I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dawn DeLavallade, M.D., author of She Makes More, a book about female breadwinners. I asked Dawn to contribute a post about her experiences as a breadwinner. What do you think? What resonates for you?
Have you ever tried on a mood ring….those cute and quirky little gift shop trinkets made of liquid crystal? The theory behind this popular 1970’s novelty is that the ring changes color according to the emotional state of the wearer. If the ring turns from a neutral color to blue once you slip it on your finger, that means that your mood is sad. Or if it turns green that means you are calm, or if it turns black that means you are frightened. In a 1976 Peanuts comic strip, Peppermint Patty gets so angry at Charlie Brown that her mood ring explodes. If a female breadwinner tried on a mood ring, would it explode?
‘Female breadwinner’ describes the newest category of American wife. But despite her increasing presence in today’s society, she remains largely misunderstood by her mate and by society as a whole. The latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau describe that 40 percent of working women are the primary breadwinners in the household. Having several years’ experience as the primary breadwinner in my own marriage, I recognize that marriages containing a female breadwinner have unique challenges and obstacles that couples having a more traditional arrangement simply don’t encounter. So how does this new breed of wife feel about her seemingly uncustomary circumstance?
First of all, I am not sure than any gift shop mood ring has the capability to depict the complexity of emotions experienced by women who are the primary breadwinners in their marriages. The circumstance of having to carry the load of domestic duties, child-care responsibilities, AND the financial burdens of the household can feel overwhelming to most women, myself included. So much of our experience is contingent upon our perception of how well we live up to age-old traditions of wifehood and motherhood. But at the same time, we must artfully balance a new sense of female empowerment that is becoming more commonplace in American society with each passing day. Some of us can feel as if we are wearing more hats than Queen Elizabeth II!
So what is the collective mood of female breadwinners today? Proud? That we have secured the top tier of the income hierarchy in our marriages. Resentful? That we can’t be ‘stay-at-home ‘moms or enjoy the good life of being a ‘kept woman’. Confused? Because we act competently as leaders in our careers all day but must assume a position of subservience to our husbands at home. Angry? That we are at times treated like pack mules- getting one responsibility after the next dumped on us with little or no reciprocity.
I think the female breadwinner of the millennium can feel any combination of these moods at any time in her marriage. I am not implying that lighter moods like pink for love, or yellow for happy, are not a reality for us as well. But I think as a society, we should begin to come to grips with the fact that the female breadwinner is here to stay. And my guess is that by the close of this decade, she won’t even be an anomaly. We must begin to investigate how this new breed of woman thinks and feels, and what she needs from her mate to survive. Men must learn how to best support this unique category of wife to help prevent her and her ring from exploding. Because as the old saying goes, “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”….
Dawn DeLavallade, M.D. is a practicing physician, wife, mother, and writer based in Orlando, Florida. Having experience as the female breadwinner in her own marriage, Dr. DeLavallade recognizes that this uncustomary circumstance can be a struggle for some couples. After conducting numerous interviews with female breadwinners, she has been inspired to write She Makes More-Inside the Minds of Female Breadwinners. Dr. DeLavallade’s passion is to help marriages containing a female breadwinner to survive and thrive!