It started with a divorce…

It took the breakdown of my marriage to open my eyes to a what I believe is a growing problem for marriage and society: the curse of the breadwinner wife.

Women are now the main breadwinner in nearly half of UK households. Yet statistically, those marriages in which women earn more than their husbands are more doomed to failure.

It’s not simply that men can’t stomach the emasculation or that women are feeling stretched and resentful. Although these are common themes I hear and read about time and time again.

I started this blog in an effort to explore the challenges facing female breadwinners. I hope it will offer insight, support and comfort for those out there who are breaking the mould but feel society is pitted against them.

 

Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.

 

How divorce costs you friends

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When you walk down the aisle you never expect that one day you’ll be on your own again. At least not when you’re young (okay, middle aged).

Divorce is for other people. Couples who don’t invest in their relationship. For serial cheaters and people who probably deserve it.

When it happens to you there is a combination of shock, grief and relief. Relief that the relationship problems are finally over, grief at saying goodbye to a shared history and shock that the unthinkable has happened.

You mourn your ex-spouse, even as you are relieved to be away from a toxic relationship. You mourn the couple you once were.

For many months after I left my ex I found myself wanting to go back in time, to tell ‘old him’ – my best friend of 15 years – what was going to happen to us, to hear him laugh and reassure me that it wasn’t possible.

What you don’t expect is to be mourning the loss of other people that were close to you. Yes, you’re going to lose the in-laws – particularly if things ended badly – but close friends too?

You assumed they liked you both. Until they didn’t

And yet this is precisely what happens. You can lose up to 10% of your friends when you get divorced (a stat I read somewhere).

People take sides or don’t know how to react, naturally distancing themselves. Some think divorce is a disease that is catching.

There are good-time friends who don’t want to be there for the rainy days. There are the friends who found you irresistible as a twosome but don’t really know what to do with you on your own. Some may feel insecure letting their spouse socialise with a newly-single woman.

There are friends who like your ex more than you. You never knew this when you were a couple, going to dinner parties and social gatherings. You assumed they liked you both. Until they didn’t.

These are the friends who cannot, or will not, reconcile your reasons for leaving your ex with the person they like enormously. (I get it. If I hadn’t been at the receiving end, I wouldn’t have believed me either).

So they cast you as the villain and that way they don’t have to believe you. When you express hurt and anger at this betrayal it further justifies their decision. Clearly you are the unhinged bully your ex said you were.

One of my ex-friends used to (rather pretentiously) call me and my husband ‘PLUs’, or ‘people like us’. I saw them this weekend when I was out on the sledging hills in my village, surrounded by a little clique of their PLUs.

I am no longer one of them. I stood on the periphery and watched these happy nuclear families, feeling that familiar surge of exclusion, of not quite belonging.

I am no longer invited to dinner parties. I am shunned by those who feel I gave my ex a hard time. By those who judge from their glass houses. By the fair-weather friends.

In divorce you are sometimes kicked while you’re down by the very friends you thought you could count on

Nobody tells you any of this about divorce. That sometimes you are kicked while you’re down by the very people you thought you could count on.

A particular low point for me was waking up one morning to an email from my solicitor. She had attached five statements that she had received from the defence in support of my husband’s bid for custody in our divorce trial.

Each one extolled his virtues as a father, omitting the crucial detail. That he was an alcoholic. Yes he can dress his children appropriately and give them healthy snacks. He’s great fun in the school playground. But sometimes he drinks and drives.

Each one of these statements was written by a couple I had considered to be close family friends. I’d confided in the wives, been on holiday with them, looked after their children – just as they had looked after mine.

I felt it physically. Like a deep punch to the stomach. It hurts to lose friends, at any time in life, but particularly when you’re in the throes of a nasty divorce.

It makes you feel betrayed and extremely rejected. It hurts almost as much (possibly more) than the breakdown of the marriage itself. It certainly makes the process even harder to recover from.

Tessie Castillo describes it perfectly in an article for Scary Mommy:

“Losing a friend is very different from losing a husband,” she writes. “You don’t have to leave your house. You don’t lose half your income. You don’t have to make co-parenting arrangements or split holidays with your kids or stare at the empty space in the closet where her clothes used to be.

“But losing a best friend can be harder than losing a husband. Divorce is tragic and terrible, but at least it provides relief from a toxic marriage. When my husband left, I cried for weeks, but amidst the swirling confusion and grief was a sense of freedom, of hope, of second chances. Deep down I knew I was better off without him.

Losing a friend did not make me stronger. I felt no relief once she was gone, no hope that good would come of the tragedy, no pride in my ability to move on. Instead, I stayed up at night wondering what went wrong. I still do,” she concludes.

‘I felt no relief once she was gone, no hope that good would come of the tragedy, no pride in my ability to move on’

It’s a tough lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. When it comes to friends, divorce sorts the wheat from the chaff. Most importantly, it makes you recognise and appreciate the good friends.

They are the ones quietly propping you up. Checking in on the weekends your ex has the kids. Making time for you in their diaries and not rubbing in the social occasions you’ve missed out on.

They are ones who encourage you to socialise when it feels so difficult, even if you’ve said ‘no’ the last five times they asked. They don’t give up and know you’ll emerge from your shell eventually.

They are the ones who give you a key to their house when you’re living at your parents so you can work somewhere nearby whilst your children are at school.

They’re the ones who understand that however horribly your ex is behaving and has behaved, you’re still grieving. They don’t badmouth him… unless you want them to.

They may not agree with all of your actions and choices, but they support you anyway and do it without criticism.

And they remember you’re a human being, who sometimes wants to shoot the breeze about topics that are lighter than divorce, legal battles and disappointment.

So be kind to your divorcing friends. Be there for them and be forgiving if they’re not always themselves. Whatever you do, don’t kick them while they’re down.

It may seem impossible right now but one day it could be you who needs that support. The statistics are not kind: One-in-three (one-in-two if you’re a breadwinner wife).

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I love the following tips from Working Mother on what to say to a friend going through a divorce:

Provide Specific Support

Your friend is about to hear, “If you need anything, just call,” from everyone she knows. Many well-intentioned people serve up the generic offer of help, and many really do mean it. But your friend likely won’t actually ask anyone for help. Why? It’s not easy admitting you need help. And some people don’t actually follow through even if asked, so sometimes it’s easier not to ask at all. Or she may not know what she needs help with right now.

The solution? Think about what she really needs, and tell her how you’re going to help. You might tell her you’re taking her kids for the evening so she can have some quiet time. Or pick her up after work, and take her out for dinner. Maybe her new schedule makes it impossible for her to get her daughter to soccer practice on time, so you make it your mission to make sure it happens. Whatever the need, let her know you have it covered. Work out the details then and there to make sure it happens.

Withhold Negative Opinions

You always knew he was a cheater. Or maybe you just felt they weren’t going to make it. You never liked him anyway. Your friend should feel good hearing you badmouth her soon-to-be ex, right? As much as you feel like you’re being supportive, you may actually make her feel worse. She probably still has some affection for him, even if the divorce was her idea. If they have kids, he’s still going to be in her life, so bashing him doesn’t help her deal with that.

Let her vent if she needs to talk about it, but don’t pile on with insults. Tell her you’re there for her and that you’re sorry she has to deal with those behaviours.

Silence Your Advice

You mean well when suggesting that your friend start dating or offering up the name of a good divorce lawyer, but your friend probably doesn’t want to hear it. She’s getting advice from lots of people right now, from her curious neighbours to her dear old mom. As a parent, you’ve probably received your fair share of unsolicited advice, so you know how frustrating it can be.

If you’ve been through a divorce and your friend asks you for advice, by all means, share your best tips for coming out of the process as unscathed as possible. Just don’t force your opinions on her or make her regret inviting you over for drinks. Keep in mind that your experience may be completely different than hers. Suggest she might consider her own circumstances and talk to her divorce attorney, therapist or other professional for specific advice.

Be Her Cheerleader

Okay, you may not want to actually break out the pompoms—but being your friend’s biggest supporter in a grown-up you’re-going-to-rock-your-new-single-life way can be the boost of confidence she needs. You don’t have to paint an unrealistic picture of a perfect life, but you can let her know you believe in her. Acknowledge that it’s a difficult decision and a challenging situation. Then reassure her that she’s got this.

Admit You Don’t Know What to Say

Feeling uncomfortable with the situation? Not sure what to say? Worried you’re going to say the wrong thing or make your friend feel worse? Admit it. Saying you’re not sure what to say shows your friend that you’re trying to be supportive and want to help. It also opens the door for her to tell you what she needs to hear right now. Once you admit your fears, listen to her cues to see where you should go with the conversation.

Talk About Usual Friendship Things

Yes, your friend is going through a divorce. Yes, it’s a huge part of her life right now. But she’s still your friend, and she’s still a person. The thing she might need right now is the normalcy of your friendship. Ask her for advice on what to wear to an upcoming event, or chat about the latest episode of your favourite show. Let her lead the way to determine whether she needs to talk about the divorce or take a break with regular friendship talk.

Talk to the Kids

What do you do if your friend has kids? If you’re close to the kids, don’t be afraid to talk to them during the divorce. Just how close you are to the child can help you decide what to say. If the child feels comfortable with you, he may open up and talk about his feelings. Encourage that sharing. Experts recommend that kids be allowed to be honest about their feelings. Sometimes kids need a little help putting those feelings into words.

Kids may also just want to talk about their favourite toys or what they did at recess. Be there as a neutral adult who listens to the child no matter what he wants to talk about. If you’re not sure what to say, talk to your friend first. Just don’t put yourself in the middle of the family drama. Remain neutral without talking badly about either parent.

Embracing snowday chaos

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There’s something about snowdays – they’re a bit like a zombie apocalypse but marginally easier to survive.

The roads in my village were deserted this morning after another heavy dusting overnight and (shock horror) the village first school was shut.

Here in Northumberland the attitude generally is that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing… until today! Our hard-as-nails headmistress reluctantly conceded defeat for what is probably the first time in a decade.

So there was no mad panic to get ready – no last minute rush for World Book Day props (silent prayer of thanks) – no way I was going to hit any of my deadlines.

Instead it was a slummy mummy morning. The girls watched TV, I drank tea and made peace with the fact that I was going to get very little done other than mop up puddles of melted snow, dry successive rounds of soggy splash pants and woollens while constantly dishing out snacks and hot drinks.

It’s not always easy working from home when childcare duties are suddenly thrust upon you from left field (well okay – we did know the Beast from the East was coming). But it still requires lots of juggling, a helpful ex spouse, forgiving clients and a child’s ability to watch endless episodes of Peppa Pig.

It also requires an ability to let go. The deadlines for the most part can wait – the memories will not.

The deadlines for the most part can wait – the memories will not

My New Year’s resolution for 2018 was to do less, prioritise more and stop all the crazy multitasking. Little things, like eating a meal without looking at my phone.

I’ll admit there’s still a long way to go, but I’m determined because I’m convinced it will make me a happier, calmer person and a better mum.

The world we live in is so full of distraction and so very very busy. We’re all guilty, to a greater or lesser extent of spending too much time on social media, trying to do too much all at once and wasting time on things that aren’t important.

It’s about doing one thing at a time and giving that task all my focus. There’s a Japanese word for this: “ichigyo-zammai”, which means giving your full concentration to a single act.

We’re all guilty of spending too much time on social media and wasting time on things that aren’t important

I read an article a few years ago now – which I now can’t find – on this practice and its relevance in a hyperconnected, modern world. The author was visiting Japan and had noticed that even at supermarket checkouts there was a certain ceremony, both hands were used to exchange credit cards with little bows of respect.

Japanese shoppers are not yelling into their phones while dragging small children off each other, chucking items into bulging carrier bags and flinging plastic across the checkout. Well some of them probably are. But certainly I know which image I find more calming.

In his book the Beginner’s Mind, Sunryu Suzuki describes the practice as being fully in the moment.

“We just concentrate on the activity which we do in each moment,” he wrote. “When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat.”

So what does this have to do with a snowday I hear you ask? I guess it’s the ability to be adaptable when there is a sudden change of plans that throws off work and home schedules, but also that (still for me) elusive ability to drop everything else for a little while.

It’s not often children are able to play in the snow in this country, coming home to hot chocolate with happy flushed cheeks, fighting over who gets the best sledge, arranging to meet their friends on the slopes the next day, sleeping deeply after a day of fresh air and excitement.

So today I fought with myself, as I’m sure many working mothers do in these circumstances. What could wait? What could I wing so I could enjoy this unique day of fun and enjoyment?

I’ve ignored plenty of jobs, and it has been worth it. School is closed tomorrow and I am planning more of the same, with a brief respite when my ex arrives to take the girls out sledging.

Next week I will knuckle down, get the jobs done, hit those deadlines and maintain my gainful employment.

Until then it’s all about collecting icicles for the freezer (does anyone else’s children do this?), making snowmen, drinking our bodyweight in hot chocolate and sticking a pizza in the oven for tea.

Our weekend has started early and (while I’m aware of the wider travel chaos this cold snap as wrought across the country) I do find myself hoping the snow stays for a bit longer. Well until Sunday evening perhaps. God, please let school be open on Monday!

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For a blogging newbie I’m feeling extremely flattered and excited at my nomination for the Sunshine Blogger Award. A massive thank you to blog Cooking With Kids (move over Annabel Karmel!) for the recognition! I will thank you properly in my next post, answer your 11 questions and nominate my 11 favourite bloggers. Watch this space!

Viva the Mumsnet revolution

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My friend Hannah has decided to become an internet troll. What she means is that she’s going to wield her wit and fearsome way with words to hold politicians to task on everything from education and gender equality to energy saving and reducing sugar in our diets (she’s a dentist, so this last one’s a biggie).

And I pity anyone who gets in her way.

This is a woman who – while on holiday in Norwich – stood outside the city council building angrily snapping photos on her phone (her husband and children looking on), demanding to know why it was “lit up like a Christmas tree” at stupid o’clock at night.

Returning home she stumbled over a Tory leaflet that revealed it was pushing ahead with its plans to scrap the three-tier education system in Northumberland, even though the consultation on school reform has only just begun.

Cue the next round of angry emails. “Hell hath no fury like a middle-aged woman after a six-hour drive and no caffeine,” warns Hannah.

You’ve gotta love an activist mum. Say what you like about the Mumsnet brigade… these women get shit done.

Say what you like about the Mumsnet brigade… these women get shit done

What happens when you throw a group of highly-educated, under-utilised and fiercely-protective mothers together? You create everyday activists.

My faith in humanity was restored a little bit after I work up this morning to see that – thanks to the indignant mummies (and daddies) across Tynedale – a petition saying “no” to scrapping the three-tier school system in Northumberland has gained over 1,000 signatures.

This was mums doing what they do best in a crisis – sharing the fuck out of petitions in angry posts on Facebook and participating in rants on Whatsapp (most of us are a bit scared of Twitter).

Politicians, corporates and policymakers have come to know, respect and fear the power of Mumsnet, Netmums and other mummy warrior networking sites.

Politicians, corporates and policymakers have come to know, respect and fear the power of the cybermummies

Take Maclaren. It was condemned by Netmums, back in 2009, for recalling one million “hazardous” pushchairs in the US but leaving them on the market in the UK.

The suggestion that a buggy that was deemed unsafe for US tots was considered fine for UK toddlers had mums everywhere up in arms.

The founder of the Netmums website, Siobhan Freegard, said: “Mums are saying that the company is doing more for those in America because they are more likely to be sued over there.” Maclaren’s shareprice, brand and reputation all took a hit.

David Cameron, by contrast, had full respect for the power of cybermummies, signing up for a number of live webchats on Mumsnet.

In these forums he was asked about everything from his favourite biscuit and Cbeebies show to banking regulation and inheritance tax.

No-one does polite fury better than a middle-aged mummy. Actually scrap ‘polite’. We are women who shake our kids’ scooters at passing cars yelling at them to “slow the fuck down”.

We are women who shake our kids’ scooters at passing cars yelling at them to “slow the fuck down”

So the next time you see a gaggle of mums gossiping outside the school gates after drop-off, don’t assume they are talking about nice fluffy things like coffee mornings, baby weaning, tupperware or chick flicks.

In the immortal words of Dewey Finn (Jack Black’s character) from School of Rock, these women are too busy “sticking it to the man”.

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Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your stories about mummy activists

Such a nasty woman… and other ways women are minimised

Donald Trump Such A Nasty Woman GIF by Election 2016

When Donald Trump attacked Hilary Clinton in the final debate of the last US election, calling her a “nasty woman”, it became an infamous nickname and took on a whole new meaning for women everywhere.

It is associated with “gaslighting”, otherwise known as all attempts to silence and minimise women by depicting them as unhinged and angry when they refuse to toe the line.

It happens when women speak up about sexual harassment and domestic violence, when they express feminist views and call for gender equality, and in the workplace when they strive to rise up through the ranks.

It happens when they dare to do the things women have been conditioned not to do in polite society – to express emotion, opinion, to be tough and unapologetic.

Go on Twitter any day of the week and you’ll see the anti-feminist trolls out in full force, bullying and abusing women who shout too loud.

The notion that women who are not compliant are insane is one that’s been used to silence women for generations

“The notion that women who are not compliant are insane is one that’s been used to silence women for generations,” writes Jennifer Wright in Harpers Bazaar.

“Being told you’re acting insane if you are feeling upset is an absolutely surefire way to make you say something pleasant, even if you may be feeling angry. Which only makes women seem crazier.”

The mad woman in the attic

When women express anger with a situation they find unreasonable, too often they are described as crazy, aggressive and/or ugly.

I received these labels constantly when I left my ex.

Last January I collected my children from school on a day that he was due to pick them up. I had strong evidence he had been drinking.

At the time he was receiving legal help from a lawyer friend. He sent my solicitor an email saying my concerns about his inebriation were due to my “heightened imagination”, “irrational fears and prejudices” and “instability”. In short, that I was unhinged*.

He claimed my concerns were due to my “heightened imagination”, “irrational fears and prejudices” and “instability”… then asked if I was still taking my medication

The email went on to ask for assurances that I was continuing to take my medication (I take Sertraline for anxiety).

In the courts, as in every other corner of life, those trying to silence and minimise non-compliant women do everything to portray them as Charlotte Bronte’s mad woman in the attic. To dismiss them, diminish them and make them question their own sanity.

How #MeToo was a seachange

It happens in the workplace as well. While male executives who speak more often than their peers are deemed more competent in the boardroom, female executives who speak up are not welcomed, according to research from Cornell University.

“We’ve both seen it happen again and again,” wrote Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant in the New York Times. “When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive.”

And yes, there is a time and place for emotion in the workplace. But being assertive in getting your message across is not the same thing as aggression.

When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive

Things are slowly changing. Partly as a backlash to the result of the last US election and partly due to the #MeToo campaign.

It is becoming less taboo to be an outspoken and emotional woman.

And there is a growing recognition that men also stand to benefit from embracing their emotional side.

Societal pressure to suppress emotions and “man up” is one reason why suicide has reached crisis proportions for men between the ages of 20 and 49.

Why it is a bigger killer than cancer, heart disease or road traffic accidents for men in that demographic. And why so many heterosexual men find it difficult to know how to respond to displays of emotion from their partners. Why there are so many “crazy girlfriend” jokes.

Certainly since #MeToo it feels like a societal correction is taking place with women able to talk about what is happening to them. They are being believed and not as easily dismissed.

So here’s to nasty women everywhere! I’m with you all.

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Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your views on gaslighting, whether it is something that has affected you and how you have dealt with it.

*There is a special place in hell for this “lawyer friend” of my ex’s. He recently pulled out of his own divorce mediation citing his soon-to-be ex wife’s “fragile state”!

In sickness and mental health

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I was reminded today of the role that mental illness (and addictive behaviour) played in the breakdown of my marriage and the stressful, protracted and expensive divorce process that ensued.

As I mentioned in my last post, the divorce rate for marriages where the wife is the main breadwinner is 1 in 2. And all too often mental health plays a part.

Men who make less money than their wives are more likely to suffer from a range of physical and mental health issues

Men who make less money than their wives are more likely to suffer from a range of physical and mental health issues, according to a study from Rutgers University.

Certainly poor mental health, anger and addiction were all present in my marriage… and divorce.

My ex turned up this morning to take my youngest to her swimming lesson but stank of alcohol. I knew from WhatsApp that he hadn’t gone to bed until 2.30am. So at 10.30am I was not happy about him driving, and certainly not about letting him drive anywhere with our child in the car.

He wasn’t happy with my decision and slammed the door on his way out. But I had to put the safety of my child ahead of what he wanted.

How the legal process fuels resentment and anger

I knew divorce for us was never going to be easy. Some couples split and remain friends. They go through mediation and spend as little as £550 after amicably working through how best to split their assets and raise their children.

For the rest of us, mental health issues, addictions, personality disorders or just good old-fashioned anger and hurt make this impossible. And increasingly, the family courts exploit this.

As I wrote in my previous post, the average cost of a divorce in the UK is £70,000. And that’s excluding London, where it is nearly double that amount (an eye-watering £134, 525), according to legal firm Seddons.

Much of this (>£50k) is in lost assets (eg splitting property and pensions), but next is legal bills with divorcing couples typically spending between £17,000 and £30,000.

In my case, and we’re not done yet, the costs have already exceeded that amount. But I had little choice.

It is impossible to mediate when one or both divorcing partners are behaving unreasonably and/or lack a fundamental grip on reality. My ex walked out of mediation after less than an hour.

Why the ‘at fault’ process leads to conflict

When married couples decide to divorce “unreasonable behaviour” is usually cited, behaviour that is often linked to mental health issues and addiction.

However, the legal need to prove a spouse’s unreasonable behaviour fuels bad feeling between a couple, according to research by the Nuffield Foundation on behalf of National Family Mediation (NFM).

“Outdated laws that mean someone has to be proved at fault creates a bidding war which then often escalates to a full-blown courtroom battle,” says Jane Robey, NFM’s chief executive.

“This is a huge issue,” she continues. “Over 100,000 couples divorce each year. For each and every adult involved, let alone the children, the stress, time and expense involved is staggering.”

It is when mediation is clearly not an option that the costs really begin to stack up.

In my experience, solicitors fan the flames of discord and anger, sending messages back and forth that are designed to keep you warring (and paying).

In my experience, solicitors fan the flames of discord and anger

During our child arrangements battle the onus was on me to prove that my ex was an alcoholic, despite plenty of evidence – including his own admission to doctors – that he had been a heavy drinker for years.

This necessitated blood and hair strand tests and eventually, the fitting of a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor (SCRAM) bracelet. All costing thousands of pounds, with each set of evidence minimised and picked apart in court by my ex’s legal team.

In an effort to protect my children I fought for a Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) Section 7 safeguarding report (more on this another time), which again, added significant cost and prolonged the stressful and divisive legal process.

But it was all ultimately in vain. This is what I realise now, looking back. And I hear similar stories from other women (and some men) who have been through similar ordeals.

The fact is that unless your ex is a complete deadbeat the courts will push for a shared care arrangement every time. Under the Children Act the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

Failing children, failing mental health sufferers

The court services are also extremely stretched. Once they’ve ticked the necessary boxes, they just want to arrive at a non-contentious verdict and put the case to bed.

Which does nothing to resolve the underlying problems, to protect children who need protecting or force addicts and individuals suffering from depression and poor mental health to confront their demons and seek help.

I await the usual exchange of heated emails between divorce lawyers… followed by yet another extortionate close-out invoice

 

I’ve emailed my solicitor letting her know of my actions today and explaining that my children also smelt alcohol on their father’s breath. (It is testament to how badly they have been let down that I needed to explain to my 8-year-old that she must NEVER get into a car with her father if he smells like that).

I would contact Cafcass if I thought it would do any good. It won’t (more on this another time).

Beyond that there is little I can do. So I await the usual exchange of heated emails between divorce lawyers… followed by yet another extortionate close-out invoice at the end of the month.

The curse of the breadwinner wife

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There were many reasons my marriage failed. But our traditional role reversal pushed us over the edge.

It didn’t help that I was a resentful breadwinner. Like many women, I’d opted to go freelance before I had children knowing this was probably my best chance of working flexibly while continuing to earn a decent wage.

But I had never expected to be the sole breadwinner. I certainly never expected to have to go back to work so soon after having my children, just to make ends meet.

Rather than building each other up, we were pulling each other down

It didn’t help our marriage that my ex spent eight years out of work (despite my encouragement to find a job), or that his drinking and controlling behaviour became steadily worse.

They were eight years of living within the same four walls, under the same roof, bringing up young children, never getting any space away from one another.

As his self esteem plummeted, it seemed the only  way he could cope with my resentment and his feelings of inadequacy was to criticise me and my parenting.

We stopped working as a team and increasingly, it felt as though we were in competition. Rather than building each other up, we were pulling each other down.

Half of non-traditional marriages fail

Sadly, my story is far from unique. My anecdotal experience and various pieces of research suggest that non-traditional marriages are more likely to end in divorce.

Divorce rates rise to 50% when a woman earns more than her husband, according to a study from the University of Chicago.

It found the percentage of people who report being “very happy” with their marriage declines when a woman out-earns her husband.

One explanation for this, the researchers suggest, is that a wife making more money is doing more chores to assuage her husband’s unease.

But serving as both the primary breadwinner and the primary homemaker may be draining (more on this in my post on the mental load). That, the researchers point out, “may be one of the mechanisms behind our results on divorce.”

Moreover, men who are financially dependent are more likely to cheat, according to research in the American Sociological Review.

Anecdotally, I know of several relationships where yummy mummies in the school yard proved too much of a temptation for stay-at-home dads. Particularly when there wasn’t much sex happening at home.

“I hypothesise that the more economically dependent a married man is on his partner, the greater his likelihood of engaging in infidelity,” writes author Christin Munsch in the ASR. “Extramarital sex allows men undergoing a masculinity threat to engage in behaviour culturally associated with masculinity.”

“Simultaneously, extramarital sex allows threatened men to distance themselves from, and perhaps punish, their breadwinning spouse.”

The research found that breadwinning wives tend to downplay their financial contributions, defer to their husbands in decision making, and do a disproportionate amount of housework.

Meanwhile, economic dependency in men is associated with increased domestic violence, decreased housework and decreased health.

These are not the best ingredients for a happy marriage!

A problem that isn’t going away

Statistics suggest that around 40% of women in heterosexual relationships in the UK are now the primary breadwinner.

No doubt family lawyers are rubbing their hands with glee

With this figure expected to grow, what does this mean for the future of marriage?

When half of all marriages fail – with the average cost of divorce soaring to a current high of £70,000 in the UK – will young couples begin to question why they should bother (for more on this read my earlier post on why marriage is losing its appeal)?

No doubt family lawyers are rubbing their hands with glee, and certainly there is every reason to believe the courts are exploiting these newer sources of marital conflict.

Fathers in the hood

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The cutest video making the rounds on Fakebook this week is the Daddy Daughter Hair Factory. Set up by Phil Morgese and his daughter Emma, they organise hair workshops for fathers and daughters across the US and Netherlands.

In the video, Phil explains that the workshops are as much about learning a new skill – doing plaits and ponytails – as they are about bonding and providing good male role models.

“Gender roles — that’s just gonna have to go. Fatherhood’s evolving,” he says. “It’s more than just about bringing home the bacon.”

The mummy micro-managers

Increasingly, women are bringing home the bacon. This is the situation in nearly half of UK households, a trend that is expected to grow.

For mothers, this is a huge pressure, particularly in a society that has not kept up with these changes. For more on this, read my blog on the mental load.

But I do sometimes wonder if working mums are deliberately making their lives more difficult. Whether they are making a rod for their own backs.

If they are reluctant to let their husbands take on more responsibility when it comes to parenting and household jobs, because they don’t think their partners can handle it.

The book ‘When daddy did the washing’ is all about dad making a complete meal of it

In doing so, is it sometimes easier for dads to shrug their shoulders and just let us get on with it? Get on with all the juggling and wearing ourselves thin, safe in the knowledge that we probably wouldn’t accept their help if it was offered?

I have so many anecdotal stories. Stories that usually involve micromanaging, criticism and frustration on both sides.

There’s my friend who became a reluctant breadwinner when her husband was suddenly made redundant. She’d get home from work and be greeted by chaos and piles of dirty laundry… but the children were happy and cared for.

There’s the doctor who works long shifts but can’t (or won’t) step back and let her husband make even the smallest of decisions. He has to consult her on everything and is under constant scrutiny.

It’s every time we say a dad is “babysitting” his children. Or when we joke about daddy daycare.

I remember telling a friend that my ex was a stay-at-home parent and she laughed and called him a “manny”.

One of the books on my daughters’ book shelf – ‘When daddy did the washing’ – is all about dad making a complete meal of it while his wife is out doing “important things”.

He puts a red sock in with a white wash, dying everything pink in the process. The story has a happy ending as mummy loves her new pink skirt! But the underlying message is that daddy just doesn’t have a clue!

Learning to step back

It isn’t easy when you’re a high-achieving working mother, used to juggling a million different things, to step back and allow your children’s father to parent… and to do it in a way that may not meet your exacting standards.

This goes for grandparents as well. We might not want our kids getting all those treats, to be napping in the afternoon or watching too much TV, but we have to remember that they are doing us a favour!

More importantly, that our children are benefiting from time spent in their company. After all, nobody cares for your children as lovingly as devoted family members.

There is so much to be gained when we relinquish control. More time for ourselves, less stress and a lightness that comes with letting go.

Empowering fathers to father their children is good for men’s self esteem, offers better male role models for our children and brings that elusive and all-important balance to modern family life.

This has never been so important. The Modern Families Index (MFI) 2018 warns that the stress and strains of juggling work and home are causing more arguments (28%) between spouses.

A third of parents surveyed said they felt burnt out all or most of the time.

Flexible working and parental leave encourages dads to be more involved. MFI argues the creation of a properly-paid, standalone period of extended paternity leave is needed.

“Tackling gendered assumptions about who works and who cares is crucial to broadening parental choice,” it concludes.