The following is a staff writer post from Libby Balke. She’s an amazing writer, work-at-home mother of two, and has been married almost 8 years. Please leave any questions or comments below for either Libby or Crystal.
For the first five years of our marriage, my husband and I both worked full-time outside of the home. For those first five years, we both earned almost identical annual incomes – our yearly salaries differed only by about $500, making us co-breadwinners.
Then I quit my job to stay at home with our kids (although ultimately I'd pick up some freelance work on the side), and overnight, my husband became the primary breadwinner. On the outside, he took it in stride; on the inside, his anxiety was skyrocketing. He stressed over whether he was doing enough to provide for me and the kids, signing up for what seemed like endless hours of overtime while I was at home, desperately craving some time with somebody other than a pair of toddlers.
A few months ago, I went back to work full-time – as they said in The Godfather, “they made me an offer I couldn't refuse.” And once again, the financial face of our family changed overnight. My new job – and the salary that came with it – put me in a position I'd never been in before: breadwinner. Although my husband was still working full-time, my position – along with my freelance work – made me the primary money-maker.
It's Not Unheard of Anymore
It's becoming increasingly common to see a woman at the financial head of household (I'm talking from a breadwinner point of view, not a tax status perspective). According to Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In, 41% of mothers in America are the main breadwinners in their family; as of this spring, I became one of them. Sandberg (you probably know her better as the COO of Facebook) reports that another quarter of mothers contribute at least 25% of their family's income, making them co-breadwinners.
My husband didn't exactly adjust to being our breadwinner easily; so how would he react to my coup d'etat of the family's financial power position?
There are a lot of things I love about my husband, but his ability to support me – and my decisions – is far and away his most amazing attribute. When I first brought up the idea of me going back to work full-time (even though I'd be telecommuting, and still doing my job from inside our home), he urged me to pursue this new opportunity… even if it meant he'd have to step up around the house, even if it meant he'd have to assume a more active role taking care of our kids. Sure, there have been some hiccups along the way – he's learned the hard way that our daughter won't eat defrosted bread – but he's been a working mom's dream come true.