Breadwinner moms — do you have breadwinner resentment?

Categories: Money, Relationships & Marriage, Working Women Issues, Your life


piggy-bank-on-top-of-cash.jpgI had a completely different post planned for today, but after glancing through the Elle/MSNBC Reader Survey about money I couldn’t resist this topic. (I should also use this opportunity to brag about my awesome husband, who bought me a copy of Elle, my guilty pleasure magazine to which I’ve forgotten to renew my subscription but which does a great job of putting my stress on the back burner for a few minutes.)

Anyway, back to the money survey. There are some fun bits on there — like the fact that 1 in 3 women said that they feel less pressure to have sex with the guy if they pay for their share of the date (which implies that 2 out of 3 do?) — but what caught my eye were the stats about women who make more than their partners. Here are a few:

  • 1 out of 3 breadwinners resent paying for shared expenses
  • 16% of breadwinners think that men should always be primary earners
  • Breadwinners are more likely than other women to think that the primary earner should have more power in the relationship
  • 1 in 4 female breadwinners keep strictly separate bank accounts

I’ve written here before about the fact that for as long as my husband and I have been together (until, of course, I became a struggling entrepreneur) I’ve always made more money and at times have been the primary breadwinner by a big margin. I’ve talked about the fact that while I am proud of being able to provide for our family, at times I’ve felt some resentment because of the constant pressure I felt to keep working at my demanding jobs, have less time to spend with my daughter and have no time for myself. We’ve had our share of arguments about money and jobs, just like any other couple, but I’ve never thought about having separate bank accounts or not wanting to pay for things like our mortgage or groceries. While the numbers of women who do this was relatively small in the survey, it still surprised me.

I have a friend who is the primary breadwinner in her family and we’ve talked about the stress and pressure we often feel. We love our husbands, but boy, would we sometimes love a break from our demanding careers! But besides this friend, I’ve rarely had conversations with women about this topic and I think we should be having them, since the number of women who are the primary breadwinners is increasing.

So I am very curious to hear from you about your experiences as the primary breadwinner. Do you ever feel resentment for being in that role? Do you agree with any of the stats from the survey — for example, about the power split in the relationship? Do you have separate bank accounts or pool your money with your partner?

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27 comments so far...

  • What a great topic! I am the breadwinner by a huge margin and when our DS was born I had a LOT of resentment that I didn’t have the option to stay home. But once I was back in the office, I realized I don’t just work because I have to, I work because I love it and it fulfills me. That pretty much solved the resentment problem! It seems it’s really only other people that seem to be weirded out by the whole thing.

    Even though hubby’s take home pay isn’t much, his office has many benefits outside of the $. The office is only about 5 minutes from home and has a fantastic onsite daycare that we (and DS) love love love! Hubby has the responsibility for taking and picking up DS and is able to spend some quality father/son time until I get home anywhere between 6 and 7, depending on traffic.
    I think it helps that hubby is proud of me and totally supports my career choices.

    The money I make is ‘our’ money and not mine – all purchasing and financial decisions are discussed and decided on together, though I do the actually management of the money. Regardless of who earns it, the mortgage and other bills still have to get paid! The remainder is divided into savings, spending, etc. and at that point it’s just too hard to figure out who made what cash and I am too lazy to do all that math :) much easier to just share!

    Kate  |  March 19th, 2008 at 9:46 am

  • Great topic! I too am the primary breadwinner-almost always by a significant margin. DH seems to deal with it well..although at times I think he feels ‘inadequate’. He’s very old fashioned sometimes! He’s become friends with some guys who are either full time or half time stay at home dads and I think that’s made a difference for him (he’s even begun mentioning that staying home is something he would consider!)
    Personally, I do (and more often than than I care to admit) resent having all the responsibility that comes with being primary wage earner! I don’t think its the man vs woman traditional role thing–sometimes I just want to have few responsibilities and no juggling : )

    olivemartini  |  March 19th, 2008 at 11:29 am

  • I’m not just the majority breadwinner, I’m the only money maker in my family. My husband is disabled (but not so much so that he gets to collect disability pay) and therefore not working at all. I am bringing in ALL the money. And I’ll be honest, I do feel some resentment at times because of this. Particularly when I think about having kids (somewhere down the line). There are lots of things that my husband and I don’t agree on when it comes to raising kids - particularly when it comes to the tv. So I would love to be able to stay home with them until they start school. Also, the job I have now is not one that I want to have forever. I would love to change careers (again, somewhere down the line), but if he’s still not bringing in any money how exactly am I going to be able to possibly take a pay decrease to find a job I really enjoy.

    We do not have separate bank accounts (well, we kind of do because he has some credit issues and we don’t want anyone sniping money from the account that pays the bills). I do not resent that it is “my” money paying the bills. I don’t generally think of the money that we have as mine versus his. I do wish that he were the primary breadwinner or at least an equal breadwinner so that I could have opportunities to do something besides work. And to some degree I do think that I should have slightly more say in how our money is spent than he does but that is more because I pay the bills - not because it’s “my money”, but I’m the one that sits down and pays the bills - so I know more about how our finances are doing than he does.

    I know there are some good points of having him home - such as not having to pay for after school care for my step-daughter.

    Jenni  |  March 19th, 2008 at 11:34 am

  • I´m the main breadwinner in our family, but have only been for the past year or so. Before that, I didn´t work at all and before that, I worked outside the home. Now I earn more than my husband and I have to admit that I feel a little bit of resentment, because he was able to quit his teaching job and continue with music, so now he stays home days and works some nights.

    His schedule is much freer than mine and I feel chained to the computer sometimes. :S We do have separate accounts and keep our money fairly separate, but we split the bills, which means I have more money leftover at the end of the day, but that goes to building the house. So, while separate, we both benefit.

    Personally, I feel that if he is making more money, he has the power, but if I make more, I just feel equal. If that makes any sense!

    Genesis  |  March 19th, 2008 at 12:30 pm

  • I’ve been the primary breadwinner in my family for nearly 15 years. It was intended to be temporary (when my husband got out of the service and started school), but school went on forEVER, then he wanted to change careers, then he started his own business.

    I had absolutely no problem with being primary breadwinner when it was the only thing that made sense. While he was a student. Even when he decided to pursue his dream career — I totally encouraged him to do that. When he started the business, I had mixed feelings. We had kids by then, and I desperately wanted to be home with them, but I could also see that we had, in a way, the ideal situation: he worked 1/2 - 3/4 time, I worked 3/4 time, we both had more time at home with the kids than we would with full-time jobs.

    Over time, though, I did begin to resent the fact that I HAD to work. There was no way I could quit my job, or look for another one, because our health insurance was through my work, our budget was set up for me to work at home one day a week and not work at all another — I wasn’t going to get that at a new job. Things are changing somewhat now; he recently gave up his business to take a full-time job with an established company. We moved into a less expensive house. I have high hopes that in a year I might be in a totally different situation.

    I have to say that when I think about it, (until recently) I mostly didn’t resent being the primary/only breadwinner. What I DID resent was when he was irresponsible (by my standards) about money. If there wasn’t enough money at the end of the month, I always felt this combination of angry at him for spending so much and earning so little, and guilty that I wasn’t making more, especially after I dropped to part-time at work.

    Money and relationships — it’s a very complicated issue. One that probably doesn’t lend itself very well to the multiple-choice nature of an Elle magazine poll. :)

    Jan  |  March 19th, 2008 at 1:49 pm

  • I bet men never feel pressure to provide for their families. Especially when their wife stays home all day. Nope. Never. No pressure for them at all.

    *removes tongue from cheek*

    Seriously? I think there is pressure on the breadwinner regardless of their gender. That pressure multiplies when you are the ONLY breadwinner (either because you are a solo adult household or because one spouse doesn’t work). The pressure is there regardless.

    KathyHowe  |  March 19th, 2008 at 2:20 pm

  • The book, Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids and Life in a Half-Changed World by Peggy Orenstein hits on this issue among others. Yes, whoever the primary breadwinner is will feel stress, but in the case where the woman is the primary breadwinner I think there is greater chance for resentment because most women perceive that they do more on the home front than their spouse. Even if the male spouse is willing to cook or be the primary caregiver for children, most women, according to Orenstein’s findings, would rather be the maternal caregiver than the breadwinner. This is not something an 18 year old knows when she goes into college and trains for a demanding career (speaking from experience).

    If there’s anything to take away from the book it’s that order of priorities is different for everyone. For me personally, I don’t want my relationship to be all about keeping score. I knew his earning capabilities and ambitions when I married him, and his vow to give everything he has to this marriage is all I can expect. Not everything is quantifiable, and just the knowledge that we are each giving 100% of what we have to give has to be enough.

    I know it sounds ridiculous but all that sappy positive thinking and stuff can do wonders. On days when I hate getting up on Saturday and working overtime, I try to remind myself how lucky I am to not only have a good job, but a job that has endless hours available to me should I ever need more hours and banked ot.

    I am almost done blathering I promise. If you do feel resentment, try communicating in a respectful way to your spouse. I was on the verge of being not so nice due to resentment about aforementioned ot, and listening to whining about what was for dinner. I explained how I felt and what happened? He’s cooked the last two nights. Amazing how if you tell a reasonable person they are pissing you off they do stuff to alleviate the symptoms!

    lindsay  |  March 19th, 2008 at 11:20 pm

  • I was the only breadwinner for around 15 months when my DH decided to take the time off to write a novel!!! But then, he was the primary breadwinner when I took around 18 months off from working full-time when we had our son. The initial deal on his sabbatical was 6 months and it was only after that that I started to feel the resentment. Because not only was he non-committal about when that book would be done, but also shrinking from paying for occasional stuff despite proclaiming that he had saved up for the time off. I was expected to pay just because I was earning. That didn’t feel right because when I took time off work, I never “expected” him to pay for my little pleasures. I had saved up for that. He’s gone back to work now, but I notice that he still shrinks from paying up when he should. At least occasionally. Perhaps because I’m earning 30% more than him? I don’t know. Yes, we have money “issues” because he’s the spender and I’m the saver. So now we have separate accounts and that’s how I’m going to keep it. Especially coz I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to have this job. (The global financial meltdown looms, etc.) I also need to protect my financial future because somewhere down the line, I may become a WAHM or a SAHM if my son needs me to do that. And I don’t want to have to ask my DH for money to buy a lipstick! :-P Or increase breadwinner pressure on him. ;-)

    A Lost Writer  |  March 20th, 2008 at 3:24 am

  • I’m the breadwinner in our family, but by choice. After our daughter was born I stayed home for almost 2 years and DH brought home the bacon. But staying home was not for me. I wanted to work and make my own money. I hated having to get an “allowance.” Being completely dependent on someone else financially is tough when you’ve been working since you were 13. But I couldn’t just go out an get a PT job because we couldn’t afford childcare and even if we could, we didn’t want to leave her in someone else’s care until she could talk and tell us if something was wrong (but that’s a whole other issue!). So finally I said to DH “what if I go to work FT and YOU stay home with DD?” and he replied “sure, if you can get a job that makes enough money to pay all the bills!” So of course the challenge was on! Did he really think I couldn’t do it? Well, I showed him! Two months later I was the one with the morning commute and he was making breakfast for DD. So, I don’t resent having to pay all the bills because I knew that I was taking on that responsibility. I also try to remind myself of what it was like to be the one at home and not “having” money to do whatever I want. The fact that he is an amazing SAHD that parents, cooks, cleans,etc helps me keep things in perspective. But occasionally I do have to remind him that money doesn’t just appear in our account, I bust my butt for it! and NO you can’t spend 7k for that Harley you want!!!

    Jacq  |  March 20th, 2008 at 12:32 pm

  • I am not the primary breadwinner yet, but that is the plan. I don’t feel resentment, but sometimes a lot of pressure to get my business more profitable, as well as finishing my degree.

    Sometimes, it seems like everything is hinged on my business growing and me finishing school and it can wear me down.

    I think open communication with your partner is really the best to ease these feelings!

    Tonya Ramsey  |  March 20th, 2008 at 1:53 pm

  • Do you ever feel resentment for being the primary breadwinner?
    –Never. I am proud. But I also work 40 hours a week, and don’t feel that my career is all that demanding.
    Do you agree with any of the stats from the survey — for example, about the power split in the relationship?
    –I feel the power should be split about 50/50, or whatever works for your relationship.
    Do you have separate bank accounts or pool your money with your partner?
    –We have separate checking accounts (they are actually joint in name only, in case of death), and a joint savings account, but I am the only one that ever puts money into savings.

    Valerie  |  March 20th, 2008 at 1:55 pm

  • I have been the primary breadwinner for all of our married life together. It didn’t start out that way…and things happened along the way to get us where we are today…which is in therapy. I do have a lot of resentment about this. More than I realized. The thing is, I love my job. I love the opportunities that it provides me. I love the satisfaction of doing well. I don’t want to stay home with my kids (both are in school now…) but what I do want is to feel that the roles we (husband and I) have are more equal.
    The place that we are in our lives/marriage is not where I imagined we would be. I know that life doesn’t ever go as planned…and the therapy is helping me get through it.
    I am not ashamed that I am the primary breadwinner. I am not ashamed that it bothers me, either.
    Good topic…

    jodi  |  March 20th, 2008 at 7:15 pm

  • I have been on both sides of this fence. My husband was the breadwinner for 5-6 years. Then, I got a grandio promotion and boom, I was making more than him! We do it like this: Split the bills so that each of us have the same “spending money” each month. It works no matter who is making more. And, when one gets an increase, both get to enjoy.

    Ju I Pile  |  March 23rd, 2008 at 4:34 pm

  • This is a very important and often overlooked topic. I have always been the breadwinner of my family. My husband is a painting contractor, so work is inconsistent. The majority of the time I bring in the larger income consistently. I provide the family with medical benefits. I pay our core bills while my husband’s income covers the rest. It is a huge challenge for me because I never expected to play this role. There are many days I do resent our situation. But, I am very proud that I am able to provide for my family, that my college education didn’t go to waste, that I have something I can call my own, that I don’t have to depend on my husband for anything.

    red lotus mama  |  March 25th, 2008 at 4:36 pm

  • So great to see this question being asked! For a LONG time, I was VERY resentful. Not just of my husband but of every other career woman I know who was able to stop working or work a barely-part-time job because their husband brought in enough dough. I don’t love my job (most days I actually hate it), but I’m in the lucky position that I make too much money to stop working… I work from home several days a week… and have lots of flexibility. Then one day it dawned on me how lucky I am to have such an awesome situation–no financial worries, a husband who is totally involved iwth his kids AND helps around the house, quality time with my kids (and family dinner at least 5 nights a week). So I finally feel like I’m free of my resentment baggage. Now all I need to do is find a job with the same benefits that I don’t hate ;)
    In regards to power and money…
    We share all our $$$. No one has their own -or- hidden bank accounts… as far as I know ;) This has been how we’ve operated since our wedding day. But I’m lucky that my husband is not a big spender, so it’s never been an issue. I actually wish he’s spend more… and pass up the clearance rack at Old navy for a change. I never thought about the power question before… while we have LOTS of our own problems in our marriage that we’re always working on, we are a yin-yang fit. I made most of the decisions and he seems to like it that way. I learned my lesson. My hubby and I enjoy traveling. Once, after being annoyed that I had to plan every vacation and do all the legwork, I said “I quit! You can plan the next vacation!” After a week at his parents house in rural NY with a day trip to Niagara Falls, I surrendered ;) You can be sure that I’m planning all vacations from now on.
    I try to remind myself every day that “The grass is always greener, but it’s jsut as hard to cut.” I lost most of my resentment after a long conversation with a friend of mine who was a successful career woman (a TV reporter & anchor in NYC), who now stays home full time. She was saying how her days are spent cleaning, cooking, breaking up fights, and exhausted. It clicked for me that since I don’t have to do most of that… I can truly enjoy my time with my boys (3 1/2 and 1).

    So here’s my question to all of you… and I hope you’ll start a poll/forum on this… what is the BEST and most manageable number of kids for working moms???

    Jennifer TW  |  April 11th, 2008 at 12:04 am

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  • I am a young (22) mother of two (2.5 and 6 months). I work part time and go to school full time. I still make more than my husband does working full time. I’m resentful for sure. We also keep separate bank accounts because he always overdrafts and pays absolutely no attention to money- never knows how much he has or what he’s spent- so its a safety precaution to keep them separate. I wish he would pay some of the bills though so that I didn’t feel like a single mom of three. - At my wits end

    Amanda  |  July 18th, 2008 at 12:54 am

  • [...] and other family there for a while, and increase my collection of I-rock-these recipes. Being the primary breadwinner, that was never an option, but if I could have it, would I take it? Maybe, and I’d hate for [...]

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  • All the women I know that make more money than the husband are angry and resentful. I wanted to find out if this is a pattern.

    lucy  |  August 20th, 2008 at 10:00 pm

  • I definitely feel resentment, but it is not around money or expenses. I have been the breadwinner for the last 3 years, the sole breadwinner for two of those while my husband started a company. It wasn’t until the birth of my son that I felt resentful. I have been back to work for a few weeks and every morning that I get in the car to go to work I resent that my husband gets to stay home with our baby. His “new company” never took off, so I am the only person with a paying job . I hate that I have to stay in this job because we need the money and the benefits. It is especially bad Sunday night/ Monday morning.

    As for money, we have added each other to all of our accounts for estate planning purposes, but we do have separate accounts. All bills are paid out of my account. His alimony is paid out of his. I don’t worry about him over spending. My husband doesn’t really spend money on many things, and especially doesn’t needlessly buy things for himself. I handle all of the bills and manage our cash flow. Right now there is no balance of power issue, probably due to the two accounts, however at some point his account is going to run out (unfortunately, before the alimony payments do). At that point, it may be a different story because he will no longer have a pool of cash that he earned.

    Amelia  |  April 21st, 2009 at 2:40 pm

  • This is a really interesting thread. I am a single woman. My mother moved in with me 9 years ago with no means of support. We lived a close, shared lifestyle. I purchase a family home so she would be comfortable. I cooked dinner every night for us - not shortcut cooking REAL cooking. I bought her whatever she needed, things she wanted, things she nevered would have asked for like very nice vacations. I initially felt stress and the weight of being responsible for someone else but I NEVER felt resentful. Of course, like so many of you, I wish I didn’t have to work and could just have some man support me, but the truth is, in this world we are all responsible for ourselves and when you commit yourself to sharing your life with someone else: a parent, a spouse, a child, a pet you do just let and you should do it whole-heartedly and not waste energy on unhealthy emotions like resentment.

    Why should a man support you anyway? Work is hard. being a spouse is hard. Being a parent is hard. You make agreements and compromises in relationships. Don’t make any you can’t live with.

    Chris  |  September 28th, 2009 at 1:51 pm

  • I am the primary bread winner and financially motivated one in the relationship. My partner is pretty unmotivated which really bugs me. He is much more lazy and doesn’t worry about financial security. We have separate bank accounts for this very reason and have been in marriage counceling on and off because of it. He got laid off from a ten year job as an electrician ten days before I had my daughter and didn’t find a job until a year later. I found him his new job. It gets old for sure.

    sky  |  July 19th, 2010 at 3:54 pm

  • I am personally in that situation and I hate it. Sometimes I want to ask God to give me a second chance so I can marry a man who can take care of me and my son financially and I can focus on taking care of my house. I currently work two jobs because my husband decided to quit his good job and work a job making substantially less. On top of that he pays a lot of money in child support so he’s pretty much working to pay the child support. The child support doubled this past year. Don’t get me wrong my husband is a great father and a faithful husband. I just hate he has all this baggage. I feel like me and my son are being punished for stuff we didn’t do. I love everything about my husband except for the fact that he has no money. Does anyone know how I can get over the resentment because I really want to run away?

    C  |  July 30th, 2010 at 7:09 am

  • When my husband and I married, I was making only very slightly more than him, but he had child support obligations that ate into his take-home pay. We always had separate accounts so that when we had to provide financial info for child support purposes, my income wouldn’t show.

    Over the 17 years we’ve been married, however, my career took off and for most of our marriage I’ve earned more than double what my husband has earned. I’ve always had the good fortune to have secure jobs as well; I’ve never been laid off. I have had some jobs where I had to put in a lot of hours, but the job I have now is pretty much 9-5, and I do have flexibility to work at home when necessary. Those aspects are convenient, but the people aren’t very nice and I do not like the work I do. I would quit in a heartbeat if I could.

    What I resent, REALLY resent, however, is that since I’ve taken on the breadwinner position, my husband has treated his career like a hobby. When he’s gotten laid off, he’s taken his sweet time to find a new job. When he has a job, he’s rather unambitious about earning/advancing. He at one point started his own business, but it never made enough money to be viable. It seems that he enjoys having a breadwinner wife because it gives him lots of options in life: stay unemployed, take a job making lots less because it stimulates him “creatively,” become self-employed, etc. I certainly don’t have those options because we can’t live on what he makes (we have 3 kids of our own now).

    It is hard for me to respect him when I feel that he doesn’t take his obligations to provide for his family seriously. I would love to be a stay-at-home mom, or even just work part-time (part-time jobs in my field are unfortunately VERY difficult to come by), but my husband admits that being the primary provider “terrifies” him. Oh, but he’s totally fine with ME being the primary provider???

    I don’t mean to make him out to be a deadbeat because when he does work, he works hard and isn’t lazy (he’s never quit a job, he usually gets laid off), it’s just that earning a living is not a priority for him. He never, ever gives a thought to our financial situation. It is very hard for me to respect a man who is happy to take advantage of a situation that he would not put himself in.

    What makes it an even more bitter pill to swallow is that during his first marriage, he worked two jobs so his wife could stay at home full-time. Maybe he feels he got burned by that arrangement (she dumped him for another man) so now it’s a different story.

    I don’t have any issues with paying for things. He isn’t spendy, and we don’t live extravagantly. Jointly, we earn enough to live comfortably and save some. I just resent not having career options. I’m in effect handcuffed to my job because of how much I make vs. how much he makes.

    Anyway, thanks for giving me the opportunity to vent my frustrations. Those of you who do have resentments, how do you cope? How do you keep your resentment contained so it doesn’t affect your marriage (if that’s possible) or kids? I plan to review our finances in January and make a plan so that I can eventually work part-time, possibly in another field if necessary. Are there any other constructive solutions out there?

    katie  |  December 19th, 2010 at 7:58 pm

  • I have been the primary almost sole bread winner for our family for the last year 1/2. I do have a lot of resentment especially since I am often forced to work 12 hour days and still have difficulty meeting the bills, and my husband who promised to keep up on the house work doesn’t keep up with his end but, is always complaining about the lack or money and how much he has to do while I get to sit around all day.

    Yet, when he sees I am stressed over bills and things he tells me not to worry things will work out. But, if I don’t worry about the bills who will? He spends most of the day sleeping and playing games online as though he is retired.

    It is completing destroying our relationship.

    Penny  |  March 13th, 2011 at 8:01 am

  • I do resent having to be the breadwinner. I always wanted a career when I was younger, but once I had kids, I always planned to stay home with them. My husband has been laid off twice and has not found a job in the last year and a half. Even when he was working, I was making twice as much as him. I hate not having the option to stay at home, work part time, or even just have a less stressful job. I hate that when the kids are sick, my husband is the one to spend the day with them. I have gotten to the point at times where I tell my husband I am going to quit my job and MAKE him become the breadwinner, but of course that is not an option. I always tell my kids that Mommy is not gone because she wants to be - if I had the choice, I would be home with them. I don’t want them to think they had a Mom who chose career over them, because that is not what I want but I don’t have a choice.

    Bringhomethebacon  |  September 16th, 2012 at 10:06 pm