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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Husbands, equality and breadwinning

32 replies

funnyvalentine · 12/11/2013 14:23

My husband and I have 2 young kids (I'm just back at work after 2nd maternity leave), and I've just been offered a great opportunity to take on a well paid senior role. After more than 4 years of disrupted working from pregnancy/leave, it's a great chance to get my career back on track. This comes at a time when his career is floundering a little and he's struggling to find the next promotion. Though, realistically, we only need one of us to work to support the family.

On the surface, my husband believes in equality etc. and has really encouraged me in going for the senior job. But I think deep down he feels the need to be breadwinner and support the family, just like his dad was. I've always earned less than him due to the career I chose, so now I think we're both struggling a bit with the idea of a switch in work status.

Anyone been through similar?

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grimbletart · 12/11/2013 17:04

Yes, but never found it a problem. When we married he was earning more than me (he's a few years older). Then we had the DCs and he was earning a lot more than me as I chose to freelance from home for a few years. Then I resumed my career and we earned about the same. Then he took early retirement through disability and I earned (obviously) a lot more than him.

It has never been a problem. Everything went into the same pot and we simply treated it as ours.

I am surprised TBH that this seems to be a problem in 2013 (not just you funny valentine - I've seen others say it) as we never found it a problem from the mid 1960s onwards which was when we married.

Is equality going backwards or were DH and I two generations before our time? Grin

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funnyvalentine · 12/11/2013 20:56

I think you were generations ahead grimble!

I mean, the vast majority of households with a male/female couple are still organised such that the man is the main earner. Especially when kids are involved and the woman steps back to take on childcare responsibilities. Which means a lot of men can say they are in favour of equality (or even believe they are) without ever having to face a situation where they're not the main earner. Thinking something is fine in theory is quite different from being comfortable with the idea when it's happening to you!

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TheDoctrineOfWho · 13/11/2013 08:35

Ok so deep down he. Might feel something but his actions are all supportive so that's great.

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HazleNutt · 13/11/2013 09:11

I'm the breadwinner, DH is self-employed and currently working very little, as he is taking care of our DC1 (4 months old). No problems. But DH is very pragmatic and understands that my career just pays better for similar working conditions, so this set-up makes sense and it would be totally unreasonable to reverse it due to some old-fashioned ideas and gender stereotypes.

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Andcake · 13/11/2013 17:08

I am the breadwinner (dp stay at home dad) and occasionally it flairs up in rows (him saying he is not an equal) but actually he loves the bond he is developing with our rather energetic toddler! and is really supportive of my career. I always tell him I couldn't quite do it all without his support and its true - and I tell him it doesn't make me love him any less. I ve read about people losing respect for dp when things change. I actually respect dp more for being man enough to give it a go!
I think how people around you act to him is important to.

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MrsTerryPratchett · 14/11/2013 00:18

It is an interesting talking point. I do contract work, charity stuff and have other irons in the fire. DH, who does the budget, said recently about us earning, "well, you bring in more than me". I hadn't realised. He was quite chuffed about it.

I don't find that this translates into a change in attitude to our life, however. He is great with cleaning and housework generally. However, he keeps his brains in my head. Organising childcare, preschool, friends etc. all falls to me. His DM was a SAHM with a narc, workaholic DH so his childhood doesn't lend itself to equality.

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funnyvalentine · 14/11/2013 08:32

I suppose I'm not really asking because I'm worried that my DH will make it into an issue, I know he'll be pragmatic and is also really happy for me. I'm curious about how much men are really invested in equality. It's really easy to say that you believe in equality when you're the one earning the money and getting all the status that comes with that (which, sadly, is a lot in this society).

I know other couples where the wife outearns the husband, but still the bulk of organising and childcare falls on her.

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Blu · 14/11/2013 08:45

IMO , and reading lots of MN. Threads I would say that much of the gap in perception around viewing your respective jobs / careers as equal and really feeling equality is around what happens when the children are ill.

It seems to fall to mothers to miss a day at work because the man's job is somehow too x, y or z (insert various justification) to be flexible at short notice.

I would take an away day with your DH, and give yourselves time to really picture your lives. How you will organise childcare in the school hols and on Inset days and sick days. How much leave you will each dedicate to childcare. Explore options for emergency childcare, is there an agency you could research or a local teen or mum or childminder you could keep on a retainer for emergencies?

Also make a 5 year plan about how you can save /spend and enjoy any spare money you have so that he can see the benefits of keeping your earnings as a team up, or otherwise having the contingency of your career if his own hits a sticky patch/ redundancy.

The more he can see it as working as a family team the better.

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Blu · 14/11/2013 08:46

I earn more than DP, we have always shared all parenting and household responsibilities completely equally.

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jeansthatfit · 15/11/2013 11:36

i haven't exactly been through similar - but there's plenty of evidence out there to support the idea that men's theoretical 'signing up' to equality in these areas is not backed up by their behaviour or the division of labour in most heterosexual parent couples.

You do find quite a few posters on this board saying they share things equally, and it isn't a problem - fine, but of course, posters here are very self selecting! it's a feminist board on a parenting website. Responses are strongly skewed.

It's a tough one, because the obvious advice in these situations is to sit down with your partner and be gently honest with each other. But of course to do that successfully, you both have to honest with yourselves. As you say you are both struggling with the idea of a change in emphasis, earnings wise... you could spend a little time looking at your own emotions and concerns. If you've been the main childcarer to date, it's reasonable to worry about how your relationship will be affected if you spend less time with them. It doesn't mean it's bad, or wrong, or that your partner can't spend more time with them and build a stronger father relationship etc - it might just mean that you agree to 'ringfence' your time with the children in making sure you don't spend all your evenings and weekends doing chores instead of spending time with them. If you thi your partner may not be quite facing up to his own issues to do with equality and earning power.... that's tough, because he's likely to be defensive about it. If he's not facing up to it himself, he won't thank you for making him do so.

It all needs addressing though. when women have been mostly responsible for childcare and domestic household stuff, when they go back to work, or work more, they STILL end up doing most of that stuff. If your partner doesn't want to take on more of that, you're better finding out upfront than 6 months into a demanding job when you're knackered and resentful. (if he says he's happy to do it, then doesn't, you've got another battle on your hands - plenty of women face this one, too).

As to how much men truly have invested in equality? IMO, As long as it is theoretical - plenty. In practice - much less so.

Gideon Burrows book on childcare 'Men Can Do it!' is great on all this stuff btw.

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sleeplessbunny · 15/11/2013 12:23

I think men feel a lot of societal pressure to be the main breadwinner and sometimes struggle with a sense of shame if that is not the case for their situation. I see it in the same light as the myriad expectations heaped on women by society in general. I earn a bit more than DH at the moment, although it hasn't always been the case, and it hasn't caused any big problems, but DH doesn't like anyone outside the family to know. He is slightly embarrassed by it I think.

We do try to share all duties 50/50 (doesn't always work out) and if you asked him he would say he agreed in equality, but there are some deep-seated attitudes that I notice creeping to the surface sometimes. The other day he was telling me about a conversation between a group of his (male) colleagues about their DW's and work patterns, and apparently the conclusion was that "women just preferred to be the ones to stay at home". He related this conversation to me and seemed genuinely Shock when I started ranting. He then said "well obviously not you, you're different, I mean most women". Shock Angry Actually, a lot of the sexist shit he comes up with seems to originate at work. Sad

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Anniegetyourgun · 15/11/2013 15:40

Surely the important thing is how much respective effort is being put in to the various needs of the household, including earning, rather than which one of you has the bigger number on their payslip. Sometimes one partner earns more, sometimes another, as circumstances change. As long as you are both doing your bit to support each other it is a fair partnership. Sitting in an office is not a gender-specific activity the way, say, hauling sacks of coal might be. Indeed there's probably more sheer hard physical labour involved in wrangling toddlers. So no, other than during the bf months there really is no practical reason why the one with the dangly bit should be expected to bring home more bacon than the one with the 'ole.

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funnyvalentine · 15/11/2013 16:28

Thanks for the replies, I think the advice about discussing things upfront is good. And about emergency childcare, definitely going to get on top of that :)

I actually think my husband is quite good at examining his thoughts and reactions. But, it brought home to me just how deep seated some of our views are, even if on the surface you know the opposite to be true.

I saw Gideon Burrows' recent post on here, but haven't read the book. Interesting to hear it said that 'men just don't want to do mundane childcare', which is sort of the elephant in the room when it comes to equality.

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Anniegetyourgun · 15/11/2013 16:35

And what, pray, makes him think that women want to do mundane childcare? Unfortunately someone has to.

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funnyvalentine · 15/11/2013 16:40
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karatekimmi · 15/11/2013 16:46

I out earn my DH by almost double. There has never been any issues with money, it all goes in the pot and we spend it (mostly) together. We are lucky that we don't live outside our means. While not ideal from a family point of view, I do the weekends childcare as DH works and he does childcare Tuesday and Wednesday. So equal on that footing too. Although recently out cleaner decided to stop and we haven't got anyone else in, so LO goes to the childminder an extra morning to give DH a lie in (works till midnight and LO is an early riser!!) and DH does the house work then before picking up LO.

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jeansthatfit · 15/11/2013 19:53

anniegetyourgun, Gideon Burrows isn't defending men who don't want to do hands on childcare - it's the opposite, he's criticising them. It's actually one of the best feminist books on parenting I have ever read. It takes the notion of 'equality', and how things actually are... and why they are the way they are....and it's a very insightful clarion call for more shared parenting.

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legoplayingmumsunite · 16/11/2013 21:58

I come from what would on the outside seem like quite a traditional background, my Dad was a farmer. All the men worked when I was growing up and the women were 'farmer's wives'. Mum wanted to go back to work when my youngest sister started school but Dad didn't want people to think he couldn't support her (it was hard when she told me that because he was very supportive of me and my sister and our ambitions). Anyway in the early 90s when the BSE crisis hit farming suddenly all farm incomes dropped drastically and suddenly all these men's men realised they couldn't support their families. All the wives were suddenly encouraged to go back to work and they kept the families going. Now all farmer's wives work and my brother (who is married to a GP) proudly tells people the best diversification for a farmer is a wife with a good career. So when a man can't provide for his family his pragmatism overcomes his natural prejudice.

Having said that SIL did ask me before she married DB how DH and I managed me earning more than him, she was concrned although i know DB wasn't. For Dh and me it hasn't been a problem (there isn't a massive difference in our wages) but I think being a working parent is harder for DH because he has a boss who is not understanding at all that DH does his fair share of parenting, including the days off sick. He has actually had to tell them I earn more so they 'understand' the situation. But I do tell him regularly that by working part time and being seen at parent and child events he is changing how ALL the children at those events view the roles of mothers and fathers so he knows I'm proud of him and his caring role. He is lucky as well that we have neighbours where the father is the SAHP and so the two of them go and fight prejudice together at 'Mums and Toddler' events because it can be hard for a part time Dad to make female friends without it being misconstrued (e.g. it would be hard for him to invite a Mum round to the house). For some reason the two of them can have female friends and that is OK.

Your DH sounds great though, and him talking about it a good sign I think, he is thinking how others will respond.

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jeansthatfit · 16/11/2013 22:41

That's a very encouraging post, legoplayingmums. And good for your dp - you're right, he is changing a lot by doing what he's doing. (bloody 'mums and toddlers' - would it kill them to put 'parents' instead - drives me nuts).

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Anniegetyourgun · 16/11/2013 22:48

Gideon Burrows isn't defending men who don't want to do hands on childcare - it's the opposite, he's criticising them

Ah, right, I beg his pardon. Good for him.

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celestialsquirrels · 16/11/2013 22:58

I don't warm more than my DH although I do earn well. In our marriage I have earned less than him, more than him, worked part time, had 3 years off, gone back to work...
But whatever I have done we have always had the view that my job is just as important as his. Including when my job was being at home. So he organises our social life, I organise kids clothes and presents, he does more fetching and carrying of kids than me on evenings and weekend so I do (a bit) more cooking and we outsource almost all the cleaning and gardening. However the nature of my job is such that if one of the kids is ill (of more realistically if the nanny is ill) then he generally is on duty. Because if I'm in the middle of a week long trial in court I simply can't leave. He runs his own business and can always just cancel meetings and go home.

I think the key is each person respecting the other's role and working life. I don't think it matters how much each person is paid.

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ChunkyPickle · 17/11/2013 08:52

DP and I have similar earning capacity in roles we enjoy. I'm at home at the moment with our new DS2, having stuck around at home since having DS1 (for all the normal reasons)

After a rant one evening about my day he replied 'But you love staying at home really' - and that is the problem. my relatively enlightened DP thinks that the drudgery of cleaning, transporting children, making food, and dealing with the whims of a 3 year-old and a new born is something I secretly desire.

Lets just say there was another rant about that, and quite how pleasurable it is compared to my job.

From subsequent discussion, it seems the idea is still lodged in his head though - that I actually enjoy being home with the kids and keeping house - and I think that that is pervasive (certainly in places like the Daily Mail). It's not just that they like being the breadwinner, it's that they think we like being housewives.

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NotCitrus · 17/11/2013 09:08

One issue is age gaps between partners - on average, men are 4 years older than their female partners. So tend to be further on in their careers and earning more by the time they have children. So if the family want to be kept in the manner to which they are accustomed, it usually makes sense for the lower earner to take on most childcare.

MrNC is 7 years older than me so the difference was even more marked. He does work 4 days a week and flexibly so can do a share of childcare, at a cost to his career. No other company trying to head-hunt him will consider part-timers, whereas his is known for both flexibility and low pay. In his team of 50, all have children under 5 and plan to leave once the kids are all in school (about 90% of them are men).

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NotCitrus · 17/11/2013 09:12

When I was growing up, any conversation with adults about careers involved them saying "do you think you can support yourself on that?"
Men got the response "do you think you can support a family on that?"

Until all children grow up thinking about supporting families financially as well as via childcare, and we ask boys how they will fit childcare round their careers, boys and girls will have different voices in the back of their minds of how they "should" act when they have children.

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ithaka · 17/11/2013 09:18

I am with Grimble, DH & I are obviously ahead of our time. Which is sad, because to me it feels so normal.

From the day we met, we have tag teamed, even pre children - one of us would usually be working harder/earning more while the other studied/freelanced & then it would swap.

We both work 4 days a week now, which is great. I earn more currently, but it has never, ever been an issue as he has earned more in the past & may do again. Plus any wee windfalls/tax returns/inheritances that have come our way are 'ours' - we don't keep financial track of who has contributed what over the (many) years. He should certainly inherit more than me.

He does more housework than me, I generally do more for the kids, but again, no need to keep tabs, both of us are family focussed.

DH & I are a genuine team and it is only since joining Mumsnet I have realised how rare that is.

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