Contemporary marriage unions would SHOCK Carol Brady and my mom

By Elissa Freeman

At some point in every woman’s life, you realize there are several things your mother never told you:

• Episiotomies, for example.  (You mean I’m going to rip where??)
• That your mother’s thighs will eventually become your own
• Oreos really are a separate food group
• And that one day, two-income families would become the norm

Huh?

Oh sure, I understood the genesis of the woman’s movement; that at one point ubër-feminist Gloria Steinem was bigger and more relevant than Oprah and that a girl could grow up to be anything she wanted to be.

Remember, I grew up in the generation where ‘underwire’ was a dirty word.  It also wasn’t a pretty sight.

But an equal contributor to the joint account?  I wasn’t prepared for that.

My mother was a stay-at-home mom.  So was her mother.  Dad went to work and brought home the pay cheque.  When we needed something, Daddy-o shelled out the shekels. Seemed like a pretty good formula to me.

Even TV moms provided little guidance for my eventual role as wife/mother/ contributor.  After all, Ozzie supported Harriet, Carol Brady never worked a day in her life and Shirley Partridge was the only TV mom I knew that supported her family…albeit by pimping them out as a band.

I understood the power of providing, just not the ultimate responsibility it would entail.

When I think about it, nobody ever informed me or my contemporaries that:  a husband would hate his job, want to frequently change jobs or worse, lose his job.  Or that divorce could leave a woman high and dry. In my case, my husband owns his own company, and makes a decent living.

Did I ever think for one minute my monetary contribution to our relationship would be as important to my inherent role as a mother? A wife? A helper of French homework? No, no and no.

And here’s something your mother likely did know:  money is power.  It’s just not a line in a movie. And to be a contributor to the household is liberating.  Just like regular sex, there are certain things a man loves; and I think one of them is not having to be saddled with all the expenses. And personally, it makes for one less argument to have.

One day, after feeling quite good about writing a cheque to send my kid to camp, I broached the subject of my household earning power to my husband.  He cast a wary eye in my direction.

“Well, you’re not EXACTLY an equivalent contributor…”

“Oh really? How do you figure that?”

He then went on to list the litany of things I didn’t contribute to early on in our marriage. You’d think he’d been keeping a mental list just for this moment.

“Well, okay (asshole).  That was then…but what about NOW?”

“Listen, there’s no doubt you working makes it a lot easier on me.  Besides, this is a partnership. What we build, we build together. It’s better that way.”

And that was pretty hard to argue with.  Even mom would have to agree.

It will be one of those things I will add to my daughter’s list; right after “thigh creams really do work. If you want them to.”

Comments

  1. says

    Really interesting post, Elissa. Money is power as is the together partnership thing. It only works if you’re both in it together, and view it that way.

    There’s usually an ebb and flow as to who makes more and when. Not throwing it in each other’s faces is key. I’ve used/ felt the ass hole line and the take half line, and I’m sure, so has he. Ebb and flow, baby. Ebb and flow.

    • says

      I LOVE this part of your comment…”I’ve used/ felt the ass hole line and the take half line, and I’m sure, so has he. Ebb and flow, baby. Ebb and flow.”, In a marriage oh just SO TRUE!!!!

      • Elissa says

        So love Galit’s comment…so intuitive and smart that girl is. But yes….I was thinking of not including the ‘asshole’ comment – (wanting to PG and all)…but you know what? It’s what I felt – and I can see others feel the same way…

  2. Barbara Laidlaw says

    Oh how true that is! It is ebb and flow, and sometimes, one has to look beyond the current money situation/earning power to the bigger picture. Not easy, trust me. My DH’s face when I walked in the door one night and said “Honey, how would you feel about quitting your job and moving to another country where you cannot work for 3 or 4 months, and then have to find a new career so I can do something cool in my own career. And, oh yeah, that means giving up your income for at least 6 – 8 months….at best”

    Elissa, you make a good point – no one who grew up with a stay at home mom really realizes both the power and the responsibility providing requires.

    • Elissa says

      I love that you share your own story…because that’s the ultimate commitment, right? But the usual story is the inverse right? The wife moves for her husband. And as usualy you leave such an insightful comment.

  3. says

    Just tonight at beach, my husband was talking to a SAHD and asked him what he does all day. He said, jokingly, “Oh, I’d love to stay home with the kids and have my wife go to work.” The truth? No, he wouldn’t. He doesn’t have it in him to clean shmootz off the floor, unblock toilets, pack backpacks, drive the kids all over the place.

    I’ve been working part-time since they were born, and now I’m starting to work more and more. I need to. I’m more complete with my own money and freedom.

    One of the valuable lessons I learned at BlogHer from this panel of remarkable women, all writers and editors for the Huffington Post, was that men are not like us. We can’t expect them to do as much as we do. We are more driven in many ways and perhaps it’s not fair to expect them to work fulltime and come home and do laundry and help out more. I’d like my husband to do more, so I can work and have a balanced life, but maybe it’s not fair to expect something that’s not there.

    As usual, great post, Elissa.

  4. elissapr says

    Always love your comments Holly…so insightful are you! Just in the way we’ve seen how men have evaluated their worth with respect to their jobs, many women are following suit. For better or for worse…

  5. says

    Elissa!

    Great article. One of the biggest losses for me, when I stopped working full-time to stay home with my daughter, was the feeling that I was “equal” to my husband – in terms of making decisions about money. I felt I lost my vote with my paycheck. (He didn’t feel that way.) I started doing freelance work when Alice was 2. That helped, but not entirely. We were making roughly the same salary when I quit in 2003. I don’t know what I’d have to do now to catch up to what he’s making now. Rob a bank, maybe?

    I don’t regret staying home with her but I have to admit I put myself in a very vulnerable position — and it doesn’t feel great. I am working to change that!

    Thanks for the thought-provoking piece (Melissa, too)!

    • elissapr says

      So glad you stopped by, Lisa. I was hoping a SAHM mom (now WAHM!) would speak out. We all make choices- for better or for worse – we gain and we lose. I’m especially intrigued by your point about vulnerability – I think many would agree with you. I also think the choice to stay home varies by country and maternity policy. In Canada, for example, we get one year paid maternity..after one year, I was ready to go back to work. If it was only 6 weeks? I’m not so sure…

  6. says

    Hi, Elissa. Great post.
    I’m wondering to what extent what you’re talking about is an urban issue. On farms (at least the traditional family farm, not the industrialized monsters we have today), work was structured by gender but it was recognized that each made critical contributions. A farmer without a wife was a pathetic thing — typically, someone like a spinster sister or aunt would have to step into the breach. A farming women without a husband was equally limited — although she could get by if she had kids old enough to do heavy work. My grandmother and aunt never felt any less than equal partners. (In fact, my grandmother was quite the entrepreneur and ran a very successful egg business for many years.) My own mother grew up on a farm and although she lived the “traditional” 50’s life — Dad was the wage earner and she stayed at home — she always made it clear that she worked (it was just in the home) and that it wasn’t his money but their money. So is it actually the source of the income that’s the issue or how the partners perceive the situation? Are we — unfortunately — using cash to measure our self-worth?

    • elissapr says

      Ah Corinne…my Smartypants friend…excellent historical perspective. Our beliefs are all rooted in history..and you present an excellent case as to how a woman’s place came to be in the home.

      I think our self-worth is less tied up in who has the money…but how you contribute and/or share it.

    • Elissa says

      You raise (as usual) an excellent historical point of reference here, Corinne. Entrenched beliefs and behaviours have to start somewhere, and in this case it was on the farm. Also, the perception of ‘yours, mine and ours’ is an important one – after all..how a couple defines ‘contribution’ is the key to it all.

  7. says

    It’s interesting because I think women have always known that money was power – they just didn’t have the access or the means to build professions in the same way men did for generations because they also had to care for the family. WWII of course changed that, and even though there was a slide back after that, the forward progression was definitely set in motion.
    There is no doubt that making your money gives you freedom. I think I’ve seen that even in friends of both sexes when a substantial trust fund is involved and so they are always somewhat dependent on a parent.
    In a marriage there are a zillion ways to parse a true partnership and it doesn’t do either spouse good to have the entire burden of anything rest solely on them – whether it be the money, the childcare, the housekeeping, etc.
    And what did Carol Brady do all day? She was awfully chipper for a woman with 6 kids.

    • Elissa says

      I’m loving all these historical references from Twitter braintrust. This is an excellent point: WWII was a great equalizer – for that period of time. Funny, how women helping out in munition factories and the like – still did a job defined as ‘women’s work’. Your comment does highlight the fact while women have ‘come a long way baby’ – but we still have a ways to go.
      And as for Carol Brady? Well…she did have Alice…

  8. says

    Money is power, why yes…
    And dear Elissa, I have lived it both ways (with money that is). I have lived the ledger life -the one in which one person – let’s call him insecure, short man for point of reference, kept tabs down to the nickel, of not only who earned what but whose family of origin paid for or gifted what. It was not only vulagr and vile it was demoralizing. Also, it resulted in me building a big bad pische (yiddish spelling is not my strong suit) that grew and grew until one day it and I were big enough to leave. Needless to say, insecure, short man is no longer my husband. Now, I spend my days deep in the warm, supportive waters of “ours”. We take turns taking chances and building out our wildest ideas. We cheer each other on and make it clear that there is a safe net below. And you know what? We are each (let’s call this one The Mister who floats my boat) successful, happy and incredibly empowered. My point, yes the money was certainly part of it but the true root of the power is deeply rooted in the love, respect and partnership between us.
    And Rebecca, as the matriarch of a Brady like family, I can tell you Carol Brady was likely high on Mike’s architect glue, that is one hard job that she made look too easy!!
    Please forgive any typos…traveling today….

    • Elissa says

      Thank you x 100 for sharing this personal example – I think other woman will self-identify with this situation. The difference? You used your smarts, savvy…and dare I say courage…to get yourself out of a negative situation into one where your contribution is appreciated and loved.

      And yes, I’m sure Mike Brady did lace Carol’s pillow with architect glue every night…

  9. says

    I remember being about 10 or 11 years old and watching an old episode of “Dennis the Menace”.  In that episode, Mrs. Wilson wanted a new Winter coat and Mr. Wilson was being too stubborn/cheap to buy it for her.  Even at that young age I remember thinking, “No way I will EVER let a man tell me what I can and cannot buy.  EVER.”.  

    I come from a home in which both of my parents were educated professionals, there was never a moment in which I thought about not having my own career and earning my own money, although, after I had to call off my wedding at 2 months pregnant, I grew sad at the reality that I wouldn’t be able to stay home with my baby since at that time I still had a corporate job.  When my son turned 1 year old and the economy imploded I was laid off, and that was a true blessing.  Parlaying my talents into a freelance career has offered me the best of both worlds: I have my own career, earn my own living, but have tons of time to spend with my little guy.  Never once did it occur to me to do what Ann Coulter suggests: getting a husband to “legitimize” my situation and provide an income so that I can stay at home full time.  Anyone who has ever met my son and me knows we are as legitimate as they come.  And come Winter?  I’ll be buying my own damn coat.

    • Elissa says

      I love how you bring up the notion of ‘legitimization’ and how you have defined it for yourself, given your own experiences. The Single Mom POV is an important one to consider and I’m so glad you chose to share that.

      And? I want to see a picture of you in that coat!

  10. says

    Thank you so much for writing about this topic. My husband reminds me at least weekly that he needs me to work, but that since he makes so much more money than I do, his schedule always comes first. Arghhhhhhhhh. Anyway, I think I’ll write about this on goodhusbanding.com (from the hubby’s perspective). I’d love to maybe provide a quote from you, or a link to this post, if that’s okay with you.

    • Elissa says

      Hi Angela! Nice to ‘meet’ you. Love to provide a quote, and I’m sure Melissa would appreciate a link back to her blog re this post. If you follow me @elissapr on twitter – we can DM each other re what you need for your blog.

      But back to your post for a minute! Couples often define ‘equality’ based on their respective incomes – but how are they really defining their ‘worth’?? Now there’s a question to answer…!

  11. says

    I am so happy to encounter women who truly “get” this topic! I don’t think my daughter and her friends (20 somethings) would have a real understanding of what is being discussed here as they did not witness our parents’ relationships and what was considered a “normal” marriage. When they are 30, 40 and 50, I would be interested in reading their discussions about their mothers’ lives and how it affects them, just the way we are analyzing that now. My daughter has witnessed me work all my life and raise her myself quite successfully while the father figure (my partner of 10 years) lives and works on the other side of town. We are together and separate and quite happy about it! How much more in control of one’s own money & life can one be? Talk about veering off to the other side of the spectrum! It must be because I heard my mother’s stories about my father telling her “no you don’t need that” when she ASKED to buy new underwear or stockings. My daughter would think her Grama had lived in a 3rd world country! What will be the nature the relationships of these 20 somethings in another 10 or 20 years after being raised by us?

    • Elissa says

      This is such a fantastic POV! The comments from women around the blogworld have been amazing.

      You and I are on the same wavelength re our daughters. I wonder if they will continue in our footsteps or do a 360 and start a ‘anti-working mom revolution’ as a backlash for all the times when we were ‘too busy’. Try as I might to carve out time to spend with DD11 – I often think how it’s never enough.

  12. says

    I hear you. Both of my parents worked and I always hoped I would grow up to be a stay-at-home mom. But once my kids were in pre-school I was dying for something fulfilling. Not having a pre-baby career to fall back on (I was an actress, and just couldn’t go back to that kind of schedule) it took a few years to get to the point where I was making an income, but I once I started contributing I imagined it would automatically give what I do (blogging) a measure of respect from my husband. And while he was thrilled when I wrote a camp check and paid some other big bills, we’re still not there yet. It doesn’t matter how many hours I work, I will NEVER make as much as he does, and what I do will always remain less important. It’s thrown in my face every time I travel for work and am treated upon my return as if I were on a vacation.

    • Elissa says

      Now this I find shocking, only because we’ve met IRL and I have a sense of who you are and how successful you’ve as a blogger who garners both respect and income from what is considered a relatively new industry. Can somebody say ‘groundbreaking’??

      This goes back to what I mentioned above in response to Angela Wright’s comment: who defines ‘worth’? Is it our husbands/partners – or is it from their mothers and fathers?

      This is not to say I don’t hear the same thing at my house – and I have a full-time job! DH more or less gets my desire to guest blog – but does not ‘get’ that I do it for free especially in relation to the time it takes to engage in social media. And? It. Drives. Me. Crazy.

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