My Husband Is Our Family's Breadwinner, but We Don't Have a 1950s Marriage

When my husband and I were dating, he graduated college with two degrees: finance and accounting. I was working toward graduate school, earning a degree in Teaching of Writing. We knew early on that his income would always substantially exceed mine.

We’ve been married almost 20 years, and my husband has always out-earned me. His job not only provides the bucks — it also provides the retirement benefits, and the health, dental, and vision insurance that our family of six needs. But even though he is our family’s breadwinner, we don’t have a 1950s marriage; my husband is an equal household responsibilities and parenting partner.

Even though it’s 2023, many of my friends have fallen into the old school trap of giving their breadwinning partner a pass because they work the nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday job and bring in the biggest (or the solo) paycheck for the family.

No doubt, working full time is arduous — whether it’s mental or manual labor. I’m not discounting the time, energy, and education it takes to hold down a full-time job. But having a full-time job doesn’t give my husband a pass, getting out of everything else that goes into running a household.

As someone who went from working part-time outside the home as a college writing teacher to being a full-time stay-at-home mom for several years, I can vouch for the fact that being a stay-at-home mom was absolutely exhausting — mentally and physically. There were no breaks. I was always “on” — even when I was in the bathroom with the door closed, little fingers would wiggle underneath the crack, tiny voices imploring me for a snack. I lived where I worked, which meant constant chores, errands, and childcare.

When my husband would walk in the door around dinnertime each evening, he knew the routine. He was “it” and “on.” The kids would leap into his arms and bombard him with tattling and “guess what” questions. We’d have dinner together, and then my husband would roll up his sleeves and wash the pots and pans while I wiped down the countertops and tackled the kids, wrangling them into their pajamas.

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We no longer have babies. My oldest is 14, and we also have two tweens and a kindergartner. I thought that no longer having babies (especially three who were very close in age) would make life easier, but as it turns out, bigger kids just make bigger messes. They also have bigger and more laundry, and eat way more food.

My husband’s involvement in their lives is critically important to my kids’ well-being. Having a dad and male-figure present is a different vibe than me, the mom. I love the balance. Now after dinner, my husband still does the dishes, and then he reads the younger two kids a bedtime story while I tuck in and spend time with the older two kids. It’s a constant give-and-take, swirling around one another, going from task to task.

Mommy burnout happens no matter what — but I will share that it happens way less often when the marriage or partnership is 100-100. When each partner gives their very best, all the time, then we are happier as a couple and as family. We’re also teaching our kids that there is no such thing as “boy” or “girl” tasks.

In this house, if you make a mess, you clean it up. If you make a mistake, you amend it. And as a former college teacher who found out many young adults can’t cook an egg or run a load of laundry, I make sure my kids are building life skills.

Many of my friends have been blown away by my husband, because he does most of the school volunteering (think field trip supervision and fundraising events), the grocery shopping, and makes sure the minivan always has a full tank of gas. He doesn’t go out for happy hour after work. He comes straight home and jumps right in to dad mode.

I am thankful I have an equal partner, but I also find it incredibly sad that this isn’t the norm. My husband chose to have kids just like I did. Why wouldn’t he be doing a lot of the heavy-lifting parenting duties too?

We have to stop conditioning kids to believe that roles and gender should define how we act in a marriage and how we do chores, go to work, and parent. Kids need to see that all adults in the house are all-in. If we want to stop female burnout, we have to hold partners accountable for their lag in participation, and model for our kids a more equitable household.

No wife wants to put the pearls and heels back on, make their husband a cocktail after work, and commit to doing every single chore but mow the lawn. I’m frustrated to see how many are doing this — in one way or another — just because one half of the partnership brings home a bigger paycheck. Because when one partner does way more than their fair share, burnout is inevitable.

And in the meantime, our children are watching.

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