What does it mean to be successful? A huge paycheck, happy kids, a dream house or your own business? What if one spouse is financially successful and the other one is the support? Are they both successful?
I thought it wouldn’t bug me. It didn’t matter what people said. We were in this together, right? When we had kids, they were ours. When we showed up to Christmas gatherings with gifts, they were from us. When we bought our house, it was in both of our names. We were in this marriage together, for better or for worse. I didn’t know what the for better would entail.
When my husband started a home based business seven years ago, it was a way for us to make extra cash in the evenings after he put in a full day at a call center. I was a stay at home parent and we were on a strict budget. We never imagined that this part-time job would become our main source of income or a business that would support our family comfortably enough for me to begin my writing career. I also never thought it wouldn’t be ours. When the business took off, I worked an entry level position making coffee in order for us to have the health benefits we were unable to acquire on the open market. It was a running joke that I made less per hour at my coffee gig than the first employee we hired at our business. It was funny to everyone but me. It was his dream job, but we were making it work together. I was working nights. We were swapping childcare responsibilities. We were a team. But not everyone saw it that way.
People would ask how my husband’s business was. They wanted to know how he did it and why he was so successful. They didn’t care about my shitty job or the money I was sacrificing to support his business. As we filled up our starter home with pallets of sports apparel, it became clear that we needed more space in order to grow the business. We bought a new home and ran the business out of our basement, adding more employees as I continued to work nights. People couldn’t believe how lucky my husband was to have a successful business. In many people’s minds, I was just lucky to be a part of his success. It wasn’t ours, it was his. There were comments from family members about me being a trophy wife and not pulling my weight. It broke my heart and pissed me off.
I know I am not the first person to feel this way. My mother chose a career as a stay at home mom and now that she is retired, people ask her all the time what she did before retirement.
“I raised my kids.” She doesn’t elaborate on the fact that she did one million other things including sewing, balancing checkbooks and cooking the majority of our meals. Jobs that most people get money and recognition for.
They usually say something asinine like “Oh you didn’t have a real job?”
Her success wasn’t hailed as amazing and my father was the one who received awards and bonuses for his work successes. Could he have done it without a supportive spouse at home? I don’t think so. My mother managed the finances and raised three self-sufficient adults. I learned early on that as a society, we hold a lot of energy towards success being a monetary element and we seem to lose sight of the fact that there are people in the shadows who are the backbone of their spouse’s success. My career had been raising our kids, working jobs with flexibility and benefits and waiting in the wings while my husband became a very successful small business owner.
I wanted to feel like I was a part of “his” success, so when I quit my night job I became more involved in our business. I began doing payroll, assisting with hiring and attending to some of the shit work that no one else wanted to deal with. It didn’t pan out the way I had hoped. I began to see that no matter how involved I was in our business, people weren’t going to associate me with its success. I was just the wife. Just the mom. My husband was the business owner. He never questioned my sacrifice or how invested I was in our business; we both knew that it took the two of us to get to where we were. Unfortunately, not everyone saw it that way.
When I started writing, a family member said to me “You wouldn’t be able to write if it wasn’t for your husband. His success allows you to work without getting paid.” His success? What about our success? I had worked at a shitty job for six years, took care of our kids while he worked late, and used an inheritance I received to grow the business. It was ours.
I’m still working on not punching people when they make hurtful comments about my contribution, but I have realized that it’s not my job to explain what we do, why we do it or who is successful. The lesson for me has been a real challenge, because it’s a lesson in being humble. I have never been very good at waiting in the shadows or downplaying my contributions. While I build up my resume as a writer, I continue to work behind the scenes at our business in order to keep our employees paid and our bills organized. You know…trophy wife stuff. Humble for me equals sitting behind my husband and knowing that I was in that scrap, too, even if no one else sees it.
Mandy Brasher has been married to her partner in crime for thirteen years and together they have two kids. She graduated from The Utah College of Massage Therapy and spent two years studying writing at Utah State University. She is currently working with her husband at their online apparel business, blogging daily and writing a book. After working as a licensed massage therapist in Las Vegas, she moved back to Utah to start a family and find a new career. Since then she has changed diapers, potty trained, worked as a barista and organized events for a non-profit. Mandy loves to travel, cook, do yoga and read. Follow her sass mouth and unexpected adventures.