We know two things. First, women are much more likely to be making less than their male spouses. Oh yes, we’ve heard that 40 percent of wives are primary breadwinners. But that’s ALL wives, not college-educated wives married to college-educated husbands. In the professional world, where a college degree is usually required, fathers are still likely to be the primary breadwinners.
Second, we know that despite decades of collective effort and great books like Getting to 50/50: How Working Parents Can Have It All that offer tools and strategies for, well, getting to 50/50 when it comes to housework and child care, women still bear the burden of being the perceived primary parent. When couples look at their finances, they are often likely to look at the salary of the wife as the one that offsets child care expenses. Many, like Lisa, her husband, and their accountant, assume the mother is the one who would otherwise be caring for the children.
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Even if you can’t get beyond the notion that your salary is the one that should cover the cost of child care, don’t forget to consider your future child care needs. Unless you are planning to never return to work again, the notion that leaving because child care costs are too high obscures the reality that those costs don’t go away. And, when you do return to work, you’ll still need child care because standard school hours, holidays, and summer vacation means children will be unsupervised for extended periods of time.
Plus, if you have more than one child and you wait until they are in school, then depending on how many children you have, you could be out for more than a decade. A choice, but one that, as we have seen, makes it all the more challenging to relaunch into the paid workforce. Reducing your child care expenses by quitting your job is one solution, but consider the financial consequences before you decide to do so.
Finally, remember that old adage that how you spend your money reflects what you value? If we want men to take more responsibility in doing the care, shouldn’t we expect them to take more responsibility in paying for the care? Until we do, they will continue to view their role as helper, not equal partner. Make sure your partner puts his money where it matters and he applies his salary 50/50 to the cost of care of the children you two are raising.
Your career is as important to the family’s well-being as your partner’s, even if he is making more money at this moment. Spread the expense of child care across both salaries when you do your pro forma and then decide if it is truly “not worth it” for you to work.
Couples make children together. The cost of caring for those children should be spread across both incomes, not against the income of one member of that relationship.