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01st Jun 2015

The real cost of being a stay-at-home-mum: Financial dependency


I have been a stay at home mum for two years now, and I won’t be applying for another job just yet. Initially, I enjoyed paid maternity leave on my full salary; this is a rare and wonderful thing! During that time all was very well indeed. For the first week, I rubbed my expectant belly while eating a toffee crisp and thought, I’m being paid for this. It was pure joy.

The decision to leave work only came about at the end of my maternity leave after my company said they could not accommodate the career break I had applied for. So with very little hesitation I decided to leave work and be a stay-at-home mum.

I have always felt that this is the right choice for me, but I’ve always struggled with it a little bit too. Deciding to stay at home comes at a cost. Sometimes it seems quiet plausible that my sanity could be at stake, but I’m 100 per cent sure I’d feel like that if I was working too. Sometimes I consider taking up a job just for the chance to go to the bathroom on my own, but I’m sure that novelty would wear off.

But the one thing that is unavoidable is that I do not have my own money. I have no pay check with my name on it.

Not having your own income is the true cost of deciding to be a stay at home parent, and it’s no small thing. I will concede that there are those entrepreneurial types who seem to work successfully from home but on the whole if you give up work you give up your income.

It is my choice not to work and so I get on without having my own money but it’s worth talking about.

As a household, we are lucky. We can pay our bills and we can buy food. But this costs you when you decide not to work. It costs your economic independence.

At the start, I really struggled with it. I ate into my savings whenever I bought anything that wasn’t groceries. I felt vulnerable without my own income. Suddenly I was reliant on my partner in a way I never had been. The fact that this financial dependency happened at a time when there was another seismic shift in the form of a newborn baby meant that the importance of not having my own income became overshadowed by everything else that was happening. As the late nights mounted, our relationship became routed in co-dependency. We needed each other in a way we had never done before, for pure survival.

We needed each other to share the duties, to moan with, to relish every burpy smile, to look at each other in awe at everything new that was happening and to laugh at our lack of ability to make complete sentences due to tiredness.

Over time, the issue of money became one that I couldn’t shake as my savings dwindle, and I felt like I had less control. When we over-spent our monthly budget, I had to ask for money and felt that request needed a lengthy justification. Justification was never asked for, he knew the expenses as well as I did, but I felt I needed to explain myself and I resented that feeling.

The money didn’t feel like it was my money, and I wasn’t sure how to deal with that so I mostly put my head down and ignored it. But eventually I forced myself to look up. I was the one who choose to leave work, and so I was the one who choose to forfeit my salary. We, as a family, decided that this was the best option for us and so we all needed to take responsibility for making it work (this included me).

Even saying that I wasn’t comfortable with our money arrangement helped. A big part of coming to terms with not having my own income was about taking responsibility of how our money is used. It turns out it’s not wise to use the ostrich effect when it comes to finances.

Together we got our first shared bank account, and I started to pay attention to what was going on with our finances.

When I look back, it seems clearer that all my feelings about money weren’t just about money. It was about our relationship changing. It was about suddenly knowing I needed my partner in a way I never had over our years together. It was daunting. Not only did I consider myself a grafter and a saver but I enjoyed my independence. That level of independence changes when you have a child and it changed even more so when I decided to stay at home. I think coming to terms about that was as important as coming to terms about the money aspect.

So with economic independence gone, what is in its place?

Now we live a life of more co-dependence. Our money is no longer our own; it’s not even split down the middle it’s in a heap for us to figure out how we all need it. Plenty of couples who both work do this, with our without children, but for me it’s still new and still something I’m getting the hang of. Part of me worries that it sounds naïve or even old fashioned to say I am comfortable not having my own money, but in truth, I have come to terms with it.

These are my choices, and they come with costs. Costs I am willing to take. Equality isn’t a fixed point, it can’t be solved with “you wash three dishes, now I wash three dishes and we are even.” If this life of co-dependency is teaching me anything, it is that there are no ‘evens’. It’s about compromises and more giving and taking than I thought I was capable of.

Life isn’t just about me anymore, it’s about sharing our responsibilities, sharing our lives and while that comes with costs the pay-off are definitely worth it.

Ann Marie is a writer, blogger and mum living in Cork City. She enjoys all things vintage, making a craft mess and finishing a cup of tea without anyone throwing a tantrum. You can read more from Ann Marie on her blog or follow her funny musings as a Mum on Twitter, @thriftyamos.