Saturday, September 15, 2007

Empowerment

When I met Brent I had a pretty lucrative union job with BC Ferries, working in the cafeteria and doing first aid. It was busy in the summers and on holidays, and helped finance my education. It wasn't particularly stressful. I worked on call most of the year, so if I didn't particularly want to work I just wouldn't answer my phone for a few days, and helped myself to a few days off. The problem was, I HATED it. So, four weeks after we got married, I quit. BC ambulance was in the process of hiring me, I was going to start tutoring ESL students, and our living costs would be cut in half because we were living in one house, right? Ha ha. But that is what I thought.
If I could have stuck it out with BC Ferries for one more year, we would have been in a MUCH better position financially, but even five years removed from it I really don't know that it would have been wise emotionally because I was constantly angry or grouchy at work, and it spilled over into my not work time a fair amount. I had to forego all family holidays, summer holidays, and Christmas holidays because that is when people travel, and I was tired of being hated and villified by society as a "ferry worker." If I had stayed I would have made 5 times as much money in the next nine months because, whoops! I was pregnant with Ayden, and I would have recieved much better maternity benefits to the tune of 500-600 dollars every two weeks as opposed to $120. That would have made the first year of Ayden's life much easier for us financially, and it would certainly have been possible for me to juggle both BC Ferries and BC Ambulance for a few years. All this explanation is suffice it to say that it has been quite a few years since I have been able to financially contribute to our family in a significant way. We made it work: I tutored for three years, including the time period right after Ayden was born and I was still recovering from my c-section, we didn't spend much , and we pared down to one vehicle and bought a bus pass for Brent. Brent happily supported me in my career which took me away from home for days at a time and sometimes cost us more than I made, because my job makes me happy.
Now it is his turn. I'm happy to step up and earn a living so HE can find a job that makes him happy. At first I was finding the prospect of being the primary income earner in our family to be an empowering one, after so many years of contributing in non financial ways, but then it became incredibly stressful. I don't think primary income earners get enough props for this! I think traditionally the money = power theory offends [us] feminists and consequently this role is scaled down in importance, at least for me. Sure, it's great that you make the morgage honey, but my body made 32 ounces of milk today to feed our infant, and on top of that I cleaned the bathroom and washed your shirts. Now that it rests on my shoulders to pay for the house, food, gas, clothes, daycare, preschool, soap, shampoo, etc, I am realizing that this is actually quite an imperative role. Laugh if you like, but I just had not thought of it this way in awhile. If I succeed, we stay the way we are. If I fail, something big changes. Once I see myself really able to pay all these bills we have, maybe I'll feel empowered again, but yesterday driving to work I just cried at the stress of it all, and mostly at having to be away from the boys so much. I love my job, but I'm not feeling the love for this primary income earner role as such and would rather be the secondary income, the supplementer, the capper who ensures new clothes and the odd night out or a new CD are possible. Perhaps it would help the empowerment feeling if I had a predictable and reasonably reliable income, instead of a fluctuating one that relies on circumstances beyond my control? Hopefully working in Chilliwack will help. I know it sounds as if I was out of touch with reality when it came to our finances for awhile, but that was really not the case. I handled budgeting so I had a good grasp of how much came in and how much went out, and how important it is to balance the two: it is just that I mentally scaled down the value of that role in light of what was most important to us. Family, good friends, time together, outdoor activities, inexpensive travelling, enjoying life, art, and each other.
So, does money equal power, or does it just equal stress when it comes to family roles? At first I felt empowered, but now I'm not so sure.

1 comment:

Lynne Reside said...

Hey again - really having trouble sleeping and enjoy reading the family blogs. Just wanted to let you know that I know how hard it is to be the sole wage earner and parent. It is truly hard, but at the end of the day, you can feel empowered that you are doing the best you can for your family and supporting Brent's career goals. It's amazing that we get through these things. Just keep your life as simple as you possibly can and enjoy those little moments with your kids - they are priceless!