How families with working moms can cope?

A young daughter helping her dad to wash dishes

No doubt about it—when couples earn two incomes it can produce stress and strain. Nevertheless, circumstances may require that a family have two breadwinners.

Thus, a family may have a working mom. Remember the problems that ensue are not insurmountable. Many families have successfully overcome them.

In fact, two incomes can even help you cope better with today’s economic crunch.

Realizing this can prevent a man from feeling he is a failure when he has trouble making ends meet.

To the contrary, he should be moved to praise her for her efforts.

What, though, about some of the specific problems working couples face, such as handling the money?

Money Problems

True, a second income might ease money pressures, but often it also creates new problems. Explains Ed, a young husband:

When we first got married, Ronda was making about the same amount of money that I was. And when she started making more money than I was, subconsciously I had this she’s-better-than-I-am feeling.” 

The second salary also seems to tip the “balance of power” more in favor of the wife.

She may understandably feel she is now entitled to more of a say as to how the money should be spent.

Men, though, are reluctant to share this control. “He would make me tell him, every day, how much money I needed for that day,” recalls one wife. “And I really hated that.”

A husband who is inept with money or who, worse yet, squanders their funds, heightens this resentment. Complained one woman:

The money is spent on drinking, not on us or on the children. We share the work, or do more of it, but he takes all the money telling us it is his—that he earned it.”

Coming up with an arrangement that satisfies both partners, though, is not always easy.

Ed and Ronda, for example, agreed to put both their salaries into one bank account.

“But when it came to spending,” recalls Ed, “her eyes were ‘bigger’ than mine. The more money she made, the more she spent.”

And some wives would retort that it is their husbands who have the ‘big’ eyes. ‘It’s not fair,’ grumbled one husband. ‘My money is the family’s money. Her money is her money.’

Does this sound familiar?

But what is the problem when couples spend hours debating what money is “yours,” “mine,” or “ours.” ?

The problem here, though, is not a faulty budget but a selfish view of marriage. Writer Susan Washburn notes:

Conflicts over monetary matters are often vehicles for expressing other tensions in relationships.”

Another problem in marriage that may manifest itself in the form of a “money fight” is a lack of communication. One wife complained:

We were operating independently of each other. We just never talked about what we were spending until the bills came. Then we wouldn't talk, we'd fight.”

Often any number of financial arrangements can work effectively.

After sitting down and talking matters out, some couples have decided that each mate should have a certain amount of money and be responsible for certain bills.

Or they might try this couple’s method:

We put our money together, and the wife does the actual bookkeeping and paying of bills.” 

The success of any such schemes, though, will hinge not so much on their design as on the quality of a couple’s marriage.

Nevertheless, the book Working Couples warns of another potential hazard:

The problem, for many working couples, is that they start to think rich. Especially when the second income is new to them, it looks like a panacea for all their financial problems.” 

Two-income couples must therefore keep clearly in mind why both of them are working. Should it not be to provide for the family?

Excessive spending is less likely to be a bone of contention when couples are not afflicted by material ostentation.

But who will do the house chores?

Researchers have found that “in the families in which women have full-time employment, women still devote approximately three times as much time to housework and child care” as do their husbands.

Nor is the picture much different in developed or in the developing nations. Working moms are thus burdened with what amounts to two full-time jobs.

No wonder, then, that the authors of Mothers Who Work say: “The most critical issue in working mothers’ lives is time.”

But, “who notices a clean living room?” ask psychologists Marjorie and Morton Shaevitz. “Nobody. Who notices a messy living room? Everybody!”

Yes, housework is indispensable, unavoidable—and, at times, unappreciated. Who is going to do it can therefore be a touchy question, especially if you can't afford house help.

Usually the wife ends up doing the lion’s share of the housework. What, though, if she begins to resent this?

She might approach her husband and tactfully say, as did one woman, “Look, we have a little problem here.”

Often men simply don't know what is involved in running a household. Perhaps together they could outline what must be done, and where assistance can be offered.

Perhaps some tasks are unnecessary or can be done less often. They can work out who does what, perhaps according to personal preferences or abilities.

But should a man do ‘women’s work’? "realize that there is a need", says one husband: “I pitch in and help with the housework. I admit that at times I don't really want to. But since we both work, I think it would be unfair of me to do otherwise.”

A problem may arise however, though, if the wife expects perfection from her mate, forgetting he is but a novice at domestic chores. (“George! Don't you even know enough to clean the sink when you're finished with the dishes?”).

Perhaps some patient assistance would be more productive. Too, there is the matter of letting reasonableness prevail.

It simply may not be practical or possible to keep the home as spotlessly clean as it may have been before. “When I was home all day,” recalls Betty, a working wife, “it seemed as if all I did was clean.”

But with her entry into the working world, standards of cleanliness had to be adjusted. “We still keep our home clean,” she said, “but it’s a bit more ‘lived in’ now.”

Should Children Help With the Housework?

Yes, according to Gloria Mayer in her book 2001 Hints for Working Mothers.

Make sure you have small, uncomplicated jobs for small children. Even a child of four can do something to help. Usually they not only are delighted to do their part but feel left out if everyone has a job except for them.” 

And what are some specific tasks youngsters can be asked to do? Miss Mayer lists at least three:

(1) “Simple laundry tasks related to their own clothes—sorting, putting away, etc.”

(2) “Cleaning own rooms”

(3) “Bed making, especially their own.”

Real Security

These are just but a few of the challenges two-income couples face. Having secure jobs and adequate income may seem more important than ever.

But, warns one couple: “You can build up a false security in your job. You can figure, ‘Well, I'm working and my wife has a job and we can make things work.’"

But that’s just a false security, because at any time your job can disappear. What you need to remember is that your real security is hinged on your bond and relations as a family.