I'm a woman breadwinner.
In high school, I had big dreams. I thought I wanted a big powerful corporate job -- international business to be exact -- and maybe that wouldn't include kids. I didn't know if you could balance a big job that required lots of travel with a family. So maybe I wouldn't. But, at the ripe old age of 17, I met my future husband. I still wanted the career, but over time I changed my mind. I most definitely wanted kids with this wonderful man.
I graduated college and got my first job. So did he. Over the next few years, we realized something. We had chosen industries that placed a very different value on hard work. I was rewarded for my hard work with more money and he was too, but at a completely different level. In some ways, he worked much harder than I did and was rewarded with less. To me, it felt unfair and it still does.
Regardless, it got us to today. I am the breadwinner of our family by a significant margin. Yay, women, right? Well, yes. I'm glad that it's becoming more common. According to a Pew Research study, 40 percent of households with children under 18 have women who are the breadwinners.
At the same time, I didn't choose this, and I don't think I was ready for it. Where is the support for women breadwinners? How many people even talk about it? I did, but in private discussions with coworkers where we admitted this was the case as if it was a disease or something. It was a sensitive topic. The last thing I ever wanted to do was talk too much about it so my husband didn't feel as worthy or respected.
“The last thing I ever wanted to do was talk too much about it so my husband didn't feel as worthy or respected.”
I'm so lucky that my husband is incredibly supportive. He takes on a lot that other husbands and fathers do not have to. I do have a pretty flexible job, but it also requires travel about 25-30 percent of the time. Many of my peers are men. And many of those men have stay at home wives. Let's talk about how common a stay at home dad is.... yeah, not that common still. My husband wants his own career, which I'm completely supportive of. So we're a dual-income family and we have a lot to juggle.
Here are the things that help us that may help other women breadwinners (and their partners!):
It's OUR money. Every penny that comes in from me or him is OURS. Not mine. Not his. It's a pool of money that we both get to have a say in.
Someone making more money does not mean that they have more of a say in any aspect. While I make more financial decisions, it is because I keep track of those things (which he has no desire to do), not because I make more.
We talk about it. If something is bothering us or if we have thoughts we need to share about the situation, we share it. We don't let it become the elephant in the room.
All sounds great, right? Sure. But when we had kids it got harder. I wanted to be able to be present in my girls' lives. I'm the mom. I want to take them to doctor's appointments, plan the parties, be present for all their big moments and activities. It doesn't always work that way. And maybe it shouldn't. Parenting should be 50/50 anyway, right? Please tell that to all the guilt I have about when my husband pulls more weight with the girls than I do. I didn't want it to be that way.
“Parenting should be 50/50 anyway, right? Please tell that to all the guilt I have about when my husband pulls more weight with the girls than I do.”
I can't make a snap decision and quit my job and get a much lower paying one. We might have to pull the girls out of the fantastic (but expensive) school they are in. We might have to sell our house or move somewhere less expensive. My job contributes a big part of our current lifestyle. While my husband can choose a job based on how excited he is about it (within reason!), I feel stuck in that I have to make sure it pays enough to support us. This isn't necessarily a new problem. Men breadwinners have faced the same challenges in their traditional roles of being the providers for family and allowing their wives to take on the majority of the childcare needs. I want to be both... okay, maybe not the majority for childcare, but equal partners. I also want to be excited about my job and not feel stuck.
I wish I could say I have all of this figured out, but the reality is that I'm still living through it. There is no handbook for being a woman breadwinner. If you're in my same boat, I just want you to know there are others out there just like you and we're all just trying to figure it out.
Tiffany Walker is Co-founder of Pop and Banter, Inc which empowers professional women to be successful inside and outside of the office without feeling overwhelmed. She also has over 12 years of experience working with top media and broadcast companies on their digital strategy.