When A Woman is the Breadwinner
In many societies, the traditional role of providing for the family is that of the man. Today, however, harsh economic realities are forcing lots of families to rely on two income sources, making it imperative for women to work and/or run a business. Modern society has seen many women getting quality education and entering the workforce, sometimes in higher numbers than men. It is important for women to be educated and to find expression for their innate abilities. This, by all means, must be encouraged.
Today we have a good number of cases where women are earning more than their husbands. In other cases, the men are out of jobs or their businesses are not doing well, so the women become the sole breadwinners. This is throwing up some unintended challenges for a good number of homes, particularly in traditional societies steeped in patriarchy like ours.
In the United States (the world’s largest economy), a recent Pew Research Center study revealed a striking statistic: 40 percent of American families’ primary breadwinners are mothers, and 37 percent of those breadwinners – an estimated 5.1 million – are wives who earn more than their husbands. While it might be difficult getting parallel statistics like these in Nigeria, one can make an educated guess, drawing from several counselling cases, that the situation isn’t that much different here. The same Pew study found that having a female breadwinner was reportedly stirring up troubles in marriages.
So the men are asking: How should a couple manage the situation where the wife is the breadwinner?
In the natural order of God, the man ought to be the breadwinner in the family. However, challenges and situations arise where the man is unable to meet the financial obligations of his home. This could be due to job retrenchment, bad financial investments and/or projects, among others.
Usually, men would complain that when a woman is the breadwinner in the home, she loses her head and seeks to lord it over her husband. When this happens, the man naturally becomes irritable and, if care is not taken, impossible.
On the other hand, women complain that the man becomes excessively sensitive and reacts negatively to everything.
Either way, the major crisis that arises from this kind of situation is attitudinal; hence, both the husband and the wife have to learn and commit to embracing the right attitude in spite of their challenging situation. And the best way to do this is by introducing and sustaining gratitude. Unorthodox, I know, but true and effective.
If the wife is blessed enough to step in for the husband, the couple should be grateful to God that, at least, someone still has enough income to hold the house together financially. So, first, be grateful and make the best of what you have at the moment. The situation should not be allowed to create strife between the husband and the wife. Remember, ‘the two shall become one’. God will always expect one to support the other. The situation is a temporary.
The fact that a man is ‘financially incapable’ today does not suggest he will remain so forever. Change is a phenomenon that happens to all and it is constant. So the man must embrace this as a passing phase. He should use this temporary interruption to plan and strategise before launching out again with the belief that something positive will give eventually.
As long as the man recognises that his wife’s ability to earn is a blessing, he will not quarrel with her. Together, they will be able to wade through this period and emerge victorious.
And some women are asking: How does a woman handle the home when she is the breadwinner?
I watched a young woman do this so well many years ago. Her husband was doing well in his career when they got married but lost his job soon after their wedding. The good thing was that she still had a job, so the family had to survive on what she was bringing home. She did not have to, but instead of making decisions on how her salary was spent, at the end of the month, she would hand over the bulk of her pay packet to her husband. Well, I guess that was partly because she could trust the man’s judgement and so knew he was not going to squander it. Any time she wanted money, she would go back to the man to ask. Although the man was not comfortable with that arrangement initially and struggled with the idea for a long time, he soon realised that all she was trying to do was ensure he did not feel less like a man just because he could not bring anything home at the end of the month. Thankfully, a couple of months later, the man got another job and rose to become the managing director of a flourishing advertising agency.
The truth is, the man’s ego takes a nosedive in situations like this and that could become an impediment if not properly handled. The woman can and should help in this regard. He needs to be encouraged and assisted, where possible, to get back on his feet and take his place as the breadwinner in the home.
Unfortunately, I have heard some women complain that their husbands are lazy and have no desire to get a job or contribute anything to the upkeep of the family. If that is the case, then I believe the man should be encouraged to get some counselling. And the earlier he goes for it the better. For a man to be comfortable with the woman being the sole breadwinner of the family for years, without doing anything about his own status, is an aberration and should be discouraged.
The woman is not really wired to take on the responsibilities of a man in the home on a permanent basis. She may be able to do it on a temporary basis, but emotional exhaustion begins to take the better part of her when that situation lingers for too long. And the consequences are often grievous.
One successful senior sales executive, who is the breadwinner of her home, says she does not always want to be the boss at home. But she says her husband no longer has the authority to take over. In her words, “I want somebody to take that power role away from me. Ultimately, it gets down to pretty basic stuff. It’s hard to be the power broker every day and then be the femme fatale….”
Having considered the foregoing, it is important we pray. In the final analysis, we cannot afford to trivialise prayers. Whatever the situation is in your home right now, there is nothing heartfelt prayers cannot move. Ask God to give you the grace and wisdom to navigate this temporary situation and I am certain you will come out on the other side a stronger couple.
God bless you.