Moral Money: our reader wants to know how she can be compensated for sacrificing her career to raise a family
Dear Moral Money,
I have been with my partner for eight years, and we’re not planning to marry because we come from different faith backgrounds and it would be too complicated. We love each other and deliberately stopped using contraception after agreeing we were ready to start a family.
It has been assumed that my career will be thrown under the bus in favour of his, despite early conversations agreeing he wanted to share childcare and that we would work as a team. The recent cost of living increases mean we are more financially stretched than we were two years ago when we discussed this.
It is a fact, an annoying fact, that he earns more than I do, even though we have pretty similar responsibilities and qualifications in our careers – but that’s the gender pay gap for you.
The cost of childcare in our area (Kent) is really high. It would take over a third of my wages, but I would at least still have a career and a pension. Can I reasonably ask my partner to pay me what we would have had to pay for childcare to compensate me for becoming the primary carer?
My partner feels we would cope better financially as a team with me being at home, as it would allow him to focus on work and maximise the potential earnings and promotion prospects.
He also says that now parenthood is closer and he has spent time imagining our life with a child, he gets a lot of comfort from the idea that our child would be in my care, rather than in paid care.
Flooded with hormones, I am somewhat seduced by the idea of spending my days with the baby and having more time at home with a little part-time work to keep me stimulated, but then I think of what it would do to my career trajectory and earnings potential and feel vulnerable and resentful at the prospect of dependency.
I realise maybe we should have thrashed this out before I got pregnant, but to be honest it all seemed different when we first discussed it, and now it feels like a dilemma.
Firstly, congratulations on your pregnancy – I hope it is progressing well.
It is really impressive that you and your partner have discussed the subject of family finance and the options for managing income generation and childcare. It is also bad luck that the economic tide has turned against you while you were preparing for this life-changing leap into parenthood.
Transitions are hard. This is a big change for both of you – or should I say all three of you – so you may need to give yourself some more space and time to adjust.
I realise that as the months go by it will become more urgent to have a plan, but maybe the plan could be more fluid than you have sketched out?
If you are not ready to imagine life without your career, but you are attracted to some more time at home once the baby is born, you can negotiate maternity leave with a view to returning to work and see how you feel when the time comes.
You are right that, statistically, having a womb comes with earnings and promotion penalties.
I personally know many women who turn to alternative careers or self-employment because the inflexibilities of some workplaces make it impractical to work once they are mothers.
Combine this with the fact that society doesn’t expect men to share equally in domesticity, and we see the dynamics that lay behind what is considered the “normal” division of care and labour.
As for charging your partner, I think it may work out better for both of you to take a more collaborative approach.
How about this: share the income equally between you, regardless of who earns it. All earned income, your part-time or self-employed earnings, as well as his salary, goes into the “team bank account”. All family expenses are paid out of that account, and the balance is then split between you. That would be equitable.
Your partner feels he has better earnings and promotion prospects, and we all agree that is largely a gender bias thing. You are feeling like you want to be at home with the baby, he likes the idea of you caring for your child.
So, you care, he earns and the team shares the spoils. Hopefully you’ll end up content with your lives, a good family income and a happy, healthy child.
What comes out of the team bank account needs to be discussed. I would suggest that the primary carer needs to have pension contributions made to their personal pension.
The Government recognises that parents and those taking care of vulnerable family members often get left out of the pension loop, so up to £3,600 per year can be contributed. The best bit is the team bank account only has to pay £2,880, which is topped up by £720 of tax relief (even if you don’t actually earn enough to pay tax), and £3,600 turns up in your pension. Bonus!
Team bank account should also provide some insurance, so that if the carer was unable to continue their work of caring for health reasons, an income is provided to cover the cost of continuing care. The value of what a carer provides is often overlooked, and although the earner will often receive “sick pay”, the carer doesn’t.
It may also be wise to discuss things like holiday budget, and expectations – such as whether cosmetics, dental, optician and other personal care expenses fall to you individually, or come out of the kitty.
It is a really healthy habit to discuss and manage the family budget as a team. If you do this as standard practice and are equally motivated to keep spending under control and the earnings up, then you can expect good results.
By adopting a team bank account approach you can genuinely both benefit from promotion and earnings prospects. The share of what is left after family expenses are met can be transferred to your individual accounts, which provides some privacy and autonomy.
If you instead charge your partner for your time as a carer, it starts to look and feel like an employer/employee relationship rather than a family, and I can see all sorts of distortions creeping in that a more collaborative team approach would avoid.