In no way, shape or form am I implying motherhood isn’t a job — one that saps every last bit of strength from your bones — because it’s 5 p.m. and I’ve been up with my two small kids since 5:30 a.m. and I’m pretty sure I died 25 minutes ago. And, yes, the only two people on the planet who know what’s right for your marriage are you and your significant other. If you’re both happy with one of you being the sole breadwinner, then by all means, eat that bread.
But what happens when you’re like this anonymous husband who wrote a letter to The Guardian and you’re faced with this sticky conundrum: You marry the go-getter career woman of your dreams. You have children. And she now refuses to work ever again — despite the fact that you’re killing yourself at a job you loathe, to provide for your family.
Oh, and she has student loan debt.
This man says he and his wife met and fell in love when they were both ambitious law students. They married soon after taking the bar exam together and the expectation — well, his expectation — was that they would both put in the long hours required to build the life they wanted together.
It didn’t quite turn out that way. She apparently “puttered around in some nonlegal positions” that he says were more suited for a person with half her education and intelligence, while he continued to toil away at a job he was beginning to hate, probably because it became more like a jail sentence to him when he realized he desperately needed his job to hold his family together. Things only got worse after they had two children and his wife never returned to work even though both children have been at school full time for years and one is going to college soon.
This man is crying out for help. He admits he feels “used” by his wife and says his health has deteriorated to the point where people who haven’t seen him in a while remark about how rapidly he is aging. A healthy marriage involves give and take and when one person takes to the point where the other feels zapped of life, energy and self, it’s only a matter of time before the relationship begins to fray. Insisting that the burden falls solely on his shoulders to provide the lifestyle you’ve both become accustomed to — especially when it’s hurting him, mentally and physically — is abusive behavior in a relationship.
Now, bring in the two words I hate most in the world — student debt — and then add two more words that make me shudder to even think about it — law school — student debt? This wife has officially mystified me.
Your debt is your debt and now it has become your family’s debt — but that doesn’t mean you shrug off the responsibility to pay it because your kids are your No. 1 priority. Maybe you’ve grown to hate law as a practice and couldn’t imagine returning to your old profession. I’m sure that happens a lot, but that doesn’t mean you poo-poo all work everywhere, forever and ever, amen. Sell Avon or Arbonne or Rodan + Fields. Use your social media connections and make a small fortune from home. Just do something — anything — to show your husband that you support him and your marriage, and aren’t forcing him to carry the burden all by himself if he feels in any way uneasy or upset by it.
I’ve had a job since age 15 and couldn’t imagine not working, though I’m the first to admit most companies aren’t exactly making it easy for moms with small children to work a full-time job. There are days, like today, where my son woke up with a stomach virus and my daughter still wanted to attend camp — a camp where the counselors take a lunch break and you have to come pick up your kid for an hour in the middle of the day, which is really convenient. A trip to the doctor and a tantrum later, I was finally able to sit down and start my workday — at 3 p.m. This means I’ll work into the night, yet I’m grateful as hell someone out there is willing to pay me to do it.
I consider myself the luckiest person to be able to do what I love and set my own hours, and I realize this isn’t the norm. But I’ve also made sacrifices along the way to earn money for my family and take care of the student debt I acquired when I went to graduate school. I rarely take vacation days — even when we are on vacation, I’m pitching stories at night, filing posts in the morning or interviewing experts if that’s the only time they’re available. I wake up hours before my kids on the weekends and work. A few hours after I gave birth to my son, I wrote about giving birth to my son. These examples don’t make me incredible, they just make me a person and a wife and partner who knows I have to do a few unconventional things in order to be home with my kids and still earn money.
I don’t regret attending a school and program I dreamed about from the time I was 20, but that debt hangs around my neck like a noose. Still, it’s my noose. I couldn’t imagine throwing up my hands and telling my husband to deal with my debt and all of our other expenses without trying my level best to help out. If our partners are begging us for relief from their stressful lives and we are capable of doing something to relieve them of that pain, why wouldn’t we? It’s similar to a wife telling her husband she feels unloved, unattractive or unwanted and him responding, “That’s ridiculous! Knock it off,” and turning back to his basketball game. Great, thanks — made everything better.
I can’t help but think if the shoe were on the other foot and a husband was refusing to work and let his law school student loan debt — and everything else — become his wife’s problem, this article would inspire a lot more rage.
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