It seems sad that I should have to start with the disclaimer that my daughter is the best gift I’ve ever had, and the greatest joy in my life.
But, after the wave of negative backlash I’ve experienced since publishing an article in which I proudly proclaimed that my husband pays me a "wife bonus" to stay at home and look after her, I feel that it’s necessary.
Because now I’m about to tell you why, despite this overwhelming love I feel for her, I still need a financial incentive to care for her. And that I believe that it actually makes me a better parent.
Knowing that there’s a tangible reward coming my way at the end of the year definitely keeps me calmer than I might otherwise be, when faced with the a tantruming toddler, who suddenly, inexplicably, has decided she’d rather wear her breakfast – and nothing else – than eat it.
And while watching her flourish daily is amazing, the daily grind can get you down when you spend all day at the whim of a little person whose limited vocabulary can scarcely stretch to a “good job mummy” or even a “thanks”.
Perhaps it is a sad reflection on me that I’m so reward-motivated but I don’t think I’m unique in that. Who doesn’t enjoy receiving praise or a prize for a job well done?
My daughter was a much longed for child, and after a stillbirth of twins we had to work harder than some to have her.
Yet, despite the heartache in the run up to her arrival, like many mothers I realised almost as soon as I got her home how ill-prepared I was for what lay ahead. I had no idea what an assault on my self-confidence caring for a small child would be, or how boring I would find it.
Many mothers talk of how they could while away hours lovingly staring at their new arrivals – not me.
As soon as I was well enough to be up and around (I lost 21 units of blood during the delivery, which would feature heavily in the case I made for the wife bonus that year), I was climbing the walls.
Spending my days locked into a feeding and sleeping schedule, the greatest challenge seemingly how many loads of washing I could manage to run while my daughter slept – if she slept - was incredibly dull.
Like most people, I’d done boring jobs before, but even in the most banal of offices, there’s the noise, chatter and interaction of people around you. Staying at home with my daughter, I was desperately lonely.
But both my husband and I felt that it was important for our daughter to have my care and attention while she was small and we also appreciated that we were in a privileged position to actually have the choice.
Having lost my own mum relatively early, I also feel incredibly lucky to be able to spend this time with my daughter, even if it does feel like pulling teeth at times. I’m not expecting anyone to feel sorry for me – I’ve made my own decisions and been lucky enough to be able to do so. I just believe that I’m being more honest than most people by admitting that I don’t always enjoy the job that I’ve signed up for.
Before I became a mother, I’d been quite a successful insurance broker and I missed the cut and thrust of making deals and the stimulation of adult conversation (be it at the water cooler or the boardroom table). I’m not going to lie; I missed the money as well.
I earned a good salary and enjoyed the freedom that entailed, from enjoying expensive holidays to hitting the shops. When I gave up my job to follow my husband after his job took him abroad and then devoted myself to the near full-time job of trying to have a baby, he made it clear that the joint account was mine to plunder; that his money was mine.
But, although I had no issue with using the joint account to live on, I baulked at the idea of using it to treat myself to the handbag or pair of shoes that I took for granted when I had my own salary.
Although I knew he would have been happy for me to treat myself, knowing that I was taking it from an account whose original purpose had been for groceries seemed too indulgent.
But one day, one of his colleagues’ wives asked me what I was getting for my “bonus gift” and admitted that her handbag collection was largely built from bags that her husband had gifted her at the end of the financial year, I began to wonder about a monetary reward of my own.
After all, by taking care of everything else so that my husband could focus on his career, I was contributing directly to how well he was doing. So when his boss gave him a bonus at the end of the year for doing his job so well, shouldn’t I also be remunerated for doing mine? The rest of our finances were split squarely down the middle, why should his bonus be exempt from that?
My husband got on board with the idea straight away and said he was actually pleased that there was a non-patronising way of acknowledging just how hard it can be to stay home and care for children while your spouse goes out to work. He was even the one to suggest that we each take 20 per cent of his bonus then bank the rest, as he wanted the division to be absolutely equal.
Although I’ve been accused of betraying my gender and putting feminism back fifty years, I genuinely believe that, by sharing the spoils of his success with me equally, my husband is showing me how much he values my role as a mother and appreciates the sacrifice that the spouse who gets left at home holding the baby is making.
By giving me a portion of his bonus, my husband is actually income sharing, rather than choosing to pejoratively patronise me with a financial reward for being a “good little wife”.
And because the size of my bonus is dependent solely on the size of his, I don’t see how it can be judged as a condescending way of grading my – at times dubious - domestic performance. Yes, I don’t have a say over its size but then neither does he – it’s dictated by his employer and the markets at large.
Perhaps naively, I’ve been stunned by the level of vitriol my position has caused.
Aside from the rather petty personal remarks about the questionable fashion choices that I’ve made or derogatory comments about my physical appearance, people have accused me of being on a financial leash.
To me, this is an entirely separate discussion to that of the wife bonus. As someone who has been lucky enough to choose to leave my job to take care of my daughter, I am financially dependent on my husband, regardless of whether or not I am allotted a share of his bonus. Yet, if I did go back to work and employed someone else to look after my daughter, I’m sure I’d be subject to judgment from an entirely different group of people, arguing that you shouldn’t have a child if you’re going to pay someone else to look after them.
That’s something that motherhood has taught me – however you choose to parent, there will always be someone quick to tell you you’re doing it wrong. I was disappointed by the legions of people who have jumped to conclusions about me, calling me materialistic or self-centered for how I choose to spend the money.
But I’m confident that the example I’m setting my daughter is of a woman whose husband loves and values her and who, despite taking time off to care for her child, is striving to carve out some financial independence for herself, until she returns to fulltime work herself.
I certainly don’t think I’m special or worth more than any other wife out there – I actually believe that anyone who puts their partner’s needs before their own deserves support and recognition for the role that they are playing.
To me, that’s what a good relationship, and good parenting, is all about…
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