Last week on the New York Times’ parenting blog Motherlode, Jessica Grose wrote about why it is important for mothers to not, consciously or semi-consciously, earmark the money they earn for childcare expenses. She talks about how she started seeing her freelance writing assignments in terms of how many diapers or onesies they could cover, and then realized she had to stop.
Ever since I realized I was unwittingly degrading my own work, I’ve been trying to unpack where these messages came from. …The only answer I can come up with is that I’ve somehow internalized the cultural message that says I am the one who should be primarily taking care of our child, and if I’m going to work, it’s up to me to pay for it.
I agree with Jessica that it is important for women not to degrade their work and earnings by thinking of it as only for child or home-related expenses while their partners pay for the “real stuff.” But I also want to point out that this is not only healthier for the mother, but for their partners too.
As others have written about before, the gendered division of expenses is as bad for the husband (or whoever is in the role traditionally played by husbands) as it is for the wife. If one partner thinks paying the mortgage and putting food on the table is entirely his or her responsibility, while the other partner has to only worry the more “frivolous” expenses, this puts an undue burden on the one working full-time. By thinking of money as “our money” and expenses as “our expenses,” both partners are freed.
Also, when partners both see themselves as responsible for everything, the things that once seemed “frivolous” might starting to feel less so. The “husband” partners will have a vested interest in what exactly is inside all those Diapers.com boxes and become more engaged in the many decisions one must make daily when raising a child. This raises the value of domestic and childcare work overall, because both parents work together to figure out the best way to pay for and raise children within their means.
If we really want to move towards giving both parents a better shot at having a life outside the home, we have to make sure there is shared responsibility of what goes on inside the home. Money is a great place to start.
Follow Elissa Strauss on Twitter at @elissaavery
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.