Breadwinner wives. We’re an interesting bunch. Increasingly common, but surprisingly absent in media representations of the modern woman. Sometimes we are praised, other times we are chided. Like the time I went out to dinner with my best friend and her new boyfriend, and he asked where my husband was. When I said, “At home, watching our son, because I worked all day, ” dude launched into a 5-minute tirade about how he wouldn’t be caught dead watching a baby while his wife was out. Or the time I told a family member that my husband was cooking because I had to catch up on work and she sadly shook her head, “I feel so sorry for him. You shouldn’t treat him like that.”
Many women don’t enter marriage as breadwinners, but life is unpredictable and we find ourselves suddenly, unexpectedly filling the role.
At the time I married my husband I was toiling away at a fledgling website, earning just enough to cover groceries. I stayed at home all day in my PJs watching Family Guy, writing blog posts and researching web monetization. Many evenings hubby came home to find me squinting at a laptop, the house just as messy as when he’d left that morning.
“Just give me time.” I begged him. “Just give me a year to try to get this site off the ground. If it doesn’t work, I’ll go out and get a real job. I promise.”
He smiled and shrugged, “Of course. Take the time you need.”
We hoped that the website would churn out enough to cover rent. Enough to justify the fact that I’d quit a perfectly good job to pursue it. And then, unexpectedly, things just took off. Revenue increased month-over-month, first equaling then surpassing hubby’s income. And so our life as a non-traditional couple began.
I love to work. I’ve been a hustler since I was 7. It gives me a deep sense of satisfaction to provide for my family. I love that my son has a mom who is professionally capable and financially independent. I want him to know that women’s capabilities — both within and outside of the home — are much greater than the narrow imaginings of our culture.
I’m blessed to have a husband who is supportive and progressive (and really, that’s the only way that the breadwinner wife thing works). He sees the humor and blessing in having what he jokingly refers to as a “baller wife” (and yes he is joking. I am not balling, lol!) He brags about me to his friends and family, and sees my success as his own. This heartens me.
Suddenly the major financial decisions are up to me; when to buy the house, what kind of retirement plan to set up, how much we budget for groceries. And initially I didn’t mind. Even when I wasn’t earning much, I took charge of our finances, keeping a disciplined budget, paying off all our consumer debt and getting our savings account started. But things like mortgage and retirement. Those things are heavier, and I didn’t like feeling that weight.
One month my blog revenue dropped sharply and unexpectedly. I spent the day panicking, exchanging rapidfire emails with my ad network, trying to get to the bottom of it. A drop in revenue wasn’t just about me anymore. It was about my husband and my son, our budget and savings projections, our hopes to get him into a good school. That night as my husband slept peacefully beside me I stared up at the ceiling. Women had fought so hard to be equal to men, but is this what they were fighting for? The pressure and stress of providing for a family? It felt overrated.
And then there’s the whole raising a son full-time while working full-time thing. I work from home and I love interacting with my son every day, but if I’m on deadline, or feeling stressed and preoccupied, it’s hard to force a smile and act like nothing’s wrong.
How To Cope
So how do I cope with being a breadwinner wife. Here are my tips;
1. Have a long-term plan for better work/home balance
As it became increasingly obvious that I would be primary breadwinner for the forseeable future, hubby and I had to think of how to shift domestic responsibility away from me. We decided that him quitting his job to stay home wasn’t the right move. Instead, he is taking night classes for a Master’s degree in a field that is more flexible. When he finishes his coursework in 2016 (Lord willing!) he will be able to work from home. We need this in our toolbox as we navigate life as a nontraditional couple.
2. Find couples similar to you
Being a breadwinner wife and mother is still not the norm, and you will feel insane for leading the life you do. That’s where your fellow breadwinner wives come in. Talk to them about what it’s like. Share advice and compare notes. Enjoy the comfort of being in a judgment-free zone.
3. Shift domestic responsibility to your husband
I am off on the weekends — no housework and no child care. I love my baby, but I need Saturday and Sunday to decompress and gear up for another week of working and caring for him full-time. It’s also important for hubby to flex his domestic muscle and learn how to care for his home and our son without me.
4. Don’t be bitter.
Some women feel betrayed when they end up as primary breadwinners. They think, “this is not what I signed up for when I got married.” And I totally get that. There are days when it doesn’t feel fair. I’m trying to work, rush Noah to appointments, get bills paid, and it all feels like too much. Not to mention the days when hubby has after-work commitments so I’m with Noah every waking hour of the day. I have to remember that my husband is my partner and supporter, not my enemy, and that when we married, neither of us anticipated we’d be in this situation. I also remind myself that he’s adjusting his life goals to be a bigger support to me in the future (see point number 1).
5. Stay away from haters and people who disapprove
I gave you a couple examples in the first paragraph of how surprisingly vocal people are in their disapproval of women having financial dominance in a relationship. Sadly, even people close to you will feel this way. I once confided in a close girlfriend about the challenges of being primary breadwinner. Her response? “Well, you can’t expect to have a good marriage if you are earning more than your husband. That’s not how the Bible intended it.” o_0 I learned very quickly never to discuss this topic with her again.
6. Be empowered! You are a bad ass ?
At the end of the day, it’s extremely badass that you are providing for your loved ones. Don’t let anyone take that away from you. Society, by and large, is still very disapproving of women who have more financial and professional influence than their male counterparts. But as long as your partner is proud and supportive of you, and your children are getting the love and care they need, nothing else matters.
Any ‘breadwinner wives’ out there? Share your experiences.
Leila Noelliste is the creator and editor of Black Girl with Long Hair and Baby and Blog.