When I met my ex-husband, we were both in our early twenties and quickly found out we wanted the same things: a house in a small town, a few kids, and the means to give our kids a mother that stayed home full-time. He’d even written a thesis about the importance of being a stay-at-home-mom when he was in high school. I was impressed. Ever since I could remember, I wanted to be a mom — a mom who would be able to stay home with her kids.
When we got married, he was 24 and I was 27; people called us “babies.” I hated that. We weren’t babies; we had a plan and knew exactly what we wanted. I could not wait for my life as a mother to start. After a few months of marriage, I got pregnant and was counting down the days until I could quit my job and give everything I had to my kids, which I did.
I always felt lucky that I was able to stay home and be with my children. It didn’t come without sacrifices, and I didn’t mind the sacrifices one bit. I wasn’t interested in doing all the things I used to do, as long as I was with my kids. I do believe it was the right decision for both of us at the time, and while I have no regrets about the way my life unfolded, there was something that kept coming up for me that I’d never thought about: Not making my own money greatly affected my self-esteem.
While this lifestyle was something we both agreed to, like anything else, you don’t know what the situation is going to feel like until you are in it. For years, I’d made more money than he did. I was independent; I paid for our wedding and I was proud of that.
Going from that state of mind, to knowing that if your partner left you’d have to practically start over, is scary. You also have a tendency to believe you don’t deserve certain things because you aren’t bringing in any money, even though you’re working your ass off at home.
As the years passed, my husband and I grew apart despite trying to save our marriage. While we didn’t fight about money a lot, it became a sensitive area, especially the more rocky our marriage became.
Not making my own money had affected me over the years more than I realized. I began asking him to buy things — even if they were for the kids. I never realized I did this until my sister was watching me one afternoon. She said, “Why are you asking for permission to spend money? You work too.”
And she was right. What not earning a paycheck had done to my self-worth wasn’t a positive thing. Also, when we started struggling in our marriage, I stayed longer than I should have because I was afraid I couldn’t make it on my own after being out of the workplace so long. Part of me felt trapped when things got bad, and honestly, I felt that same feeling even when things were happy in our marriage. I was aware that he made all the money — and because of that, every time I spent money I was aware that I could not afford certain things, or anything really, if it wasn’t for him.
Those feelings made me realize something: I will never be financially dependent on a partner ever again. I began working from home, and in some ways, I was hoping it would help us. But even when things got to a point where we knew we had to go our separate ways, I still had confidence in myself that I could make it work financially with my income, and I have.
Not only has it made me realize that I could never go back to depending on anyone else to provide for me, but I was so proud to show my kids that I was able to be a really good mom and earn my own money, too.
The freedom that comes with earning your own paycheck is irreplaceable. I know there are people who do this as a married couple without any tension, and that is fantastic — but there is something about marching out there and buying something you’ve saved for, paying your bills, and investing your money that you made with your handiwork. It’s been incredibly rewarding to me, because it has reminded me what I am capable of.
I’m not saying I’ll never share a checkbook with anyone else for the rest of my days, but I can say I’ll never depend on anyone to earn all the income ever again. You never know what life is going to bring you, and there is such a sense of peace in having your own income, whether you are contributing to your household finances, socking money away for something special, or simply on your own and have no choice.
Going back to work has been one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done for me and my family, and I just can’t go back to the way things used to be.