Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The burden of guilt

Helen writes:

"Feeling that you are not making a financial contribution can be soul destroying for many women (I know, I've been in that position) and seeing your husband/partner working himself into the ground while you are at home can be truly detrimental to a happy relationship, as resentment can build up on both sides."

A great shortcoming of the modern world - actually, I think tragedy wouldn't be too strong a word to use - is the amount of pressure being heaped on women. No matter what we do, it isn't good enough. If we work outside the home, we must be careful that the little time we get to spend with our family will be Quality Time, and when this still isn't enough, we are frustrated and wonder what had gone wrong. If we stay home, we aren't contributing financially and aren't being productive members of the society.

The reason for this is, of course, that perfect balance between work and home just doesn't exist. Many women feel torn in two, in particular when they become mothers. 

For some families, it may be that the wife's salary - even if it's modest - is what stands between them and going on welfare, or going into debt. For many, however, it's what stands between them and a vacation abroad or, in other words, it's an extra they could do without. As for the husband working long hours vs. the wife staying at home, an important question that needs to be asked is - would things be easier for the husband if the wife worked? 

Not that I believe it is the right question to ask. In the not-so-distant past, men took pride in their role as providers. Nobody would think to resent his wife for not shouldering the same burden. But let's just ask this question... if the wife works more, does it mean the husband can work less? 

My husband, for instance, has always worked long hours. Always, even when he was a single man and had no family to support. This is just how things are in his field of work. Any place he had ever worked for demands a work week of approximately 45-50 hours... regardless of his family situation. To the best of my knowledge, this is how things are for most men who are serious about their career. It's not like they can afford to work part time because their wife works as well. 

I know this is a broad statement, but a family which has a husband working long hours and a wife at home is generally better off financially than a family where both spouses work part time. That is because part-time jobs usually don't pay much. 

I know many families which would be better off financially with the wives not working. Why? Because the sense of accomplishment from work, and of having "her own" money (a term I strongly disagree with; any money earned by either spouse is family money, not his or her own), often goes to the women's head. A lot is spent on trifles. Daycare is expensive, as well as having a second car and buying a lot of fancy clothes to keep up with everybody else at work. I know not everyone is like that, but I do believe a family is better off with a frugal stay-at-home mother than a mother who works part-time and spends more than she earns because she "works so hard and deserves it."

A wife/mother at home has so many possibilities to contribute financially, first of all by saving money. She has more time to shop frugally, visit thrift stores, cook from scratch, compare prices, etc. Of course, if she has a baby then the savings are even more obvious, since she won't have to pay for daycare and formula. If she has a toddler she can potty-train earlier and so save a bundle on diapers. And then there is the matter of indirect savings - in her free time, a woman can make the home such a welcoming, cheerful place that the family will seek less entertainment outside the home. Also, if money has to be earned, there are various options of earning it from home. 

I remember a mother who told me, "I work only to pay for preschool". It has simply never occurred to her that she might just keep her preschooler at home and save that money! This is how indoctrinated we've become. 

The statement, "I can't possibly sit at home and twiddle my thumbs while my husband is working himself to the bone!" is very much, I believe, a gut response - in many cases. Will the husband be happier knowing that his wife is also overworked? Or will her working outside the home make the family's life even more stressful? If a man comes home after a long day at work to a cheerful and orderly home and a hot meal on the table, at least he can relax. But if household chores pile up and have to be done in the evening, the family has even less time to spend together in a peaceful and unhurried manner. I realize that for some there is no choice. But for many there is.

Which overworked husband gets the better deal - the one whose wife stays at home and takes care of everything so he can get his well-deserved rest after work, or the one whose wife works outside the home and expects him to help with housework as well? Who is better off: the man whose wife is always available to be there for a sick child, or a man who doesn't know when he'll have to call off an important meeting to stay home with a 3-year-old that has a stomach bug? A mother at home is like a safety net providing basic comfort for her loved ones. 

A very important point I must make, though, is that it is the wife's duty to be content with what her husband provides. A cheerful attitude is a must. Of course it can cause a lot of resentment if he works hard so she can have a comfortable life, and she just turns up her nose at what he offers and says, "hm, my friend's husband bought her a new car" or "did you know that so and so is going to a skiing resort this winter?"; of course a reasonable man might lose his temper and say, "well, if it matters so much to you, you go and earn money for it!"


Lori Alexander said...

I wrote today about the lies that feminism has promoted that even Christian women have fallen for. John Mac Arthur said it would be better for a mother to teach her children than to go out and get a job so they could send their children to a Christian school. I see no good from women leaving their homes to get careers.

Bmore Bungalow said...

Great post. I agree with a lot of what you've said. Many people really underestimate the financial benefit of being a stay at home mom. People tend to think of getting financially ahead as making more money, as opposed to saving more money. Being a full time mom and wife allows for time to more closely watch your budget and be frugal.

Winkel's Crazy Ideas said...

One thing l feel like pointing out is this: that staying at home is not a holiday. Housework with a big family is time consuming and monotonous. There are many good sides to it, like planning ones own day, being present for the children, creating safety and stability for ones loved ones without outside interference and being able to make priorities according to ones convictions and values. I find it provoking though, when it often is said that it is not fair for the poor husband working and slaving all day while the wife is enjoying herself at home. I wonder if there are many men out there who would want to trade places! No salary, being looked down at by society for not working out, working from six until long after children are in bed with house chores, little or no social stimuli, no colleagues to share experiences with, no courses or educational seminars. Jepp, l think it would be hard to find a man who was willing to trade!
My parents traded for a few years and my father didn't find it easy, this was during the 80's and very unusual to have a dad home. I am very proud of them both and so glad l always had a parent home. Pam

Princess Lea said...

It's a constant refrain where I live, "Oh, nowadays? Of COURSE the wife has to work!" I actually heard it the most from the couple where both are from wealthy homes and their lifestyle is ridiculously high.

People like to insist that lifestyles magically changed since the time my mother was a newlywed, and tuition is always the bad guy.

But that should be the only large expense. In the '70s, my mother had a friend who said, "I make one big purchase a week. Oil one week, four the next week . . ." Today that would be considered "poor," but nobody considered that "poor" then. That was just a given for a young couple starting out.

We can certainly cut back on a lot of our expenses if we were more aware.

Additionally, there are women out there who get antsy and can't stand to stay at home with their kids, and would prefer to go to work. OK, cool. Just don't blame it on finances, because I don't buy it.

Anonymous said...

I come from a slightly different perspective. My husband and I both had mothers who stayed at home with their children while our fathers worked. Both of our mothers gave up any jobs or career aspirations they had to stay home and home school their children. I don't think they necessarily regret it, but both struggled with depression and a severe version of the "empty nest" syndrome as their children grew up. My father worked very hard hours, and I saw him making choices that may have been very personally dissatisfying to him and may have even made him very unhappy, but he had a wife and children to support. It makes me very sad to think about all that pressure. My mother has recently returned to the workforce, and I think it has made things easier on him. Men should have choice too-- not just women. If a man wants to have work/life balance and work fewer hours and experience more rest, recreation, and a more healthy lifestyle, why should that be denied him? It seems to me that you're putting the same pressure on men that is often put on women-- to be serious about a career and work long, hard hours. I think that children need to see their fathers just as much as their mothers.

Everyone has their own choices to make, certainly, but I think that if both the husband and wife are able to experience a healthy, balanced lifestyle, that is the most optimal solution. Why shouldn't there be a nice in-between with work and rest for both spouses?

I am also a little offended that you would assume that women work only to buy frivolous things for themselves. One of my goals is to eventually earn enough money to allow my husband to leave his high-stress job so that he can be more happy and healthy. There are many health problems associated with his line of work, and I want him to live a long and happy life! I think that both women and men should try to think outside the box when it comes to work, earning potential, and work/life balance so that we can live healthy and meaningful lives.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Winkel's, Helen specifically didn't say that the wife is "enjoying" herself at home. Certainly the wife is not on holiday... I personally can say that I'm productively busy at home with either house-related stuff or childcare for more than 8 hours each day. And it's not like I'm inventing chores for myself to do, no! My home looks less (LESS) than perfect, the meals I cook, while nutritious, are simple, and my children aren't perfect little prodigies who have learned a second language by now, play the piano and never tease each other.

My husband and I made this "trade" just for a couple of months, while he stayed home with our daughter and I got a part-time job during his unemployment. It was enough for us!!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, I never said that women work only to buy frivolous things. On the contrary, I said in my post that for some families, the wife's salary is what stands between them and debt or extreme poverty.

BUT, especially if the wife's salary doesn't come anywhere close to the husband's, it is often viewed as "spare money", "luxury money", "extra savings money", "holiday money" or, most annoying, "HER money". I had a commenter write once, "if you worked, you'd have your OWN money!" - no. I would never have my "own" money, because anything I would earn would go to the family.

I wonder, if things such as extra holidays, more expensive clothes, daycare for young children, ready meals, some "treats" and extras, were deducted from the woman's salary, how much would be left? Statistically, I mean. Obviously we are all individuals and make different choices.

Perhaps some men would be able to choose more laid-back lifestyles because their wife works. For many, however, it isn't even an option. Careers require long hours, commitment, and dedication. My husband is currently looking for a job. I wonder how the potential employers would react if he said, "hey, my wife's going to get a part-time job, so I'd like to work fewer hours... hmm... say, 30 a week? And you'd cut my salary accordingly?" Nope, it would never work.

Do you know what is common to most *well-paying* professions dominated by men? Long hours. Many, many hours at work, coupled with the readiness to work odd hours. Usually, there is just no such thing as taking work outside the homes and chores, and dividing it all equally between husband and wife.

Jo said...

Sadly men working long hours year after year is not healthy for them and this is why heart attacks are so much higher for men. It might sound noble for them to invest so many hours in their jobs but it isn’t a good or wise thing to do. It also means their children miss out on their fathers and that is as bad as missing out on their mothers. Fathers play an integral part of their children’s lives, but if they spend so many hours at work that relationship is limited. Fathers do need to say no to their employer, many work long hours for no extra pay whilst the employer reaps the benefits. I have noticed a growing trend in dads (especially those with younger children) doing just that and its great news. It also is a benefit for their marriage.

Sadly and more tragically, suicide is the highest among men in their 30-40’s, the age when they slave away all those hours - its killing them and that is NEVER good. We need to take far more care of our menfolk and not except them to work these hours. And this has nothing to do with women working as this pattern has been constant for at least the last 120 years, worst at the peak of the depression when men had to carry so much weight. They aren’t as strong or as tough as we like to think.

Couples should do what is best for them and their families. No one plan fits all. And if a family does want to save for a grand holiday or buy a bigger car, its not really up to others to say that is wrong. Each to our own decisions, we will need to stand before God and justify those decisions at a latter date.

Winkel's Crazy Ideas said...

My point was only that many people are of that opinion, at least in this country. Anyone who has tried it themselves knows it is a whole different story. In this country staying at home is considered lazy and unproductive nomatter how many children one might have under ones wing. The odd thing is though, that it is well excepted to pay someone to come and wash ones house and to look after ones children. As long as one doesn't do it ones self! Hard to figure out the math behind that one. Pam

Winkel's Crazy Ideas said...

Our dream, my husband and l, is to cut costs down to the point where he can work a four day week. It will mean no frivolous buying of any kind and no fancy holidays etc. What it will mean though is TIME and a slower pace. For him and me both. Pam

Mrs. Anna T said...

Jo, as you rightly state, men working long hours has nothing to do with women working or not working. It's not like a man is "driven" to work a 50-hour week because his lazy wife is "enjoying herself" at home, while if she got herself a job he'd be able to downsize and only work 4 days a week. Men are, by their nature, achievers - much more so than women.

Lady Anne said...

Anna, you mentioned someone who said she only worked to pay for day care, and that is often the case. Our eldest daughter got a wonderful job right out of high school, which she really enjoyed. She managed to work after her first child was born, but after the second one, she sat down and figured out what she was paying for gasoline and bus fare, child care of course, a bowl of soup even if she brought a sandwich from home, disposable diapers instead of cloth, plus the time she was gone door-to-door, carry out because she was too tired to cook, and so on and on, and figured out she was probably clearing minimum wage, which right now in America, is NOT very much. She very quickly became a stay-at-home mom!

maria smith said...

Great post! It's the eternal juggle that families face. It can feel like an enormous struggle, but there are lots of little ways to ease it. Good communication, gratitude, and smart thinking can make all the difference. Once in a while maybe getting some outside help, like a cleaning service.

Helen said...

I think the main point I was making in my earlier post is that the woman staying at home needs to be something that both partners want and sign up to. In my own case it was involuntary - we were newly married and I both wanted and needed to find a job just to help us to survive financially. I also find most household tasks mind numbingly dull, which certainly didn't help! We eventually ended up with one full time job and 4 part time ones between us, just to make ends meet for about a year until my husband got a better paid full time post. I carried on with part time work for many years, as the extra money was still very important to our family budget - not for luxuries, just survival. We had no children, so when I was able to find a "good" job I leapt at it. Now we are both at home all the time, which brings its own challenges, but at least we have together time, which is precious.

kharking said...

I worked part time one summer after my first two children were born to maintain some of my professional connections and to give us a bit of financial buffer. My mother watched the children but it was unambiguously a strain on all of us. My husband loves his job and would work longer hours than he does if his children didn't need to see him a little bit every day but his pay doesn't go up when he works more hours.
It turned out that it was a huge blessing some months later when we had our (unplanned) third child. We were able to pay for the bigger car that we needed in order to fit that many child seats and for the birth fees.
That was an extraordinary circumstance that benefited our family by taking care of some unexpected needs. I am feeling the pressure to work again some this summer now that I don't have a newborn.
I was interested to note that my neighbor, who is a nanny, understands better than anyone else that it really isn't cost effective for me to be working outside the home. To say nothing of the benefit that my family derives from my presence and the work that I can do for them here.

SubWife said...

I don't know, but sometimes reading your posts makes me think that the lady doth protest too much.

I work full time and have been working full time (36-50 hours/wk) ever since I got married and through having and raising kids. While this is not ideal by far, for our family and in our circumstances this was the best and probably the only solution to stay financially afloat. And yes, I did take all the expenses of working into account. When people ask me what I do and who is watching my kids after school, and some asking these questions do judge my "choice" to work full time, stay at home moms are not the only ones who are judged, I feel no guilt. These questions very, very rarely get to me because I know that I have explored other options and what I currently do is best for us.

So if you find yourself squirming while telling people that you are "just a homemaker," maybe that is an indication that you yourself are not absolutely sure that that is your best choice? Maybe we are just very, very different, but I personally cannot expend my emotional energy on worrying about what others think, justifying my well researched and thought through choices or feeling guilty about life circumstances I cannot currently change. And I don't see why you should either.

All the best and Happy Passover.