Economic realities have meant that most families must rely on more than one income to meet the family’s current needs and future aspirations including educating children, decent housing and a secure retirement.
There has been the traditional premise that men were the breadwinners and women stayed home “in the kitchen,” or did not pursue a career or build a business. Indeed, Nigerian women are earning and contributing a significant part of the household income. Women’s earnings have increased significantly, with many women in top jobs in the corporate world, business and government. Many are assuming the role of primary and sometimes, sole earner.
This social phenomenon has financial, emotional and psychological implications for both men and women. Traditional role reversals can be disconcerting, and can lead to frustration or resentment as an increased financial burden is placed on women on the one hand, and potentially bruised male egos and insecurities on the other. This changes the dynamics in the household and places the traditional gender roles on shaky ground particularly in a patriarchal society such as ours, with its traditional cultural values. Indeed, the brilliant, successful millennials on the fast lane appear to be less prepared or willing to play the role of the “submissive wife.” Consider these scenarios
Kate and Steve:
In far away Leeds in the United Kingdom, Kate Beckley returns home at 9:00 pm after a long day at her job with an Investment Bank. By the time she gets home, Steve, her husband has already picked up the kids from school, helped with homework and prepared a meal for them all. Kate just doesn’t have the time for domestic chores right now as they came to a decision that since her six-digit income was much more than he could expect to earn in the short term, it would support their children’s private school education and also give him the freedom to develop his portfolio as a talented artist and teacher. Steve is completely comfortable with the situation as he enjoys quality time with the children and is able to focus on what he loves.
Dele and Maria:
Dele, 38, is a partner at a small Lagos law firm. Briefs are not regular so sometimes he has money, but other times he is completely broke. He is not as disciplined as he ought to be with his finances; when he does have money, he spends a lot out socializing with friends. His wife, Maria is an Assistant Manager at a bank; She earns one and a half times more than him. Dele is embarrassed that Maria is footing most of the household bills. He feels somewhat inadequate and insecure as he feels that he is not meeting up to expectations of either Maria or their two boys. He did mange to accept things though, until Uncle Wole visited and made a snide comment about who was “in charge” in his home; this really got to Dele and began to put a huge strain that threatened their marriage.
Maria admitted feeling unnerved, as she finds the thought of earning more than Dele somewhat jarring; her father took care of her mother and siblings and she expected her husband to step into the role of provider. She abhorred the role she found herself in. [READ: Who Will Take Over The Family]
Maria almost lost respect for Dele after she found herself footing major bills including rent and school fees. She became angry and resentful and it showed. She felt that Dele should forget about his fledgling law practice that couldn’t pay the bills and look for a job in a top law firm. She struggled to give him that hallowed position as Head of the Household, his spiritual role that is so clearly defined for the Christian household.
Fortunately, Dele and Maria sought counseling and had a conversation to put things in perspective. Emotional support, assistance with the children’s activities, encouragement with each others careers or business was essential too; in many ways, these things matter much more than money in their journey together through life.
Money Matters are a leading cause of friction and discomfort in relationships and this can be more pronounced where the woman is the primary breadwinner. Here are some suggestions to navigate this sensitive issue.
Communication is key
It is so important that you and your spouse are communicating and can ward off much of the noise where you know that you have clear family goals. One party may be back in school to improve the family’s prospects whilst the other spouse takes care of all the bills.
Clarify expectations of each other
Maintaining respect and acknowledging how you both contribute to the marriage will help. Try to consider and appreciate the non-monetary contributions of your spouse. Does it really matter who makes more money; or is working together as a team to meet the needs of the family not more important?
Don’t listen to third parties
Sadly, society can be quite judgmental of women with financial and professional influence. Expect criticism from the extended family, including in-laws; even your friends might look on disapprovingly. Steer clear of such conversations.
“If a woman thinks that the power should follow the money, she’s in deep trouble,” writes Farnoosh Torabi in her book “When she makes more.” It’s emasculating and wrong to cut your spouse out of decision-making just because you earn more. Ideally major financial decisions about debt, savings, investing, and educating children that concern the family should be made jointly.
You are not alone
Being a breadwinner wife and mother may be more common than we think. There are many couples in a similar situation that have navigated this situation very well. Share positive advice and compare notes. The phenomenon of the bread winning woman is here to stay.
Look after yourself
Your physical, mental and spiritual health is even more important now than ever, particularly if your family depends on your income. You cannot afford to buckle under the pressure or be laid off work. Eat healthily and exercise regularly.
There is no one size fits all.
Some women go to the extreme and hand over their entire salary to their husband for him to make all decisions to keep things on an even keel; find a system that works for you; if it is not working, change it.
At the end of the day, you must be proud and thankful that you are able to provide for your loved ones. The income differential should not damage a relationship. At a time when so many families are struggling for the most basic of necessities, just thank God that at least one of you is earning and able to provide.
Nimi Akinkugbe, Money Matters with Nimi , is a Money Management and Financial Specialist.