Husband wants me to go back to work

Archived Q&A and Reviews

March 2003

Does anyone out there have any words of support or understanding, experience with or other relevant information to my situation? My value system and that of my husband's seem to be opposed. I believe that there is nothing more important than staying at home with our children. My husband agrees in theory, but strongly resents carrying the financial burden. When things get stressful at our house, he suggests that all would be easier if I were working.

The fact that I am ridiculously happy staying home with my child but also feel guilty for not contributing financially, and wonder if I am contributing enough to the world at large- make me terribly upset and confused about the whole situation. I believe that my husband and I are partners-. But what do you do when those partners have value systems that oppose each other?

My husband and I have discussed and intellectually agree with all of the arguments in favor of staying at home. I just think that his gut tells him that two-income families are better off. While my gut tells me that having one parent stay at home is the way to live our lives.

The question that makes me cry the most is: How can you be loved by and love someone who doesn't when his back is to the wall agree with what I consider to be paramount in my- our life? To me, spending quality time with family is more important than any other single factor. I feel like I am not supporting my husband, but to support him this way goes against the things that I hold most dear.

My female friends and family are either stay at home moms with the full support of their husbands, or working moms who love and want their jobs (or at least believe that their lives are better off with the income). I don't know anyone who has a situation like mine. I would love to hear from other people in similar circumstances.

I would never leave my husband. I don't think he would ever leave me- My biggest fear is that he will remain frustrated.

Sad and Scared

Just a thought, (and I have been in your husbands place), maybe he is jealous of having to work while you get unlimited family time. I don't think you said if he loves his job or not, but if he doesn't then having to carry the financial load alone could be very anger inducing. I've done both, and neither is easy, but being at home with a young child is certainly more rewarding. Maybe you could pick up a part-time job with some useful benefits (and I think both you and your child(ren) could benefit)...your husband could cut back to four days a both could cut back on your financial needs...there must be many solutions. It seems obvious that financially two income families are somewhat better off financially, while a stay at home parent has some advantages too. There must be a mutually acceptable middle ground though. Good luck. Oh, and another random thought--and I've also known couples where this was an the work split evenly? Is your husband putting in time at work, then having to do chores all weekend or evenings? I've always thought that the home-parent should take care of meals generally, for example. That could be cutting into his family time to the point where it is a problem.
I can't relate as someone who is in your position (I work full time, as does my husband), but it occurs to me that your ''work'' at home should have a dollar value. If you had to pay someone to care for your children, prepare 1-3 meals a day, and clean the house, it would probably cost a lot! Maybe you need to treat your work at home as a ''paying job'' with an hourly wage. (I bet you put in more hours than your husband's probable 40). I'm sure you also have considered how much you would pay for childcare if you were working- Is it possible the issue is more than financial? It wasn't clear to me from your post if your husband resents the lack of income you could provide if you were working, or resents the fact that your ''job'' appeals to him more and he wishes he could stay home instead and have you work. I suggest you talk to a couples therapist- It has helped my marriage tremendously and has provided us a safe place to talk about difficult issues. anon
You both believe, intellectually, that an at-home parent is important and valuable, but he feels resentful and you feel guilty. You may not be as at odds with your husband as you think!

I suggest it's time for some serious discussion about how to relieve the negative feelings you *both* have about your household arrangements, without sacrificing the time with your kids that you both consider paramount. It isn't necessarily a question of should-you-work-or-should-you-stay-home. Perhaps you could get a part time job, especially something that would give you a sense of giving to/connection with the community, or start a home-based business. Perhaps he could focus on the ways you are able to contribute to the household economy not by earning but by saving (at home moms are more able than working moms to cook from scratch, shop for the lowest price, clean their own home, etc., although of course a lot depends on how old your kids are). Perhaps you need to consider moving to a less expensive home outside the immediate Bay Area. Perhaps you simply need to reassure your husband that he *is* a good provider and he needn't feel an obligation to focus on ''getting ahead'' at the expense of his own family time. Perhaps he simply needs to reassure you that raising good kids *is* contributing to the community and that he considers your work valuable, even though it does mean your family is financially more constrained than he'd like.

Quite likely there are other solutions I haven't mentioned. Brainstorm. Problem-solve. As a team. Good luck!

Every couple is composed of two people from different value systems. This is an excellent opportunity for the two of you to learn the art, skills, and long-term value of compromise. A couples counsellor can help with tools and an outsider's disinterested view, but you've already taken a good first step in describing the problem so clearly for yourself.

You don't say the age (or number?) of your child/ren, but it's a fact that most families nowadays find it pretty hard to make ends meet on a single income. I don't blame your husband for wishing that the financial burden could be shared; on the other hand, have you thought through and carefully outlined to him all the ways that your being at home both contributes to the household well-being and saves money (in childcare, restaurant meals, etc.)? The two of you could probably benefit from an excercise in writing down exactly where the money goes each month (bring out 6-12 months worth of bills and make a spreadsheet if you can). Put your heads together to see how you, as ''thrifty housewife,'' can help save even more of the family income.

Make a long-term plan for what you will do as the kids get older and spend most of their days in school -- plan to take classes that will enable you to re- enter the workforce. Even if you decide to home-school, there will come a day when the kids will not need or want you home all day.

In the meantime, when push comes to shove, you may need to take in some at-home work to do while the kids are playing/napping/etc. That may be part of the compromise, too. Good luck & best wishes,

Two years ago both my husband and I agreed that I would leave work to homeschool our daughter and take care of our toddler son. At first it was fine then I started to get some remarks about his status as breadwinner. Eventually I was left out of the decision making process with the information that I was not bringing in the money and therefore didn't have a voice. We ended up arguing about something inconsequential with all this baggage behind it. After leaving him with the children for the night and having time to think it over we began to talk the next day about ''our'' initial decision, the stresses on both of us, how we needed to rethink ''our'' decision. Once we cleared the air and cut back on some needless spending we were going well. He makes enough for us to live comfortably but we have to be careful of our spending habits. He is now hinting that he would like to me to work again but it is thoughtful and nice whereas before it wasn't so nice. I may decide to work part-time for a while and have my daughter join another family for homeschooling for a few days a week and then teach that family so both of us mothers have some freetime. There is a large homeschool network I feel I can tap into for that. Maybe you can look to other mothers who want 1 or 2 days or 1/2 days freed up and you can swap. Bringing in a bit of extra money then may lessen the tension and stress. Make sure that when you feel ''less'' than you should or guilty you begin to dialogue with your partner to figure out what is behind it all. Good luck.
-stay at home working mother
Several thoughts: Have the two of you actually sat down and looked at how much more you would be bringing home (after childcare, taxes, the expenses of you working - such as gas, wardrobe, etc.) if you were working? Given how expensive child care (and everything else) is in the bay area, the reality may be that you would hardly cover your costs. Your husband does not value what you do, even though he give it lipservice. When we were looking into life insurance, we did an exercise where we calculated how much money my husband would need to ''replace'' my services (yes, sounds cold but it's useful) as a childcare provider, housekeeper, etc. so that he could continue working after my death. Let's just say that it was a big reality check. It might be an exercise that the two of you should do. You mention that you feel guilty for not helping financially, but you ARE providing for your family and although you are not bringing money in, you are keeping it from going out!

You both have important jobs now and you BOTH need to acknowledge are not just sitting around eating bon bons, as the old saying goes, you are raising your child. As to what to do when your life partner does not value what you value? I think that you have to first really value it yourself and I am not sure that you do (you mention the guilt of not working/providing financially). They are young for only so long and this argument will be moot when your child goes to school (you may want to work while s/he is at school). For now I say do what you feel is best for you and your child and think of this as another of the many disagreements that husbands and wives have (although I know that it means so much more to you than just a disagreement). Good luck

I have relatives who are in the same position as you and your husband, and it has utterly torn their marriage apart.

Is there some way of finding compromise? Can you find work to do in the home, so you are still with your kids but also bringing in income? I don't remember you saying how old they are. Eventually they will be in school (preschool?) and you could do some work during the time they are in school. Unless you are going to be fulltime homeschooling, it is unlikely that they will be with you 24/7.

Personally, I believe that kids do best when they feel comfortable and loved by a variety of adults, not just one person (ie, their mother). You could consider part-time work for you, and preschool/school/daycare for them, as a way of broadening their horizons (and yours as well!).

Alternately, you could offer to significantly decrease household spending (moving into a smaller house or apartment, taking fewer vacations, etc) as another way of lessing your husband's feeling of financial burden. Spending $20K less per year would be the equivalent of taking a good job. You guys need to find a way of working out something that will feel acceptable for both of you. Sounds like marital counseling could be a good investment right now.

I would take these conflicting concerns very seriously, or you could end up as a single mother with no choice but to work full-time. I've Seen This End a Marriage

I strongly sugggest that you seek couples counselling. My husband and I did when a similar, polarizing issue came up. A good couples counsellor will not focus on ''right'' or ''wrong'' but on opening a more constructive dialog between partners so you can come to a fuller, deeper understanding of your issues both separately and together and from there find solutions. I have to admit that I was skeptical at first but my partner and I have resolved some pretty thorny issues through counselling and have learned tools that help us connect better than we ever had before. The other very positive thing to come from it is that we are now modelling more effective conflict resolution and partnering for our child.
I'm sorry you have been made to feel so uncomfortable about this. My immediate reaction is that you two need to seek counseling before this escalates. Also, on the practical side, would there really be a financial gain for your family if you were to go back to work? Did you crunch the numbers with your husband for how much you would have to pay for childcare vs. your salary? It's shocking what the net difference is. In many cases, like mine (I'm a teacher by training) it's more economical for me to stay home. anon
Your post is mostly about values--how can you and your beloved disagree so strongly about something so basic? I can't help you with that, except to say that I think this is a very common dichotomy between the sexes, where the man feels a lot of pressure to be a provider and worries about financial security more than the woman, while the woman experiences more doubt and worry about how the children are doing emotionally.

But what about trying this--analyzing the financial picture if you went back to work? For many people with more than one child, the income from the second job is largely illusory because childcare (and all the other convenience costs that you get into, like eating out more often because both parents work) eats up the income.

I suggest that you (privately) do a budget for what you could contribute if working, and be sure to deduct everything, including:

1) paid childcare
2) commute costs, including increase in auto insurance
3) taxes (adjust for higher income bracket)
4) work clothes, lunches out
5) housekeeper for the number of hours you currently spend doing laundry/chores while home with your child
6) more takeout dinners for when you're both too tired to cook

and see what you get.

My brother and sister-in-law found that her salary minus childcare gave them only a few hundred dollars extra each month, and I don't think they did such a detailed analysis of the real costs. Even if you come up substantially on the plus side, you might put it to your husband this way: ''I love staying home with our child, and I think that the benefit to me and our child is worth a lot, certainly more than $X per month. What do you think?'' You can also remind him that if you work, your free time then becomes more precious, and it becomes much harder to decide what to do with it (especially if the choice is, recuperate and do housework on the weekends or go out and do something kid-friendly).
Mom who loves her job

I'd like to encourage you to get some counseling on this. >From what you've written, you really undervalue your husband -- what a huge thing it is for him to make it possible for you to be home, to live with the uncertainty of being the sole income for the family, and to be so completely marginalized by you. Does it matter who he is? Or just that someone is paying the bills.

The two of you would benefit from mediation that helped you BOTH support the family that you are raising, together. Whether that support includes your working isn't really the vital issue, though you've focused on it.

Good luck in finding a more creative solution, that meets the needs of everyone in your family.

I am in exactly the same situation. I work part-time and have a 1 year old and 3 year old. My situation had an added bonus: my husband's parents told me I have to work, while my husband is in school. I read an article recently that raised the questions of whether or not to leave a spouse for whatever reason... and its response was that ''things change, economies improve, children outgrow tantrums, spouses get better jobs,'' etc. Contact me directly and we can chat more.
Dear Sad & Scared,
I'm a man in an opposite position: my wife wants me to be a stay-at- home Dad! The ironic part is that I like the concept of it but I'm aching to have the challenges of entrepreneurial work and leave my part-time employment for something really intense and stimulating.

How might this be relevant to you? I think you are worth standing up for, and you have to do it, with both gentleness and firmness. The gentleness comes by finding a time and a space and way to share again with him how important this is to you, as how you wish to spend your life. Creating that space requires carving out a proper atmosphere for you BOTH to be relaxed and receptive. A day-time babysitter on Sunday, so you can both go out to a relaxing brunch (make reservations at a great place, even... daytime conversations often go better for sleep-deprived parents). The gentleness is your receptivity, your recognizing him and hearing him.

The firmness is your connection to yourself, your feelings but also your clarity about this, and your clarity about how much you love your child and husband both.

If the question is really about money (and I think this is an opportunity for you to deepen your risk-taking communication and intimacy with your husband), there are alternatives to your going to work. Make an accounting of your monthly expenses, divide each category (Cable TV, restaurant meals, buying household gadgets) by your husband's hourly wage to see how many of his life-hours he's spending for that item. Seen from that perspective, there were a few expenses that I found it possible to reduce. (This is part of a larger financial self- enlightenment program found in a cool book, ''Your money or your life'') So spend less. Or coach and support him, make him feel so great about how good a widget-wocket-engineer he he feels like he deserves a promotion, a raise and paid vacations.

Best wishes. ranwithscissors

how about a compromise; work part time. That's what I do, because we need the cash, yet I am committed to being with my kids more than I would be if working full time. No, it is not easy to find part time work necessarily, at least not in my profession, which is white collar male dominated (although that is changing somewhat). I got somewhat lucky and have a fabulous situation. I work 16 hours/week, and do it over three days. I feel like I am mostly a mom, and now I actually look forward to work, where i never used to before i had kids. I get a small break from them, they get a break from me and the chance to form other relationships and social skills. If given the choice, and money wasn't an issue, I'd probably not work. But given that I need to at this time, part time is definitely the way to go. OR job share.....good luck .I hope you can come to a compromise.
I don't have any answers, just two questions to consider.

1) Would you make enough money after taxes to off-set the cost of childcare, commuting and other possible work costs (clothes, drycleaning, lunches out?). So many of us can't that the issue resolves itself...

2) If you do make good money, would you want to consider finding part-time work that would bring in some extra cash, but still give you a great deal of time with your child? I have worked about 15 hrs./week, but still felt like a full-time, at-home mom.

Good luck. anon

Does he realize you are saving money by not working? By the time you add up childcare, lunches, professional wardrobe, commute costs, etc. you have probably exceeded your net income. And that is after-tax money. Perhaps he just resents being the breadwinner? Maybe you could do a little work from home. This would become easier once your kids are in school. Bookkeeping, selling stuff, etc. could be done mostly at home.
Two things: First the easy part: If you do decide to work, I have found a middle way that works SO well for me and my family. I have a 2 year old and I work 3 days a week from home and share a nanny with another family. I feel totally fullfilled and involved with my son and still get to contribute to the world and to my family financially. The weekends are family days, and two days a week I have my son all to myself - my ''Mommy Days.'' I also do most of the house hold decorating, gardening, and social planning, which I love doing, especially after 10 years of working full time. I always tell people that being a housewife and mother is so underrated, I enjoy this aspect of my life very much. But I also love to work and 3 days a week is perfect. I get to have lunch with my son and hear him playing all day long.

The hard part for you I think is your disappointment that you and your husband disagree on something so core to your values. I hate this part of relationship too! The first time I found out that my husband held a view that clashed deeply with my needs, I was bewildered and hurt. I then accepted the reality that other people are also complex combinations of needs and wants and that they don't always fit the picture we'd like. Accepting your husband as he is will bring you closer to him in the end.

I wish you all the best and admire your committment to your family.
Happy Mom

I found The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued, by Ann Crittenden extremely helpful on the issue of whether or not us stay at home mothers are contributing to the greater community. (Oh, yes!) River
You are not alone. Dr. Phil has had shows about this. There might be advice on his website. Unfortunately the bottomline becomes if you are going to break up the marriage over this, would that be better than if you stayed and found a compromise. (Sometimes the break up allows new options for both of you to live like you wish-family support, welfare, etc., but maybe too drastic). Both people need to get their needs met otherwise it won't work, as you have seen. Perhaps the compromise is staying home till preschool or part-time work for the first 4-5 years then full time, or whatever. Coming up with a few options seems to be the way. I hear some parents move to a cheaper country/location and dad comes back and forth to make the money. Part of the problem is our wonderful bay area is so expensive to live in now. I hope to hear other moms solutions to this. empathetic mom
Several people made comments I agree with -- that you are doing valuable work, that you need to examine the cost of childcare, that you can probably find many creative ways to save money -- but I wanted to add one point I don't think was ever fully expressed:

Increasing your household income will not necessarily help your family ''get ahead.'' Most of the time, a higher income is just followed by a higher cost of living.

I got a pretty different image of your husband (and your relationship with him) than everyone else, I think. From your post, it sounded to me like your family is getting by -- I don't recall that you are deeply in debt. Your husband just wishes there was a little more ''extra,'' and he imagines that if you were getting a paycheck things would be easier. But I take the view that most of us have insatiable wants. We have to choose to be grateful for what we have, or else nothing will ever satisfy us.

I also wonder whether your husband has any concrete idea of how he'd use the added income. I think that's important to know. Ask him to list one or two major financial goals, and then see if the two of you can figure out ways to achieve them without sending you back to work. If not, then you can start calculating whether part-time work makes sense.

But I'm not inclined to advocate for that solution as much as other posters. Part-time work adds many of the same stresses to family life that a full-time job would.

Your husband has told you that he thinks having you home is good for your children. Now he needs to put a value on that -- just how important does he really think it is? And how important is your personal fulfillment? Would he want you to take the highest-paying job you could get, even if you didn't enjoy it? Does he find his own work fulfilling?

Until he's honest about those issues, his comments to you just seem passive-aggressive and unfair. But if the two of you talk about these things, you might find a compromise. Or maybe you'll decide to laugh in the face of (near) poverty instead. We've chosen the second option. My husband happily supports my decision to stay home, he just wishes someone would pay me for everything I do. So do I!

So that turned out to be much more than one point. Like everybody else, I did a lot of soul-searching to determine my feelings and values around this issue. It felt good to write about it. I hope some of this is helpful to you. Good luck!