Who wins the bread in YOUR family?

When our son, Colby, was 18 months old, in 1980, Douglas and I knew we had to dismiss the young woman who watched him while we were at work. She preferred socializing and smoking with her friends, while Colby sat in the stroller. She also had his beautiful curly hair cut “like a boy” because that’s what she thought best. She hadn’t consulted with us.

Douglas didn’t love his job at the time and wanted to quit and stay home with Colby. Even though “house-husbands” were pretty unconventional 33 years ago, I thought it was a brilliant idea. If Douglas stayed home, I wouldn’t have to worry when I stayed late at the office or travelled out of town. Colby would be in good hands.

Besides, I couldn’t quit, even if I had wanted to (I didn’t), because I was the “primary breadwinner.” We could never make do on Douglas’s salary alone. I loved my job, and, at 33, my career was steadily moving ahead, as was my salary.

That was then. This is now: A new report from the respected Pew Research Center shows that almost 40 percent of women are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. This is likely the result of the recent recession, as well as the increase in births to single mothers. The number of married mothers earning more than their husbands nearly quadrupled, from 4 percent in 1960 to 15 percent in 2011. Single mothers, who are sole providers for their families, increased from 7 to 25 percent during that time.

Although I grew up hearing that men should take care of their families, financially that is, I never really thought that made much sense. Why should a man shoulder that burden? My talents and drive were just as meaningful as any man’s. Why wouldn’t I use them?

Interestingly, more and more young men today are deciding to “lean out,” and participate more in their children’s lives than they ever did, as well as shouldering more domestic responsibility. It doesn’t mean they’re giving up their careers to stay home, like Douglas did, but they’re also not sacrificing their families to stay at work.

Balancing work and life is challenging and complicated for everyone and I don’t think one size fits all. Each couple has to decide what’s best for it, not base its actions on what anyone else is doing. Douglas and I did. I know my daughter and her husband will.

I’d love to know what you did.

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6 Responses to “Who wins the bread in YOUR family?”

  1. Houston Plastic Surgery says:

    Great article! Thanks for sharing Geri!

  2. vicki says:

    I was not born to be a stay at home mom. After 9 years of marriage my husband and I decided to have a child. We had our own business (50/50) by that time and were quite financially situated with no mortgage and no other debts as well. SO having a child seemed the right step for us. I am kind of a control freak so leaving the business was not an option. For the first while I took my baby to work with me. (the perks of owning your own co.) Soon I discovered that she was a hand full at work so we went with the live in caregiver idea. Worked wonderfully! I had a second child 6 years later and had live in caregiver for them until he was in school. She even stayed on for 3 more years working out of our home and doing the housework for room and board. My children had our full attention from my husband and I when we got home from work because we were not stressed out about having to do household chores. We could have quality time with our children!! Worked fabulous for us. We were able to retire before 50 years of age and have enjoyed every aspect of our life. Never do we feel we ever made a wrong decision. I also agree with Camille, those women who take themselves out of the work force to become “model moms” run the risk of becoming financially crippled should a disaster strike. You need to keep your self working and in touch with the times always, even in a small way. Volunteering is a great way to do that also.

  3. Christine Somers says:

    I hope that each couple could make the decision on who works outside the home and who is the primary caregiver at home based on ability and desire. To force a man to work outside the home when his desire is to be at home building a life for his family is as bad as making a women stay home when she wants to be in the work place. Caring for a family should be the responsibility of the couple who created that family. The sad side of the statistic that 25 percent of families are cared for by single women as sole providers it that the fathers are nowhere to be found. It is not as though the decision was made for one parent to work and one to stay home but that only one parent is around and will need to do it all.

  4. Camille Long says:

    I always promised myself that I would be a stay at home mom, but my husband lost his career a couple of years before our first child was born (an ex air traffic controller), so I had no choice but to return to work. We said that as soon as we got on our feet, I would opt out. I did that when our second was born and didn’t return to the workforce until 17 years later.
    What I never anticipated was that those years could never be made up in business. I had become stale, and was not up to date with the latest technology (or even the business culture now run by 20-30 year old somethings). I believed with hard work and dedicatiion, they would see my value, and I would quickly rise up again. I was wrong. I am now working in education for 10 years, got my degree (with high honors no less), and am still locked into a fairly low level job.
    My advice to young women is this. Try to always work PT if possible. You never know what your future will hold so to stay current will keep you valuable and fresh. You then will have the best of both worlds. I know when I worked PT…..that was the perfect balance.

    • Geri Brin says:

      Hi Camille,

      Your advice is so smart. Thank you for taking the time to give it.


  5. Mick says:

    Sadly, it almost takes two incomes for families to live comfortably in this economy anymore.

    I see nothing wrong with the female partner ‘bringing home more bacon’ than the male. The male should be grateful for a successful, motivated life partner who shares the bounty instead of counting pennies for comparisons as in the past. To grumble with ego and traditional beliefs that are no longer practical reality is to be ungrateful for success and good fortune.

    As for the ‘stay at home Dad’ model: if it is practical and it works for the partners no one else has the right to weigh in with criticisms. Child rearing should be a shared responsibility.


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