When my husband and I first talked about having kids, I didn’t have a clear idea of whether I’d stay home to raise them. After we found out I was pregnant with my oldest son, we talked about how our work situations would change, and I decided I’d quit my job after taking maternity leave; I wasn’t excited about where I worked at the time. (I took the job because I thought there would be freaks there. If you know me, and you’re familiar with my work history, you’ll know that “Will there be freaks?” is a valid question for me when I’m considering accepting new employment. Suffice it to say there were no freaks. Far from it: I worked in a cubicle in Woodland Hills. It’s a nice place, Woodland Hills, to be sure, but remarkably devoid of weirdos.) After my initial decision to quit, I just wanted to play it by ear: I needed to feel out whether I’d be OK with becoming a stay-at-home mom, or if I’d long to go back to work full-time.
It turned out that it was best for me to work part-time. I feel extremely strongly that I want to be home as much as possible when my sons are young. I also, however, feel much better when I balance work with being a mom. I think I’m a more present, dedicated parent when I spend part of the day using my brain in a different way. Also, I’ll admit that my self-worth is partially bound up with work. That’s perhaps not the healthiest reason to want to work, but there it is. I went to a college full of Ivy League whores, and then got an MFA I never used, and my poor father spent a lot of money on it all, and it is still a big part of my identity, and now I feel like I really should be working, otherwise I’m not exactly sure who I am. Silly? Almost definitely.
One of the things that surprised me the most about quitting full-time work was how uncomfortable I felt being reliant on my husband for money. I resumed working part-time when my oldest son was 18 months, and I had a distinct feeling of relief when my first postpartum paycheck arrived. I’m still trying to figure out why that was such a big deal for me. Throughout our relationship, my husband has usually made more money than I have. There’ve been a couple of times that I out-earned him, but that was the exception rather than the rule. I did notice, however, that when I was bringing in more money, I felt the need to crow about it and point it out to my husband. That surprised me. What was next? Would I start dressing in a boxy suit with shoulder pads? Eighties-style feminism, release me from thy bony grasp!
I don’t remember if we decided my husband was going to be the primary breadwinner because he had always earned more money than me, or if it was more about my desire to spend most of my time being a stay-at-home mom. I’m not sure if I’d have been willing to be the primary worker, even if it had made more financial sense. Maybe that’s selfish of me.
When I decided I was going to work part-time, I gave up a substantial chunk of income. It was about time versus money; I chose to spend more time with my kids. It’s obviously meant that we have less money in the bank, and sometimes, especially living in an upper-middle-class section of Los Angeles, it’s hard not to measure my wealth – or comparative lack thereof – against some other people’s.
The issue of school is a potential game-changer: right now I’m trying to take deep breaths and reassure myself that as long as I pay attention, as long as I stay involved in my sons’ education, that they will not end up Neanderthal, book-eschewing devotees to violence, no matter where we can afford to send them to school – and I can still work part-time and be there for them as much as possible. Maybe I’m an idiot for thinking this will all work out well.
How did you decide who was going to be the primary breadwinner in your relationship? Is there a primary breadwinner, or are you more or less equal? Did you always plan for it to be this way, or has it had to evolve over time?