Today Sara is back, talking about her concerns about giving up her income and being supported on her husband as she embarks on her journey around the world. When Sara first wrote me about this dilemma, she kept beating herself up about struggling with this, when she was lucky enough to journey around the world in the first place. And I told her to be kinder to herself. Because first of all, who among us doesn’t admire someone brave enough to give it all up and take a life changing adventure? I don’t envy her that, I applaud it, because it makes me braver just by hearing about it. But more to the point, I suspect that most of us will have to deal with this thorny question at one point or another in our lives as wives. Maybe we loose a job, maybe we have a baby and are on maternity leave, maybe we hate our jobs and decide to quit. But when the moment comes when we are dependent on someone else’s income to eat, we run hard and fast into some serious questions. And with that, I’ll let Sara (of Stofnsara) take it away:
The other day I explained that my husband (Stof) and I are about to embark on a bloody marvellous voyage across the Pacific with nobody other than each other (well, for most of the time). As should be expected, this has raised a number of ‘issues’. While my current quandary has arisen because I’m a lucky fish who gets to sail half-way across the globe, I think there may be many more women who grapple with the same tension between her income (or lack thereof) and her identity as a ‘strong woman’, but for different reasons.
I currently work as a lawyer – as I have for the past five years. For those familiar with the legal profession in (most) commonwealth countries, I am a barrister. This means that I am largely self-employed and I specialise in court work. It can be enormously intellectually and financially rewarding. BUT I have had enough: there is too much of my capacity that is not being used while I am my lawyer-self. Even if we weren’t embarking on our adventure, I would be making some kind of professional shift. As things stand, I am immeasurably grateful that I can “bow out” of the profession with grace and a jolly good excuse.
Stof is also self-employed, but his business is internet-based and easier to maintain while voyaging. Before we became a serious couple, he bought a house with gorgeous ‘bones’. Together, we renovated her into a beautiful home and filled her with splendid art and furniture. Earlier this year we moved the art and furniture into storage and sold that house. With a portion of the house money, we bought a boat in Mexico…
OK! Here comes the juicy bit: Because we both run our own businesses, when we married we kept our finances separate. Now that we are embarking on a Pacific passage, I must (and willingly do so) give up my work. Stof, however, will continue to earn money. We will both be dependent on that income (as well as the income generated from the balance of money from the sale of [his] house). I am about to become (at least while we’re travelling) a “kept woman”.
I love making my own money. I have had my own income – no matter how measly at times – for over a decade. There is also a definite link between my (perceived) identity as a strong woman and the income I contribute to our household. So it’s a somewhat difficult to get my head around the idea that a few years will pass where I will (a) not earn any money and (b) live off my husband’s earnings in (c) a boat that was bought from the proceeds of my husband’s asset. It’s freaking me out and I feel like I am letting go a little bit of being the feminist I believed myself to be.
Clever women grow up learning and believing (and knowing) the importance of having their own income and how that effects their sense of independence. Sometimes, whether for babies or study or moving or travelling or other important reasons, we have to give it up. Giving up an income, no matter what the circumstances, is a kind of a sacrifice that I believe many wives make. It’s a sacrifice that I have not often before heard discussed in the context of what it is to be that woman who no longer brings in an income, as opposed to (say) how tricky it is to negotiate a household with one less salary.
Stof and I have lately spent a great deal of time talking about money and the role it plays in our relationship (and the roles we play in bringing it in). At first he didn’t realise why it was important for me to feel financially independent and I have found it difficult to articulate at times. We’re in the process of making a serious shift in how we view our finances to more of a “team” mentality. Part of that is reaffirming in our own minds and each other’s that we married each other for what we can become as a unit: not what proportion of our net wealth we each bring in from year to year. We’re certainly on our way to figuring it out, but I’m still dreading the day my last invoice is paid and I cease to bring home the bacon.
Sara Hillratt is planning to is planning to travel across the Pacific with her husband, starting with sailing from Mexico to Australia. Their adventure starts in February 2011. She’s writing about it at their blog Stofnsara, but also here, as part of exploring what a marriage can be on Reclaiming Wife. If you want to start closer to the beginning, you can read all about their trip here, and about Sara & Stof’s marvelous South African wedding here.