“Love Many, Trust Few, Always Paddle Your Own Canoe”. That’s a phrase my dad repeated through my childhood. It makes sense, keeping your own sense of independence. I was brought up to work hard for the money I got, that there was a pride in working for an honest wage. Work was important, as was being able to support yourself. So, when being out of work for extended time due to my back injury has reduced my income to the level where I’m not independent any more, it probably shouldn’t surprise me that I’m not thrilled with it.
I grew up in a house where both parents worked, aside from a few years between my little brother being born and starting school. I saw my mother go back to college, study hard and become an accountant, working all the while. My father worked long hours and ran his own business. As a teenager, I worked from the age of 15 in part time and summer jobs, through college and up to the present day. I consider myself very lucky in that I was able to work through all that time – I saw friends facing issues with unemployment, of not being able to get any long term work.
When I was pregnant, I was involved in a road traffic accident which led to me getting a back injury. I’ve suffered with chronic pain and had to undergo different procedures. This has meant that I’ve been out of work for more of the last four years than I have been in it. My employers have been understanding, accommodating and I have been lucky enough to avail of a sick pay scheme which they have in place. However, as with all these things, they do have a time that they run out on. While I’m still entitled to state sick pay, there is a limit to how far that can go.
My partner is a wonderful, generous man who has never made me feel any lesser for my financial contributions in our family. We’re lucky that even with my lesser earnings, we can still afford everything we need on his income. I know that this isn’t the case for many, and because of that, I feel bad even complaining about this situation. But having checked online, and seen how other women, stay at home parents or those who cannot work, have spoken about their views on financial dependence, I know I’m not alone in this. Suzy from The Airing Cupboard really did sum it up a few years back, when she said “I feel like I’m taking the piss. Because I’m spending money that I didn’t earn and possibly don’t deserve.”. That’s exactly it. And it’s wrong, and we know it, but it doesn’t stop the feelings.
I’m not the only one wandering around with a sense of shame for not being financially able to stand on my own two feet. The value of work in the home cannot be understated, yet I’m reading accounts of women who feel worthless because their addition to the household isn’t financial. We discount the effect that our presence at home has on our partner’s ability to work harder, longer hours while keeping the show on the road for our kids and our partners.
I’ve got a spot of existential fear, about if it all goes wrong and I’m not able to summon superpowers to save the day. I’ve got medical bills that need paying, prescriptions that are recurring and bloody expensive, a child who would live on the not-discounted-often-enough Goats Milk Yoghurts if he could. My jeans are eternally growing holes in awkward places. It’s different now that I’m in charge of someone else. I did the whole student poverty thing, living on freezer surprise and toast with beans. Doing that with a toddler in tow isn’t an option. So worries about getting hit by a bus or something terrible happening live in the back of my mind.
There is something demoralising about buying a birthday present for the person you love with their money. It feels like it counts less, like some of the good is gone from it. Again, this is all stuff that is in MY head, and isn’t put there by anyone else. It’s something that seems to be universal with others in my position, the feelings of guilt and shame about not being self sufficient and being financially dependent.
Our society tells us we should be able to have it all. I’m a university educated woman with a lot of work experience behind me for someone my age – but circumstances aren’t as they should be and I need to mentally adjust to that. My image of who I should be in my head, and who I am in real life needs to align. It’s not just in financial matters that is the case; certainly much of my parenting life is spent trying to reconcile the two in my head.
Before writing this, I googled “financially dependent on partner”. There are so many stories, so many women lamenting that they are this person now and they never expected to be. However, despite knowing so many who are in the same boat, by choice or by change of fortune, it’s a conversation you rarely have. As with many things financial, it’s like talking about something taboo. But it’s important to have those conversations too, so that women like me don’t feel like we’re going mad, or that we’re just ungrateful for our circumstances.
I wish more than anything to be able to be back in work, full time, earning my wages in the job that I’m good at. I’ve written before about how so much of my self-image is linked with being someone who works. I’m not a good stay at home mother. I truly wish I was, but that isn’t the woman I am and I’m tired of being ashamed of that. I feel the need to have a further purpose outside of the home as I don’t feel fulfilled without it. I’ve come to realise that the self sufficiency part of my brain is a lot to blame for this, the need to stand on my own two feet.
I wonder if I felt like a better stay at home mother, if it was something I felt I was actually MEANT to do, would I still feel this way? It’s a job I look up to the women who rock at it. It’s bloody hard work without half the credit they’re owed. Me? I can’t keep up with my laundry and Paw Patrol does far too much babysitting. The child is in creche full time, not only because I’m not able to handle him or keep up with him many days with my back, but also to keep the creche place for when I do return to work. My illness benefit covers the creche and that is it. It feels like an expense I really shouldn’t be adding while I’m not contributing, but unfortunately, that’s the boat we’re in.
I need to stop paddling my own canoe and allow the other person in my kayak to do what they do best, supporting me through thick and thin, and having that support accepted. I’m hopeful that it won’t be for too long, hoping that returning to work is imminent, but until then I just need to get my head around it all.