finance

"My mother made two monumental mistakes in her marriage. Mistakes I'll never repeat."

Let me start by saying my mum is an intelligent woman. She’s built up an incredible career, went back to uni to study, twice, and managed to raise two pretty capable kids.

But that doesn’t mean she’s always made smart choices.

As her daughter, I’ve seen just how much two decisions she made early on in her marriage have continued to impinge her, every day, in the three decades since.

The first is not at all unique to her at all. A generation of women seemingly made the same mistake. From the moment she and Dad lived together, she took on the complete responsibility for all of the housework.

Even if you do split the chores equally, women end up carrying the mental load. We discuss the difference between the mental and physical loads and Holly Wainwright has a plan to beat it. Post continues.

She mopped, she vacuumed, she dusted, she washed and dried the clothes, she ironed his shirts, she made the bed and she changed the sheets.

Mum took on this role as house cleaner from day one of their marriage and continued still to today. Despite her and dad both working the same number of hours in an office per week before they had children, despite when those children came along her being the primary carer, despite her going back to work part-time, then full-time, in the months after we were born, despite her juggling study and work and us.

No matter how their circumstances changed, mum’s role was to clean the house, with dad’s only contribution to mow the lawn and cook occasionally.

I love and respect and look up to my mum, but this is not a life I want for myself. Not dividing the cleaning responsibilities early on in my hopefully-one-day marriage, is not a mistake I want to make.

Nor do I want to repeat the other oversight my mum made in the early days of her marriage.

When they were wed, she handed too much control over their finances to my Dad. Unfortunately, again, this mistake is an all too common one that thousands of women make.

Thankfully for my mum, this handing over of control didn’t result in the abuse that it has for so many other women. Women who don’t even know how much is in their own bank account. Women who, at 40, didn’t even know how to use an ATM because their husband had always given them an “allowance”. Women whose husbands were able to rip them off in the thousands of what they were owed during a messy divorce because they simply didn’t know where all the money was.

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For my mum, the consequences have not been so disastrous. But I still see how it’s impacted her, as well as my parents’ relationship.

To be clear, she didn’t throw away her PIN and stop looking at the bills. She knows how much is in their savings account, and their spending account, and on each of their credit cards. But so does my dad. And while mum won’t be fussed if he spends $500 on a new set of speakers, that’s not how he reacts to her dropping $200 on a new pair of jeans.

What my mum allowed to happen – and what I never want to mimic – is that my dad has the access, and the sense of entitlement, to scrutinise every expense on their shared credit cards and in their shared savings and spending accounts. She should never have given him that power.

I’m not arguing that spouses should keep their spending habits hidden from each other – that’s a recipe for secret gambling debts and second mortgages. But I think my mum should have maintained some form of financial independence going into her relationship.

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The decision to pool all their money together to was likely a product of the period when they got married. Still, at some point, during the next 30 years, she could have tried to set something like this up.

I know what you’re thinking – it’s easy for me to sit here and judge my mother’s decisions. It wasn’t my experience and I didn’t have the same pressures or societal expectations placed upon me.

And that’s why I’m not judging her. Now, I can see they were bad choices, but that doesn’t mean they seemed that way at the time.

If anything I’m grateful to my mum for this – as selfish as that may sound. She’s taught me two (well, actually hundreds of) very valuable lessons.

I can’t do anything to help her past self, but at least I can learn from her mistakes.

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