Capable of Providing
He said it proudly as if expounding pure doctrine. We were in our ward’s Marriage and Family class and we were talking about male and female roles. Someone just got done explaining how marital strife was due to the “world” making women feel like they could have it all. Brother Soandso seconded this comment by raising his hand and very clearly stating, “Women just need to sacrifice more.” He then went on to explain that his mother only ever wanted to be a mom and she sacrificed everything for her kids and she was happy. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said because my mind was reeling.
There were so many problematic things about his statement that I couldn’t even decide what to say. I quickly said something flippant about how women working relieves the burden of male-only providing and allows them to do what they want to do rather than all becoming dentists.
I didn’t do a great job of explaining what I meant to say. I meant to say that men, women and families are all better off when couples are equal, that female financial autonomy leads to greater job satisfaction and happier marriages, that raising children is work, that definitions of “work” and deeds worth pay are historically and culturally relative, that men are missing out on some of life’s greatest joy if they let women do most of the care taking, that women are missing out on some of life’s most confidence building moments if they let men do most of the providing, etc. The problem was that I didn’t have any facts to prove what I was saying. I just had my own life experience and, sadly, in a room full of traditional conservative LDS members I felt like that wasn’t enough.
Luckily, I recently discovered the article entitled “Are Career Women Good for Marriage?” which argues that “for couples in which the wife can be considered a career woman, the probability of the marriage ending in divorce is 25 percent lower than for other couples” that number dropped even further for couples where both partners earn 50% of the income. Interestingly, these results did not hold true for single provider marriages regardless of income level.
When I read this article I wanted to scream “Hallelujah!” I’ve known for a long time that my marriage and family has greatly benefited from our equal providing. Currently our career paths mean we don’t always split the finances 50-50, rather we trade-off years where one of us is the full-time provider and the other the stay-at-home parent. However, this was not always the way I envisioned my life.
I was raised very traditionally and though I touted myself as a feminist early on in my marriage I can still clearly remember one of the most pivotal moments in my life. We were discussing our plan of living off of one income so that at any time one of us could stay at home and we wouldn’t be forced to be a dual-income family because of expenses. We were both in agreement until I commented that “I might want to stay at home for awhile once I had kids.” My husband agreed and said, “I might want to stay home at some point as well.”
All of a sudden this horrible crushing feeling overwhelmed me and for the first time in my entire life I felt what it must feel like to be solely financially responsible for an entire family. It was horrifying. Thoughts of braces, college, school fees, mortgage, Christmas, car repairs, and medical bills rushed into my mind. I had a mini panic attack and immediately backed out of our deal. I hadn’t chosen a career to provide. I just did what I enjoyed. What if I didn’t make enough money? What if I didn’t get a good job? What kind of standard of living could I provide alone? What if I didn’t want to work? etc. My husband calmly said, “Well if staying at home full time is an option for you at some point shouldn’t it be for me too?” I knew he was right, but I hadn’t planned on this. I had never ever not even once thought about providing for a family. How dumb am I? I’m half-way through the training for my career and I hadn’t even seriously thought about providing and what that meant. It was terrifying and it made me approach my career with a new seriousness and practicality. I was much more willing to negotiate a better wage, demand pay for my work rather than just being flattered that someone valued my insight, understand office politics, find ways to get ahead, procrastinate less and produce more.
Jump ahead six years and it is still scary, but just as I was unprepared for the terror of providing for a family I was equally unprepared for the joy. Strangely I have never heard anyone (male or female) talk about this feeling before. Are men just raised to expect it? Do they even notice it? Are they “keeping” it from us? Did I just never expect it of myself? or Do I just not know enough women who provide? Regardless, being able to provide is an amazing feeling. It is difficult for me to explain but there is a strong sense of pride and self-confidence in the knowledge that I can provide for my family. The best word I can come up with is capable–it makes me feel capable, capable of anything.
Have you ever felt the burden or joy of providing for your family? Why isn’t the joy of providing ever discussed? Has your marriage or family benefited from both parents providing? If you are a SAHM have you ever thought about being “paid” a portion of the income for your work and then contributing it back into family expenses? How can we help prepare both Young Women and Young men to provide?