Being breadwinner

can be stressful

Right now #2 and I are both breadwinners of our respective family units.  In case you were wondering about #2, after her FIL died, her DH got very depressed and is taking a break from paid employment.  There’s probably a bit more than that, but it’s not my story to tell.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been the sole income of the family– if you recall, DH quit his tenure-track job without anything lined up, so for a few months we weren’t sure what our income situation was going to be like until he got employed.

One of the first things I’ve noticed about being breadwinner is that I feel the need to increase my income.  Asking for raises, getting grants, taking consulting opportunities, all of these seem to be more important now than when DH is also bringing in cash.  Getting my research done and out so that I can be more attractive should we need to move takes on greater urgency.

Combined with this, I let DH take on greater responsibilities at home.  We already have a pretty egalitarian household, and when DH isn’t earning, he starts taking care of more of the daily and weekly chores, especially kitchen stuff and chauffeuring.  And I feel less guilty about him doing so.  I imagine this is how some women get shunted into home production even when things start out equivalent.  I do spend more time on our finances when I’m the only one earning, but it doesn’t make up for the time I’m no longer spending on regular chores.

I do like having DH take care of things at home, but I also like the stress of not being the only person earning money.  I think I like it best when we’re both enjoying our jobs and earning a lot of money.  I would like it least if I disliked my job but had to keep my job because mine was the only income.  My next least favorite would be being the homemaker if DH was the sole breadwinner and hated his job.  I’m not sure how I would rate hating my job vs. being a homemaker if DH was happy with his job.  I guess it might depend on how easily I could find a new job in that situation.  I suspect that I would rather have each of us make 150K than have DH make 300K with me required to make nothing.  I might prefer making 300K myself and having DH at home to either scenario though.  (Note:  I am happy to test any of these three propositions!)  Smaller dollar amounts would probably lead to different preferred combinations.

As we’ve noted before, this time we’re in a better position than last time DH stopped bringing in income.  As I look through that old post discussing what to do with finances, I am happy that we don’t have to move so much around.  There’s no mortgage to stop prepayment on.  No private school to save tuition for, no mother’s helpers to pay (though we do have summer camp and daycare throughout the summer).  No IRAs to fund (though if DH’s jobless situation continues, I will be eligible to contribute again).  And we have a nice cash cushion.  My plan is to convert this cash cushion into tax-deferred savings (by continuing to max out my 403(b) and 457, even as we dip into savings) with the thought that doing so will make us more likely to be eligible for financial aid when DC1 goes off to college.

I also don’t know how long I am going to be the breadwinner.  DH’s company is supposed to be getting back on track in July, but i’s have not yet been dotted nor t’s crossed on the contract that will put the company back to work for the next couple of years.  We can wait, as can DH’s direct boss, but much of the rest of the company cannot afford to take more than one month unpaid.  If waiting for the contract lasts too long, the company might just go under and the contract will fall through entirely.  My bread-winning this time around may end up being longer term than we had hoped.

Have you ever been the sole breadwinner of a multiple-person household?  How do things change?  Do you feel stressed?  Do you have a family income combination that you prefer (breadwinner/homemaker/dual-income, etc)?

Do you need work or would you love 100% leisure time?

#2 and I were talking the other day.

She is happiest when her money needs are taken care of but she doesn’t have a job.  She reads.  She rides horsies.  She plays with kittens at the animal shelter.  She enjoys life.  Employment requires a higher dose of anti-depressants.

Her DH is the same– he enjoys not working.  He has no work stress if he has no work.

If they were independently wealthy they’d never work again!

I, on the other hand, vacation very badly.  I hate not working.  I mean, I love not working on weekends except to read novels, do chores, and hang out with the fam, and probably a 30 hour work week would be ideal if I could just get everything done I needed to get done in that time, but I like having a job.  Depending on where I am and what the activities are, after a week or two weeks of forced vacation I start getting depressed.  Whenever I get 3 months off, I start writing a (very bad) novel.  Thankfully a summer is the most I’ve ever not had either school work or research to do.  These days, summers mean I get to work on research with fewer interruptions.  I’m happiest when I have a manageable to-do list that I can just crank through.  It is true that I prefer having done things to getting things done, but it’s hard to have one without the other.  And I love the feeling of flow.  I like helping people and things grow.  I like getting checks for things I would have done anyway.  I love money and income so much.  I love not having to think about our expenditures.  I don’t know that I’d do this job without this paycheck, but I would be doing something work-like.

My DH needs work too, but his reasons are that he needs regular feedback and validation on what he’s doing and he needs to feel as if he’s making the world a better place.  He doesn’t actually need paid employment, but he does need a regular occupation.  It is no surprise that whenever he shows up at a non-profit meeting (be it activism or DC1’s former school) he’s immediately given assignments which he carries out faithfully.

What about you?  Do you need work or would you be perfectly happy entertaining yourself non-productively?  Or are there productive things you’d like to do outside of the work framework?  (To be fair, petting shelter-kitties is both enjoyable *and* productive, though not lucrative.)

A solution for DH’s snoring

This would probably not work with #2’s husband who is all CPAP’d up and whose snoring was so bad prior to CPAP that they once had to have separate beds on *separate floors* of a house.

My DH’s snoring hasn’t been quite so bad.  He’s had a couple things checked for it but it isn’t anything dealing with the dentist or some other thing that the doctor checked out.  It also tends to disappear when he’s in good shape and only creeps up when he tips into overweight, which is most of the time.  Obviously the best solution would be for him to get buff… but as that’s not a realistic forever solution, I appreciate this one weird trick that seems to be working.

Basically he bought this cylindrical pillow.  You can get it for <$25 on Amazon (you can also get it for >$60 on Amazon– choose the <$25 option… it is the same pillow either way).  And it works.  I don’t know why it works or how it works, but I sleep so much better when he’s using it than when he’s using his beloved regular pillow.  He doesn’t find it as comfortable as his regular pillow, but you know the saying, Happy Wife, Happy Life?  That’s a good saying.

(Reminder that we’re amazon affiliates, so if you click and buy we get some small percent.)

Do you have any snoring stories or solutions? 

Activism: What is helping me cope

  1. Changing the goal posts.  My focus isn’t on making the world incrementally better or keeping it the same, but limiting the damage that is being done.  Everything I do makes progress towards that goal.  I cannot lose.  And, unlike normal times, there isn’t a chance that I’m making things worse.  It’s all uphill from this perspective.
  2. Not reading the news at all.  I’m paying for news, but I am not looking at headlines.  Instead, I am reading @wandsci and @scalzi and, when I’m feeling up to it, various indivisible twitter accounts or @decaro_nick.  They provide a filter for what’s important and what’s actually going on vs. what’s rumor.
  3. Linking troubling information to actions.  I feel better when I’m doing something about the thing that’s bothering me.  Even if it doesn’t get anywhere, I tried.  I call, I give money, I fax, I send letters.
  4. Talking with other people who are also being active and doing things.  Especially people who are doing even more.  They inspire me.
    1. Keeping abreast of the amazing amount of organization that’s happening.  Groups are meeting with other groups.  They’re coordinating.  People are joining them.  People are starting them.  At midterms it won’t matter that the official democratic party is a disorganized mess because we WILL elect moderate republicans in the primaries and flip districts to democrats where possible.  Indivisible will do that.  Groups with the name Alliance or Warriors etc. will do that.  They’re organized.  They’re strong.  They’re growing.  They’ve got money.  If we’re not fascist yet, things are going to happen.  The newly complacent tea party won’t know what hit them, nor will they particularly care now that there’s no longer a black president.
  5. Asking people who tell me that activism in my red state doesn’t make any difference to shut up.  Because even if I know my senator is never going to vote against a racist bigot because he himself is a racist bigot, my calls and the protests I attend send a message that he can’t go as far as he wants in that direction.  He needs to think twice about doing worse things.  Having second thoughts about doing horrific things at the very least slows them down.  AND I’m not the only person who has suddenly become politically active.  A year ago my voice wouldn’t have mattered, but today I am part of a chorus, and that chorus is growing stronger.  Every week I’ve been calling, my representative’s opinions have changed, and they’ve changed because of people like me calling for the first time because it matters and we know we’re stronger together.
  6. Getting my actions each week from one of the weekly lists we mention in our activism tab.  I’ve been going broad instead of deep.   This way I don’t have to be exposed to the entire world of media out there and can just focus on something someone I trust has already curated (I like Actions for Americans because they have a paragraph and links explaining each issue) and get my voice out there efficiently.
  7. Practice and habit.  Calls are WAY less anxiety-producing now.  I have a habit.   I go through Actions for Americans each week.  Later in the week when I get hit with news, I check out what @decaro_nick or my local indivisible groups say to do (if it’s local) and I do that.  I know which of my senators’ local office numbers have a non-zero chance of working and which ones try to make it more difficult to leave a message.  It’s much more matter of fact now than it was when I first called with my voice shaking.  It’s just part of my weekly routine.  Protest whatever atrocities are on the plate for this week.  So that 4 years from now I won’t have to anymore (hopefully then I’ll start calling to support positive change).

What is helping you cope?

Things that positively affect my mood

  • Waking up feeling rested.
  • Coffee.
  • Hillary Clinton getting the democratic nomination for president.
  • Good weather.
  • Productivity.
  • Things moving forward (including R&R and acceptances).
  • Chocolate.
  • Red meat.
  • A soothing novel.
  • Not being sick after being sick.
  • Happy music.
  • Vit. D
  • Hugs from DH.

What positively affects your mood?

What is culture for?

I am extremely cultured.  I know history and philosophy and I’ve read most of the classics (and can fake many of the ones I haven’t read).  I enjoy opera and theater (but not ballet or symphony, though my sister loves ballet) and old movies and classical music.  I can swim and play the piano and embroider and cook (though I was never able to get over my complete lack of artistic talent when it comes to drawing or painting or my complete boredom with ballet lessons).  #2 and I can trade Gilbert and Sullivan or PG Wodehouse jokes with ease.  I know which silverware to use at a fancy restaurant (pro-tip:  start with the outermost) and how to pretend I know what I’m talking about with wine.  Sadly I only speak two languages (English and Spanish), but I know enough French and Italian to get around as a tourist or to get most literary references without Google translate (ditto Latin).

I used to think that I had all this culture because my parents were sharing what they enjoyed, and culture was something to make it easier for me to entertain myself.  (And part of this is true– my father is a European immigrant who grew up in a fancy US coastal city, so his love of operetta patter songs is as real as his love for Jacques Brel or the Beatles.)

But a couple years ago I was rereading Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (free on Kindle).  In addition to being shocked by the casual racism and animal cruelty that I did not remember from my initial childhood reading (from my mother’s childhood hard copies), I was struck by a passage.  Penrod, who is established as having been from a middle- to lower-middle- class family, takes ballroom dancing and etiquette lessons.  A public school kid, this is the only time he rubs shoulders with the private school children of the town elite.  His mother wants to social climb.  His parents, I realized, are trying to help him advance.

Recent readers of the blog may also be aware of my current turn to regency romances.  In regencies (and in steampunk), women have “accomplishments”– somewhat useless entertainment skills such as embroidery or harp or watercolors that are class markers.  Wealthy tradespeople could send their daughters to finishing school so as to marry up into the aristocracy without embarrassing their impoverished future sons-in-law.

One of my mother’s refrains has always been, “to make you a more cultured person.”  And “to give you opportunities I didn’t have.”

I suspect that many of these skills and much of this knowledge that was poured into me may have been for the same reason we were pushed into math and science.  To improve our lot in life with the next generation.

But… Penrod was written in the 1910s.  By the time he was an adult, the parlor manners he resisted being taught along with the formal dancing would be archaic.  In Regency novels, the landed aristocracy of the early 19th century would be replaced with the age of industry and business would supplant tenant farming.  Eventually, stenography would be a more important skill for young ladies than the harp.

I always thought, growing up, that once I got to college I would meet people who were passionate about opera and history and so on.  (Note, this is one of the reasons that #2 and I hit it off right away in high school.)  But even though I went to a top small liberal arts college, that was not the case.  I would even occasionally have to explain literary references to professors in college and graduate school.  I did spread my various loves to my friends (especially those with cars!) and in return picked up passions for anime and Asian food.  High school also provided me with nerd culture in abundance adding, for example, the entire Monty Python library to my repertoire.

As an upper-middle class citizen approaching middle-age, I haven’t found my elitist skills to be particularly useful.  They still provide me joy, but to be honest, they are not shared by many people.  I don’t have much outlet for them away from the city.  When I am in a city partaking, I’m surrounded by professionally coiffed white hair.  These elite class markers are markers of a previous generation.

Times change.  Social class markers vary.  The approaching-middle-age elite who we rub shoulders with today are also first generation wealthy and formerly from the midwest.  They are not from East coast old money.  And so, my esoteric knowledge that my mother worked so hard to provide me with, those classics I was forced to read to “be a more cultured person,” were not as useful as the love of math and ambition that she also fostered.  In fact, I’m a bit out of place with them– elitist in many eyes.

But fortunately, even when it is lonely, cultural knowledge still provides personal entertainment.  It still makes jokes more funny and deepens appreciation of even modern media (since people in the film industry who direct and design are remarkably cultured themselves).  So maybe that itself is enough in this ever-changing world.

Things that negatively affect my mood

Lack of sleep

Lack of a feeling of control/feeling overwhelmed/being told I have to do stuff or that I’m not doing enough stuff

Having future deadlines but not being able to work on them even though I planned to work on them because other people have dropped the ball and there’s nothing I can work on in the meantime while I wait because I already did it all or I would have to get into the mindset for a completely different project and I just don’t have that mental load and I know everybody is going to get back to me at the same time too close to multiple deadlines and I’m going to be stressed out.

Eating sugar or refined carbohydrates and sugar-crashing

Low blood sugar more generally

Mild tummy aches/headaches

impatient drivers behind me who want me to risk my life making a left turn across traffic

Sometimes hormonal imbalances

Whining (other people’s not my own, and literal whining)

Mansplaining

Did I mention people flaking out on me?

Grumpy nation, what harshes your buzz?