I Was the Breadwinner – And Felt like Burnt Toast

My parents raised 3 girls. From the time we were very young, we were always encouraged to realize our full potential. We were taught from the get go that if you study hard, be open to new experiences and do your best, the world could be your oyster. There was NOTHING we couldn’t accomplish just because we “were girls”. I remember having a conversation with my parents as a child and saying something like “well, if I decide to go to college….” and I was immediately corrected by one (or both) of them. “There is no IF you decide to go. Assume it’s a given and you WILL go.” End of discussion.

And so we did. All 3 of us worked hard, went to great colleges and have had successful careers. We have all accomplished so much and have our parents to thank for those early goals and expectations they set for us – and for making the possibility of college a reality for us. The sense of pride each of us felt (and saw in our parents faces) when finally graduating was truly priceless. Our hard work had finally paid off and now we were off to seize everything the world had to offer. We were strong, independent young women equipped to stand on our own two feet and take care of ourselves.

And so it was. Or seemed. Fast forward 5 years. I was now married and not only feeling the pressures of a young professional, but that of a wife – something I didn’t learn in college. There was a household to run – with a bottomless pit of cooking, cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping. There were bills to pay and as the primary breadwinner – and sole breadwinner for a time – I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to not only provide for us, but to make sure our household was running like a well-oiled machine. And we wanted to have a baby soon. How was I going to work full time, take care of my household chores and raise a child? While my husband was terrific about sharing household responsibilities, I felt like so much of the burden of running our life was still resting on my shoulders – and a “woman’s work” was truly never done. But why?

I think it could have been for plenty of reasons. But for me at least, it was mainly this. Despite being taught from a young age about realizing my full potential and to reach for the stars – I was still caught up in a traditional mindset to some degree. And I think that despite how far women have truly come in the workplace, that we can still see and feel it around us in society as well. Sure, my husband was great about helping with that laundry list (no pun intended) I just rattled off. To me, regardless of how far I may have come, I still felt that there were certain “roles” I wanted to handle – or could do better than my husband. I am sure that if he and I had children and we decided that one of us should work part time or stay home with our child, that he would have had no issue if it was him. But guess what? I did. If anyone was going to cut back on work outside the home, I wanted it to be ME. Yes, my earning potential may have been greater than my husband’s and from a financial standpoint it could have been a no brainer. But from an emotional standpoint, that was a no go for me. While I had already accomplished so much as a young professional woman, I still wanted to not only experience being a mom – but to be the one who spent more time at home with our child. I wanted the CHOICE to have a true work-life balance. And as time went on and I could see my husband becoming more comfortable with the idea of potentially being a stay at home dad, I was becoming more resentful instead. “Why should HE stay home? How could he ALLOW his wife to work like this? Doesn’t he want ME to have that time with our child? Why is he staying home the solution as opposed to figuring out a way to provide more for his wife and future family? Why is he resting peacefully while I’m up getting ready for work at 6am every morning? I should be kicking his butt out of bed.” Yes, all this ran through the mind of that young, independent woman that had blossomed 5 years earlier. I was now drowning in bitterness and resentment.

Resentment is a terrible emotion. And if it is not kept in check it can eat away at you (and your relationships) like a cancer. While I certainly did not kick his butt out of bed those early mornings – I may have “accidentally” dropped a couple of things or maybe walked around on our hardwood floors in heels sooner than I really needed to. Yeah, yeah – I know that was a bit of a dirty move. But as my resentment grew, my sensibilities shrunk. I may have seemed pretty cranky at times – but I was honestly just tired – both physically and mentally. Instead of feeling empowered as a breadwinner, I felt truly burnt. I felt like I wasn’t being supported – or heard – when I tried to share my feelings about this. I felt so much pressure with no relief. But in retrospect, could I have been putting some of that pressure on myself? Does it really matter if the sheets are folded “wrong”? Or that he picked up the wrong apples at the grocery store? And that the chicken is a bit overcooked? Not really. The laundry, grocery shopping and cooking still all got done. Maybe I could have done it better – but there may have been days I didn’t – or actually did a worse job. What would people think if I work and he stays home? What would that say about us? Well, first of all – who cares? Second, if a couple is able to come up with a scenario – as unconventional as it may seem to others (or society) – that is mutually beneficial to each of them and their family, then kudos to them. Isn’t that one of the things dear Mom & Dad taught their girls – to be open to new experiences? Sadly, there will always be people judging. And we may be bubbling over with envy when we see that family with the “perfect life” we wish was ours. Something I’ve learned in general over the years is that those people with what seems like the most perfect existence – are often times living a life just the opposite. Food for thought.

So, as much as we may WANT to take charge as a woman, we need to ask ourselves something – do we really NEED to? Many times the answer is NO – we need to just let it go – and take the help we have. If the answer is YES – then it’s critical that we voice our concerns before resentment eats us away. And even more critical is that our partners hear us. For the men reading this – DID YOU HEAR THAT? That strong, independent young woman you once knew who seized the world – and your heart – needs your support more than you may realize at times. Even something as small as simply asking how her day was will go a very long way. And if you want to take it further – take her by complete surprise and make her breakfast the next morning. I bet if you do, she won’t even care much if you burn the toast.