Wearing the Pants: What it Means to Be the Breadwinner

The current Time magazine cover trumpets women as the "richer sex" and says that women overtaking men as America's breadwinners is good for everyone. I disagree.
From the age of 12, I was out winning bread as the first paper GIRL in Seattle. From that age on, I was always figuring out a way to make a buck or two. I did it out of necessity, not out of the desire for fame or fortune. I didn't dream of wearing a suit and going off to the office. Yes, I read my Dad's Fortune magazine from cover to cover, but I coveted my mother's New Yorker. I dreamed of being a poet, not an executive, and I longed to be a mother.

But necessity continued to drive me to figure out a way to make a buck in order to finish college, to support myself once that was done, to pay for a wedding or two, to then support one, two, three children and a husband. Before I knew it, my dream of being a poet was just that -- a dream -- and I had a full-fledged career. This career became the engine of my family's life, supporting everything while also ensuring that I wore the pants. I am part of the first generation of women who not just worked, but who worked while their husbands stayed home.

Liza Mundy's Time story states: "If people think differently about money, power and gender roles, everyone may come out ahead." Not in our lifetime. We carry too much societal construct to make this shift, and to set unreal expectations is to fail. It is hard to be a woman who not only wins all the bread, but also must bake it. My children were raised with a mother who was out in the world and accomplished, but they will tell you that they didn't get enough of me. I know I didn't get enough of them.

I applaud the families that can figure out how to balance it all. Most of my many, many friends who have, over the past few decades, stepped into the "traditional male" breadwinner role have not found that balance. Many have found great career satisfaction, some have figured out how to have a good marriage as well and a few have gotten the parent role down well. But I don't know a soul who has honestly figured it all out. We need to stop mythologizing the working wife and mother as someone who is the lynchpin of today's society. Lynchpins break down eventually. Family roles and balance are discrete scenarios in each and every family. Family balance and happiness is a hand crafted art, not a statistic.

As a society, we need to understand the nuances of family life and celebrate all approaches, including men as breadwinners. Even the young men today were raised in a world where men have dominated the work force. Those numbers may be shifting, but the societal framework is still there, reminding us subtlety that our sons need a world where they can go about building successful careers and our daughters need to know it is safe to stay home to raise their children full-time. I don't know which path my three children will choose, but I want all options on the table for them. I also want them to understand the reality that each family has to determine the unique path that balances not only the checkbook, but egos and ambitions and quality of life for all members.