Yesterday, I finished up getting stuff around for our taxes. As I added up all of my tax forms and filled out our paperwork, it suddenly hit me: for the second year in a row, I was our family's breadwinner. This realization was a bit startling to me, as I'm someone who has spent the majority of the past eight years of my life raising kids at home. I've identified myself as a stay-at-home mom with all of the stereotypes that come along with it: I live for coffee, I never getting dressed in anything beyond yoga pants or athletic gear that's actually not for the gym, and I'm totally obsessed with Target (but unfortunately, I don't live close enough to one to actually go there all the time). So in a way, I already had my mind made up about what kind of person I am. Sure, I work and always have, but my work has never been anything defining for me. It's never been part of my identity or crucial to our family's DNA. Or so I thought.
In my mind, my work and the income its produced was just filler for the "real" paycheck that my husband provides. He was the one with the important job, the one who needed nice work clothes and packed lunches and hot coffee waiting for him to take on his way out of the door in the morning. We had our roles, no matter how antiquated they may have seemed, clearly defined for us. Mine was to be home with the kids, filling in the gaps in order for our family to have a comfortable life, while his was to bring home the bacon and subsequently, to cook that bacon, because my husband also happens to be a fabulous cook.
Those were our roles. It's what worked for us. Until, suddenly, they didn't anymore.
Despite being the at-home parent who cleaned and changed diapers and did school runs and never really combed my hair, I was also making a full-time income. In fact, I was making more than I ever had before — and I was even making more than my husband.
I was overwhelmed by my new workload and just when I felt like I couldn't possibly take on another thing, I got pregnant.
Slowly (yet it felt very sudden), I'd built up a thriving at-home business. Overnight, but also over the course of six years, I'd worked at night and in the early mornings and on weekends and at nap times until I had amassed what was an actual business. The clients accumulated and the work-load grew and before I knew it, I was adding up the numbers and despite being the at-home parent who cleaned and changed diapers and did school runs and never really combed my hair, I was also making a full-time income. In fact, I was making more than I ever had before — and I was even making more than my husband.
Just like that, the neat and tidy roles we'd established shattered. I was overwhelmed by my new workload and just when I felt like I couldn't possibly take on another thing, I got pregnant. I worked like a madwoman trying to build up some kind of maternity leave for myself and literally sat on my hospital bed in labor still working. I struggled mightily with our new roles and frankly, the new definition of myself.
In my real life, there wasn't anyone I could turn to who I felt could understand some of the challenges our all-new day-to-day routine posed. First of all, it felt like not many people even had four kids anymore, let alone had them in six years like we did. Second of all, I didn't know anyone in the same situation my husband and I now found ourselves in, with a wife who is at once the stay-at-home parent, the breadwinner, and the one running a business on her own. I had no idea what I could call myself. Was I a stay-at-home mom? Was I a working mom? Was I some sort of strange hybrid?
And my husband struggled too. It was hard on our marriage. He saw me suddenly accomplish so much, all while being the at-home mother I'd always been. I had always worked in some capacity as a nurse doing odd shifts here and there at the hospital, but this was different. This was nonstop and relentless and often left me stressed and crying and upset, and he didn't understand what it was like to try to work full-time from home with four children. I realize now that no one can understand that until you're actually living it, but that didn't change the fact that I wished he could relate just a little bit.
We trudged along for a few couple of years basically just trying to survive as we figured out the new normal for our lives. I struggled so much with feelings of guilt for working a job that that never ends; with watching my husband sort through his own feelings of self-worth based on his job (he'd identified as the "provider" for so long, so now, what did that mean for him?); and with trying to juggle the stress of doing literally everything. We were pretty bitter and unhappy and I questioned whether or not all of our troubles had started with me making more money than my husband.
And then, very recently, in the past month, the tide began to shift. It took me pausing to reflect and finally admitting to myself one important truth: I am a happier person now.
Out-earning my husband helped me gain the confidence to not only realize the things I need as a woman, mother, and wife, but to talk openly with my husband about those things.
I am happier now that I've found work that fulfills me. I am happier during the day working a job than I ever was simply doing the stay-at-home mom thing. I am happier now that we have more control over our financial security. I am happier knowing that, for the first time in our lives, we feel like adults with choices about where our lives takes us.
I no longer feel guilty for asking for his help, for letting the house get a little more unkempt (last night I didn't even sweep the floor), or for forcing my husband to take on a more active role with the children because those roles no longer solely define me.
It took me admitting these truths to my husband and having some serious conversations with him about my new role, our marriage, and his role in it all for us to settle happily into a new kind of partnership. I honestly don't see us as the breadwinner versus the stay-at-home parent anymore; I see us as partners. Because in some twisted way, me out-earning my husband helped me gain the confidence to not only realize the things I need as a woman, mother, and wife, but to talk openly with my husband about those things. I no longer feel guilty for asking for his help, for letting the house get a little more unkempt (last night I didn't even sweep the floor), or for forcing my husband to take on a more active role with the children because those roles no longer solely define me.
I am most fulfilled when we are working as a team.
Don't get me wrong, if those roles were all I had, that would be 100 percent OK with me, so long as I felt fulfilled by them and I owned them. But I wasn't and I didn't and I've found that becoming a breadwinner, even if it's just for a short time, has given me the confidence to admit the truth to myself and to my husband that I like working, that I need more than being solely a stay-at-home mother, and that I am most fulfilled when we are working as a team. And in my eyes, there is nothing wrong with that.