For the last 5 years, I’ve made more money than my husband. In the beginning it amused me; considering how much I had heard about women making less in general than men, it was a private victory to know that I was the “primary earner” in our house. When we did our taxes this weekend I chuckled a bit when my husband signed under “spouse.”
But it became something bigger to me when we had our first child. The fact that I earned more began to grate on me, especially as I kept our daughter at home with me as I worked. Suddenly, I was working two jobs at the same time – a full time mother and a full time editor, working through the naps, sending emails mid feeding, muting myself on conference calls so no one could hear the crying (usually her, occasionally me).
By the time my husband arrived home from the office, I would be ready to walk away from them both. It was his turn, and I should be off duty. Any additional diaper, bottle or spit up clean up was a huge offense to me — I had done it all day and it was his turn. After all, not only was I with her all day, but I was the one earning most of money.
More women than ever are out-earning their husbands, but now that women are the breadwinners, they are being persuaded that they should carry more of the household chores as well.
Certainly, it was this same righteousness that allowed businessmen of the fifties to return from the office, kick off their shoes and throw back a martini. When Ali Edwards, a 33-year-old Oregonian with her own scrapbook design business, started to make more than eight times what her state senator husband made, her expectations shifted. “I’d say, ‘I make the money, why do I have to do all this?’ It was my end-of-the-rope card, the most hurtful thing I could say.”
Now that mothers have increasingly become more powerful in the workplace, how do they not resent their husbands for not becoming cozy homemakers in return? The first step may be, ironically, to stop striving for equality. Much has been made of today’s 50/50 marriage — husband and wife striving to perform the demanding tasks of work and family in equal measure — but Kyle Pruett, a child psychiatrist at the Yale Child Study Center and co-author of Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently Why It Helps Your Kids and Can Strenghten Your Marriage, says that “once you start keeping track of how many diapers are changed by which parent, your relationship and your energy are being squandered because it will always be about disappointment.” Not all high-earning women feel this sense of entitlement; in fact, many feel guilt at not being able to be as active of parents as they’d like to be because their jobs are so demanding. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics says about one woman in four now earns more money than her husband, a quick survey of my female friends revealed six out of ten who did, yet all of these women considered themselves more involved than the men in the running of their families.
When men were the primary earners, it was expected that their wives would be happy as the caregivers. A father that spent a little time with a child was an anomoly. A dad who changed a diaper was the stuff of cartoons and family sitcoms.
But now that the women are bringing in more of the money, priorities have shifted. To be able to juggle a career and still do the larger share of the child rearing is seens as a badge of honor. Suddenly, equality is overrated. Wanting a balance is seen as “bean counting” and its petty to pay attention to who is doing how much.
Is it just a coincidence that the more women earn, the less earning money matters, and the more focus society now wants to spend on rasing a family?