My New Role as the Breadwinner
Tamar F.

If you had asked me 10 years ago what I'd be doing today, I'd have said, "I will be a stay-at-home mom who works as a freelance editor." I never would have predicted that I'd be the breadwinner of my family.


Set for Life

When my husband and I got married in 1994, the U.S. economy was in a recession. We were thankful to be employed shortly after graduating from college—he got a job on Wall Street and I got a job at a large publishing company. Having established our careers so early, we thought we were set for life.

Over the years both our salaries increased, his at a much faster rate than mine. He was clearly the primary breadwinner. When we had our first child, my husband wanted me to quit my job. But I didn't want a gap on my resume, and I needed to work to balance my life. The housing market was booming, and we were going to need my income to keep up with rising prices. My employer was willing to give me the flexibility I needed to manage my new situation, so I continued to work.

In 2003, with both of us still gainfully employed and a second child on the way, we jumped into the real estate market. Everything was perfect—we had good jobs, a house, and kids. Less than three years later, our perfect life took a sharp turn.


Change of Plan

The company I worked for was sold. Over time, as the economy started declining, the new owners found themselves having to lay off staff—including me—to make ends meet. Fortunately, I was able to pick up steady freelance work shortly after. The flexibility of freelancing helped me better juggle my work and home responsibilities. I thought I was on the road to being a stay-at-home mom with a freelance editorial business.

But six months later, my husband lost his Wall Street job. His work was so specialized that he didn't know what he was going to do next. Since he was the breadwinner, we had no idea how we'd survive without his salary.

We both started sending out resumes, and shortly after his layoff I started working full-time again. He stayed at home with the kids for five months, and then he got a sales job—at a fraction of his previous salary. He was grateful to have a job and an opportunity to embark on a new career.


Role Reversal

Even though my husband found a job, we both needed to continue working full-time to pay the bills. But with both of us out of the house all day, we incurred additional child-care expenses and had to plan better (meals, grocery shopping, errands, etc.). We had to learn to curb our spending and make do with less.  He is currently on commission only at his new job, leaving me to be the primary breadwinner of our household.

With the economy still stalled, there is little hope in sight of my husband taking on the main breadwinner role again. Although our role reversal has created pressures for both of us, there have been some benefits as well.


Dad Is Still a Winner

After 14 years of a high-pressure job, my husband has been able to take it easier, helping to improve his health. His new job, although it pays much less, gives him flexibility so that he can be more involved with our children's lives.  He also has the time to go back to school to learn new skills to get his career in high gear again.


Mom Wins Too

Although the thought of being a stay-at-home mom with a small freelance business appealed to me 10 years ago, it is not that attractive to me today—especially since we are at a point where both kids are out of the house all day. Our kids understand that both parents have to work to pay the bills. Even though I am not as available to them as I'd hoped to be, I think they are learning a valuable lesson in seeing that I contribute to the household income—even if they don't realize I am the main contributor.


I have several co-workers and friends who are in the same situation. Together we try to help each other manage the responsibilities that come with our new role.

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