Does Motherhood Change Our Attitude Toward Money?

What Women Really Think
Nov. 13 2009 12:26 PM

Does Motherhood Change Our Attitude Toward Money?

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I’ve been mulling all week over the wrinkle that kids seem to throw into the harmonious balance of a dual-earning couple. Without children, it seems that marriages hum along fairly placidly, no matter who is bringing home more bacon. Yes, there are bickering matches over chores and credit, but for the most part there is a sunny view of "our money, our life."

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And then a child is born. I’ve had so many interesting pieces on this aspect of balancing finances that I am ending the week with as many submissions as I can. Today’s post is longer than usual, even though I have cut some submissions for space. Still, you have the whole weekend to chew it over.

So what changes our attitude toward money with the advent of motherhood? Cara wrote in mulling this as she looks forward from her sunny spot of today, to a future that she imagines will be considerably darker.

I currently enjoy our very outwardly progressive situation. (I'm in the sciences, he's in the arts, and I'm the higher earner.) I'm worried what will happen if/when we have children and have to make decisions about child-care. I wonder how progressive women who've made practical decisions and end up finding themselves in very traditional situations feel. I can't imagine being happy if I depended on my husband's salary. I think I'm terrified of waking up one day and finding that my life looks the same as my mother's-working a part-time job, depending on my husband's salary, doing all the housework, and longing for appreciation.

I think she sums up what we all fear as we become mothers ourselves. We don’t want to live a retro life, but somehow all of us end up incorporating more of a traditional lifestyle than we imagined when we were childless.

Another mother (a "white-collar professional") described a situation in which the plans she and her husband made are not being borne out in the reality of day to day life. As a result she longs for a more traditional setup.

I recently accepted a much higher-paying job that requires long hours and a very long commute. We talked ahead of time about the fact that I would not be around the house as much, and how unhappy I was about the reduced amount of time that I would be able to spend with our daughter. We agreed that we would maintain our frugal lifestyle and aggressively pay down debt so that I would have more flexibility in the future to work part-time. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. My husband seems to really enjoy spending the money I'm making now, but has no observable plans to save any of it. Further, I arrive home (late) to a house that looks like a disaster zone and a child who is being ignored because my husband is too busy watching sports with friends. I have about one hour each day that is unaccounted for, and I generally spend that entire hour doing laundry and cleaning the house. His domestic contributions are limited to an occasional load of laundry.

I didn't like earning less than him, but I really dislike earning more than him. Before, if I lost my job, it meant some adjustments to the family budget and some belt-tightening, but wouldn't force us into homelessness. Now, it would mean the loss of 2/3 of our total income. It feels like a constant yoke on my spirit. And I resent the fact that he hasn't picked up any of the slack at home, but am too uncomfortable with confrontation to really discuss it with him. I also feel helpless because I can't tell him how to raise our daughter, and I'm not there enough anymore to do it myself. I wish our roles were reversed. If he were making enough money to support both of us I could stay home part- or full-time with our daughter, and keep the rest of the aspects of our lives organized.

Jennifer wrote that her husband is now the stay-at-home dad and that her home continues to be happy with the "our money" attitude remaining solidly intact.

I have been married to my husband for 12 years. He is a stay-at-home dad to our two young children, while I work full time as an actuary. Needless to say, I make more than he does in the small amount of freelance work he’s able to fit into his schedule. It was always our plan, even before we were married, for him to stay at home with the kids while I worked. We share the housework, with him taking the greater share. He pays the bills out of our family income. We make money decisions jointly. In our household, it doesn’t matter that the paycheck has my name on it. We both feel strongly (me even more than him) that it’s not my money. It’s the family’s money. I almost called what we have a reversal of roles, but I stopped myself. That implies that there’s a way things are supposed to be, and there is no such thing other than whatever works for a particular family. I’m glad my daughter and son will grow up with the notion that women and men needn’t be assigned family roles based on gender. I love telling people that I’m the breadwinner while my husband cares for the kids. I almost always get a positive reaction. When I don’t, I like to emphasize how well our family works. Maybe it will open some eyes.

One mom who is a lawyer described a job that takes her out of town regularly-something she can only do because of her husband’s contributions at home.

For the past three years I have managed litigation as an in-house lawyer. My current position requires a fair amount of travel. I am based in the Midwest, but have to be on the East Coast once a month for a two-night, three-day trip. I also travel to various U.S. locations as the need arises-probably another two-night, three-day trip every six to eight weeks in addition to the monthly obligation already mentioned. My daughters are now 8 and 5, and while they never like it when I have a trip, they're used to it by now, and, I think, are doing OK with it. Obviously my husband has a lot to do with that, as well as my parents, who live nearby and are able to fill in the gaps when, for example, one of my overnight trips occurs on a night my husband has a class.

Another attorney wrote that she was the major breadwinner before she had a child, but that she and her husband had always planned that he would one day overtake her. She explains why.

I work at a mid-sized firm in the Southeast, and my husband is a consultant. Both of us are well-paid by most standards, but I made about 20K more per year than my husband from my base salary, after his bonus.

We had a child a little over a year ago, and we stuck to our plan of helping my husband be the primary breadwinner. I went back to work full-time after the baby was born, but we quickly realized that I was unable to meet my firm's expectations, especially considering my husband's increased travel schedule. In May, I decided to go on a "reduced schedule," taking 80 percent of my former salary for "allegedly" 80 percent of the work.

This new arrangement now sees my husband making more money than I (although not by very much), but he works considerably more.

Economically, it would have made more sense for me to continue full-time at the firm and try to become a partner because that would have probably ensured my family the highest guaranteed income. My husband could have taken a less onerous job. But I feel more comfortable having him in the more traditional breadwinner role. I considered myself a feminist at an early age and never expected this, but I feel a visceral need to be close to my child that I can't ignore. And the thought of being away from them both while my husband spends more time at home sends me into a fit of jealous rage (and this is only imaginary!).

I never expected for this to be my life or my choices, but I'm just taking it day by day and trying to figure out what will make me happy and be best for my family. I hope I don't regret these choices later, when my children are grown.

Some marriages don’t survive the juggling and the reinvention required of them. A divorcee described what happened after she-the breadwinner-had kids.

His lack of career direction took an incredible toll on us. My income enabled us to pay for in-home childcare, so he never had to do much, and, in fact, seemed to do less with the kids than many dads who had full-time jobs. He also became more and more disagreeable and difficult to live with on a day-to-day basis. As time progressed, I resented his lack of contributions more and more. I told him I wanted a divorce. We had a brutal legal battle. Three years, 10 days in court and hundreds of thousands in legal fees later, we are finally divorced. I was able to retain 60 percent of the marital assets, but was forced to pay an enormous amount of alimony relative to my income. I will never marry again. Courts do not fully recognize the contributions made by breadwinner wives-they often retain main responsibility for children despite their financial responsibilities.

Finally there is the story of Lori Bourne, which feels like a happy note on which to end this particular subject. Thanks again to the huge number of you who wrote in over the past two weeks. Keep me posted on your lives-and good luck! Now over to Lori.

I outearn my husband. For many years he was the primary breadwinner, even when I was working full time. Then my kids were born and I stayed home with them, so he was our sole provider.

About five years ago I started selling educational materials online as PDFs. I began doing this on eBay and was quite successful. In short order, I launched my own website and worked my business like crazy. Most of this was done in the evening after the kids were in bed.

This past year, my earnings were greater than his salary as a business analyst for JP Morgan Chase. In fact, this fall we decided that he would quit his job and work with me (for me?) to grow my business even more. This was based on a lot of factors, including his long commute and the burden that my business puts on me. (I home-school my two kids so I'm unbelievably busy balancing everything.)

We'll see what the future holds (and if we're able to get along or not) but we're both excited about this new venture.

You can visit Lori’s website at www.montessoriforeveryone.com.

Photograph of parents and child by Thinkstock/Getty Images.

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