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The word ‘breadwinner’ usually refers to a male, the husband, in the family.
According to Cambridge Dictionary, a breadwinner is “the person in a family who works to provide the money that the family needs to live on.”
In this post, the word ‘breadwinner’ refers to a spouse who is the only or the higher income-earner in a family.
In our family, Mr. FAF and I both work full-time.
Mr. FAF makes much more than I do as a software engineer, so he is considered the breadwinner of the family, and I know he loves that title.
I started my current job when Mr. FAF was still finishing up his doctoral degree and earning a meager stipend as a graduate student from his research and teaching assignments.
I was the breadwinner of our family for two years.
During that time, I experienced a series of mixed emotions. Some were positive, and some weren’t so uplifting.
1. Boosting confidence
I felt happy that I could work hard and make an income to provide for our family.
With my salary, we could make the monthly mortgage payment, cover our daily expenses, and always have extra savings.
Mr. FAF was happy that I got a full-time job after being in school for years.
If I hadn’t been able to find a job, we would have to move to a cheap basement somewhere in his city and wait until Mr. FAF graduated to move up in life.
He thanked me for supporting the family on many occasions. He wasn’t bitter or felt threatened by the loss of male dominance like some husbands do when their wife makes more than them.
Mr. FAF took pride his wife and often bragged to his colleagues about me.
He didn’t tell me directly, but some of his colleagues visited us and spilled the beans. I was flattered and felt assured about my role as an income earner and provider in our family.
2. More power in decision making
I am not a feminist per se. But I like the idea of a woman having her own voice and equal power in a relationship. I believe each spouse should have an equal say in every decision that they make.
But I also know that for many couples, the spouse that brings in the bacon tends to be the one with more influence in a family.
It doesn’t mean that I want to be the dictator in our marriage making all the decisions for both of us. But I wanted my voice to be heard and my opinion to be taken into account whether it was a house purchase or what kind of fridge we should buy.
I don’t want to feel obligated to say yes to all the decisions that Mr. FAF makes just because I think that he brings in the income, so he should have more say than I do.
My job not only boosted my confidence but also empowered me to express my disagreements in our marriage.
Though proud, I was constantly stressed out about being the only one with a full-time job in our marriage.
I worried a lot about whether Mr. FAF could finish his PhD and get a job one day. Sometimes I pictured myself getting fired from my job and wondered what would happen to our family.
I felt a huge amount of burden to provide for the family financially. That stress oftentimes turned into me nagging Mr. FAF to make more progress in his work and graduate as early as he could to shoulder family responsibilities with me. That in turned caused tension between us.
It is not easy to just finish a couple of papers in order to complete the doctoral degree. I dropped out of a PhD program, so I should know that.
But the stress was sometimes exhausting and emotionally draining. It ruined my mood and caused anxiety whenever I felt like we were wasting a couple of dollars on something.
Sometimes I felt so alone as if I was the only one worrying about paying pills, savings, and retirement.
It also didn’t help that my family constantly asked me when Mr. FAF would be able to complete his studies and get a job so that Baby FAF could come back from China to be reunited with us.
Sometimes I felt like I was caught between a rock (my worried parents) and a hard place (a stressed-out husband). I wanted to assure my parents that everything would be fine, and that Mr. FAF would soon graduate. But I didn’t want to put more pressure on him since I knew doing a PhD was already stressful enough.
Together with stress, I felt an increasing sense of resentment towards Mr. FAF. I was caught up in my own internal conflict that sometimes it clouded my judgement of my husband.
On the one hand, I wanted to support our family financially so that Mr. FAF could focus on his studies and not have to worry about money or paying bills. On the other hand, social norms kept telling me that Mr. FAF should be the one working hard every day to provide for Baby FAF and me.
Although I chose to work and pursue a career, sometimes I envied my stay-at-home mom friends whose husbands work hard to bring home an income. When Mr. FAF visited me in DC, I should have been happy spending time with him. And I was.
However, part of me felt uneasy that he could stay at home all day and could take a nap whenever he wanted while I was typing away in a LED-lit office and was out of the house from 7 AM to 6 PM.
In a way, I felt like I was the man in the family although I wasn’t. Those thoughts did not make me happy.
One major problem that I have is that I tend to blame Mr. FAF for what goes wrong in our lives. I am fully aware of the damage it can cause to our relationship and have been trying my best to change that toxic behavior, especially after reading a great article about a resilience marriage.
For the most part, I have improved and have taken steps to take responsibility for something that I did wrong or try to understand that sometimes it’s an external factor neither of us have control over (i.e. bad weather on an outing day).
However, when a problem has to do with our finances, it was a constant reminder to me that Mr. FAF was still in school and that I am the one in charge of handling the finances in our family.
When Mr. FAF wasn’t in DC, I would be the one trying to fix all the home maintenance issues, walk 30 minutes to Home Depot to buy house-related items (I didn’t have a car in DC), or call a handyman. He was 10 hours away and only got an update from me when everything was finished.
Sometimes I would share the problem with Mr. FAF. But since he’s not a handyman, he would suggest we hire someone to fix the problem. I just felt frustrated since it would be at least $100 out of our pocket. I would then try to look up solutions online to save money. After all, we were living on a tight budget.
I feel so conflicted and guilt-ridden. I want to be an independent woman who can take care of myself and my family. But I still give in to social expectations that a man should take care of all the major maintenance- and finance-related issues. I blamed Mr. FAF for not being able to help me, and I felt guilty about it.
Related: The Costs Of Financial Conflict
Getting a PhD in the US is not easy. The dropout rate for doctoral students in the US is roughly 50%, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Almost half of graduate students never received their PhD diplomas. And that was my fear for Mr. FAF.
I was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to complete his doctoral degree or would lose his funding one day. Without the tuition remission and stipend, I didn’t know how he could still stay in the program.
Sometimes I doubted Mr. FAF’s decision to pursue a PhD. I doubted if we were pursuing the right path for both of us. I wondered if there were other better options for our family.
After Baby FAF was born, Mr. FAF contemplated quitting the doctoral program to get a full-time job and provide for the family. He did get a full-time job offer, but that decision didn’t make him happy.
He wanted to finish his degree, and I supported his decision. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit sometimes I wondered if it was the right decision after all.
Related: The Poor Life Of A PhD Student
After six years of staying in a PhD program, Mr. FAF finally graduated this past summer (2017) and got a job at a large tech firm in the DC area. I left that a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders.
After getting his first paycheck, Mr. FAF was overjoyed that he has officially become the breadwinner in the family. I was relieved that I no longer have to worry about losing my job and then our house or any unexpected catastrophes that would wipe out our bank account.
My husband is here to take care of me and our family. And I can’t be any happier.
For a long time, I wanted to hold on to the ‘breadwinner’ title. I didn’t want Mr. FAF to think that he is now superior to me and can make all the important decisions because he now earns more than I do.
However, after Mr. FAF got his first paycheck, he thanked me profusely for staying by his side and supporting him all those years. Mr. FAF said that his paycheck was all mine, and that I would still manage our finances. After all, we are a team.
Sometimes a team member might have to pull more weight to keep the team going more than the other. But as long as the other member is trying and understands the goal the team needs to reach, they will be able to accomplish it together one day.