"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!"