Awesome Dudette asks: “I’ve been married for over ten years and my husband and I have two, wonderful little boys. Our marriage is actually really good, except for one thing. Well, it’s not really my husband’s problem, but mine. He has a job and I stay at home and take care of the kids. I feel guilty when I spend money on anything that isn’t considered essential, like food and clothes for the kids. I bought myself a pair of new shoes the other day, and I felt like I’d done something terrible. We have enough money to pay the bills and for extras. I’m not being irresponsible or anything, and my husband even encourages me to splurge a little on myself. So, why can’t I get past this guilt? Why do I feel like I need my husband’s permission to spend money on the family and especially myself, and why isn’t it good enough for me, even when I get it? I don’t want to feel inferior to him, and he really doesn’t treat me that way, but I can’t help wishing that I had an equal income so that I could feel like I’m contributing just as much as he is. Can you please help?”
I’ve wanted to write this post for a while. It’s a question that comes up a lot, a set of beliefs that is so prevalent in women (some men, too, but most especially in women), and causes so much unnecessary grief, it’s almost ridiculous that we haven’t been able to let this one go. I’ve been waiting for the perfect metaphor to occur to me, one which would help illustrate the ridiculousness of this mindset and shift it, and just a few weeks ago, during a coaching session, I had my eureka moment. Not only did that particular client benefit immediately (the belief just shattered), but I knew right away that this little analogy was meant to be shared. And today, my pretties, is the day.
We’ve grown up in a world where the value of pretty much everything is determined by economy. How much money is it worth? How much money can this bring us in the future? How much does it cost? Even if we don’t consciously want to believe these thoughts, the truth is that much of our lives are still governed by these kinds of beliefs.
And so, when two people have children, even though most of us would agree that it would be beneficial and even preferable that at least one partner actually have time to spend with the little newbies, a lot of people can’t help but feel guilty for not contributing equally to the family financial pool. Staying home with the kids and taking care of the household isn’t seen as an equal contribution, ironically, by the partner who is NOT working. We should be doing more, bringing in some cash, being of more value.
The prejudice against the housewife
I realize that many men are now choosing to be a stay at home partner, as well, and this article is aimed at both sexes and all manner of partnerships. But I feel that before I go on with my arguments, I first need to address an issue here that regards mainly women. Men, bear with me for just a couple of paragraphs.
Snarky Rant Alert: I’m about to get up on my soap box. Prepare yourselves, you have been warned.
I cannot tell you how many awesome, amazing, intelligent, talented, gorgeous female souls I have spoken to that feel totally inadequate because they are “just a housewife”. First of all, if you have ever muttered the phrase “Just a housewife” in a derogatory context, you are no longer allowed to call yourself a feminist. That’s right, I said it. Feminism is about the right to choose to be whatever we women want to be, and in fact, the new feminism is about everyone getting to choose to be what they want to be (like if a man chooses to stay at home with the kids). It was never intended to take us from being bullied into staying home by men when we’d rather be working, to being bullied into having careers by women, when we’d rather be staying home. Going from one imprisoning set of choices to another is not progress!
True progress comes from opening up more choices and making all of those choices valid. And that means, if a little girl wants to grow up and be a doctor, a lawyer, an astrophysicist, a plumber, a teacher, a nurse or a mother and housewife, then she should get to do WHATEVER THE HELL SHE WANTS. That’s the whole point of feminism. Duh.
Oh, and if you are a housewife (or househusband) and someone asks you at a party what you do, I’d like to give you a little truth: When that person reacts to your answer with a condescending “Oh. Um, that’s nice”, what they really mean is “You lucky bitch.”
Remember: Only those who are unhappy and feel trapped by their own choices will ever feel the need to judge yours.
*Steps off soap box*
How much is being a mother worth?
Now that we have that bit out of the way, let me hit you with a slightly different perspective.
Let’s say you have a wife, a husband and two children. You can substitute any other configuration you like here (wife/wife, husband/husband, sixteen kids, three dogs, a flurry of gerbils, a Volkswagon of clowns, etc.), it really doesn’t matter. But for the sake of this analogy, we’re going to keep it simple.
The parents have decided that they’d like the wife to stay home with the children. They both consider this the ideal scenario and the husband’s income makes it possible. The wife stays home and takes care of the kids and house. And all is well with the world. Only… just like in Awesome Dudette’s question above, after a while, all does not seem well after all. She begins to feel guilty for not contributing financially. She wonders if she shouldn’t get a job, maybe just a part time one. She works out that the money she’d make with a part time job would be eaten up by daycare, so her financial contribution would be zero. And, she really doesn’t want to take on a job, she’d rather not miss out on the opportunity to spend time with her children. And yet, that nagging feeling that she should be doing something won’t leave.
After all, taking care of kids and a household, well, that’s just peripheral work, isn’t it? She should be able to do that on the side, shouldn’t she?
At this point, people will often try to feel better by breaking down how much it would cost if all the jobs the woman is doing were to be contracted out. They calculate a few thousand dollars (or whatever) for a cleaner/housekeeper, a cook, a nanny and, if they’re being particularly cynical about it, a prostitute (is IS a skill set, to be fair…). If you’re going to reduce everything down to its monetary value, might as well go all the way with it, no? But this argument has never really made anyone feel any better. No woman really wants her contribution in the home to be equated with that of a stranger coming into the house and performing tasks for money. In fact, doing so just makes us feel worse.
And that’s because it’s not about the freaking money, even if our guilt keeps insisting that it is.
The Family Business
Let’s pretend that the mother/father/2 kids unit is a business. And let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that money really is the most important thing in this equation. It’s the measure of all value, which means it’s the goal. Let’s call this business Family Smith.
First of all, Mr. and Mrs. Smith should never have had kids. That was a stupid move. Kids are not only non-income generating entities, they actually represent enormous expenditures. Long term projections indicate that, unless drastic changes are made, these little subsidiaries will continue to use up vast amounts of resources well into their twenties, and won’t ever really yield any significant return on investment. Money motivated business advice: Offload the little suckers as quickly as possible. If that’s not possible, maybe find a way to put them to work and offset some of their expenses. Child labor laws might interfere, so you’ll have to get creative, but you could always send them overseas. After all, big corporations are doing that with their factories, and they know a thing or two about squeezing money from a stone, so why can’t you?
Oh, and as long as we’re at it, both parents should get whatever jobs they can earn the most money at, no matter how soul destroying. Eighteen hour days are encouraged, holidays possible only as a bonus, and an early grave is not necessarily a deterrent, especially if it helps you save all that money you’d be spending in your non-income generating retirement years.
Love, affection, fun, happiness, joy, and any related activities should be seen as time wasters. After all, they don’t make any money do they, and while you’re hugging your kid goodnight, you could be making deals with Australia. If you work globally, you’ll never have to sleep!
Still think that money should be the goal of your family business?
Of course, I can hear you saying, you never thought it should be. Only, I beg to differ. If you are feeling guilty for not bringing in as much money as your partner, than a part of you has elevated money to one of the main goals of your “family business”. And it isn’t. It can’t be, or you wouldn’t have had kids or chosen to stay home. Those decisions don’t make any financial sense. So, the goal must be different, and the idea is to align all of your beliefs with that REAL goal. And when you do that, the guilt will go away.
Front office and Back office
Every business has different departments, which are all responsible for different areas of the operation. If the husband goes out and makes the money, then he’s responsible for “Income generation”, or “Funding”. The goal of the business, as we’ve just established, is not to make as much money as possible, so funding is just one element of several. Hubby Smith’s got that one covered.
Then, there’s the back office, or “Production and Operations”. Funding makes much of these operations possible, of course, but without the operations, there’s no reason for the funding. And, in fact, much of the operations are designed to make the income generating activities easier and more efficient. The two work together, in tandem, to produce the desired outcome.
And that outcome, ladies and gentlemen, is happiness. The goal of this little family business is to produce four happy people (some people lose sight of that and think it’s to produce two happy kids, often at the expense of the adults’ happiness. These people are wrong. You can’t produce happy kids by being unhappy. That’s like starving yourself in order to teach your kids good nutrition. It’s highly likely that they’ll just copy you and go hungry, too. And even if they do wander off and find food on their own, it’s not going to be because of you. It’ll be in spite of you. It’s just like that with happiness.)
All family business activities are geared towards making the family, as a whole, happy, healthy and full of joy. And any activities or beliefs that do not support that goal are going to feel uncomfortable. So, the husband feels guilty for not having enough time to play with his kids, because he understands that once the basic needs are met, kids value time with their parents more than money (unless they have been taught otherwise, which is not easy but doable). The wife feels guilty when she spends money on something for no other reason than that it will increase happiness for herself, because she erroneously thinks that her happiness isn’t important to the overall goal. It’s this erroneous belief that causes her guilt, not the spending of the money.
Get your priorities straight
When you realize that the goal of your family business is joy, and start to filter all activities and choices through that goal, those activities and choices take on a different light.
- When you buy groceries for the family, you are supporting the overall goal.
- When you prepare a nice home for your family, one where your kids feel safe and one to which your partner can look forward to coming home to after a long day at work, allowing him or her to relax and spend some time with the kids (instead of now having to clean the house and cook dinner and iron a shirt for the next day), you are contributing to the overall goal.
- When you play with your kids instead of doing the spring cleaning, you are not being lazy. You are contributing to the overall goal.
- When you take a hot bath to soothe your nerves and regain your patience, you are contributing to the overall goal.
- When you and your partner get a babysitter and take a night out for yourselves, so you can reconnect and have an adult conversation, and maybe even a bit of, dare I say it, romance, you are contributing to the overall goal.
- When you earn money, you are contributing to the overall goal.
- When you earn money in a way that makes you happy and fulfilled, you are contributing even more to the overall goal.
- When you spend money (no matter where it came from) on operating expenses, which is anything that contributes to the joy of the WHOLE FAMILY INCLUDING YOU, you are working towards the overall goal.
- When one of you does something, anything, that makes it easier for the other to do their family business job, you are contributing to the overall goal.
- Even your children are contributing to the overall goal, and not just with chores. Their laughter contributes, their natural tendency towards taking it easy, towards playing when there’s work to be done, towards not taking things so damn seriously, towards fart jokes, their imagination, their wonder, their ability to be in the moment and get you to be in the moment, too, all contribute mightily to the overall goal.
And if anything you are doing or thinking does not contribute to the overall goal, it will feel off. The biggest thing to remember is that your happiness is part of the overall goal and actually required to make the whole family business successful. Don’t starve yourself to teach your kids good nutrition.
- If your job is killing you, make a change. You’re not benefiting your kids or yourself just by making money. The money is a means to an end – to happiness. If your job is destroying your happiness, get a different one or make a change. And yes, you can.
- If staying home with the kids full time is slowly eating away at your soul, get a part time job, or even a full time job, even if it makes no financial sense. Find a compromise that makes you happy again. Less time with a happy parent is better than more time with a chronically unhappy one. And no, you can’t hide your feelings from your kids. They know.
- If keeping up the lifestyle you thought you should be able to maintain is making you feel like you’re running on a hamster wheel at gunpoint, consider downgrading. A smaller, happier home is much more conducive to joy than a bigger, unhappy one.
You’re in a Partnership
Your family business is a partnership. The stay at home parent is the director of Operations, and the working partner is the Sales Director. Sales can’t do its job without operations, and operations can’t do its job without sales. Feel free to come up with your own titles, but make sure they’re equal. Quit thinking of the income generating partner as the CEO, with the stay at home partner being his cleaning lady (with benefits). I’m only exaggerating slightly to make my point.
Of course, this whole argument can be applied to the single life and child-less relationships as well. What’s the REAL goal of your “business”? I’ll bet it’s not money. What happens when you look at your life from this new perspective? Do you want to change some of your choices? Do you feel better about the choices you’ve made? Share your thoughts in the comments!