On Being the Sole Earner..


by Kellie Whitehead


Truth be told, after 12 years, I think being a female breadwinner is one of the most empowering things a woman can be. That said, it’s also one of the most confusing, pressured, and stressful too.


Confusing? Yes – no matter how used to it you are, or even how comfortably of, or how radical your feminism is, there is still a societal norm to contend with, and whether you’ll admit it out loud or never, you’ll often hope for, contemplate or wonder what life could be like with someone else to share the financial load with.


Pressured? Yes – it's you and you alone girl – does anyone ever really have enough these days?

Stressful – see above.


As a Jane Austen heroine would have lived her precious teens and twenties with the sole aim of bagging her good self a gentleman of suitable means, I’m not sure any of us have grown up thinking we will have a family and be the sole supporters. It’s not just about having kids either. We can find ourselves in perfectly happy relationships where one of us requires the other to earn for both. Relationship breakdowns cease reliance on others also, even with children in the picture – will they pay? Can they pay? Like that errant employer, you simply can’t force people to do the things they are legally or morally obliged to do. And that’s cold hard cash in your account.


Empowering? Yes. Fun? Not really. It depends entirely on what your outgoings and obligations are of course, but could there ever be a situation where twice the money wouldn’t help? I doubt it. And it makes a difference, it really does.


I find the conversations around ‘working women’ a real first world problem. I never knew a woman who didn’t work growing up. Admittedly, not one of them was an entrepreneur, a manager, a practicing professional, but work they did. They worked around the men’s hours usually. Up at the crack of dawn to clean the local schools and back before breakfast to cross paths with the other half before he went off himself. Mothering all day, then maybe off after tea to clean again, work the chip-shop counter or similar. And they loved having their own money too. It contributed; the load was shared in the best ways possible – ways that suited them. When the kids were of school age they could work through the day (but only until 3pm of course). But I never knew a woman doing it on her own.


Here we are, in 2021 . If there is another half in the picture – the biggest advice I could share to another female breadwinner or sole earner is to set expectations and boundaries and as soon as possible. Yes, there are still men, who, perhaps not maliciously, will still see the ‘wife work’ as your role on top of actual salaried work and this is where it really doesn’t work.


It’s not about gender. I have no interest in what the family have done historically – their mothers, aunts and friends. If you are part of a family set up and you do not work out of the home, you work within it. Being made redundant, job seeking or otherwise (whilst perfectly fit and healthy) means you have the time and skills to do your share, whilst she does hers.


It’s not emasculating, it’s life. There is literally no room for making this a man's issue. When there is a job to be done, it gets done. A decent woman won’t hold it against a partner either. Life happens, as long as the communication is clear, roles are set and people get on with them – job's a good ‘un as we say.


When the purse strings are yours, and yours only though, it can always feel strange when you are the one without an income. It’s an awful feeling to be reliant on someone else to ‘pay your way’ and again, gender aside, I get that.


It feels good to be in control though, positively, don’t get me wrong. Financial issues kill marriages dead. We all have different attitudes to money and spending. When it’s all on you, at least you know exactly where it is coming from and where it’s going.


You can’t listen to other people. Their opinions, their cynicism, even their snobbery or smugness. It’s not a badge I wear publicly, but unless you are in a position to help, it is not anyone's business what you can or cannot afford or those ‘why don’t you just sell an asset’ type comments or smirks. - thanks for that Marie Antionette. It’s always other women too, men are usually quite impressed. With all the stress and pressure, at least I know I can do this on my own, and there will never be any nasty surprises – the only way is up from here, right?


This is all well and good when your salary or income exceeds the average dual version. But what if it doesn’t? I’ve never gotten there (yet) and that’s where the stress can really play its part. Life is expensive, and all we want to do essentially is ‘live’ rather than merely exist. Just like financial issues can cause relationship woes – the pressure of the world on your shoulders, month to month or even day to day can really take their toll on your health – mentally and physically.


I have to see it positively - a woman in control of her own wealth is a powerful proposition. The world needs more of it. November 10th marks the day of the year when, thanks to being paid traditionally less than their male counterparts, women effectively stop being paid for the year in comparison. For black women, this is 3 months. Staggering.


Working status or not, more women need to be financially independent, it’s good for you, your future, your children’s future and the world at large. This is TRUE female empowerment – and no, it isn’t pink and doesn’t live in a handbag a month a year.