"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thoughts from an Economic Dependent

For the first time in my marriage, I am not bringing in any income (save a small scholarship). My husband and I had so far taken turns being the primary breadwinner, but now, I am officially an economic "dependent."

Of course, we all probably know women (and men) for whom this has been a challenging state of life. I know my mom and my aunt, both of whom took years off of working to stay home with children, often had feelings of guilt when "spending their husband's money." Given that my dad and his identical twin brother inherited the frugal gene from their parents, they both probably contributed to their wives' feelings of not wanting to spend money (or at least fears of spending money, or fears of their husband's reactions to spending money). Ironically, neither household really ever suffered from economic insecurity or fears thereof (unlike my current household!).

When my sister and her husband were visiting, they mentioned that there's a new move for husbands to pay their wives for taking care of the kids. They calculate the hours, calculate how much they would pay for day care, and then give their wives monetary compensation for the time they spend with the kids. This way the women get to be stay-at-home-moms, but they also have their "own" money that they have "earned." And presumably these women can feel free to spend their "own" money however they want.

My husband said that was the most ridiculous thing he ever heard. He emphasized that he doesn't see his income as HIS income but as OUR income, and he trusts me to spend the money wisely. And I am happy for his reassurances.

And yet I'm not reassured.

This is not from any fault of my husband, but more from my own decision to devote my time and attention to my three children: Maia, Eva, and my dissertation (the youngest, which has been conceived but not yet born). Such a decision was also a decision to live upon one professor's salary in an expensive part of the country. Everything here seems to cost so much money! I think that Maia's pre-school is worth the money. But what about dance lessons or swim lessons? I know she would enjoy it, and she's been asking to do gymnastics again. But can we afford it? What about a YMCA membership? Whenever I mention something like this, the husband groans and says, we don't have the money! We did buy a zoo membership - $70 for the year. Today at the park I was talking to a mom about what she does with her kids in the winter when it's hard to go outside, and she told me about an indoor kids' play area that has nine rooms with different set-ups and sells 3 month winter memberships for $100. I don't think that's too much, but the idea was met with another husband groan.

I understand his concern, and, after more consideration, I think we probably need to get our budget up and running and maybe we'll find out we can afford these things after all. But at the initial groan, I told him, fine, I'll pay for it with my pin money. "Pin money" is a term I encountered in Jane Austen novels, and it refers to the money that the women got from their husbands (or fathers) to spend on their own needs (like clothes). Should MY pin money go to something for the girls?

Oh, wait. I don't have any pin money. My husband is not paying me to be a stay-at-home mom. We have no separate accounts. We have only OUR money.

I think, as I was saying earlier, that this is a common conundrum of the stay-at-home-mom. She ends up making sacrifices for her husband and children: clothes shopping cheaply so her husband can wear sport coats and ties; cooking dinner after an exhausting day to save the $30 that would otherwise be spent eating dinner out; waiting for a gift card before making a purchase she's been thinking about for weeks. Maybe it helps on the path to holiness (and this would explain why there are so many more women in heaven than men, ahem, ahem). Or maybe this will lead to a serious back problem, in the case of my not having purchased a desk chair for myself (this folding chair is really starting to hurt me!).

Sometimes it helps to have a mom to step in, as my mom did when she told me she'd pay for contact lenses for me. She just can't bear the thought of my only wearing glasses because I don't think we can afford to spend money on contacts now.

I think Mom remembers what it was like to be the economic "dependent."


Clara said...

Funny how one's spending habits are so much shaped by, well, habits, not just by how much money one has.

In our family, I have to be the frugal one, not that I'm extraordinarily frugal by nature. But he has simply never developed the habit of worrying about money. He was a de facto only child who, as I sometimes say, didn't have to choose between the cotton candy or the ferris wheel ride when they went to the county fair. He doesn't go around making wild expenditures without consulting me, but he'll buy a hot dog AND coke at the ball park without blinking while I'm thinking, "FIVE DOLLARS for a hot dog? And didn't we have lunch an hour ago anyway?"

Anyway, the downside of this is that I hate being a nag, so I'm often looking for subtle ways to cut our expenditures without making it feel painful. Like trying to get dinner on the table quicker, so he won't be tempted to say, "Oh, I'm hungry now, let's just go get a sandwich."

On the other hand, I never get scolded for how I spend our money. So being a financial dependent (which I am this fall more than ever, since I'm not teaching) hasn't been very bothersome.

Theologian Mom said...

I know what you mean about spending habits. Mine tend more toward the frugal as well, with Jeff on the other end. It's just that we're both feeling the financial pressure. Most likely Jeff will have to take on an extra class here and there to help us out (or maybe I will!).

Jeff never criticizes my spending; in fact he's usually the one telling me I should go out and buy something. The last few times we've had to dress up, I just have nothing to wear, and so he keeps saying I need to go buy a couple of outfits. But seeing as how I spend 99% of my time taking care of the girls, I feel bad spending our money on that. Not to mention I want to make sure we can actually PAY our credit card bill!

Clara said...

Ah, well, that I do understand. Money shortages are stressful... Mathew took on an extra class this fall so that we'd have enough. (I was willing to adjunct a class I'd taught before, but they could only offer me a completely different class, and between baby, move and REALLY trying to finish a thesis draft pre-baby, planning/teaching a whole new course just seemed like too much. But I was really agonizing about it last spring, because frankly, even an adjunct's pitiful salary makes a big difference at our income level, and I wasn't sure how we were going to manage without it. Mathew finally solved the problem by taking an extra class himself -- to put my mind at ease, he said, and I appreciate it, because it did.)

It's tough when (as young academics so often do) you're always living somewhat on the edge of your means. I have a friend who's a corporate lawyer, now trying hard to find a job that's more family-friendly. (Obviously, the world of corporate law is NOT, and with a 10-month-old baby, she pretty much can't take it anymore.) She's by no means wasteful by nature; she saved a great amount of money in her early (single) years of practice so that she could eventually buy a house to raise her kids in, and she and her husband have kept their expenditures modest in anticipation of an eventual income drop. But still, when we were talking about handling the pay cut, she mentioned in passing how it's important to them to keep enough in savings that they could potentially live on it for at least 3 months.

I just about fell out of my chair. THREE MONTHS' worth of income in savings? I mean, that's great for them if they can manage it, but young academics just get used to the idea of living with waaay less security than that. It would sure be nice, though, wouldn't it, to live with that kind of cushion? It makes things so stressful when you're constantly living at a level where a few thousand dollars can mark the line between "doing okay" and "financial crisis."