one talks about.
According to the Center For American Progress, 42 percent of mothers are the sole or primary breadwinner for their families.
The Challenges of Being the Family Breadwinner
There are some logistical challenges with being the primary breadwinner – some are the same regardless of gender, others are specific to being a breadwinning woman. Here are a few of the big challenges that I’ve seen over the past sixteen years.
- Societal Pressure – Despite that 42 percent figure above, people still look strangely at couples where the woman has the higher-powered job, and the man either has a lower-paying one or stays at home. Most seem to understand being the breadwinner when you’re a single mom, but not when you’re part of a couple. Even family, friends, and co-workers may say or imply that the woman in this relationship is being taken advantage of.
- The thing that annoys me about this is that no one says/thinks this when it’s the woman in the relationship who earns less or stays at home. No, that’s a good thing, and she’s a great mom doing wonderful things for her kids.
- Internal Feelings (yours and your partners) – If you and/or your partner were raised as part of a so-called “traditional” family where the man brings home the bacon and the mom stays at home or works for “pin money”, one, the other, or both of you might struggle with this arrangement. We internalize the way we were raised as the “right way”, and if we go against it we’ll struggle with how to feel. Women might feel resentment, and men may feel inadequate
- Stress – Being the breadwinner (or sole income earner, in my case) is stressful. Frankly I’m sure men experience the same sort of stress. What if I lose my job, become disabled, or get my pay cut? Since all the income and the insurance is through me, it can be stressful to think about all the things that could go wrong.
- Resentment – Both people in the relationship might struggle with resentment from time to time. From the woman’s perspective, it can be hard to see friends/co-workers/family members who “get to” stay a home, work a less stressful job, or launch their own business funded by their husband’s income. Honestly sometimes it’s hard for me when I head to work for, say, Veterans day and my husband and kids get to hang around the house, watch movies, and have fun instead. And from the man’s perspective, some may feel as if they’ve failed in the role they’re “supposed to have” as the primary breadwinner and income earner, they be resentful of the success of their wives and partners
I’m fortunate that some of these don’t apply in my situation-for example, my husband is my biggest cheerleader and is proud of my success rather than resentful.
For others, like the societal pressure, I have a long history of not caring what other people think about me. This comes in handy because I frankly don’t care what people think of my family arrangement, because it works for us.
And people who might judge us certainly don’t know the entire twenty year history that led us to our current arrangement.
Want to learn about more of the challenges? I’d recommend checking out this great article from Refinery 29 on The Guilt Of Being A Millennial Breadwinner.
How I Deal With The Resentment of Being the Family Breadwinner
The resentment and stress can be harder to deal with, but since I’ve been doing this for a long time I’ve developed some good ways to overcome these. When I feel stressed, I try to make it productive by making sure I have the right protection in place for whatever I’m worrying about.
- Losing my job? I make sure I have enough in an emergency fund to cover looking for a new one.
- Becoming disabled? I have disability insurance, said emergency fund, and a comprehensive emergency plan.
To overcome resentment, I make sure to first keep in mind all the things that this arrangement gives me and my family. My boys get a stay at home dad, and a special relationship with their father that hopefully will last a lifetime.
I get to work long hours, take on special assignments and leadership development programs, and travel for work – all things I would never have the option to do if my husband also worked.
And to be honest I like to work. I would make a terrible stay at home mother, and would go crazy if I had a so-called “easy” job.
This is why I do crazy things like work full time, hang out with my three kids, and write for my site Chief Mom Officer on the side.
The Key is Don’t Let Resentment of a Spouse Fester
I also check to see why I’m feeling resentful and talk with my husband about it, if needed.
For example, since he completely stays at home now, he has many more “jobs” around the house than he did when we both worked.
He cooks, cleans, takes care of the kids, runs around everyone to after-school activities, mows the lawn, and so on.
One recent event comes to mind – six months ago I started feeling resentful that I had to spend my entire Saturday morning shopping for groceries after working all week.
I wanted to be able to spend time with the kids, relax, and work on projects around the house instead.
So we talked about it and now he does the shopping Friday morning with the two year old.
Communication is key, so don’t let resentment fester. Talk about what’s really bothering you instead.
How to Manage Money Together with Unequal Incomes
Many articles you read online seem to talk about one perfect way to manage money together as a couple.
I like to think that every couple needs to find the arrangement that works for them.
In our case, we’ve had totally combined finances since we were married over sixteen years ago.
As I mentioned, we were making around the same amount of money back then, so it made total sense.
Over the years we’ve kept the same arrangement, and even today we combine finances.
We have very specific goals like paying off the mortgage, funding our three kid’s college educations, and achieving financial freedom.
Whenever either of us comes into extra money, it goes towards these goals or to running the overall family.
The only exception is gifts – if either of us gets something for birthdays or Christmas, we can spend it on whatever we want.
But other extra money goes into our family goals.
Aligning on joint goals is key to managing money together.
If you both agree on the goals you’re striving toward, whether it’s debt paydown, saving for a home or rental house down payment, saving for kids college, or anything else – managing money together becomes easy.
But you both have to agree and be fully aligned with what you’re striving towards together.
Otherwise this can easily lead to money fights, because you don’t agree on your ultimate goals.
Let’s Talk About Woman Breadwinners!
In closing, I’d like to encourage more women (and men!) to talk about women breadwinners.
I suspect there are a lot more families and couples in this situation than you would think. Despite it being more common than it used to be, it’s still generally something that people don’t discuss.
But I think if we talked about it more, we would find more women in the same situation as us.
If we could discuss it openly, we would find more help and support in dealing with the challenges-and cheerleaders to help celebrate our successes.
Thanks to Liz for sharing her tips about managing the challenges and resentment that comes with being the primary breadwinner. I’ve written about my struggles with being the female breadwinner before and really need to implement some of the clear communication strategies she outlines in this post. I do tend to bottle up my feelings and let them come out at once at very inopportune times. If you’re a female breadwinner (or just curious) I highly recommend checking out Liz’s Female Breadwinner Series where she highlights amazing female breadwinners (and millionaire moms) about their career success and lifestyle. Thanks, Liz! ~Millennial Boss