Last week my husband started working a formal, benefits eligible part time job, working twenty-four hours each week. He’s working on the weekend and a few hours weekday evenings, after I get home from work.
Let’s talk about his job, how we’re making it work with our schedules, and reflect on conversations I’ve had with other women on how disjointed it can feel when you’re not the breadwinner anymore.
Our History With Work – Part Time, Full Time, Stay At Home
Over the course of our now eighteen year marriage (just celebrated our eighteenth anniversary yesterday!), we’ve had a number of different working arrangements.
- When we were first married, we both worked full time jobs during the day.
- After our oldest son was born, my husband started working third shift full time, so we could avoid childcare
- Third shift plus caring for a baby all day proved difficult – so he found a part time job a few evenings and a weekend day each week
- When the part time job ended, he worked second shift for a few years. I worked from 6 AM until 3 PM so he could get off to his job on time
- His workplace closed during the Great Recession, leaving him totally unemployed. And then he got sick and unable to work
- Eventually, after he had recovered, he picked up part-time work loading packages early mornings. After a while, that work destroyed his abdomen and he was forced to go on leave
- After his leave ended, he stayed at home, undergoing a major reconstructive surgery when our little guy was six months old
So you can see, juggling various work schedules isn’t something that’s new to us.
On the other hand, I’ve had a full-time corporate job since I was eighteen years old. So for the past twenty one years, I’ve worked full time and grown my career in corporate America.
Our situation has always been one where it made sense for me to focus on a corporate career while he picked up work where he could. Part of this is a function of our ages when we had our oldest son – I was only twenty three, and our incomes at the time were such that we couldn’t really afford childcare.
His Job – What’s He Doing, and Why Now
Now my husband is working a formal part-time job: a few evenings a week, and the weekends. What’s he doing? He’s working in recreation at a local senior center. He gets to help entertain the senior citizens who can no longer live on their own, or who are recovering from a medical event, by showing them movies and playing games with them.
Why there? Well, there’s no way he can go back to the kind of back-breaking, manual labor he used to do. Even though he’s been medically cleared, the last time he did that he required major reconstructive surgery. Instead of taking that kind of risk, he found non-manual labor type work.
If you remember, he spent time living in a rehabilitation center after he was released from the hospital post-septic shock. He knows what it’s like to be in those places, and also has a fondness for the elderly. Helping to put a smile on the face of people who are recovering from various medical issues, or who simply are no longer able to live on their own, is rewarding.
Why now, especially shortly after paying off the mortgage? Shouldn’t we need extra money less than ever?
While true, there are other considerations for us:
- What would we do if I weren’t able to work, lost my job, or had to take time off unpaid? Yes, I have disability insurance, there’s no immediate threat to my job, and we could cover some unpaid time off with our emergency fund. But it’s always something I worry about in the back of my mind. I’ve read many stories from stay at home moms who are caught in bad situations, and wish they had kept up with some kind of work. Also, if something were to happen to me or my job, we would lose access to my benefits. Having a benefits-eligible job means he can take on that responsibility if needed.
- The little guy is going to kindergarten soon – full time kindergarten. That means that during the week, he’s going to be away all day long. By taking a part time job now, my husband can work with his employer to take on different hours next year when the house is empty. And potentially, once the little guy is older, he can move into full time work. After all, in two more years our oldest will be in college – and in six more years, our middle son will be too.
- We still have aggressive financial goals. After all, we have three kids that we want to help go to college, without sacrificing our own financial futures. There’s only two years left until our oldest son heads off to college – that’s not much time to prepare. Back when he was young, we couldn’t put aside much for college since we didn’t make much at the time.
- Retirement is still a consideration. My husbands retirement accounts exist, but dwarf mine. He’s currently 44 years old, and now he’ll have access to a retirement account again. Having additional savings, investments, and retirement accounts can only be helpful in our soon-coming old age.
When Roles Change – Communication and Compromise
In this kind of part-time role, he’s still the primary caregiver to our three kids. Unless I’m off on a business trip, in which case our oldest son will baby-sit the younger ones, he’s still the one caring for them all day. He’ll be doing the cooking, cleaning, and laundry in addition to running the kids around to their various activities and appointments. So in many ways, there’s no change and he’s still staying at home all day.
But when your roles change, compromise and communication are key to helping ensure neither person feels resentment towards the other for not pulling their weight.
As discussed above, we’ve had a number of different working arrangements over the past eighteen years. Each working arrangement came with different expectations around who would do what around the house.
I’ve talked to too many women over the years who were forced to work a significant “second shift” of housework and childcare, even when their husband stayed at home or worked in a part time capacity. I’ve written before about how we split household responsibilities differently over the years, and now we’ll need to figure out a new arrangement that works for us.
But I’ll still be keeping those tips from that article in mind – and since I work over twice as much as he does (my full time job requires much more than 40 hours a week), I won’t be taking on a huge burden myself.
And you know what? If you’re a working woman with a stay at home spouse, or one that works part time, you don’t need to bear the burden of all the household chores either. Even if you’re not the breadwinner, or you’re the one at home/working part time, compromise and discussion is key to ensuring a fair and equitable split between the members of the household.
When You’re Not The Breadwinner Anymore
Given that I make more in a day than he will in a week, though, it’s safe to say my role of breadwinner is safe for now. But what if it wasn’t?
I’ve talked to several women who were the breadwinner, then are not – maybe their spouse gets a new job or new career, or they decided to downshift or start a business. And I have to say, they all say it’s a bit jarring to have that part of their identity gone.
I found that interesting, because I’ve heard of the same thing happening when a man has been the breadwinner his entire relationship, and then suddenly is not. So it’s not gender specific to feel unnerved or uprooted when you’re no longer the one bringing in most of the bacon.
Why is this? I can’t say for sure, but my theory is that being the breadwinner can become part of our identity – part of who we are. And when we’re not anymore, it’s almost like part of our identity has been lost or shifted. Also, we may have made a certain split in household responsibilities based usually on the amount of/hours of work each family member takes on outside the house. When that shifts, we need to go back to our old friends compromise and communication to figure out a new arrangement that works for us.
I’m glad my husband will be working this job with benefits now, even though I’m sure it will be a tricky adjustment at first. Not only for the reasons outlined earlier, but also it’s very rewarding and fulfilling to bring a smile to peoples faces. Apparently some of the residents are still talking about their Friday movie night and how they liked Princess Bride, and how much they enjoyed Wednesday game night.
Before he took on these evening hours, no one from recreation was there in the evenings, only during the day. Now the residents will get some fun and entertainment after dinner as well. Bringing a smile to their faces and some joy in their lives is rewarding work. And I know we’ll adapt to this new working arrangement over time.
Readers, have you ever known a family where the “breadwinner” role reversed – and did it require any adjustments? Let me know in the comments!
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