Women Working = Liberation or Husband’s Cash Cow?

I am recently divorced.

People keep insisting to me that “divorce is hard.” So far, in my experience divorce is a hell of a lot easier than being unhappily married

We got divorced in large part because his goal for my life is the opposite of my goal for my life. He was the opposite of my cheerleader, the opposite of my biggest fan. Oh, the time and energy I wasted trying to be “good enough” so that he would just leave me alone and allow me to do what I was put here on this planet to do—write and mother.

He wanted me to quit my profession, he wanted me to stop staying at home with my children, to stop working from home. It’s all he’s wanted since we first had a baby and I didn’t go back to fulltime out-of-the-house work.

Sure, we agreed that “if we could afford it” then I would stay home with the kids until they were five and went off to kindergarten, while I freelanced on the side. “If we could afford it,” is a loaded phrase that we should have explored further —prior to “I Do’s”. To him, we never could afford it, though we were solidly in the middle class. We drive two cars, have DirectTV and carry iPhones, own two pieces of real estate, our fridge isn’t empty, and we have never once been so poor that we could not afford beer (medical care, yes, but not beer). His income regularly increased, but he never laid off me to quit and GET A JOB! I brought income in throughout most of the marriage doing part-time jobs, taking freelance work, even being a substitute teacher.

We made sacrifices like cutting back on dinners out, buying used furniture and clothes, even giving used gifts to our kids for Christmas and birthdays, staying on a budget, foregoing medical care to save on co-pays. And he resented every single sacrifice, wishing for a life of golf, dinners out, and frequent day trips and vacations. If we couldn’t afford it, well that was my fault for not working. Even when the math said we would lose money through the sieve of childcare expenses if I went to work.

Not only did I have a lot of cultural and familial pressure to be home with my young children — I genuinely wanted to. I thought it was best for them, but more than that, I wanted the experience of it. I knew it would only happen once and I knew it would be like a blink in the scope of my whole life and I wanted to be present for my mothering experience. Mothering my children has been a great experience, tarnished only by having someone claim I’m “not trying hard enough” because I’m not making enough money. As I collapse into bed exhausted from doing all the childcare, all the home maintenance and trying to make enough money for his insatiable need for it. That kind of not trying hard enough.

For years I had Post-It notes on my dream board, my bathroom mirror, and my vanity mirror, that said in big black Sharpie letters: MAKE MONEY. What wasn’t written there, but what was in bold on my heart was: or he won’t love you.

A few years into our battle I understood that it wasn’t about the money. We kept having more and it never eased the painful struggle between us. I really did start to make money as a freelancer, mainly because we no longer lived in a tired little town of 5,000 people and one employer, (where we stayed for his career and which he refused to leave for his career) with absolutely zero opportunity for me.

We finally moved to a new city where there a lot of great opportunities for me and my youngest kid went to school last year so I was able to focus more on my writing business. Still, it was not okay with him that I work from home as a freelancer. I showed him the math, what we would spend on childcare if I got a full-time job versus what I am making as a freelance writer. For a couple of months last year, if you added what it would cost for before and after school care, as well as care for school breaks like spring, Christmas and summer, then I actually brought home MORE than him. But, he didn’t want to do the math by adding childcare savings to my income.

What I now believe to be true is that he could make $200,000 and it would not be “enough.” It’s a thinking problem, not a money problem. Me getting a job wasn’t going to fix his thinking problem. I never have figured out what his decade-long obsession to make me go back to work is really about, but I suppose it doesn’t matter now.

Here’s a 21st Century feminist issue — what’s the difference between a husband forcing his wife not to work and a husband forcing his wife to work and also trying to dictate her profession? None that I can see. I know I’m not the only wife who has fought this battle on the home front.

I have lots of friends who say they would love to stay home with their kids, but they don’t, and it’s always because their husband wants the cash money they bring in.

In fact, many husbands of the women who are strongly “encouraged” to work at jobs their husbands insist on make a lot more than my “wasband.” Still, the husbands insist they need more. And the mothers, the wives, my friends, my acquaintances, do it. Most of them.

Lately I’ve been running into some women who didn’t do it. And guess what? They are divorced. And a huge contributing factor, according to them, is that they wouldn’t keep the job, or stay in the profession, or take the part-time gig that their husband insisted they keep or take.

It feels like a dirty little secret that we’re shoving under the rug: how much of this new professional and economic power women have is “forced” by husbands who see feminism their own personal cash cow? Not only does it increase their income, but it reduces their financial support responsibilities if a divorce occurs.

My idea of marriage was that he choose where he wanted to go and I stand beside him cheering him on, encouraging him, dreaming bigger dreams for him than he could, and giving him nudges and pushes when he stalled out. And I expected him to do the same for me. This worked out great for him, I turned a college-educated waiter into a middle manager on his way up in a Fortune 500 company and his job makes him happy and fulfilled. Every time he was ready for a new challenge and became unhappy with his work situation, I pushed him to believe he could get something better. And he did. I encouraged him.

His idea of marriage was that WE (he) decide what I am going to do with my life and if I don’t agree to hand over my autonomy then he punishes me with the silent treatment and hideously ugly dark angry energy for a decade until I give up or get out. He discouraged me.

The laughable part was that I went into this marriage believing the feminist folklore that I am entitled the support of my mate to be and do anything I wanted. Turns out his support was too high an expectation.

So here’s the question I still ask myself: what’s the difference between a husband forcing his wife not to work and a husband forcing his wife to work and who also tries to dictate her profession?

Image via iStockphoto/Pgiam

  • I’m curious, Tracee — are you working full time outside of the house now to support your family? That’s what typically happens to the stay-at-home parent who ends up divorced.

    • No I’m not. I’m still running my writing business and it is going well. I do interview at jobs occasionally (this afternoon and next week), mainly because of the benefits, 401K, social security points and for the social factor. I was always open to the idea of “getting a job” when my kids went to school and when the right job came up – my youngest is now in 1st grade. I was not willing, however, to cast aside my freelance writing business to take just any job with no applicability to my career arc. That seemed like career suicide to me, also it wasn’t cost effective, and I felt he really had no right to ask it of me.

  • Well, that sucks. Marrying someone who wanted you to be something you were not – whether thinner, prettier, making more money, etc. – is not an uncommon experience. It is not just men – I expected my first husband to take care of me in an almost paternalistic way that the young, young me desperately wanted. He said ‘no thanks’ and good on him for walking away when he realized that I may never accept him and his own ideas and dreams for himself unless they dove-tailed to my expectations.

    Good on you for walking away from someone who was never going to celebrate your dreams and ideas for your own life. Good for you for not spending any more of your life with no way to win in your primary relationship.

    I will say this, though, not all partners are like this. When I grew up and got over myself, I got to meet someone who cheers for me and someone for whom I cheer. We just keep adapting for each other – each of us have been the stay at home parent, we have both been the breadwinner. It CAN work. Of course there are men who see their wives as cash cows. The trick, maybe, is not to marry one?

    I hope the future is full of wonderful things for you, and amazing mothering times free of that feeling that you should be doing something else.

    • Thank you for the well-wishing Elizabeth. Yes, I think I will be much better at choosing a mate this time around. I thought that we had shared values, but that was surface talk when hormones were soaring and before we had any clue what raising kids would actually entail. It’s a catch-22 to choose your partner before you have kids. He thought I “changed” so much after we had kids and in a lot of ways he was right, I didn’t know how fierce my maternal instincts would be and he never understood or respected it.

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