We want to talk seriously for a moment because this topic needs some care. Very few are talking about it, and if they do, it’s a quiet email sent to us asking, ‘is this normal?’ This is not something she can bring up in front of her friends or family.
We all know that finances can be a strain after a new baby arrives, we do a whole planning session around this with expecting couples. After all, a large number of our clients are middle to upper-middle class families with 2 incomes and they want to maintain a certain amount of stability once baby arrives. The problem is, once baby arrives those 2 incomes become 1, leaving one partner footing the bill, while the other is left with no income (or a reduced income if employment insurance during maternity leave is on the table).
Quite often (not always) it is the mother who has chosen to take time off work or stop working to take on the role of child rearing, leaving herself in a very vulnerable position. She no longer has her independent income to rely on and for the first time in her adult life, may become dependant on her partner for spending money for her and their family.
Many new parents figure out a plan or financial structure that works for their family, but for others this added pressure and imbalance of power can become something more…it can become abusive.
This form of abuse can be so subtle that it leaves the mother questioning herself and her thoughts. It can be very demeaning and hard to talk about, even with friends and family. It can also be very scary, how can you make changes or leave when you have no financial stability?
Most women don’t expect to end up in a position like this, begging for spending money or being placed on an unrealistic allowance while their partner spends freely (those are just some signs). Some women may even think these are the normal changes that happen once baby arrives, or worse, they may believe they have no power because they no longer contribute to the family income.
We want to make sure that REAL information on this topic gets into the hands of the people who need it most. Soon to be mothers that could find themselves in this position, questioning themselves and feeling stuck in something they didn’t sign up for. We decided to contact a specialist in this field, our friend Olivia Scobie, family sociologist and social worker.
“Finances are a significant concern for most relationships when one partner chooses to opt out of paid work and parent full time at home. It’s one of those topics that women, in particular, are taught to stay silent on out of fears we might look dumb, impolite, or inappropriate. This is a problem because in this silence there is an invisible and growing social issue: financial abuse. (I’m going to dig into how and why ‘mother work’ became devalued and why it’s important to fiercely proclaim that mother work is real work in an upcoming post. Stay tuned if you are interested in this topic!)
Financial abuse is not fighting/panicking/praying with your partner about how you are going to live off of one income after the baby comes or paternity benefits run out. It’s not negotiating financial responsibilities in a way that feels fair and equitable to both of you. Financial abuse is when one partner has total economic control and decision making and the secondary partner is left financially powerless. While this can certainly occur in any relationship, hetero, full time moms with limited-to-no external sources of income are at the greatest risk for financial abuse in their relationships.
What the abuse looks like is different in every relationship. Some of the signs that you may be in a financial abusive relationship include:
- Economic Secrecy: You are forbidden from seeing the family finances, what your partner’s income is, or how the household income is spent.
- One-Sided Financial Decision Making: Your partner spends money on themselves freely, but refuses to give you money for clothes, medicine, food, transportation without permission. You are not consulted for major family purchases.
- Money Monitoring: You are given a very small ‘allowance’ and you need to provide receipts for how the money is spent. Even your transportation is tracked; there is only enough gas in the car or transit tokens for you to travel to and from places your partner deems acceptable for you to go, such as the grocery store.
- Loss of Personal Income: Your partner refuses to let you return to paid work or find a job. You are not allowed to have a bank account/credit card and any income your do receive must be immediately handed over to them. You are charged for expenses that your partner makes up arbitrarily, such as getting charged rent to live in the martial home or given a bill for food that you eat at family meals.
- Feelings of Desperation: You want out, but don’t know how. You don’t think you could survive financially without your partner, aren’t sure how to pay bills or who you owe money to. Your partner may threaten to leave and take the children. You feel trapped.
Did reading that give you a sinking feeling in your gut? Are you worried that you or someone you care about is living with financial abuse? You are not alone and when you are ready, there are lots of people who want to help you.
In Canada, financial abuse is considered family violence. To get more information, find someone to talk to, receive free legal advice or make a plan to leave, please find the service that is right for you here: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/fv-vf/help-aide.html
When Olivia Scobie is not working with families, she can be found doing various distance sporting events throughout Ontario. She is a proud chubby runner/cyclist who recently biked from Lake Simcoe to Toronto (and only cried twice). She also have a reputation for throwing epic living room dance parties, being a terrible speller, and for singing along too loudly.
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