“I’m so glad I got an MBA so I could do this.”
“Do you pay the bills?”
The next family pay cheque is not an issue for the two girlfriends I saw recently – who, in the course of conversation about their children – ended up spontaneously re-enacting bits of their marriage along with the stock phrases above. They were releasing steam – bracing themselves for the churn of daily life where they feel stuck and not valued.
How many couples with kids end up having similar conversations? It’s not about money, but self-worth and fulfilment. It’s about sharing and caring and being a family.
And it’s about having an intrinsic value, even if you just stay at home to bring up the next generation.
These girlfriends are immensely capable and accomplished women going through the phase of being a mother. They love their husbands and children, but something’s not quite right.
Let’s call them MBA and SME. MBA graduated from an Ivy League university. Enough said. Now with three children and a workaholic husband, she is using her honed skills to be a very hands-on mum looking after the well-being of her brood. And, yes, she wants more.
But she can’t square the circle without buy-in from her husband – the father of her children. Right now he’s obsessed with his next venture and oblivious to the needs and wants of those he loves.
SME on the other hand started a cottage business with the idea that it would allow her to work around her two children – that she could be there for homework, drop-off and pick-up, general welfare and happiness. Unfortunately, she hit upon a real need, was picked to participate in a fast-track entrepreneur programme, and recently won an award.
I say “unfortunately” because there’s a tug of priorities and, somehow, permission. She knows what she needs to put into her venture for it to be more than the hand-to-mouth vehicle it is right now. To do it she needs help. She wants to take and pick up her children from school, and be there for homework, but if she just had a few hours to herself – to focus, really focus on her business. If she could reach out to her husband and not be rebuffed with the “do you pay the bills?” get out of jail card … but it’s not happening. So she sucks it up and puts her head down when the little ones are asleep, and does her best not to be so snappy with them after all it’s not their fault.
MBA is biding her time and will launch herself into her next big thing when the children are older – but hasn’t figured out what older really is, as each age brings fresh challenges and problems.
Both need their husbands to participate. Yes, they pay overheads and family bills, but there’s more to being part of a family. MBA has no source of income. She is secure in her marriage, but it still grates to get what she feels are handouts. SME pays for her own clothes and care from her (minuscule) earnings.
Of course if you ask their husbands, they would insist that they really, really value their wives.
At the risk of reducing human relations to a transaction-based life, put a figure on it.
A mother, just like the next person, wants to feel able to make certain unilateral decisions – like buying a surprise gift for someone, a new trinket, dabble in investments, and generally access her own cash for whatever reason.
When you have no money coming in, you don’t get to choose anything. You feel like you are asking permission and have no free will. It’s draining and demoralising. Feeling valued does not boil down to money changing hands. It’s about recognising, acknowledging and celebrating what someone has to offer.
Even so, I’m advocating mothers receive a salary. If you can’t afford to pay it out, then at least put it on the books.
And to know what’s fair, salary.com has a great system figuring out what a mother would earn if she was paid for her input – the skills are varied and the list is long. I especially like the detective, janitor, psychologist, chief executive and facilities manager tasks. Last year they averaged a stay-at-home mum’s pay to be $118,905 per year.
Working mothers would get $70,107 on top of their take-home pay. You can find out more at: www.salary.com/mom-paycheck.
To all you husbands out there: it’s not about not trusting you, or that you are not going to provide money. It’s about not needing to ask in the first place. We all need a bit of autonomy and freedom of choice.
You can’t put a price on motherhood or family life, but you can own up to what your significant other – usually the wife – is taking on board, and that they want more from life.
Put a figure on it.
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org