Monday, 4 February 2013

Is it ever OK to be financially dependent on a man?



In my feminist mother's opinion, the answer is an emphatic "no", you should never give up your independence. For a woman to support a man for a period of time, however, maybe to pursue further training or something worthwhile, is uber feminist and kickass.

Hmmm, unfair maybe?


This month I decided not to return to my nursing post in London at the end of my maternity leave. For the first time since I began babysitting at the age of 14, I have found myself in a position of not bringing in my own money. Admittedly, earning £2.50/hour in my teenage years was not exactly bringing home the bacon but it is that first bite of sweet independence that you never lose the taste for. Suddenly, by giving up nursing, I have no income, merely pitiful savings and a student loan to pay off. There are many good reasons for not continuing that job - the 12 hour shifts, the nights, the sheer exhaustion of a 4 hour round trip from Kent, the childcare issue. There are not so many for not working down here - there are 9-5 community posts within my district which are doable, though the wage that I would bring in (without antisocial hour payments, London weighting etc) would of course be negligible in relation to the childcare costs for two children. Though an important fact to mention as Fiona Millar points out (see books section) is that the mother's wage cannot be the only one in this calculation:

Mother's wage - childcare costs = not much/nothing
Mother's wage + father's wage (they are his kids too right?) - childcare costs = some

As childcare costs escalate however, it is the simple truth that for many families it simply does not pay for both parents to work and it is usually the mother who does not return to work after maternity leave. Some would say these mothers are very lucky to have the option to stay at home with their children but it is this sudden lack of choice in the matter that can be massively dis-empowering and I would argue, socially regressive. In my situation, the money I would bring in would make very little difference to our finances. Of course, it would help me continue my career and maintain my skill set, but actually the "making a valid contribution to the household" bit is pretty important too. The transition from a partnership based on two incomes to a family living on one has major implications for the standard of living, self esteem and stress levels of both partners as what were once shared financial and domestic responsibilities become re-configured.

So I could apply for a post which gives me that bit of financial independence and put the kids in childcare or choose to spend more time with my children and settling into our new community, effectively becoming that retro figure and feminist object of pity, the housewife. The answer to this question is likely to change in a year's time or in three years time when the kids are at school but right now, it would seem churlish to go through the whole wrench of leaving young children to effectively work for pocket money. But, as my mother would point out, that pocket money is important. It's about never having to ask a man for money. I suppose I get round that by not asking. We have a joint account and I jokingly refer to myself as the "supplies officer". I don't go cap in hand for my housekeeping money. I just get out the cash I need to buy the kids' clothes, the groceries, pay the bills and if there's a bit of make up in there for me, I reckon that's ok. I guess the bigger problem is when I want to be able to buy larger things or when we disagree about how money should be spent. Suddenly its not "ours", it's "his", in my mind at least.

I'm not sure what the solution is. I guess not having money of your own is hard whether you are the male or female in the partnership because it does render you the weaker partner, at least in others' perception, if not your own. A female acquaintance referred to a friend's partner who took on a lot of the childcare as a "kept man". Money is power. In austerity Britain there is less of it floating around; less freelance work, less overtime, fewer opportunities to earn that bit on the side to help you keep that shred of independence and make that financial contribution. And I haven't even mentioned reduced pensions or national insurance yet! So it is always going to be a personal decision about how much that matters. There is of course the issue of the back up fund, that secret wad of notes every woman should have just in case their partner turns into a violent abuser or you want a divorce or you just need to escape for a weekend, however unlikely it may seem now. Damn it, I should have got that sorted before I gave up work!

The much talked about "yummy mummies" who apparently do nothing at all, make no contribution to their community, refuse to help at their kids' schools or support local charities but spend their lives shopping and having facials are probably quite few and far between. No one likes a parasite. That's why whatever you do, if the resources shared within the household allow you to care for your children, support your community, participate in civil society then isn't that valid? Until sharing work is a more feasible option, I vote go with whatever makes you happy. In my house we could find a way to accommodate me working logistically, but as we're both knackered most of the time and are settling into a new place with all the challenges that brings, I know we all as a family are happier with a parent at home to steer the ship. Living amidst a thriving network of young families, I'm happy for that parent to be me. Not forever, but definitely for now.

5 comments:

  1. I really enjoy reading your posts! There is much I would like to ask, and comment (and I might, later on). But for now I am interested in what youy write about yourself as a feminist.Or if you have the right to call yourself one. Taking the Norwegian perspective (which is the only perspective I've got!), the concept here has been misunderstood and trodden on for so long, it is time to reclaim it. The value it is starting to gain again, is that if you believe that men and women are equal, you are a feminist. And by that definition, not being one is just ..well stupid. But also by that definition feminism goes both ways. Which means men have an equal right as woman to stay at home with the kids for example, and women must "let" them. So having equal rights means giving as well as getting. My smal contribution for example was sharing my 1 year maternity/paternity leave for our first son equally with my husband. He stayed home for six months, I for six. (Funnily enough ho got applauded for his choice, me....not so much..)Keep on writing!
    Bianca (Commenting as anonymous, just because it was the only profile I could choose....)

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  2. Thanks for the feedback! The giving as well as getting point is really interesting. I am definitely in favour of proper paternal leave but the sharing model which has also been proposed here seems a bit too all or nothing. The big handover at 6 months seems quite extreme!

    In our case, T saved up annual leave so that when our daughter was born he worked a 4 day week so we ha more family time. When I went back to work, he took sole charge while I was on night and weekend shifts. That one to one time together I believe really helped father and daughter bond and proved the foundation for a close relationship now. With our second child, T was teaching so no flexi-working there. We had the summer holidays together but as tends to happen when you have two, Dad takes the older child while Mum takes the younger - usually for breastfeeding, napping together etc. This pattern has continued into term time so while my daughter is able to make the most of those brief hours together before and after work, my son and his Dad see much less of each other and have taken longer to bond.

    So I would suggest that sharing parental leave is a great plan, it allows both parents to share work and home responsibilities but I think there should be the option to incorporate the leave into the working week, not just a big handover after 6 months.

    Having said that, for women desperate to get back to the "normality" of work, the handover plan is a great one and not necessarily a sacrifice. How did you find it? Was it a massive wrench or were you happy to swap roles for a while?

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  3. Hi Francesca, great posts. Just to add to the debate about the Scandinavian model - I'm familiar with the parental leave in Sweden which is 18 months shared between couples. This means you split any which way you like. You could take all of it. Or your husband could or half and half, on you a year and him six months or BOTH of you could take 9 months together (wouldn't that be amazing!)

    I'm with Bianca that for feminism to really work we have to let men step up we can't achieve equality if it only works in one direction.

    CC x

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  4. There are many interesting points, and it is hard to find a system that will fit everyone. So flexibility to choose is important. Here we have 12 months joint leave (with 80% vages) or 10 months (100%) . We chose the former. We decide how we share it, but the first six weeks are for mum and dad has to take 12 weeks or you loose them. The paternity part has been on the increase the last few years to promote equality. Both to get men to take more leave, and in turn so that the inequality of companies not wanting to hire woman of " a certain age" (and what is that!? 15-50?) although it's illegal not to, should be diminished. Which was one of the reasons I decided to share 50/50.Going back to work after six months wasn't easy, but neither was going back after 12, as I did with our second son. When I went back after six months dad and child visited 1-2 times a day as I was still breast feeding (you're allowed one hour off work a day when you breast feed) . Also, it was good to see how they bonded, when I wasn't there. Another major subject here when it comes to promoting equality is childcare. Good, available and affordable.

    Bianca

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  5. I am a full time mum so I am dependent on my husband's salary, but I see this purely as a division of labour. In an ideal world I'd like us both to work and share childcare. However this is not possible. Did you know that if you paid someone to do everything a stay at home mum does, it would cost £90,000 a year?!? I think we do not value the work that stay at home parents do, in our society. It is all about material wealth. However I personally feel that some things are more important than money, and as we can afford to live on one salary, I prefer to stay at home. I don't understand why people have children if they don't want to spend time with them, though I do understand that some people do need both parents to work in order to get the bills paid.

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