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The House Dad Chronicles: I'm Embarrassed That My Wife Earns More Than Me

04/09/2012 11:12 | Updated 22 May 2015
I'm embarrassed that my wife earns more than meGetty

It wasn't until this week that I realised I still struggle with the fact my wife earns more than me.

I know this is rather a Neanderthal viewpoint in this day and age, but it's still there within me.

When we first had kids, our relationship worked because there was a clear distinction between our roles. I was the Breadwinner; my wife was the Stay-At-Home-Mum.

We both knew exactly where we stood and what was expected of ourselves and each other in our respective roles.

Redundancy turned all that on its head two years ago, and now – as I've chronicled several times – I run the home and take care of our three young children while my wife goes out to work. I'm a Reluctant Housedad, see!

As the months went by, I thought I was coming to terms with this role and identity swap, but then I tuned into Radio 4's Woman's Hour this week (more role reversal!) and heard an interview with a woman called Jenny Garrett.

She has written a book called 'Rocking Your Role: The 'How To' Guide to Success For Female Breadwinners', inspired by the statistic that 20 per cent of wives and partners are now the primary wage earners – and by the fact that many of these women are apparently ashamed of this.

Surely not? This is the 21st Century, for heaven's sake. Aren't we all equal now, aside from what we keep hidden in our underwear?

Jenny said that for women 'being a main earner is one of the last taboos in society and one you don't declare publicly'.

Her evidence for this comes from her own experience as a Female Breadwinner and from the clients she sees in the course of her work as a life coach.

The problem, she said, wasn't the Breadwinner's, but the fact that it makes the non (male) Breadwinner feel inadequate.

For no matter how politically correct our society, men are still expected to be the earner.

A man might get great satisfaction from spending more time with his children, but he will still get the mickey taken out of him by his friends in the pub – a view backed up by the writer Tony Parsons.

He said: "Does it rock the family boat if a woman earns more? No – it drives the boat into an iceberg. Because the man will feel as if his penis is dropping off.

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Do I believe that all men want to be the bread winner ? Yes, I do. I think it comes from a fundamental, elemental instinct which is the desire to provide and protect.

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"To me, wanting to take care of your family financially is exactly the same as protecting them."

And in turn, Tony's view was supported by Dr Caroline Gatrell, from Lancaster University's Management School, who said: "I think a huge percentage of men agree with what Tony Parsons says."

And I'm one of them.

For no matter how much of a contribution I make to our domestic set-up, in terms of cooking, school runs, ironing and nagging, I still feel two things: 1) that my wife would do all of these things better than me, but mainly 2) I should be the primary breadwinner.

Jenny Garrett says many women who become the main earner feel like they perform the role of BOTH the man and the woman of the house.

This isn't the case in our home (I hope) but she argues that a woman who earns has to manage both the expectations of the bosses who pay her mortgage and the fragile ego of a man who feels like his meat and two veg is going to sever itself at any moment.

In an interview with HITC, she offers this advice for the Female Breadwinner:

• Regularly Check Your Ego

The combination between your role at work and being the breadwinner at home can become a heady cocktail, intoxicating you into thinking that you are the only one who has something valid to say in your relationship.

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If you notice yourself thinking that your opinion is the only one that matters because you're the one holding the purse strings, it's time to check your ego. Seek out and listen to the feedback and recognise what your partner brings to the relationship.

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• Own the Path That You Have Taken

You always have a choice about the way you engage in being the breadwinner, even if you feel there is not currently a choice as to whether you are the breadwinner for your family. Recognise that by being the breadwinner you are blazing a new path and leaving a legacy for future generations. Others' assumptions will change about your role when you show them how you make it work. Embrace the fact that you have the opportunity to design the life that works for you.

• Communicate, communicate, communicate

You may pride yourself on your independence, but actually we are all interdependent. A complex web of support surrounds you to make your life work, so acknowledge it and notice what you need to keep this system healthy and thriving. Ensure you have two way communication about finances, your relationship and your work.

• Kick Start Your Well-being

Your physical, mental and spiritual health are critical, investing in you now, will avoid painful derailment of your work and family life later. Take time for you, it could be with dance classes, developing yourself through courses, dates with your partner, or even a full on retreat. Do whatever restores balance, gives you space to breathe and let go of all the roles you play in life.

I'm sure this is sound advice, but I prefer Dr Gatrell's insight.

She said many men who don't earn throw themselves into macho pursuits to prove their masculinity, citing one example of a husband who became an unpaid lifeboat crew member, and another of dads who become Super Parents to prove that they may not be as good at earning as their wives, but they are at least as good – if not better – at something.

Last weekend, I realised this is what I've been trying to do.

I was put in charge of my children's school barbecue. I was determined that this wouldn't be just any old barbecue: it would be the BEST ever.

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It would leave school gate mums and my friends in the pub saying: "My word, he might have no penis – but he makes a mean burger!"

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And so it came to pass: I bought a 5kg brisket of beef and brined it for five days, before cooking it for a day; I ordered 200 sausages and 200 burgers; I organised a spectacular suckling pig roast; I bought and sliced 300 bread baps. I set up stalls and commandeered other parents to man their stations.

Then I spent three blissful hours with tongs in hand as I barbecued over white hot coals to feed the 500, helping to raise around £2,000 for school funds.

And I did all of this without wearing a pinny!

Without doubt, this was evidence writ large of a Former Earner compensating for no longer being the Main Breadwinner.

It's just a shame that we still live in a society where money is the way most of us measure our – and others' - value.

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