Asking for a 'mummy allowance'

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Photo: Getty

When I announced my pregnancy to my friend Sophie, her first response wasn't breastfeeding advice, choice of birthing centres or whether to buy the all-wheel-drive Bugaboo or the one with optional deep-sea diving attachment.

Ever pragmatic, Sophie's thoughts turned immediately to money.

"Make sure you negotiate yourself a good 'mummy allowance'," she advised.

"'A mummy allowance!?"' I thought. "What the F… irstborn?"

My first reaction was to check the date on my iPhone to confirm what century we were living in.

The idea of asking my husband for an allowance while I took time out of the workforce to care for our daughter seemed too regressive, vulgar and infantile to even contemplate. I'm an adult; I wasn't about to ask for pocket money.

Yes, my husband would be earning the money. But I would be caring for our child. The idea of me negotiating access to money because he earned it seemed as ridiculous as him negotiating access to our daughter because I gave birth to her.

But in reality, things are not so straightforward. After seeing the problems my other mother friends encounter with money, and the lengths that they go to to access it, I have to at least give Sophie credit for her forthrightness and transparency.

For example, I know several mothers who curse recent changes in the Medicare rebate that mean the money is now paid directly into a bank account.

The rebate from doctors' appointments and other medical expenses used to be paid in cash, from which these mothers used to accrue a small slush fund that was secret from their husbands. The change in the payments has meant that the source of their disposable income has dried up.

Another friend regularly skims off small — and so far, undetected by her husband — sums of money from their shared bank account and stashes it in a PayPal account so she's free to spend it without her husband scrutinising her purchases.

"It's not that he wouldn't let me spend his money," my friend says. 'It's just about privacy and independence. I don't want to have to account for every purchasing decision."

Of course some husbands are more controlling than others when it comes to family finances. But in most cases, it's not that my friends' husbands won't allow them to have access to the money they earn. It's that my friends don't feel entitled to it because they didn't earn it.

On an intellectual level they may agree that the money their husband earns should also be shared. But when it comes to money and the value we place on it, it's very much emotional.

All of these women have grown up in a world where money is the key to independence, identity and power. For them, being financially dependent on someone else is disempowering. It's a denial of agency.

Critics might say that we've internalised the lessons of economic rationalism: that money has become the sole arbiter of what's valuable and important. And in a certain regard, they'd be right. When we aren't earning any money we feel like we are not "pulling our weight" or fully contributing to the family.

It doesn't matter that we've never worked so hard in our lives and the work of caring for children is undeniably important.

Even our most intimate relationships become exchanges, little different from traders in a market bargaining over prices. Caring for our children is unpaid so our work doesn't count. Money is the only currency accepted.

Even though I still cringe at the idea of a mummy allowance, squirrelling away money suggests that women don't have a right to it; that their only option is through deception and artifice.

If the only way to ensure that motherhood is valued in our economic rationalist culture is to put a dollar value on it, then we need to have that conversation with our partners. And we need to remind ourselves that the job we do as mothers is important to our families and to society, and we deserve more than the financial scraps.

Kasey Edwards is the author of four books: 30-Something and Over It ; 30-Something and the Clock is Ticking; OMG! That’s Not My Husband; and OMG! That’s Not My Child.

28 comments

  • "The rebate from doctors' appointments and other medical expenses used to be paid in cash, from which these mothers used to accrue a small slush fund that was secret from their husbands. The change in the payments has meant that the source of their disposable income has dried up.

    Another friend regularly skims off small — and so far, undetected by her husband — sums of money from their shared bank account and stashes it in a PayPal account so she's free to spend it without her husband scrutinising her purchases."

    Yeah, I'm gonna get marries REAL soon.

    Commenter
    I Don't Like Thieves
    Date and time
    June 17, 2013, 11:22AM
    • I wonder if a husband who secretly "skimmed" small amounts from a joint account, in order to be unaccountable to their wife, would be viewed so benignly ?
      If a partner is going to be deceitful about something like "small amounts" of money,
      how could you ever trust that person about other larger / more important issues.?
      Where, when do lies end ?
      Male or female, wife or husband, lies are a very bad idea in any union / partnership/ marriage .

      Commenter
      LeftyRoy
      Location
      Cydnee
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 12:48PM
    • Lying is never a good idea for either the husband or the wife, in my opinion. You have to be trust-worthy for your partner to be able to trust you.

      Commenter
      MO4
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 2:04PM
    • Nice that this sneaky, dishonest friend is able to feel 'independent' while stealing her husband's money. I feel sorry for the husband. This scenario would be an instant deal breaker for me.

      Commenter
      Nurse Ratched
      Location
      CBD
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 2:46PM
  • It’s interesting to see that according to Kasey the majority of the women aren’t actually being denied the money by their husbands, it’s that they don’t feel they are entitled to it because they didn’t earn it, or perhaps more accurately weren’t paid it by an employer. So the person who is devaluing the work of looking after children and the home is actually the woman not the man, so it is a problem women create themselves. Even more strangely although it is difficult to get an exact substitute for the work being done, there are a number of proxies such as the cost of daycare or a full time nanny as well as a cleaner, so pretty clearly there is a price level that could be used to derive an equivalent value. So why aren’t stay at home mums valuing their own work?

    Commenter
    Hurrow
    Date and time
    June 17, 2013, 12:04PM
    • I was having the exact same thought!! A friend of mine who gave up work advised her husband she would do so only if her ''allowance'' for lack of a better word was the equivelant of a nannies wage plus extra to pay for day to day needs for their child, makes them both happy especially since he's the one that insist she be a stay at home mum putting the breaks on her own carreer she was really enjoying. I appreciate not everyone can do that, it all depends on the amount a single wage can bring blah blah blah but i'm not saying everyone should do this, its just an example of one mother asking for and getting what she feels she is worth, and bravo to her.

      Commenter
      Cam
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 12:57PM
    • Umm, maybe because when you are in an equal relationship, where both parties fully respect the contribution of the other, monetising parenting seems completely obscene?

      Commenter
      Liv
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 1:08PM
    • @ Hurrow:

      Because society values work by how much income it generates. Women internalize this societal attitude from a young age. A lot of men do as well. They are the ones who tell their stay-at-home-wife that "my work paid for everything we've got and don't you dare forget that". They are the ones who feel ripped off by their stay-at-home-with-the-kids wife after a divorce if she gets half the house because they believe the house should be fully theirs, as they "earned the money to pay for it".

      Commenter
      social attitudes
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 1:50PM
    • And nor do they value the work of other mothers aka mummy wars.

      This article doesn't help, treats women like infants.

      Each partner gets an amount of money to spend each month according to the family budget. Any skimming is just dishonesty. How trivialising to call it a mummy allowance.

      Commenter
      cash for comment
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 1:56PM
    • +1.
      Great comment!

      Commenter
      Sezzy16
      Date and time
      June 17, 2013, 2:50PM

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