Are Women Breadwinners Being Punished At Home for Their Success?

Holly Slater by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

The pressure of being a mom, wife, and breadwinner is starting to get to me.

As women, we’ve fought and clawed for the opportunity to have children and careers. Hell, we’ve fought and clawed for the privilege of even being allowed to work — let alone the privilege of making more money than our spouses.

Not so long ago, women weren't allowed to have careers. We also, at one point, couldn’t vote. Or go to college. Or own property. Or even be in the garden alone without fear of being ruined. (Bridgerton fans, you know what I mean.)

We’ve come a long, long way since those dark days. But our progress toward being recognized as equal human beings doesn’t mean that we want men to stop bringing their A-game in both work and relationship matters. Oh, and in housekeeping matters.

Today, many working women are still tackling more household chores than their male significant others. In fact, in many cases, the more men depend on their wives financially, the less housework they do.

One might suspect that a woman’s success in the workplace seems to be almost punished at home, whether consciously or subconsciously, as we’re expected to do more. Or maybe it’s a case where the husband isn’t even aware that his wife is doing so much more to keep the household running.

As a feminist, I believe we should be free to live the life we want without any judgment passed based on our gender. If we want to be a stay-at-home-mom, great. If we want to be single and focus on ourselves and our career, lovely.

And if we want to be a mixture of these things? Say, a mother who works full-time? Then, we have every right to do that.

And if we’re in a relationship and we need our partner to be willing to share in the domestic work or even do more of it sometimes? Then that should be totally understandable.

Let me be straight with you. I’m not going to accept any reactions to my wifely complaints that smell even slightly like “Careful what you wish for! This is what you wanted, you dumb feminist!” Feminism means advocating for women’s rights on the basis of equality of the sexes. Feminism also means I can admit, without shame, that I need my husband to help out a little more.

Writing My Way Out

I didn’t always outearn my partner. Back when I was a newly divorced single mom, I was really struggling financially, just barely scraping by on food stamps while working two dead-end jobs for about $24k per year.

In those days, my husband (my boyfriend at the time) made more than me. But he was also struggling with his own financial challenges and made just enough to cover his bills. We were there for each other emotionally and we made each other happy, but we couldn’t do much when it came to our money troubles.

However, during these last seven years or so, I’ve worked insanely hard to climb out of my financial struggle bus so that I could give my family and myself something better. I finished college online while working those two jobs — one of which was full-time, the other part-time.

After I completed my bachelor’s degree, I started spending what little free time I had building a freelance editing and copywriting business while working my other jobs and taking care of my son.

I started with a few volunteer gigs so I could get experience. Then I got a few paying clients. Eventually I got more regulars, until I made enough each month to be able to quit my two low-paying jobs and work full-time as a freelancer.

Though I was making about $6,000 more per year freelancing, the self-employment tax in Ohio is off the charts ridiculous. I was happier with my job, but my finances weren’t much better. And because I couldn’t get ahead of my debt, it kept building.

After four years of freelancing, I went out on a limb and started applying for good, stable jobs in my field. To my amazement, and with only freelancing experience from my self-built business, I actually got one!

As an in-house copywriter, I suddenly had paid time off, a retirement plan, and yearly salary raises. I was able to afford healthcare for my family for the very first time. I finally started a savings account. And I began paying to fix things around the house that desperately needed fixing.

Recently, I was even able to take my husband on a belated honeymoon trip for his birthday.

I also started working on the side as a blogger, trying to build a side-income in order to supplement my pay while enjoying the benefits of having a creative outlet. I still have lots of debt from student loans and my divorce— but now I’m getting more of a handle on it.

I feel like I’ve been working to grow and help my family, while my husband has been content to stay still. Well, not necessarily content, because he doesn’t like his job. But he doesn’t care enough to find a new one that would make him happier. He’s been in the same job for 17 years and has received one raise. He missed a week last month due to kidney stones, and the company didn’t bother to provide him with sick pay.

I worry that he has no retirement. I worry that his job stresses him out to the point that he’s had to go on medication. I worry that if, for some reason, I lose my job, we’ll be floundering.

It’s a lot to carry around, especially when I find I’m having a particularly busy or mentally challenging week at work.

I feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the pressure, even though I’m putting it on myself. I know I could quit and eat donuts on the couch all day, and my husband wouldn’t give me a hard time about it. He’s that easygoing.

But that’s not who I am. I want more. And maybe I’m a little resentful that I don’t see the same drive in him to take better care of us the way I’m working to take better care of us.

Some days, I’m less resentful than others. Like the days when he helps out with the housework without my having to delegate tasks. Sometimes I need a break from having to run things all the time.

The Juggling Act We Weren’t Ready For

I’ve always been attracted to artists. Sensitive, free-spirited men. Dreamers with an active imagination who possess real, raw talent. That’s a major turn-on for me.

Is it any wonder, then, that I ended up marrying an artist? I’m an artist myself, so it checks out.

But I’m also practical. And I’m a realist. That’s largely due to the way my dad raised me. Growing up, I saw him work hard as a machinist on third shift. I saw him always doing the right thing. Always saving, but also having some fun and spending here and there too.

And always treating my sister and me no differently than if we were his sons.

I don’t want to play into typical traditional gender roles here, but it would be crazy to ignore the fact that they affected the way I was brought up. The responsibility of being the main breadwinner rested on my dad. He was the one providing us with a house, clothing, health insurance, and college savings.

That’s not to say my mom didn’t work just as hard as my dad — she did. She worked five days a week as a server, took care of the entire house, and did the bulk of time-consuming tasks a parent has to do — like driving us to school, handling doctor and dentist appointments, taking care of school paperwork, and more.

But the pressure wasn’t on her to keep the steady, well-paying job that supported our financial needs. She could have changed jobs or gone back to school if she wanted. But my dad had to keep the finances in order.

I’m not saying one of these roles is more important than the other. I’m simply saying that each bring with them unique challenges that can drive a person absolutely nuts.

I know, because I’ve been on multiple sides of the table — as the part-time working parent with all the home responsibilities, as the breadwinning wife who has to keep up with the pressures of her professional career as well as doing most of the housework, and as the single parent who’s responsible for the whole shebang.

Any way you slice it, the work-parent-wife balance is complex. And as a society, it’s time to change our view that it’s normal for women in a relationship to carry the brunt of the domestic work.

A Fiscal And Domestic Goddess (I Am Not)

It turns out, my dad’s steady job gave him stock options as well. Just before Christmas 2020, he gave me a large wad of cash to hand over to my mom (they divorced when I was 18).

His reasoning was that this was income earned during the time they were married, so part of it was hers.

Even though he didn’t have any legal or moral obligation to share it with her, he wanted to because he thought it was the right thing to do. He still felt that drive to take care of her.

This was the man who raised me. He taught me the value of being responsible and practical, of taking care of those who depend on you.

And my mother showed me how to be the kind of loving mom who would do everything for her kids and husband. She threw us the best birthday parties, cooked our dinner every night after work, and made sure we had a clean home and anything else we needed.

It seems that I was raised to take both financial and domestic responsibility for those around me, and sometimes I feel guilty for needing help.

Then I remember that I’m only a human — not a fiscal and domestic goddess.

Teach Men to Nurture

As mothers, breadwinners, and women running the home, we sometimes carry way too much on our shoulders. My ongoing goal is to not get too swamped by my work, and to make sure I stop and smell the flowers often, for lack of a better cliche.

I know so many ladies out there can relate to this pressure, no matter if they make more or less than their partners. As we continue dealing with the societal repercussions of a global pandemic, economic hardship, and violence that just won’t quit, we feel that it’s up to us to make the world around our family better. To wrap them in a bubble, nurture them, and take care of them. To make them as happy as possible.

And while many men are stepping up to be nurturers and to take on more of the domestic work, still many aren’t, for whatever reason.

Ladies, we have to remember to take care of ourselves too. To give ourselves some love, happiness, and fun.

Not only that, but we also need those around us to take care of us sometimes. If you aren’t getting that courtesy, I say speak up and let your man know what you want and need from them.

This isn’t a “be careful what you wish for” scenario. I simply want us to be able to talk about the constant pull that breadwinning women and mothers feel to take care of their family, their home, their career, and, somewhere in between, their dreams.

As a working woman, I’m honored to have that privilege.

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