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It's Hard for SAHMs to Be Financially Dependent on Their Husbands

Photograph by Twenty20

As girls, we are taught that we can be anything we want to be. We are pushed toward college and careers. In our early 20s, our budding identities as women are very much tied to what career we enter. And then, we are supposed to excel at it: move up the ladder, get raises, become financially independent and secure.

Even after we are paired off or married, many of us are taught that we should be equal wage earners and that it’s unwise to rely entirely on our spouses. We must earn well, get raises and protect ourselves and our assets should our marriages fail. We are women. Hear us roar.

There is nothing wrong with all that. I’m all for it, actually. But it gets little complicated once we factor in the possibility of having children.

In the visions of “grown-up life” that we are fed as girls, the idea of motherhood doesn’t really come into play much—at least not in terms of how it might change our career paths or financial independence. Sure, most of us expect that we will probably start a family at some point, but somehow that isn’t supposed to interfere with our climb up the ladder or financial makeup in any way.

But any mom will tell you that that is pretty much a big fat lie, and that almost none of us were prepared for how drastically motherhood would change our work and career plans. And that's the case whether we went back to work or became a stay-at-home mom—because the heaviest burdens of parenthood almost always falls on a mother’s shoulders.

Before kids, I worked part-time at a university teaching writing and literature. I was publishing poetry in literary magazines and my goal was to someday get a full-time professor job somewhere. I mean, why wouldn’t I? I was doing well, I was driven, I had what it took.

Then I had a baby, and everything changed. Everything.

I couldn’t imagine leaving my baby and going back to work. It didn’t make sense from a financial perspective, either. Good childcare in our area cost at least as much as my salary. If I went back to work, we’d break even, if that and I'd miss out on time with my baby.

So I stayed home with my first son, and then with my second. In all, I spent 10 years as a SAHM before my kids started school. And although it was often a financial struggle, my husband wholeheartedly supported our plan. He valued the work I did (and treated it like real work, thankyouverymuch), provided for us, and respected me as a mother and a woman.

We had a partnership that we were both happy with and on board with. Our marriage was solid. Our kids were fed and happy. So, what was my freaking problem?

But I will tell you that even though he supported me wholeheartedly, I remained very uncomfortable with the idea of being financially dependent on my husband. It makes no sense when I think about it rationally. We were both contributing equally to our household. I was providing childcare (which would have cost as much as our rent, if we outsourced it) and ran our household. He was supporting us financially as well as providing childcare and household help when he was home.

We had a partnership that we were both happy with and on board with. Our marriage was solid. Our kids were fed and happy. So, what was my freaking problem?

For me, personally, I think it had something to do with the fact that I had a father who left our family when I was little and my mom suddenly had to become the sole provider for us girls. I learned early that marriage is tenuous and I got the message from my mother that it’s never wise to rely entirely on a man. Men can just take off and leave. Men don’t always provide the way they say they will.

And, sadly, the fact that 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce and that the majority of single parent households are led by mothers does mean that there is reason for some of us women to worry and to make sure we have a backup career plan should we choose to rely on our husband for finances.

Beyond all that, I think that we are given unrealistic expectations of what being a grown-up woman might look like. We don’t factor in the impact that pregnancy, childbirth and the newborn period might have on our careers—especially since so many of us are not given decent maternity leaves. We don’t factor in the fact that childcare is not always within reach for many of us and perhaps staying home and living on our spouses’ income might be the wisest decision, even from a financial standpoint.

We don’t consider the fact that however you slice it, moms take on the brunt of the physical and mental work of parenthood and that it can become really difficult for us to do it all and work and bring in wages comparable to our spouses (not that this isn’t possible, of course).

I’m not sure I have any answers here. The fact is, my marriage did stay together and nothing was lost by me relying on my husband financially during those years when I was a full-time SAHM. And, although my career path changed by the time I started working again, I have no regrets about that and I'm happy and proud about where I am now.

Looking back, I see now that I should have just relaxed into my role as a SAHM who relied on her husband’s income. But I couldn’t. And I don’t think I am alone in that.

If you are a SAHM now, wrestling with the discomfort of stalling your career and relying on your husband’s paychecks, I understand how you feel. That aspect of SAHM-ing can be confusing, stressful and prickly. You should know that it almost always works out well in the end, however it ends up looking, and that if your husband supports and respect you, there is little reason to worry.

Most of all, you should know that you are an awesome mom and an amazing woman. You are strong, powerful and important. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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