Am I a Work-at-Home Wife or a Stay-at-Home Wife?

Last week, in a bid to be more organized with my time, I laid out a template for how I would like to spend my time each workday. It uses high-level categories to remind me to work on various aspects of my business each day. This is a switch-over for me from using only to-do lists, as I would allow myself the ‘out’ of working on the more urgent or enjoyable items and never get to the important, non-urgent, less-fun items.

 

This is my daily template for the near future (of course, it evolves as I schedule meetings with clients and sometimes with what the day brings):

 

8:30 AM – 9:30 AM social media

9:30 AM – 12:30 PM content creation for me (my presentations, Grad Student Finances, Evolving Personal Finance)

12:30 PM – 1:00 PM email

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM workout, lunch, dishes, shower

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM content creation for others (my staff writing gigs, promotion of my sites)

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM business operations (paperwork, exploring new ideas)

5:00 PM – 6:00 PM contract work

6:00 PM – 7:00 PM miscellaneous (finishing anything stopped earlier, etc.)

 

My highest priority at the moment is content creation, so I want to make sure I spend time on it early in the day before I become distracted by other things. The rest of the day is roughly ordered in descending levels of concentration and creativity needed to complete the task, and the end of the day is a catch-all. Of course, this is a very loose template, as some days I might only spend 10 minutes on social media or need 2 hours for email, for example. But the structure helps me move through all the categories of my business that I need to take care of in the course of a day.

 

With the exception of washing some dishes during my lunch break, what you don’t find in my daily schedule is household chores. However, chores do sneak in (laundry!), and we’ve had an unusual amount of household stuff to do because of our recent move. Some of it really does need to be taken care of during work hours. On Monday during my “content creation for me” time, for example, I spent 2 hours getting quotes for auto and renters insurance and picking providers. Other chores are just easier to do during the day when there is less traffic, like grocery shopping.

 

I feel torn about doing this kind of household stuff while Kyle is at work (i.e., when I want to be working). When I considered myself funemployed last fall, I gladly took on a larger share of the needed household labor. After all, Kyle was working and I was taking a break to dabble in my hobbies and working for pay only a few hours a week, so it seemed like I should have more household responsibilities.

 

The change from last fall to today is rather subtle and largely in my self-perception. I’m still not earning much money (yet). However, I now consider myself self-employed, which is a whole lot more serious than being funemployed. I am pitching my services as a public speaker and have a few gigs lined up, and I am also developing my websites and creating digital products. I formed an LLC. I desire to spend at least 40 hours per week working on my business.

 

So there is my tension: I am I a work-at-home wife because I’m trying to get a business launched? Or am I a stay-at-home wife because I’m only contributing a small percentage to the household income?

 

work stay wife

image sources: 1 and 2

 

 

On the one hand, as an entrepreneur I should be giving my business as much as possible to give it the best chance of success, so spending time on household stuff (during my work hours at least) feels like I’m torpedoing my business. On the other hand, refusing to do more than “my half” of household stuff feels like I’m cheating Kyle out of his well-deserved time away from work.

 

The wife part of this term is crucial because my pursuit of my business at this stage is only possible because of Kyle’s income. I think Kyle is caught in the same tension as I am. He is very supportive of my business, financially, logistically, and emotionally. But it makes sense to him, like it does to me, that I would be taking care of the household things that need to be done during the day, at least.

 

So that’s the conundrum I’m living in. I’m sure I will feel less conflicted when my business income increases to at least a grad student level. But until that happens, I’ll feel guilty doing chores and guilty not doing chores.

 

Is your household labor division influenced by your and your spouse’s relative incomes or location/flexibility of jobs? Do you ever feel guilty for not working on your business or side hustle?

 

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25 Responses to "Am I a Work-at-Home Wife or a Stay-at-Home Wife?"

  1. Emily too says:

    I work outside the home but I contribute way less than half of the household income right now, and even though I’m looking for a job with better pay, I don’t expect to be able to match my husband’s earnings at this stage in our careers. I think the question of “should I do most of the chores because I need Kyle’s income to do my work” is a dangerous one because it also applies to working spouses who make less – who statistics say are usually women. If you’re there, and you can, and you have a little bit of a slow period with work or are procrastinating, sure, do some more chores; no need to keep it to exactly 50%. But if it feels like “torpedoing” your business, don’t keep score about it. Kyle is an adult too, if he were single he’d have to clean up after himself, and with two adults and no kids you can both split it.

    Wow. I really feel strongly about this, I think because it is so easy to tie self-worth to earnings, and like you, we’re in our first year of having uneven earning power. We are in different situations, in that you are choosing to work at home and I just don’t have a better option than my badly paid job, but either way we shouldn’t get the short end of the stick at home because of it.

    On another note, having a kid has made me want to smack anyone who EVER says anything like “with a parent at home, I expect the house to be clean and dinner to be ready when I get home from work!” Yeah, my kid definitely wants to sit quietly and play with his toys while I vacuum. Right. Hahahaha. I was at home (finishing my dissertation, but mostly just on leave) for seven months, and during those months it became very very clear that housework was only going to get done with one parent home to watch the baby and one actually doing the work. So keep your expectations realistic on that front!

    1. Emily says:

      It’s not so much about cleaning the house and stuff, which can be done at any time, it’s more about the things that have/are easier to be done during business hours. (Laundry counts because quiet hours in our building start like 1 hour after we stop working for the day.) That part of the conundrum is gender-neutral and even to some extent income-neutral. I have the flexibility to make calls to insurance companies during business hours or go get our car registered, for example, and I would have that even if I were earning as much as or more than Kyle. I guess the income part just piles on the arguments for why I should be doing that kind of stuff.

      Yeah, I didn’t really want to touch the “is a stay-at-home mom really working” thing with a 10-foot pole. 🙂 It makes sense to me that a baby would be 100% engaging, and if they are asleep the parent should be asleep. 🙂 Work, housework, whatever else might get accomplished is gravy.

      Thanks for the bit of a life update! I miss interacting with you. 🙂

      1. E 2 says:

        If it’s more an issue of you having more flexibility in your schedule, then yeah, I think it might make sense for you to work a bit more of that into your day just so it gets done. I think that working for yourself meas you don’t have to clock in on a 9-5 schedule – having a break for the gym midday already shows that you’re making plans based on how and when you work best, and if you can work a bit of errands and house stuff in without pushing your work day late into the evening, maybe it’ll work out? Laundry is pretty low in terms of active effort and insurance calls are a necessary evil. But in return, maybe Kyle can do some more of the stuff that can be done after business hours so you can catch up on any work time you missed. You guys just moved, it’ll probably take some experimenting to come up with a good routine!

        I’ve definitely kept up reading, but don’t have too much to share in comments lately, I guess. Working almost full time while job searching and parenting is pretty draining and there are no interesting updates. Hope there may be soon – your news has been pretty exciting lately!

        1. Emily says:

          I think all of this will kind of resolve itself in a few months, assuming the business gains traction. 1) We won’t have so much moving-related stuff to do, which is mostly what has to happen during business hours. 2) I’ll have significant income. 3) I won’t feel so self-conscious about whether or not I’m ‘working.’ And if the business doesn’t gain traction, I’ll get a job and we’ll be back to normal!

          I think knowing what your work-life balance is these days would be interesting, if not exciting! I want my life to be less exciting…

  2. Leigh says:

    You are a work-at-home person. I don’t think the wife part is important there. If you are earning money, you are NOT a stay-at-home wife. You are just the lower income partner. You should still be splitting the household work equally. I would do some slow, but time consuming laundry say on breaks occasionally while working from home, but that’s about it.

    We’ve had a few time periods where I was on paid/unpaid time off at home. Since we don’t share finances and I was living off of my savings during that time, I didn’t feel it made any sense for me to do more of the household chores just because I was home. It’s not like he was contributing to my expenses since I wasn’t working. He definitely tends to work from home more when we have outsourcing people coming to the condo because he works closer to home.

    1. Emily says:

      Well, I do think the wife part is important. Our relative earnings at the moment are VERY skewed – I’d say I’m closer to non-earning than low-earning, which is why I’m feeling this way. A non-earning (non-parent) spouse should be doing all the housework possible! If I were single (or didn’t have joint finances or whatever) I would just get everything done that needs to be done because that’s the only option. Kyle is subsidizing my life with his income, so I feel I should be subsidizing his time, I guess!

      1. Leigh says:

        I can absolutely see how this is tricky and I would say that you are right if you are non-earning, non-income producing at all. But you are working on building a creative business and that takes sweat during which you don’t necessarily make much of an income for a while, which takes time, commitment, and dedication even though you’re not income producing. You are devaluing your business if you think that Kyle is subsidizing your life with his income. You talk all the time about how you guys have joint finances, are all in, etc. If that’s the case, it isn’t his vs your income, it’s family income, family life, and this is an endeavor that the two of you have chosen together. I really honestly believe that you should split chores by time spent working on endeavors unrelated to the home, rather than on income earned.

        It is okay for you to do some things since you have more flexibility, but it’s really important to your growing business to give that a priority and not worry about which of you is bringing in the income. I liked C’s suggestion below about cordoning off time for non-business-work admin stuff 🙂

        On the wife part – how would you guys be handling the housework division if you were the one making a living wage and Kyle was the one trying to build a business?

        P.S. I’m glad you’re really enjoying your work!

        1. Ditto on the you can’t have it both ways– either your finances are truly joint or they’re not! Agree with Leigh that it should be about time spent, not income, unless you’re truly scraping by and only one partner needs to step up the earning. Which is not the case here.

        2. Emily says:

          I spent a while considering your points. 1) Thanks for the pep talk! 🙂 2) By ‘wife’ I meant spouse. I think we would feel the same if our roles were flipped, mostly because of the flexibility of working from home. 3) I’m not sure if I agree with your interpretation of our view of joint finances (if that makes sense)… I’m thinking it over, though! Mainly, I don’t want to get into tit-for-tat scorekeeping with Kyle. This post was really about my struggle with my own time management, not between me and Kyle.

  3. I can see how this is tricky. I feel like amount of time spent working should impact division of household labor (if I’m off all weekend but BF has to work, I’ll take care of more household tasks), but it seems unfair to me to bring income into it. Just because some careers are more financially rewarding than others doesn’t mean that they are worth more. If I worked 60 hours a week as an investment banker making $180k a year, and BF worked 60 hours a week as a social worker making $50k a year, I would think that we would still split household tasks equally.

    1. Emily says:

      I definitely see your point but $50k is a real income and both the jobs you mentioned are outside the home. I’m at home so I do have the flexibility to take care of stuff like field calls from insurance agencies. Plus on top of that I don’t have a real income (yet). 🙂

  4. I would go so far as to say you must NOT put much time into household tasks during working hours. I know several women in my mother’s generation who set out to have creative careers but didn’t take them nearly as far as they could have because they felt so compelled to contribute at least a little financially (my mom, for example, took on freelance magazine work that paid maybe $2000 a year, but prevented her from writing fiction at a rate that would eventually have allowed her to make that a career.) Either this is your nascent business or it isn’t. If it’s ever going to be a financial contributor, you must pay lots of attention to it, now more than later, probably.

    I suggest that you keep doing the laundry, since that’s very minimal “active time” and you can work while it’s in the washer/dryer. And I also suggest that you commit a specific two hours a week (pick them now and put them in your schedule) where you handle calling insurance companies and whatnot. On those days, you can either (1) lose an hour of work time, (2) skip the workout in order to get an hour back, or (3) start working an hour earlier in the morning.

    But mostly you have to get over the gendered guilt here. If you had been financially supporting Kyle through grad school (another situation of financial sacrifice now for greater gain later), would you have expected him to do more than half the housework?

    1. Emily says:

      I really like the idea of cordoning off a window of time each week to do any business-hours-only admin work. It would be easy to shift my schedule around to make up the time (I often start working earlier in the day than my schedule dictates and work in some in the evenings as well – it’s so much fun!).

      Your example of your mom’s career is making me rethink my contract work! I think last month I worked < 20 hours and earned > $800. Obviously it did take those 20 hours away from my real focus…

      Yeah, I think that if I was supporting Kyle during grad school with a real job I would expect him to do the stuff that needs to be done during business hours because grad school is so flexible. I’m not sure if I would expect him to do >50% of housework – that might be based on hours worked rather than income. I think in grad school our division of labor was really based off on personalities (interest and ability) – I did the day-to-day tidying up, he did the deep cleaning, we both cooked and did dishes – but maybe there was some gender expectations thrown in as well (e.g., my dad does all the cleaning in my family of origin).

      Thanks for your comment! Yours and others are making me realize that the flexibility of my work is playing a larger role in my feelings about this than income necessarily. I should have brought that out more in the post.

  5. Our household duties are more influenced by what my husband (who has fibromyalgia) is able to do. I have chronic fatigue, so I have to be careful what I do, too.

    His back is starting to do a little better, so we’re discussing him doing the unloading of the dishwasher again. And pretty soon I may not have to load the laundry cart for him. But he does the laundry, takes out the trash and a few other things.

    As someone who works from home, I think the best solution for you is to just set one goal a day outside of work. Whether that’s an errand or a chore. Throw a load of laundry in at the top of the hour or go get those groceries you need.

    If you just do one thing a day, you’ll mostly keep up, without feeling like you’re the one doing everything.

    1. Emily says:

      Dividing household chores by ability makes a ton of sense. My daytime availability is certainly playing into that for us. I’m glad to hear your husband’s health is improving a bit.

      That is a great idea of accomplishing one household-related thing per day. Today it was: figure out what forms to bring with us when we register the car – and that both of us have to be there. 🙂

  6. SarahN says:

    I look at it as a couple of two very full time workers, on equal pay. I (of course) have to make ‘chore’ type calls during the day, and I tend to be the organised person who does it in our couple relationship. (Before we lived together, his power got shut off cause they never checked the mail and then never paid the paper bill!). So a ‘normal’ worker often takes work time to do the tasks that can only be done during work time.

    Washing, on the other hand, could be fitted in later, and if you didn’t want to do it (or simply got to busy) it could be deferred. Like groceries – it’s just both are easier during the flexible time you have, but could be done by Kyle later if your work kept you.

    You have to find what works – without resentment. It’s an ongoing challenge undoubtedly. I know in my household, despite equal hours and pay, I take on more, as I’m more ‘exacting’ on how and when things are done. If I want help, I have to TELL explicitly, not suggest, hope etc. It works (though it feels like I’m a boss with a worker, when it’s a relationship, but hey!)

    1. Emily says:

      I’m the more ‘on top of things’ person between the two of us, so a lot of admin-related household stuff naturally fell to me even when we both had flexible schedules.

      This really isn’t a conflict between me and Kyle right now. I think I’m doing more household stuff than he expects me to, in terms of what could be done in the evening/on weekends. It’s really just in my own head!

  7. Hannah says:

    Honestly, I gave up on a fair division of household labor a long time ago; I think it’s a losing battle to think that both spouses are going to contribute equally to household work. I think the most important thing for me and my husband is to realize that we really value each other, and we express gratitude for each other’s contributions even if we don’t feel they’re equal.

    Of course, this can lead to me being overwhelmed with the amount of work (both home, baby, job), but if I can explain that feeling to Rob, he’s able to step up to the plate and shoulder a lot of the burden for a while.

    1. Emily says:

      I totally agree with you! I think we headed off the scorekeeping before it started (during our premarital counseling). 🙂

  8. Dane Hinson says:

    Sounds to me like you are definitely a work at home wife. You have a great daily schedule and if you stick to it there’s no doubt you’ll have tons of success with your various ventures. Nice work!

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks! It’s hard to believe sometimes because I’m enjoying my work so much!

  9. You are a super woman, Emily. You do these two. I know it’s hard but the feeling of being responsible is really there! Good luck! I know you can do it all the way!

    1. Emily says:

      Haha, thanks Jayson! You are so encouraging.

  10. […] and video recording, stay in my pajamas for much of the day, have ready access to food, and can do the occasional load of laundry – and you can’t beat the commute! (I’ve been spouting off about how lucky Kyle is to have […]

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