I was talking to a friend recently about how weird it sometimes feels that N is the “breadwinner” in our family. He never makes me feel weird about it but occasionally I think about how unexpected it is that we got to this place. The place where my income is such a small percentage of our overall income.
It was never my plan or intention to not go back to work full-time. I always assumed that I would. I went to college! I’m still paying for my degree! In my mind it felt like not working full-time meant that was a little bit of a waste (even though I know it isn’t).
I mentioned something of this sort aloud and my friend said something that has really stuck with me.
“You shouldn’t feel that way. You have to add in the economic value of what you provide your family.”
Basically if we would have been paying $1,850 for daycare but are not because I’m home with Ben, that is the economic value of my being home (combined with my part-time income).
Truthfully, I’d never though of it that way because that’s not real money that we get to actual spend (or save). But it kind of made me feel better to mentally add $1,850 to what I make and know that there is an economic value in what I do, beyond the care I provide to my family.
Being financially dependent on my husband is not something I ever saw coming. It feels somehow anti-feminist to even say that. It feels a little anti-feminist to be living it.
In truth, to some extent I’m a product of the pay discrepancy between men and women in this country.
N and I started off at the same company, working at the same level within that company, in the same department. I made 88% of what he made from the very start because he was simply offered more. That gap only widened as we evolved in our careers. We chose careers with wildly different income potential (finance vs. healthcare – a choice that was absolutely mine and which I enjoyed) and eight years post college, that gap had widened to 51%. I made 51% of what he made.
I was the more obvious choice to change to a less traditional work situation and put my career on the…slow cooker…for a while. I love what I do but I just do less of it than I used to or anticipated, if that makes sense.
But I guess the feminist part of our current situation is that I had a choice. We had a choice. That my partner and I decided equally that this was the right move for our family.
I sometimes jokingly call myself the family manager. It’s kind of a silly thing I throw around to feel more legitimate about what I do all day.
In the last week I repaired our gas fireplace (thanks, Youtube!), bought new headlights for our car and had them installed, got our Christmas cards printed and sent out, grocery shopped, reprogrammed our thermostat, set up the Christmas tree and decorated it, paid our rent, balanced our finance spreadsheet, visited the hardware store and repaired a door hinge, bought Christmas gifts for half of our family (including his side), scheduled a babysitter, cooked 20 meals (plus some baked goods), and got work done for my job. Oh and kept a tiny human alive (who seems hell-bent on finding every dangerous thing in our house, so this is an accomplishment).
And despite the fact that a majority of the money in our joint account isn’t brought in by me, I make nearly all of the major (and minor, honestly) purchasing decisions for our family. I’m a marketers dream.
I’m also the rememberer of the family. That sounds silly but that article a while back about how Mom’s carry the mental load of the family spoke to me on a deep, deep level. I know where everything is. I know when everything is happening. “Do you know where the extra dog bags are?” Cabinet to the top left of the refrigerator. “My CFA books?” Shelf in Ben’s room by the desk chair. “Do we have plans next weekend?” Your Mom is in town.
I provide so much more to our family than childcare. I love doing it. I’m needed, truly needed in a way that I find very fulfilling. It helps that I have a partner who regularly thanks me for everything I do and is appreciative when I take little chores and tasks of his plate.
My husband knows it and regularly tells me, “I couldn’t do what you do.” If you’ve ever seen him try to find the soy sauce that is ON THE DOOR IN THE SAME SPOT THAT IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN then you’ll know this is true. He probably couldn’t do what I do and that’s okay. It’s more than okay. Because we’re on the same team with the same goals and we’re doing our best. He knows he couldn’t do it and he’s grateful that I can (and that I want to).
Some days when I feel like I can’t even figure out what I did all day (but it somehow did not involve any relaxing or watching TV and my kitchen is still a disaster) it’s nice to remind myself that I’m the CEO of this household and there’s an economic value to what I do. That’s all.