This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Shannon and her insight as the breadwinner with a stay-at-home dad/husband and how they make it work.
Tell us a bit about yourself!
I’m Shannon. I currently live in the suburbs of Washington D.C., but I’m originally from upstate New York, as is my husband. Professionally, I work in science and environmental communication for the federal government. When I’m not at my paid job, I spend time with my toddler and husband, bike, write, garden, and volunteer with a local bike advocacy group. My husband, Chris, is a stay-at-home dad who was a professional cook before our son was born.
Growing up, did you have any specific ideas about earning and gender rolls?
Growing up, my parents had a very egalitarian relationship. My mom has a much stronger personality and is much more opinionated, so she frequently made many of the decisions, including financial ones. I assumed they made the same amount of money as each other, although looking back, I realize that my mom probably made more. As a little girl, I always assumed I’d be working. In fact, I had a specific career plan in third grade – I would be a famous writer in the winter and a marine biologist in the summer. It didn’t quite work out the way I expected, but being a science communicator is pretty close.
What’s your husband like? How did you guys meet?
My husband is extremely laid-back and has always been less ambitious than my over-achiever self. He didn’t have specific career plans as a kid and went through three different majors before deciding he liked cooking as a job after college.
We originally met in high school and started dating in our senior year. We dated throughout college and got married the year after I graduated.
When you met, did you have similar incomes?
As we were in high school, neither of us really had incomes when we first met. But once Chris had a somewhat non-traditional college path, I didn’t expect him to have a traditional career either. I encouraged him to go into cooking because it was the first job he seemed to actually enjoy.
How did you handle those first few dates and the ‘who pays?’ issues that seem to come up early in any relationship?
Even in high school, I assumed that we would share the financial responsibility. My husband paid for the first date, but I paid for the second one. We switched back and forth between who paid, although we didn’t keep strict track of it.
At what point did you have you first serious financial conversation about who earned what and who should pay for what?
We had a series of financial conversations leading up to our wedding, with the assumption that we would always share both our expenses and income. Because we didn’t live together before we got married, we didn’t have any major shared expenses before then. Our biggest joint investment was buying the Harry Potter series. Since we’ve been married, we’ve always had a joint banking account.
How have the people in your life reacted to you being the breadwinner?
Most of the people in my life have known both of us for years, so they aren’t really surprised that I’m more into my paid job than he is. I’ve always been passionate about my work, while Chris has always been more interested in his family than his career. Perhaps it’s an increased openness to non-traditional gender roles in our generation, but most of the time when he tells new people he’s a stay-at-home dad, they are a little surprised but accepting.
Have you guys struggled with it all?
We’ve never struggled with it, partly because that equality has just always part of our relationship. Chris is extremely comfortable with himself and his choices in life, so he’s certainly never felt emasculated. We’ve struggled with other issues over our careers, like when he had awful hours as a cook, but never the money part.
What advice would you give to anyone – of either gender – who earns significantly more than their partner?
Never hold it against them or suggest that they contribute less to the relationship because they happen to make less money. Similarly, don’t assume that their job is easier just because it pays less.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from this that any of us could apply to our daily lives?
Communicate with your partner about major purchases before buying them. For anything that’s not essential – like groceries or bills – we talk to each other about anything that’s more than $100. It’s much better to be boring and talk about purchases beforehand than be surprised when the credit card bill or bank statement comes in.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Shannon! Do you guys have any questions for her? Do any of you earn a lot more (or less) than your partner? If so, how have you managed that?