Monday, December 15, 2008

The Accidental Breadwinner

I really enjoyed this piece in the NY Times this weekend: The Accidental Breadwinner, by Karen Karbo.

I DIDN’T set out to be the breadwinner. I assumed that one day a guy would come along and I would marry him and, well, he’d take care of it. This is one of the fundamental ways in which men differ from women. Growing up, boys assume they’re going to make the money, or at least half the money. Rare is the boy who imagines that marriage will spell a free economic ride and so nurtures his incredible hotness to that end.
But it doesn't quite go that way. She marries a man she calls the Cuddle Bum:
The Cuddle Bum hated his job — and who could blame him? He wanted to get into another field, perhaps one that required his going back to school.

In the meantime, we decided that the Cuddle Bum would be the househusband. My role as breadwinner was thus made official. The Cuddle Bum’s idea of his role involved pouring a bowl of cereal for each child before school, playing videogames for 10 hours, and then grudgingly making dinner at 6. For almost a year, I told him that wasn’t working for me, that if he wasn’t going to care for the entire household the way a wife would (vacuum on Mondays, dust on Tuesdays ...) then he needed to go back to work. Much of the time, I expressed this wish to the back of his head as he tried to slay two-headed ogres on the TV.

When we divorced, he wanted alimony, child support and the house — the house that was purchased with my money, in my name. During one of our last conversations, I wept with incomprehension. He wanted my house? Whatever happened to the way people divorce in the movies, where the husband packs a bag and moves into a sad hotel, leaving his wife (whom he supported) in the house?

She works it all out in the end with a different man:
The day Jim and I moved in together, I gave him a formal accounting of how much our monthly nut would be; he would pay for himself, and I would pay for my daughter and me. Since then, he has written me a check for his portion on the 15th of every month. Sometimes he buys the groceries, and sometimes I do. But he always pays for both of us when we go to the movies, and spends lavishly on buttered popcorn and Milk Duds. I am always touched by this.

The essay is adapted from a piece included in a forthcoming book called The Secret Currency of Love: The Unabashed Truth About Women, Money, and Relationships, which will definitely be on my reading list! Here's the description:
Money. It affects us all, so why is it so difficult to discuss? Even as daily headlines broadcast ever more alarming news about the fate of the American economy, few people are willing to acknowledge the enormous impact that personal finance has on their private affairs. Until now.

In this compelling anthology of original essays, some of the country's most respected women writers reveal their deepest feelings about money and how it affects their most intimate relationships—with parents, children, spouses, siblings, and ultimately with themselves. They examine the childhood experiences that set up lifelong, and sometimes self-destructive, financial habits. And they divulge how all the intangibles—romance, status, power, security—become tangled up in their financial lives.

The essays in these pages are written from many different perspectives: a single woman trying to reconcile feminism with a secret desire to be supported by a man; a wife with radically different spending habits from her husband's; a divorcée who has become the family's chief breadwinner; a single mother struggling to make ends meet. They also explore complicated social issues. Sheri Holman (The Dress Lodger) reveals how she fell in love with a homeless drug addict. Leslie Bennetts (The Feminine Mistake) weighs the social and emotional costs of giving her children a private-school education among the super-rich. Bliss Broyard (One Drop) ruminates on the intricacies of maintaining friendships with wealthier friends. And Amy Cohen (The Late Bloomer's Revolution) considers the price—financial and otherwise—of having a child on her own.

Witty, nuanced, and startlingly intimate, The Secret Currency of Love offers a transformative look at the delicate nature of love and money. This riveting collection will spark debate by inspiring readers to reexamine their own emotional connection to their finances. As Americans struggle to make rational choices in a frightening economy, these brave, revealing essays by some of today's most esteemed writers provide insight into how a modern generation of women is defining itself in the new social economy.


Miss M said...

I'll have to check out this book. I always set out to be able to take care of myself, to not be dependent on a man. It turned into my being the main breadwinner, I have the higher income and more marketable skills. It is very untraditional, fortunately my man is OK with it and usually brags about my success. In some ways I wish he'd be a househusband, I'm not very good at it and I work long hours. It would be nice to come home to a clean house and a hot meal. He's not in to the idea - but unless he gets a higher paying job in the next few years he has no choice. Childcare costs more than he makes in a year, if he isn't making more by the time we have kids he is going to have to stay home with them.

Anonymous said...

That certainly puts things in perspective, especially as a woman. I've never really had an issue with alimony, but somehow that story above seems so wrong and unjust. I guess because I always assume it's some man leaving the woman who left her career to raise his kids for some trophy wife.

L. Marie Joseph said...

I hate to say this is becoming more prominent, women do not intend to be breadwinners but are.

Every woman deep down inside wants to be spoiled a little. Being the breadwinner can only last so long after a while it gets old.

Nothing fancy to think of .. said...

Sigh. I read that and felt vindicated a little. Being a guy from the midwest, I see this happen to guys all the time. I was happy when I saw it happened the other way around. Not that I wanted someone's relationship to end, or anything like that, but more that there is some terms in "being treated equal". Not every situation is a guy leaving his wife because he is bored with her. Sometimes it is her that leaves him, but wants the house, alimony and child support, etc.

At the end of the day, I think that the whole "no fault" divorce thing has gotten over used, and should be changed a bit. I don't mind the fault, I mind the spitting of assets and the "entitlements" of a divorce. Alimony is designed for the gal who leaves Dad's house, to the Sorority house, to the husband's house and never has a job. Once you start work, you loose all entitlement to alimony in my opinion. That goes for both sides of the coin as now days guys can be like "cuddle bum" listed above. He had marketable skills, he at one point had a job, let him get out there and work.

The worst part is the kids in all this, but at the end of the day, they survive and grow out of it.

FB @ said...

Oo.. I really want to read this book now

S said...

This book does sound really interesting, I must say I am not a big reader but this sort of topic is fresh in my mindset.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your recommendation. It sounds very interesting!!

I have experienced many cheap boyfriends. They won't tip at restaurants. When we share payment, they would always cheap out a little. They show up late to movies, ask me to buy the tickets and never pay me back. Borrow few bucks from me here and there and never pay back. It is very small sum, but what hurt me most is the cunning and disrespect.

I guess I could be the breadwinner, but like in Karen's case, my husband needs to care for the home like a traditional wife would.

Anonymous said...

Can you write a review after you read it?


Anonymous said...

I have a sister and this just happen to her. The guy left her when she told him that she's pregnant. So she will be living alone and will definitely work for her child. I hate the guy so much that I want to hit him so hard that he will never forget it. But this things just happen and it is because of a simple and single decision.

Anonymous said...

I tried this with my first husband; not such a good idea, for me anyway. I didn't respect him and so there it is.

I found out, for me anyway, I respect traditional alpha males; thank goodness my husband (second one)is very alpha male; it's what I respect.

Lest anyone think I sit around brainlessly doing nothing, I worked in Corporate America for 20 years (yes, starting full time while still in college), was always financially independent and out of debt, and now pursuing my CFP certification.

None of that changes the fact that some women (me) truly do love alpha males that are ambitious, achievers, competitive, and successful.

I'll always have the financial competetency and independence I have, but now know, after the mistakes of first marriage, that an alpha male is what I respect and want to be married to.

Anonymous said...

I get paid monthy, and honestly its hard to manage my money more efficently, sometimes its just easier to get a high risk unsecured personal loans pay it off on my payday.

Anonymous said...

I always love these type of topics, since this book is all about what I like reading, I am going for it! thank you for the heads up.

Anonymous said...

I am recommending this book to my recently divorced friend who went from driving a Lexus and working for "fun" to supporting her 2 kids and a mortgage with absolutley no child support or alimony. I think she will find it empowering and inspiring. She is much more confident now that she is in control.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't this boil down to having choice? Every woman -- and man, too -- should have a choice. That includes who gets to work and who gets to look after the children.

Isn't that what liberalism -- and by extension, feminism -- is about?

Anonymous said...

There is an intriguing book trailer on YouTube related to this anthology; it seems to really get to the crux of the book.

Anonymous said...

It happend to me with my former wife, she is moving to her 3 Dh and #2 is still clueless,(she left me for him). Several years ago she told me she read somewhere (?) it takes at least 3 ex's and she will be set for life. 1/2 House (from me)+ 1/2 house (from clueless)and then move in with new man and take 1/2 of his after she quits her job, and leaves him. and the alimony will keep her going until his pension pay's out. "Told my daughter it would be a few years, and she would be set for life.

You have to give it to her, she has a plan, and its working so far.

Anonymous said...

i will have to check into purchasing this book, thanks!FinanceTrail

Anonymous said...

The administrator comment with the link to looks like spam.