Vulnerability: The Consequence of Choosing to Stay at Home?

by Caroline
Last summer, when I was nine months pregnant with my second child, I was overcome with feelings of vulnerability. I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen to me and the children if Mike died. After all, my own father unexpectedly died when I was a toddler, leaving my mom to raise two small children alone.

So even though we had already purchased the maximum life insurance package that Mike’s work offered, I sought out an additional policy, doubling the original amount. This made me feel marginally better, but I’m still haunted by that vulnerable feeling, a vulnerability that goes beyond worries about Mike dying.

I think that one major reason for these feelings is the fact that
that it’s been a year and half since I last earned my own paycheck. For the first time in our marriage, I now depend utterly on Mike’s income. I depend utterly on Mike. As the saying goes, I am one man’s paycheck away from poverty. (Well, it’s not really that dire since we do have savings, but that’s still how I feel.)

This dependency is an unsettling feeling. While I know that legally half of everything Mike makes belongs to me, I still often feel like it’s really Mike’s money, not mine. When I go out to dinner with my grad student girlfriends, I like to grab the check, wave my credit card, and announce, “It’s on Mike tonight!” Of course I’m joking, but a part of me thinks it’s true. My fun evenings, my unnecessary shopping expenditures, my ridiculously expensive graduate classes… my frugal husband funds them all. As I tell him occasionally, he’s my sugar daddy now.

I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with these feelings of vulnerablity and dependency, which have sharpened so considerably since the advent of our second child. Perhaps some of you have some good ways to intellectually approach this situation.

  • If you are married, have you experienced feelings of vulnerability and dependency in your marriage? Why or why not?
  • Do any of you have advice on how to deal with these feelings? 
  • Men, do any of you experience these feelings of dependency?


Caroline is a PhD student in Women's Studies in Religion and mother of three.

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67 Responses

  1. Lessie says:

    Wow, Caroline. I wish I had some words to make you feel better. I found myself feeling the same things after my second son was born. The unfortunate thing is that not all men are as egalitarian as it sounds like Mike is. My ex-husband was unwilling to pay for any of the above things you mention — unless they were for himself and his friends.

    I want to clarify that I’m *not* advocating you leave Mike. That wasn’t how it came across, right? What I am saying is that truthfully, you are vulnerable. But doing graduate work will take you closer to empowering yourself in whatever career field you’re studying.

    Actually, I guess maybe I do have something to say that I hope will make you feel better. While my ex-husband is actually great about fulfilling his custody obligations, it’s still scary (for both of us I’m sure) to raise kids as single parents. I hope you don’t ever have to do that. But what I’ve learned upon being single and working an entry level job and raising my kids is that while it’s scary, you’re never completely alone. My network of friends and family have stepped up and helped me bear my burdens. They’ve offered babysitting, dinner invitations, shoulders to cry on, job connections, etc.

    Anyway, it sounds like you and Mike are being smart by preparing for the worst. Take comfort in that and while this may sound trite, just try not to take for granted how things are right now.

    May “the worst” stay far, far away from you 🙂

  2. mraynes says:

    This perfectly describes my feelings, Caroline. Ever since I left my job and started staying home, I have a constant feeling of powerlessness. I feel guilty for spending money, I feel like I have to take on all homemaking and child-caring tasks in order to earn my keep. I can’t say that this change has had a positive effect on our marriage; I feel vulnerable and bitter, mr. mraynes feels confused and unappreciated.

    I’m sure that my feelings on this subject are more intense due to my personal psychology and knowledge of feminist theory but I think all stay-at-home women feel dependent in one way or another. I was having a conversation with some women from my ward last night in which they were laughing about being “ladies of leisure.” But underneath their bravado were the same fears I feel: fears of being a burden, fear for the existence of themselves and their children. It helped me to know that even traditionally-minded women have a similar experience to my own. Before this conversation I was beating myself up thinking, “why can’t you enjoy staying at home like all the other women” which, of course, only enhanced my feelings of isolation and vulnerability.

    While knowing I’m not alone in my fears doesn’t make them go away, it does increase my confidence that my feelings are normal. Thanks for reaffirming this, Caroline!

  3. Davis says:

    I guess I have a different view about how life works. Dependency is not something to be avoided. It needs to be embraced. Eliminating all the dependency in your life is not a victory, in my view it is a tragedy.

    My wife is entirely dependent on me financially right now. Big deal. I am entirely dependent on her in a thousand different ways. We are totally dependent on each other.

    Being vulnerable and finding someone that can fill that gap – whatever that gap may be – is what makes life worth living. Becoming a totally self sufficient independent island is not something I would ever wish to try.

    Some of you may say that I am in a different situation because I am the one making the money. My life has not always been this way, nor will it stay this way. My wife is fully capable of earning at least as much as I do, and will begin doing so again down the road. I have been on both sides of the coin, and I still embrace dependency.

  4. anon says:

    As Mike is an economist, it is a little unsettling that you are not using the ideas of Adam Smith to comfort your feeling of dependency; specialization, even though it makes for more dependency, leads to higher productivity.

    I am highly dependent on my wife to take care of things while I am at work. Does it make me scared? A little. I wouldn’t know where to begin to find forms, papers or what not if she suddenly departed. I would bet TARP funds that Mike feels the same way about you; he depends on you to accomplish things that are out of his domain. It’s what teams do; individual parts working together for a single purpose.

  5. suzann werner says:

    Many thank yous for validating what I do for my family.


  6. ZD Eve says:

    anon, although I’m impressed that anyone can suggest finding comfort in Smith 😉 I think the key issue absent your analysis is the issue of remuneration. The scenario of mutual dependence between husband and wife is anything but mutual in a crucial way: if he works outside the home and she doesn’t, he has an economic power that she does not. An aggregate increase in productivity is cold comfort, indeed, to the SAHM who find herself thrown into the job market after a twenty-year absence and forced to support her children on a minimum-wage job. Or two.

    However much a husband protests his dependence on a wife’s home management skills, it’s far easier to find missing papers and learn to cook and vacuum than it is to compensate for years, or decades, of lost earning power.

    None of this necessarily rules out the traditional arrangement in which husband works, wife stays at home caring for kids. I myself am living this arrangement; it’s often the best arrangement for a given period in a given family’s life. But, to use Mormon parlance, this is a fallen world, and no arrangement is without its costs. The economic costs to an SAHM can be devastating; if her husband proves violent, and she is economically dependent on him, the choices can be terrifying. It’s vital to consider those costs and, insofar as possible, ameliorate them.

    Caroline, I completely hear you. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as radically vulnerable as I did during the first few weeks of my daughter’s life. It was terrifying to realize how utterly dependent I was on my husband, and on others, at that point.

  7. RG says:

    I know one thing that has helped us is separate bank accounts. Every payday a certain amount of money is deposited in each. We’ve tried to make sure that the amount is about even after all the bills are paid. Whatever money is in each of our bank accounts is up to our own discretion.

  8. G says:

    wow, wish I had advice, mostly I can just say I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN!! I am in the same boat and it weights upon me. Heavily.

    So, last year, I decided to get a part time job. it is flexible enough that I can do it around my son. it is a small (very small) income. It’s not peace of mind, it couldn’t begin to scratch the surface of our financial needs if DH lost his job (or worse). But, in a small way, it does take some of the edge off of my feelings of being a “kept woman”.

    I opened a separate bank account where I save my earnings. Currently, this little stash will help us through a tight holiday/new years. But also, I’m hoping to find ways of growing it.

    But it is such a placebo. I am utterly dependent. And I struggle with that. A LOT.

  9. Karla says:

    This was probably the biggest issue of our early married life. I hated being dependent–found myself sometimes full of resentment and guilt–but with small children and nothing but a few semesters of college, child-care could cost more than a low-wage job brought in, to say nothing of the disruption to the household functioning, etc. My husband and I took turns going to school, and the feelings didn’t abate completely until I (with a masters degree) put him through his PhD program. Ultimately, spousal tuition benefits from his university teaching job financed my PhD. Now we’re grandparents, both of us working and both loving our work. I don’t feel bad that I currently make less than him and contribute more on the day-to-day unpaid home front, at least partly because I know I could fully provide for myself (and him) if I needed to. For me, the solution to the resentful-dependent quandary was to keep working over long years to become truly independent. A satisfactory solution ultimately, but probably not so helpful in the short term.

  10. ECS says:

    I’m working part time at the moment, but I’d much rather be back at my full-time job. Trouble of it is, I have to agree with Pres. Hinckley who says it’s nigh impossible to be a full time employee and full time mother. Most relationships that start out egalitarian fracture under the stress of caring for children. Soon whoever’s career makes the most money (or is otherwise seen as more “important”) prevails, and the other person shoulders the burden of arranging for child care (or becoming the primary care giver) and the routine, endlessly demanding domestic tasks.

    What makes me sad is to read comments like mraynes’ where she feels relegated to the child care and household responsibilities because she’s no long earning “her own” money. I think it’s an easy trap to fall into, but this undermines our thinking of marriage as a cohesive, coherent entity – or a true partnership between adults. Your taking care of your children is just as important as your husband earning the money, and you should start thinking and acting this way. The problems arise when women and men think that they are limited to their own roles, and don’t act as if they are responsible for the entire family as a unit. Am I making any sense here? I guess it doesn’t lessen the anxiety around your financial dependence, but your husband is just as dependent upon you to love and take care of your children. The bottom line is that women undermine their own status in the family by allowing feeling of dependency to determine their actions – as if they have to earn their keep. You’re not your husband’s employee, after all.

  11. D'Arcy says:


    I’m not sure if I have anything to add except for thanks. I don’t really fit in with the demographic of this post. After reading “A Room of One’s Own” by Woolf, I knew that I needed to find a way to earn some type of monetary income no matter what family position I would find myself in.

    I have not married yet, nor am I sure I ever will. My career is important to me and I find myself taking greater risks with money and investments and moving places. I’m dependent on no one really.

    I keep wondering, is that scary? What if something happened to me? Who would care for me if I were injured etc? I think, in a way, alone or married, there are always those big life questions. Those places where we all feel vulnerable and alone and dependent. I don’t know what I would do if something happened to me. I often wonder if I’m making the right decisions with life and would love that one other person to give me advice and plan with me. I feel very vulnerable as a single person as I work all day, make decisions, run the house, clean the house, plan the meals and do everything…alone. And then I climb into bed at night…alone.

    Early on in my twenties I resented the fact that I was working while all my friends were at home caring for their babies. I just wanted someone to share the burdens and help make the big decisions with.

    That still sounds nice to be at times, but I also love where my career path has gone, the amazing education I’ve been able to receive, and all the paths I’ve been able to follow. I don’t feel that the “aloneness” of singlehood is a bad thing. I think it’s just different.

  12. G says:

    ECS (and mraynes too)… this is also something I struggle with a lot: the feeling that I need to ‘earn my keep’ through housekeeping, cooking, child care etc.
    yes. not healthy at all, I get all sorts of bitter/resentful/depressed about the situation… I try to keep in mind the actually tangible financial worth of my work in the home… but… yah.

  13. ECS says:

    My last comment was a bit disjointed, but more and more women are re-entering the workforce after taking time off to care for children, and the recent spike in unemployment is encouraging more people to take non-traditional jobs or take some time off to re-evaluate their careers. I don’t mean to be critical here or to minimize the fear around being financially dependent upon your spouse, but for those of you who feel dependent, could you find part time or volunteer work that will help you ease back into the workforce a few years down the road? Even taking classes or finishing your degree would be worth it. I’ll switch into Oprah/Suze Orman-mode now, but you have to take charge of your own career, your own financial security. Even if you aren’t currently working for pay, you can find ways to become more financially independent in the future. Your current situation at home won’t dictate the way you’ll live the rest of your life – or even the next five or so years – unless you act as if you are dependent.

  14. ECS says:

    G – think of it this way – your husband is getting a steal. You take very good care of your family, you keep everyone healthy (all those bike rides!), and you’re an amazingly talented artist. Seriously, he is getting the deal of the century. You’re priceless. (just like the MasterCard commercials) 🙂

  15. G says:

    ECS~ /grinning.
    you just made my day 🙂

  16. ZD Eve says:

    This has been a fascinating discussion. I’ve really appreciated everyone’s perspectives.

    I have to admit that while I do feel economically vulnerable in my marriage (and while I constantly struggle over my decision to get a Ph.D. in the humanities), I don’t tend to feel guilty for spending money my husband earns. As ECS said, I’ve tried to think of our marriage as a partnership–at different times, we each make different contributions. When we married he had no savings, while I’d saved a fair bit and out-earned him. But I didn’t consider myself to have a greater right to our money than he did then, and I don’t consider myself to have a lesser right to our money than he does now. My husband is very, very hardworking, but I do things with our daughter at home I know–and he knows–that he does not have the patience to do.

    (Of course, it’s entirely possible I don’t feel guilty simply because I have a massive sense of entitlement 😉 ).

    It’s a difficult balance, trying to maintain–simultaneously!–the hardheaded realism necessary to recognize and remedy, to the extent I can, my own economic dependence, and the extra-economic perspective that recognizes the value of unremunerated labor. I’m always interested to see how others negotiate this.

  17. mraynes says:

    I should say, ECS, that the particular feelings you took issue with only occur on bad days when the sun isn’t shining (today happens to be a grey day.) 🙂 But I do feel a strong urge to contribute to our family as fully as I can. In order to satisfy this urge I do most of the housework and childcare plus many of the things you suggested. But it isn’t enough, I am not living up to my full potential. I know that what I do now is important but I was doing all of those things to some extent before and I had a full-time job. The problem is I have an excess of energy and creativity that isn’t being channeled and so it creates feelings of anxiousness, vulnerability and depression. I wonder if I found something that was truly fulfilling if I wouldn’t feel more comfortable with mr. mraynes being the sole provider? My other solution is to lower my expectations for life but that seems rather sad. 🙂

    I think your warning about not falling into the trap of dependency is a good one. This goes along with something I was thinking about last night after my conversation with those women. Many of them don’t trust their husbands to hold, diaper, nurture, feed or put their babies to sleep. I think these low expectations for fathers is really damaging to everybody in the family. Perhaps the equivalent of this for women is the belief that we are dependent on our husbands. As you point out, this belief is incredibly dangerous because it is antithetical to the ideal of equal partnership, not to mention the damage it does to our own self-esteem. If we raised expectations of fathers then they would more equally contribute to childcare. If we raised our own expectations for a traditional life, women wouldn’t have to cling to their role of homemaker and nurturer,often demeaning the role of fathers in the process. Instead we could feel more secure with ourselves and our choices and find an existence that really suited all of our needs.

    I don’t know if any of that makes sense; grey day = fuzzy head. Anyway, thanks for making me think deeper about this issue, ECS!

  18. Lori says:

    Who handles the money in your household? Are you in charge of at least half of it – including not just the checkbook, but bills, investing, retirement, insurance, vacation planning, gifts, etc?

    I keep track of all of it in my household. Some days I resent that my husband won’t participate more in it, but I’m good at it and I like doing it most of the time.

    He makes the money, but once it’s deposited, I have almost complete control over it.

    That might explain why I haven’t really been bothered by my husband’s earning power. We do have enough life insurance on my husband to buy me a few years of figuring out what to do. Not until the kids are grown, but at least 3 years, and that that help me feel better.

    Another factor was that I was lucky enough to be making exactly the same as my husband when I quit work. I couldn’t go back to the workforce and bring home what he’s making now – having not worked in 10 years – but I feel confident that I could ramp up to it pretty easily.

  19. Caroline says:

    I’ve read all your thoughtful comments with great interest. I will try to get back to the computer and respond to each of you later this evening.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    There are small things you can do that might lessen that feeling of vulnerability. One might be to become, if you’re not already, intimately familiar with the family finances. A lot of moms from my parents generation basically had no idea where all the money went.

    My wife handles all of our day-to-day finances (I deal with work stuff like 401k,, insurance, etc.) This started when I got my first job out of law school. I had never had a problem with tithing, but then I had never made appreciable amounts of money. All of a sudden I was writing checks for more money than we had lived on in an entire year, and it was freaking me out. So my wife took over, and it’s been that way ever since.

  21. Caroline says:

    Well, maybe I can start responding while E’s sacked out on the couch watching T.V.

    Lessie, you certainly had it 1000 times worse than I do. Yes, Mike is very egalitarian and hands off with the money. It’s like pulling teeth to get him to buy anything for himself, in fact. Like Lori mentioned, I do take care of all the bills and finances, which I like doing. I may not produce money, but it makes me feel slightly more in control to be managing it. Lessie, I’m so glad to hear that you had a strong network of friends and family to rally around you and help you out as a single parent. If single parenthood ever happened to me, I hope I’d likewise not feel totally alone.

    mraynes, I love the way you articulate these feelings. The powerlessness, the fear of being a burden. I’ve had all those thoughts swirl inside my head.

    anon, I think Mike has talked before about the efficiency of specialization. I suppose one problem for me with that model is that I really am not a very good homemaker. I’m unorganized, I don’t like cleaning, and I’m not all that creative or clever at playing with my children. I honestly feel like my strengths lie elsewhere. If I were a marvelous homemaker, maybe I’d feel like more of a contributor. It doesn’t help that Mike is a better cleaner and player with children than I am. It is interesting to hear that men also have a sense of dependency on their wives. Thanks for the comment.

    ZD Eve, Amen, amen. I love the way you put it here. “However much a husband protests his dependence on a wife’s home management skills, it’s far easier to find missing papers and learn to cook and vacuum than it is to compensate for years, or decades, of lost earning power.”

    RG, separate bank accounts is a great way to do it. My mom recommended thinking about doing it that way when I got married. I’ve proposed it to Mike, but he wasn’t so interested. Mainly because he just isn’t interested in spending money on anything but books. He’s fine with me being the purchaser of goods in our family.

    G, I know exactly what you mean when you talk about feeling like a kept woman. I think I’ve used that term internally before myself. I love the fact you got that part time job. When I was working part time, I was only making 1/4 or 1/5 of what my husband brought home, but it made me feel empowered. I felt justified in going out and buying fun totally unnecessary things sometimes. Now such purchases weigh more heavily on me.

    Karla, I love the way it all worked out for you. Each of you supporting each other through your school until you both reach your terminal degrees. I love it. I hope I’ll get there someday as well.

    ECS, thanks for your input. I love your insights. I agree that we women should try to value as supremely important the non wage earning work we put into the home. But do you have any thoughts about how to internally recognize the importance of that work when a person doesn’t excel at it? Like I said above, I’m just not an excellent full time mom or homemaker. Which is hard for me to accept because I’ve always been an excellent student.

  22. Vada says:

    Wow. While I’m sometimes kind of scared of what might happen if DH dies (because I haven’t worked in years and if I had to go back I’d make way less than he does), I’ve never felt any other insecurities about him making money while I stay at home. (Sometimes I’m jealous about him getting out and want to trade, but I’m not insecure about it.) Maybe, as Eve said, this is due to a massive sense of entitlement. But right now I’m feeling very grateful for that sense, since I don’t need more feelings of guilt.

    I’m sure part of what helps is that I know that even though I couldn’t raise my kids on my own if DH died, I also know he couldn’t do it if I died. Either one of us would have to move close to some family and rely on their help to get through it (and they would help), because there’s just no way we could do it on our own. It’s also possible that I feel more even because my kids have special needs. I spend tons of time dealing with schools, IEPs, doctors, medications, therapies, research, etc. While my husband understands part of it, he’d be in some serious trouble trying to figure it all out and stay on top of it if I wasn’t around.

    Anyway, I guess this comment doesn’t really help you. Sorry. But I think some of the solution might to have interdependency (and realize it). I do feel dependent on my husband, but I also know that he’s dependent on me, so it doesn’t really bother me.

  23. Beatrice says:

    I haven’t read the rest of the comments, but this post was making me think about a book that I read that talked about payed vs. unpaied labor (wish I could remember which book it was). It talks about how we often forget about the value of unpaid work in our society (child care, fixing things yourself etc). You could think about who is bring home the pay check, but you could also think about all the work that you both do as a couple and the value of that work. Sure, your husband is bring home the paycheck, but you should feel like that money is both “yours” because of all the work that you have put into childcare, cooking, cleaning, or anything else you do for your family. Not only are you saving the family a lot of money because you don’t have to pay someone else to do these things, but your husband is probably able to focus a lot more a work because of all the things you do. I know it just feels different when your name is the one that is printed on the paycheck, but it makes me sad to think that so many women feel like the money is “less theirs” when they are working just as hard for the family’s well-being as their spouse is.

  24. G says:

    oh oh! yes, I want to back up what Kevin Barney just said; I just recently took over the job of paying our bills, arranging to get the statements emailed to me, and being the one who manually goes in and pays them each month; and this has REALLY been a positive experience for me.

    When I was single, I knew where every dollar went.
    When we got married, a financial counselor advised that DH pay all the bills (trying to remember his reasoning, something about him knowing where his money was going)… and I think that contributed quite a bit to my feeling of powerlessness.

    I have taken everything off automatic pay and arranged to get the statements and make the payments myself (the whole stopping automatic payments: this isn’t a recommendation for anyone, it just happens to be helpful for me to see and be a part of the ebb and flow of the money where it used to just happen all off my radar)

  25. G says:

    beatrice, a book I’m planning on reading soon is Counting For Nothing: What Men Value, What Women are Worth. does that sound familiar?

  26. ZD Eve says:

    I like Kevin’s suggestion about money management. I’ve always managed the money in our marriage, and I like doing it. For that reason I definitely have a better idea of our finances than my husband does.

    I really hope the days in which a husband would turn over what he thought she needed to run the household to his wife are long over.

  27. debbie says:

    I am actually quite sad to discover that we think so little of ourselves and the roles we are currently filling. The question I would ask is, do you want to stay at home or is it something you are doing because that is the “ideal?” If you want to stay at home, awesome! Do it! Have fun with it. Don’t worry that you are unorganized, don’t like cleaning or are not creative with the kids. The June Cleaver model is only one of several ways to be a homemaker—not all of use bake bread in our spare time, bottle peaches or have an immaculate home. In fact, I DETEST dishes! I don’t find joy in scrubbing toilets. I can let vacuuming go for weeks before I finally turn on the machine. Instead of trying to be someone you are not, find out who you are and find systems and opportunities that fit you instead of forcing yourself to fit the system. And remember to focus on yourself as much as you focus on your family. I’ve watched so many of my friends lose their identity trying to chase toddlers and the June Cleaver ideal. Make time to pursue your own passions. Let the dusting wait while you write or read or draw or check the stock market… whatever it is that floats your boat. If you’re thinking about that PhD, go for it! Because if all you can see when you look in the mirror is a nanny and a maid, I can understand why you feel undervalued, vulnerable, or like a burden.

    I think the same would be true if you’re only at home because you’re “supposed to be. “ That’s a first class ticket to resentment and depression. God didn’t put us here for the sole purpose of procreating, He intended for us to fulfill the measure of our creation. For me, that means developing our talents and ourselves in addition to nurturing and caring for our families. I’ve known women who stayed home to do the right thing only to leave their families later because they felt jaded in their role as homemaker. I’ve known husbands who have fulfilled the SAH role while the wife worked. It’s what worked for them and the family was happy.

    But practically speaking, I find that serious open communication and preparation has worked the best to quiet my fears of vulnerability and dependency. My husband and I handle finances together. I do most of the initial planning, but then we meet to review the budget and discuss goals and expenditures. We both agree that the money is family money, not his and hers. I plan most of the meals, with input from him, and then we grocery shop together (well, not always, but we try). I do most of the house work but still expect him to pitch in (mostly dishes and garbage… but he’ll throw in some other chores to make me feel special). And sometimes it’s fun to see those roles reversed. Just last night he had me helping him with a project at his work. He utilizes my strengths to supplement his weaknesses. We are a team. Financially, we purchased a Term Life insurance policy that is 10 times his annual income (Side Note: We insured me for about half that to offset daycare and other things he may need if I’m gone). His policy will allow me to pay off all of our debt and invest the rest. We’ll easily be able to survive from the interest. I have chosen to continue my education to keep me sharp. We’re saving up for my masters right now. I LOVED the idea to volunteer. I’m finding more and more it’s not always what you know, but who you know. Find your passion and then get to know some people in the field.

    But, again, I think it all begins with believing that you are valuable in whatever capacity you serve. Whether working mom or SAHM, you are amazing, talented and irreplaceable. And if your hubby can’t see that, well, I have a frying pan you can borrow!

  28. Two of Three says:

    I’ve handled the money my DH has made for twenty years. Never feel guilty about spending a dime, whether on an electric bill or a pair of outrageously impractical shoes. We both tend to be frugal. We splurge seldom and in small amounts (those shoes were probably second hand). He has never refered to the money in our account as “his” or the tuppence I make as “mine”. It is all “ours”.
    We have a reasonable insurance policy, so I have some security if he were to check out early. Or at least some time to get on my feet. My only concern would be that my kids have good opportunities for an education.
    I think there have been economic consequences of choosing to stay at home ( then pursing a job with “mom hours”), but then I don’t deal with some of the potential consequences of working full time. It’s a trade off. I chose what worked well for us. Never have regretted it.

  29. Two of Three says:

    debbie-loved your comments. In my house, dust is a noun, rarely a verb.

  30. ECS says:

    Caroline – as I’ve thought about your posts and my responses, I realize that there are two themes (at least) to your excellent questions. The first is the reality of financial dependence, which means that unless your husband brings home a paycheck, you’re not going to be able to pay your mortgage or your grocery bill (assuming you have only a small amount in savings). It’s not easy in this economy to feel secure when your family depends on one person’s paycheck to pay all of its expenses. There’s also of course the sad fact that many women fall into poverty after divorce or the death of their husband. The consequences of financial dependence are very real. They’re not only in your head.

    What is in your head, though, is your emotional reaction to the very real risk of financial devastation in the case of divorce/death of your spouse. You’ve chosen to stay home with your children for the time being, and this was probably the right decision for your family. That said, you should realize that you have an obligation to yourself to value what you do every day, whether it’s paid or unpaid work, and to plan for a future where you end up back at school or in the workforce.

    The times when I’ve felt the most discouraged are when I feel like I’ve lost control. Leaving paid employment (or school) to stay home with your children requires that you give up some (a lot of) control over your life – not the least of which is financial control. I think the reason why many mothers who stay home struggle with depression is that these women gradually accept their status as the financially dependent spouse and the primary caretaker of the children and then convince themselves that they have very little control over their lives because of the constraints of caring for the kids and the fact that they aren’t wage earners themselves.

    I could write pages and pages about how my life has been upended since the birth of my son and how I’ve learned to cope with all the changes. I’ll write more later – gotta go finish the laundry. 🙂

  31. Naismith says:

    I think perhaps I did feel vulnerable in the first few years. That ended when I saw what a huge positive impact that my homemaking had on my husband’s career. Because I was willing to travel with him (at one point took four kids to South America for half a year, and lots of lesser trips), his career blossomed, and he is considered one of the tops in his sub-specialty in the world. Like the Anon comment, my husband would have a hard time managing without me. Ours is a partnership.

    Also, as ECS mentioned, there are steps one can take to assist in workplace re-entry down the road. I took several distance-learning classes (studying at the playground) to complete my bachelors and set me up for my master’s degree. I did freelance work from home, and when accepting volunteer assignments worried about the prominence of the people with whom I would be working (for future job references). Not very self-sacrificing and humble, but I was doing it for the letter of recommendation. I took 9 years off from employment the last time, and picked up with a salary not far below where I would have been if I hadn’t taken time off–I was viewed as working in another field during those years.

    I have to say that I always took my job as a fulltime parent and homemaker seriously–I never spent a day in pajamas or reading all day, like some of my friends reported. I think that helped me feel that I was NOT a kept woman. I worked hard.

    Now that I have returned to full-time work and earn a generous salary, it is not “my money” either. All our money is pooled, just as it was when only one of us had a paycheck. So I don’t get the need to have one’s “own” money.

  32. Susan Wilson says:

    I’ve read the comments with interest wonder if perhaps some of the vulnerabilities felt by various people are also related to the sense of worth that you place upon yourselves?

    I don’t work for the first time in over 20 years. Circumstances mean that the best decision at this point in my life has been for the past 3 odd years to (temporarily) stop working and be a full time mother to a now 18 year old. That decision has had some challenging consequences for me to deal with, but feeling vulnerable hasn’t been one of them. Perhaps that is due to never having associated my sense of self, worth and identity with my career. My career (and earning power) has been an extension of what I am and not the other way around.

    Having also spent quite some time as a single, high earning parent, I don’t see that a wage earner has a higher status or importance than a non-wage earner within marriage. Thinking that way seriously devalues and undermines the contributions made by both spouses – contributions that may be very different yet absolutely equal. More than once as a single parent I felt that I really could do with a “wife”, I’d be a better employee, a better person and a better parent if I could have one.

    Whatever your choices are vis a vis to work or not to work, and I am not advocating one over the other, there is always a price to pay. Likewise, there are also unforseen benefits, opportunities and blessings that come as a result of your choice. I have had some truly marvellous blessings and opportunities come my way during my time as a non-wage earner, things that I could not have experienced had I been working. I would not be without these things.

    I do feel that it really comes down to accepting that there is a time and a season for all things, we often don’t have any control over them or their duration. However, it is incumbent on us to do the best we can under the circumstances we face and make the most of them. That said, these past 3 years have been the most difficult years of my life and working would have made an important difference to me, but it wasn’t the best decision for me to make and I have been blessed in ways I could not have imagined.

  33. Caroline says:

    D’Arcy, thanks for putting this idea of vulnerability in perspective. I’m so glad you brought up your vulnerability as a single person making your own way in the world.

    ECS, great advice about minimizing vulnerability by keeping a foot in the work force in some way. I actually have a professional degree and could go back and teach high school, but my heart isn’t really in that. Which is why I’m taking grad classes in women’s studies in religion — which adds even more to my vulnerability, in a way. What on earth type of job will I ever land with a degree in that field?

    Lori and Kevin, I agree that having a real hand in managing the money is important in minimizing those feelings of vulnerability. Those are great points. As I mentioned above, I do actually do all the money managing in our household –always have — and I am so happy that that’s the case.

    Vada, thank you for sharing your perspective. I like the idea of interdependency, and I think it’s true to some extent in my marriage. Though I can’t quite shake the idea that it would be far harder for me to replace Mike and what he contributes to the marriage than it would be for him to replace me and what I contribute. Ergo, that feeling of vulnerability…

    Beatrice, thank you for sharing your viewpoint on this. I like the idea of really learning to value all the unpaid labor that I and other people around the world contribute.

    debbie, as to your question about why I stay home, I’d say it’s a pragmatic decision. Mike has more earning power and a real career as an academic. I have/had a career as a high school teacher. Paying for full time day care for two children would pretty much wipe out my salary. So I stay home and take grad classes on the side, with the idea of working slowly toward my PhD. I love all your advice about not worrying about my shortcomings as a homemaker. And thanks for the offer of a frying pan. 🙂 Luckily for me, Mike is never the one to devalue my contributions, such as they are, to the marriage.

    Two of three, I’m happy to hear that the division of labor structure has worked so well in your family. I think you’re right that there are always tradeoffs, no matter which way a family makes it work.

    ECS, your point about control is right on. As a SAHM I feel a lack of control because my husband’s career determines most major things in my life. Where we live, how we pay our bills, etc. Though, Mike, sweet man, has said that if I ever finish a PhD and have a job offer, he’d be willing to consider relocating to wherever that job offer is.

    Naiah, I love hearing about how you navigated your SAHM years to keep yourself viable professionally. That’s one of my crippling fears — that by choosing to stay at home now, my value in the workforce is steadily decreasing. Such that it might be nigh impossible to reenter and land a job in 10 years. This is one reason why I’m trying to take grad classes during these SAHM years.

  34. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you Caroline for this discussion. It really opens my eyes. Like D’Arcy, I feel vulnerability as a single person in a completely different way. It scares me sometimes to think that I alone am responsible for my mortgage, bills, future, etc. And if I ever marry, I know I bring a lot of habits and complications that come with marrying after being so independent for so long. It is really great to learn from your experiences.

  35. mark steed says:

    Great post, Caroline. I could have written this myself (except the graduate classes part).

    My anxiety over being vulnerable also extends to frustration about my hard work as a young person.

    It started on Monday when I was visiting teaching two women who have daughters struggling during their first year of HS. They are taking honors classes and up late with homework every night with no end in sight. I looked back at my own life and thought about how hard I worked in HS, how many AP classes I took, how high my GPA was in college and then I felt irritated. What was the point? Why did I work so hard in school when all I do now is wipe noses, bottoms, and floors all day?

    I really do want a graduate degree and a career, but I’m not sure in what field, and with three small children, the timeline just seems further and further away. Like ECS suggested, I am volunteering and I know it’s helpful for my resume, as an non-homemaking outlet, and as an example to my children, but most days it’s just added stress in my life.

    Of course my job at home as a mother is important, but I know I didn’t fully appreciate what I was giving up when I made the choice to have babies and stay at home with them. I also don’t think I fully appreciated how long the childhood years are. I thought I would take a break from school for a few years. It will probably be a few decades.

    I wish someone would have told me how would feel when I was working so hard in HS and college. I didn’t really need to try so hard, I could have been mediocre and been fine, and probably had more fun along the way.

  36. mark steed says:

    Sorry that last comment was by Jessawhy

  37. m&m says:

    I find it interesting to read these thoughts. I’m not trying to dismiss the reality that many women feel this. But I have to admit I am a bit surprised…especially because of the level of education generally found in this group. (I hope that doesn’t sound patronizing, because I don’t want it to — I just think it’s interesting to note that sometimes being educated might leave us feeling at a loss when/if we decide not to *directly* use that education in making money. As such, one thought I have is to think about your skills and education and résumé in broader ways. That has made a huge difference in my life.

    I’m big on talking and thinking about how women can keep a current résumé even when not working for pay. Even as I have been out of the workforce for over a decade, and haven’t worked for pay for almost a decade (I consulted a bit from home when #1 and #2 were still in turbo-napping mode), I feel completely confident in my ability to get a job if something were to happen (nevermind the insurance peace/piece).

    But I also think that equal partnership means that the money is really ours, a shared thing. Just like the children are not mine just because I bore them and bear the majority of responsibility for their physical well-being.

    Could some of it be simply as part of the transition pains (which can be pretty intense) from full-time, focused, independent (even if married, that is a real thing) career woman, to woman now wearing many different hats (most of them thankless, thankyouverymuch)? I do know that marriage and motherhood in general were both transition times for me and I struggled with some identity issues. (I had been single long enough to have a graduate degree and have a great career and an independent life that was also really fun and free.)

    So I guess another thought would be maybe to just give yourself some time to sort through the transition. IMO, the early years of motherhood are so discombobulating in many ways. It’s hard, for so many reasons. For me, anyway, time has brought some powerful perspective and peace with motherhood and even more appreciation for what partnership means. I think having children demands a lot of adjustment in figuring out what partnership means and how those dynamics play out (lots of room for individual choice there)…that takes time to get used to. (I think dads can often feel left out and dependent in terms of caring for children and home management, or whatever else a woman might do that he may not.)

  38. m&m says:

    Most relationships that start out egalitarian fracture under the stress of caring for children.

    So my follow-up to this and to my thought is that having children in my view realy requires a reconsideration of what an egalitarian marriage is.

    I would be surprised, btw, if much of your emotion isn’t tied to your own family experiences with your mother being widowed so early. (Breaks my heart to hear stories like that.) I would probably feel a lot more vulnerable had that been in my world more closely. FWIW.

    But another thought is maybe recognizing that that could be part of it, and also realizing that what you bring and brought to your family and your marriage wasn’t just a paycheck might help you process some of the fears and feelings of dependency. ?? Just a thought. (A year of therapy has led me to be a lot more forthright with myself about looking at the fruits of my emotions objectively and trying to find truth that can empower me to face life, rather than letting the emotions take over…which they usually have for me. I still have a long way to go, but the objective assessment of the stuff that hinders my life has helped a lot.)


  39. ECS says:

    Don’t have much time to write now, but I have to speak up and tell Jess and anyone else out there who feels that she shouldn’t have worked as hard in school that your a academic successes and credentials are absolutely worth it- even though you may be using your PhD in Microbiology to scrub the toilet and vacuum up germy Cheerios. No matter how cynical and pessimistic I become, I still believe that you should put your best efforts toward the task at hand, regardless of the expected payoff. But even though I believe this, I still feel discouraged by housework and child care because it can be impossible to feel like your efforts are being rewarded or that they are even making a substantive difference. And months and years of this can be simply intolerable. Anyway, your hard work in school shows that you are organized, intelligent, and willing to make sacrifices to get the job done, qualities any employer values in an employee.

  40. Emily U says:

    The first 8 years of my marriage I was a student, (I earned a stipend in grad school), and the last 1.5 years I’ve worked full time. So I haven’t had your experience, Caroline, and can’t totally relate to your feelings. BUT, I will say working is not all it’s cracked up to be, especially with kids. I very much wish I could afford to take a low-paying part time job. Having a partner you can depend on financially and emotionally is a very good thing, as I’m sure you know! From my POV, some feelings of insecurity are worth the benefits.

    As far as advice on dealing with feelings, I think a real fundamental change in many of our thinking is needed. I like what ECS said: “The bottom line is that women undermine their own status in the family by allowing feeling of dependency to determine their actions – as if they have to earn their keep. You’re not your husband’s employee, after all.”

  41. Lulubelle says:

    1. If you are married, have you experienced feelings of vulnerability and dependency in your marriage? Why or why not? No! And this was a choice I made in high school when I watched in horror as my aunt asked my uncle for extra money to buy a dress. I was horrified (my mom worked so she never ‘asked’) and thought: “OMG, she really doesn’t earn her own money and that will never ever be me.” So I work and earn as much as my husband does. I am terrified of being dependent on anyone. And thank goodness because a few years ago, I divorced my first husband and I was able to financially support my daughter and me just fine. I had a social worker ask me at one point if I needed to go to a women’s shelter and I was relieved to say no, we were just fine.
    2. Do any of you have advice on how to deal with these feelings? No because I just can’t give up my job because I am terrified of feeling that way. Very un-Mormon, probably, but it’s how I feel and has driven my life choices.

  42. Naismith says:

    “my mom worked so she never ‘asked’”

    Just wanted to point out that one does not follow from the other. And it is kind of sick logic, IMO. If we are true partners, then we should BOTH be asking each other, irregardless of whose name is on the paycheck.

    I wouldn’t “ask” my husband about a new dress, whether I was employed or not, because it doesn’t affect him and is below our threshhold of checking with the other person.

    But he doesn’t get to buy a new camera or other big ticket item without asking me, either. Whether I am employed or not.

    By making the assumption that the money is one’s “own,” we are buying into a sick materialistic mentality.

    I agree that everyone should have the ability to spend some money however they want. But linking it to whether one’s name is on the paycheck? That’s not much of a partnership.

  43. bell says:

    I come at this from a little bit of a different perspective, though it sounds like some of your stories may have similarities. I did not marry until I was thirty and already had a professional degree and job I loved, that paid more than sufficiently for my needs. Then I married a man nearly eight years my junior and still working on his bachelor degree. Before we started dating, he had saved enough money to quit his job and just focus on school. When we married, we combined bank accounts, bought a very modest house, and now all of my income goes to our bills, house payment, necessities, etc. We have both had our individual struggles with the situation not fitting in with the normal mormon culture. He, in particular, has struggled with how he is perceived and with relying solely on me for support. He often gets ribbed about having a sugar momma. He constantly feels like he needs to be contributing in some way to the finances of our family, even while I tell him I am fine with the situation. He has done part time things, but with his school schedule and activities, finds it hard to find jobs that work with his schedule. We truly share the money, but there have been purchases he has wanted to make that I would not make myself. But we have been very good about approaching these things as a team and I remind myself how I would feel if I were in the opposite position.
    However, the real difficulties seem to be looming. As my biological clock is ticking away, we are struggling with how to bring children into this equation. The more we look at it, the more it makes sense for me to continue to be the full-time supporter of our family for the next few years and him be the stay at home dad + student. (He will be going on to get his masters degree and potentially his doctorate.) Figuring this out and being comfortable with it has been very difficult for both of us. He, continuing to feel like a leech. Me, struggling with not being the one to be home to raise my children. Pop them out and then get back to work. I grew up with a very traditional example, my mother has never returned to the work force and my dad had little to do with raising children or housework. At the same time, I worked hard for my career and love what I do. I also dread the prospect of endless housework. I guess, then, I just have to agree with the general thread of these posts. No matter what you end up doing, it will take lots of adjustment, communication, and acceptance that though life may never be perfect, a lot of how perfect things feel has to do with how we allow ourselves to think about things. Thanks for all your comments, you’ve all been very helpful.

  44. Emily U says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post all day and have one more thought.

    Think about what it would cost to replace you. If you died tomorrow, your husband would have to hire a full time nanny and probably someone to clean the house once a week. Where I live that would cost about $60K a year. Your unpaid work is still work and has a real economic value. My father in law sells life insurance and with many of his Mormon customers, only the husband is insured, not the wife, which is crazy and dangerous. If she dies, there is a significant economic cost to the family.

  45. Angie says:

    My heart is pounding in my chest as I read this post and comments – I have felt EXACTL Y the same way. The fear, the resentment, the bitterness, the powerlessness, all of it.

    I became a SAHM after earning a masters degree and working as a high school counselor. I had a tiny baby and one on the way. I was physically and emotionally weighed down – it can be so scary to be responsible for all the needs of our precious, helpless children. Their dependance on me made my dependance on my husband absolutely terrifying.

    Of course, I was grateful for his hard work. I am VERY GRATEFUL that we agreed on the decision for me to stay home with our kids. But I was always aware that my and my children’s survival and prosperity depended on his good will. Luckily, my husband never cheated on me or abused his economic power over me. But I have friends who have suffered through this. It’s not a matter of having a good attitude – it’s about being realistic. During the years when we bear and raise children, we are physically vulnerable. Not only that, but the person who makes the money ultimately has the power.

    It comes down to this: WOMEN HAVE SO MUCH TO LOSE!!!

  46. Angie says:

    I must follow up my comment with the happy ending, just to show that it is possible. I was like “Mark Steed”/Jessawhy. I excelled in school, and then felt bitter pain during my years as a SAHM. It truly seemed like my hard work in school was a complete waste. Worse, my previous intellectual success seemed to highlight the intellectual wasteland of my work at home with young children. I wondered why God even bothered giving brains to women, if we were just going to be tortured by not being able to use them!!! (In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to be a little bit dramatic.)

    My husband gave me a blessing during my years as a SAHM, and he counseled me to learn as much as I possibly could. And so I did. I jumped headfirst into nutrition, child-rearing, literacy theories, housekeeping, everything I could find that pertained to being a SAHM. I tried to learn constantly – sometimes it felt like being in graduate school at Relief Society! I also spent a lot of time reading religious things like the scriptures, BYU talks, and The Exponent Blog. 🙂

    I was a SAHM for a total of seven years. It was so hard for me. But I gave it my best. Now I’m working again as a high school counselor. Both my kids are in school full day, so there’s minimal child care. In fact, my husband is an elementary music teacher, and the kids go to school with him. God has blessed our lives more than I can possibly express. All those years of submitting my will to God’s for the sake of my children have culminated in an amazing feeling of fulfillment.

    As my college freshman roommate told me once, we keep everything we learned before we were wives and mothers, and we add all the skills we learn from being married and raising children. We don’t lose anything, nothing is wasted, we just add more and more. I hung onto that thought all through those tough years, and now I can say that I completely agree with my friend’s words.

  47. elizabeth-w says:

    I work part-time. I tithe. My husband isn’t LDS and obviously doesn’t tithe. I struggle with it because in every other aspect of our marriage our money “our” money. So, when I take out that 1/10th that is “my” money. If he were to take about 1/10th to spend on CDs or something, I’d be annoyed.
    Even though I work I still have feelings of dependency–he is the one who carries the health insurance, etc. I think part of adulthood is the reality of vulnerability, regardless of specific circumstances. It doesn’t take much for most people to feel anxious about what would happen if something bad occurred. We can engage in problem-solving, or problem-generating–meaning, problem solving is getting savings together, life insurance policies, a decent education/trade, etc. Problem generating is simply fretting/worrying and serves no useful purpose.

  48. m&m says:

    We don’t lose anything, nothing is wasted, we just add more and more.

    So well said. Thank you. Time allows for that perspective. Often at the beginning of motherhood, it’s a huge leap of faith and it’s hard to feel that you are learning anything. But, oh, what an education motherhood and the sacrifices that includes really provide!

    But I still think we need to change the way we talk about all of this, though. I think part of why our leaders talk about women needing an education is so that we as women can live our lives more confidently, more able to care for ourselves if needed, less absolutely dependent, feeling and recognizing the truth that we really are partners…and having the ability to make choices if and when we need to or feel impressed to do so. In my view, sometimes the *feelings* of being dependent don’t reflect the *reality* of what we *could* do if we had to…all the more so when we have an education. I think it’s important to separate those two things out. And also to realize that education is not a linear thing that is only for a job…it can enrich and enhance all facets of our lives, in all phases of life.

    I don’t want to minimize your feelings, Caroline, but fwiw, even though I don’t know you personally, my impressions of you are that you are very capable and that you would (all the more so w/ life insurance) be able to tackle the difficulty if your husband were to die or lose his ability to work.

    One more thought — could some of it be that it’s easy to internalize the dependence our children have on their parents? That to me can be frightening. The what if scenarios of going on trips with my hubby alone, for example, can sometimes paralyze me w/ fear. Anyway, wondered if you may be feeling not only the loss of your paycheck, but the weight of the children’s dependence on both of you, too?…especially while they are so young.

    I felt a lot of that when my chronic illness hit. I was more worried about them if something were to happen to me than I was about me. Motherhood brings out some intense fears, imo, some intense protectiveness that can border on irrational, or at least pretty paralyzing.

  49. MJK says:

    We’ve been all over the spectrum in the 6.5 years since we married and I expect that things will continue to change in the years to come. When we first married, my husband found a pretty good job, and I was finishing classes at BYU. That company went under and we both found lower paying jobs to make ends meet. Each of us has been unemployed for a year or more while the other worked to support us. Now we have our first child and we are both working, (unfortunately it’s not possible to do anything else with his massive student loan payments.) My experience in staying home for our son for my three months of maternity leave were a new and different experience in this area. I found the last time I was unemployed it was important to me to have my own bank account. I was doing some odd jobs here and there for family and making a little cash from selling things with my mother in law at craft shows, and thus had a little “me” money to play with. So I got a free checking account with a local bank apart from our main, joint account. There’s rarely more than $100 in it at any point and sometimes as little as $3, but it’s my money, outside the budget as it were, to do with as I please. I’d recommend my husband get one someday but he seems happy with cash.

  50. miles says:

    I completely understand these feelings. I feel very dependent, and not always in that good interconnected way. I also know that I am important to our family and the work I do is valuable, but on a bad day, wow, overwhelmed I am.

    Like Naismith said, my being home has allowed us to move a lot for my internship and his current post-doc, not counting his ability during his PhD to really work when he needed to. My not working during that time has put us in a precarious financial state. We hang on, but I do the finances, and man I worry. When we made the decision for me to stay home we knew least 1/2 if not 3/4 of my salary would have gone to daycare and our home life would have been so chaotic. I do not think either my husband, myself or our children would have thrived. The cost did of care vs. work and our sanity led me to stay home. Over the six years I have come to like it and appreciate it much more, or maybe that is having kids out of diapers.

    My kids are now in school and although we will likely move in 6 months for my husbands job, I am looking for my first job in 6 1/2 years. Part time of course, because my husband is still in training and has to be the greatest employee he can be for recommendations, etc. That is what makes me mad. My, hopefully soon, first job back and I feel like I can’t really commit to it because of the home demands and a likely move in a few months. I am terrified!!!

  51. miles says:

    Whoops.. My husband’s internship.

  52. chococatania says:

    This is an interesting post – with interesting comments. I’ve been married twice. In my first marriage, I experienced a lot of what you feel – vulnerability and dependence on my husband (once I had decided to become a stay-at-home mom). Anyways, we ended up getting divorced, then I was a single mom for a while.

    Being a single, working mother of 2 toddlers IS SOOOOO HARD! Sure, I was no longer dependent on anyone else, but I did have two little ones dependent on me. I didn’t have enough to give. Even though we were fine, financially, I didn’t have the energy to read to them, to play with them, etc. Because of the overwhelming nature of single-parenthood, I’d often joke, “I need a wife!”

    Now, I’m remarried. My husband adopted my two older daughters, and we’ve had another. I stay at home, and he works. And I don’t feel vulnerable/dependent. I realize that he is just as dependent on me as I am on him. We are interdependent. I make this home run like a (pardon the cliche) well oiled machine. He doesn’t have to worry about bills, laundry, food storage, etc. I really take care of it all.

  53. Caroline says:

    Davis, I was interested to hear your perspective advocating dependency (for both partners). It’s also good to hear from a man who has been on both sides of the (financial) dependency spectrum.

    Susan, thank you for sharing your new experience of SAHM-hood to an 18 year old. It’s helpful to hear the stories of women who are navigating these waters. I totally agree with you that “there will always be a price to pay.”

    Thanks, Kelly Ann. I love the fact that you single gals are sharing your experience.

    Jessawhy, I think I’ve also sort of been annoyed at my teenage self for stressing out so much in high school. I could have gotten into the same college and worked A LOT less hard. I am however happy that I worked hard in college. Because I’m in the process of applying to PhD programs, I’m seeing that the work I put in at that time actually still does mean something. I’m sure the same will be the case for you when you decide what to pursue when the time comes.

    M&M asked,
    “Could some of it be simply as part of the transition pain from full-time, focused, independent career woman, to woman now wearing many different hats (most of them thankless, thankyouverymuch)?”

    Yes, I think that is definitely part of it. I think the fact that I always had expectations of career (even if only part time) makes it a hard transition. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, M&M.

    Emily U, I’m so glad you shared the other side of the story when you said, “I will say working is not all it’s cracked up to be, especially with kids.” I really do hear you. I only worked part time as a high school teacher when I had a child, and I know it would have been so so hard if it had been full time. I wonder if this whole thing is a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation, with perhaps the ideal (for most) being working part time?

    lulubelle, I absolutely understand where you are coming from. I’m so glad your own determination to maintain independence helped see you through that traumatic time of divorce.

    Great points, Naiah. I think that way of doing it – only checking if it’s above a certain threshold – is a good way to do it. In my marriage, it’s more a matter of checking if it’s a certain type of product. Mike likes to have a say on anything electronic, but I don’t talk to him at all about clothing purchases.

    bell, I loved reading your story and hearing about your husband’s experience as the financially dependent one. Very interesting. I’m so glad you love your career – while I’m sure it’s difficult to grapple with the idea that you probably won’t be home full time with your baby, it sure is wonderful that you have something to contribute to the community that you love.

  54. Caroline says:

    Emily U,
    Interesting to think about putting monetary value on what I do. I think perhaps part of my problem self-esteem wise with staying home is the knowledge that it would be far cheaper for Mike to replace me than it would be for me to replace Mike. I think my next post might have something to do with this – the idea that I have a lot more at stake in keeping this marriage together than Mike does.

    Angie, “But I was always aware that my and my children’s survival and prosperity depended on his good will” Exactly! I think that ties in with the comment I was making to Emily.

    Elizabeth W, thank you for sharing your story about tithing in an interfaith marriage. That does add a different, more difficult dimension to the idea of ‘our money’

    M&M, I don’t think you’re minimizing my feelings. 🙂 I’m so glad you’re sharing your thoughts – very helpful.

    MJK, I’m glad your comment pointed to the difficult economic situation so many people are in these days with unemployment, low salaries, huge loans, etc. It’s good for me to keep in mind that I am so lucky because I really did choose to quit my job. Nothing was ultimately forced upon me.

    miles, I’t’s good to hear you’ve come to appreciate SAHM-hood more and more. I agree, having kids out of diapers is huge! Best of luck with finding a wonderful part time job.

    I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to be a single working parent. I’m so glad that things have worked out so beautifully for you with your second husband.

  55. Janna says:

    I’m chiming in along with D’Arcy as a single person who has supported herself financially for 18 years…

    It has been important for me to learn to make my own money, and experience the security that can come with that ability. I do not think it’s important for everyone, both men and women, to have this experience. Perhaps the best question to ask is, “What do I need to learn right now?” I wonder if, at some point, I will no longer need to apply this lesson in my life – and move on to learning financial dependence on someone else – to experience that vulnerability, and be okay with it.

  56. Janna says:

    p.s. I think I can say this here, but homemaking is not working. I understand that we like to parse the terms “paid” and “unpaid” work, but unless someone hands you a check at the end of the day and you pay taxes on that income – you are not working (I understand that we could stretch and say that the husband’s paycheck is “paying” his wife, etc., but that reasoning holds very little weight in my eyes).

    It is supremely important that women understand the difference because to not, decreases the value of both. I think it would be offensive and unfair to compare a mother’s work to that which I do each day. These activities have nothing to do with each other, other than they both take time and effort. Work that produces cash is not the same as the mothering work. To equate these activities is to diminish both.

  57. anon says:


    I must respectfully disagree. Just because someone does not receive a wage for his/her labor, it does not invalidate the effort of that labor. Homemaking is surely “work”. By the strict definition of the BLS it may not be employment, but it is work nonetheless. Those who raise their own sustenance without monetary reward are not working? If you were to argue that they are paying themselves in crops that they consume, then fine. Homemakers pay themselves in the value added to their home by the homemaking itself, and thus are “working”.

  58. elizabeth-w says:

    I also disagree with Janna. If mothers were paid or recognized in terms Social Security credits (quarters worked), it might encourage mothers to do the most important work, and to feel validated in doing so. Here is a link to one organization who works toward getting women economically recognized for ‘working’ at home:

  59. Janna says:

    I completely disagree with the movement to economize mothering because it makes it into a commodity, and in our faith tradition, parenting is considered a divine calling, not a paid job. If we are to follow the economizing of mothering reasoning, then fathering should also be financially compensated.

    I can tell by Anon’s and Elizabeth’s comments that they think I don’t consider mothering work – by all means, of course it is! (I’m sorry I thought I made myself clear by acknowledging the parsing of the terms paid/unpaid work). My point is to validate Caroline’s concern that women who are not formally educated or who do not have extensive work experience prior to staying at home may be unprepared to support themselves or their family in the even their partner is unable to do so because the long and short of it is that many employers do not consider the skills gained by being a stay-at-home mother an asset in their company.

  60. Caroline says:

    I think your last point is great, Janna. Whether it’s fair or not, most employers aren’t going to give a lot of weight to the years a person spends homemaking and child rearing.

  61. Naismith says:

    “Whether it’s fair or not, most employers aren’t going to give a lot of weight to the years a person spends homemaking and child rearing.”

    They should, and we shouldn’t be shy about speaking up about what we learned during those years. I am so pleased that the top research administrator on my campus, when she introduces herself at speaking gigs and classes, mentions that she was home raising children for almost 20 years, and that what she learned there helped qualify her for her current high-pressure job.

  62. cchrissyy says:

    Hi Caroline 🙂

    I appreciate your post and certainly identify with it. When I was pregnant with #3 and home with a one year old and an autistic 3 year old, it became crystal clear that I was in a vulnerable position. My husband and his career were not looking so dependable. I had not worked since college.
    Anyway, I launched a business that year, before the baby was born. I worked feverishly at home for several years growing my business and now I work out of the home. (Our kids now have full-day school situations)

    I’m very happy with how it worked out. I know my husband appreciates not carrying 100% of the financial pressure. Of course, I couldn’t have done this level of working from home while still carrying a full load of childcare and housecare duties. I have a true 50-50 participant in terms of parenting and housework, and a husband who is home from work by 5 so he can pick up the children and cook dinner most days.

  63. maverick says:

    I got married right out of college to a man I had known for 4 months. Turned out he had several serious addictions I did not know about before and turned out he was physically abusive. I got out in under a year, but that experience changed me.

    I can’t be so dependent on a man anymore. I couldn’t take another man’s name. No more Mrs. anybody. I have to feel like my own person.

    I’m remarried now (to literally the kindest, most trustworthy man in the world) and I’m getting my PhD at a great school. The thought of losing connection with the professional contacts I have developed now feels akin to losing my own identity. To being subsumed into my husband’s identity. To disappearing.

    I have done great things with my work, accomplished things I never thought this little Mormon girl could accomplish. I am so proud of what I have done, what I have become. I love making my own money. I love making a name of my own. I love having a separate world from my husband, just like he has a separate world of his own from me. We are very happy and unified, and for me to be able to do this, I need to have my own stuff.

    So – vulnerability is part of it. But terror at losing myself is another huge part of it. I could never disappear from the work world. That’s just me though. Not preaching for anyone else.

  1. December 2, 2009

    […] Vulnerability: The Consequence of Choosing to Stay at Home? AKPC_IDS += "2181,";Popularity: unranked [?] […]

  2. December 16, 2009

    […] writing and reading all the comments on my last post on women’s vulnerability, I articulated something to myself for the first time. Perhaps I always knew this, but I had never […]

  3. May 17, 2016

    […] posts, by Caroline, explored some of the downsides of traditional Mormon family structures.  In Vulnerability: The Consequence of Choosing to Stay at Home?, Caroline opened up about the financial dependence and insecurity she felt as a stay-at-home mom, […]

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