Something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while now is the concept of financial sovereignty for women. In our society, we have a history of adhering to fairly strict rules about what a household looks like, and what the roles of each person within that household are. This traditional set of roles mainly applies to heterosexual relationships, and particularly those where there are also kids involved, but these same roles and dynamics can be seen in other types of families as well. The question is, as women, how can we create sovereignty for ourselves inside of our own financial stability? Do we have to decouple that sovereignty from the idea of making money? And why is financial sovereignty important?
There are a number of different pieces I’d like to touch on here, but the main sentiment is this: I believe there is something deeply important about women earning their own money, and having a sense of financial sovereignty. Now, this does not mean that I believe one shouldn’t also be supported in various ways – by a partner, through community, or otherwise – or that having a male “breadwinner” in a family is a bad thing, but I think this perspective sets the context for some other things I’d like to talk about.
Mothers who stay home support their families as much as their husbands who work do
There are many household responsibilities and tasks that are considered part of the traditionally-female (or feminine) realm, but that are not financially compensated as “work” in the same way that traditionally-male (or masculine) realm of “working” is compensated. The most obvious of these responsibilities is motherhood (and all of the associated tasks & time). As mothers, we shame ourselves for not making more money, earning our keep, or otherwise contributing to the family in a financial way, but it’s important to recognize that tending & attending to children is actually a job.
Personally, I believe motherhood should be compensated on a much larger systematic level; we should hold the energetic work, attention, time, and resources that go into raising children at the center of our societal values. But this is another conversation, which detracts from the main point I am trying to make, which is this: being a mother is a job, and does contribute financially to the family’s wellbeing.
Consider how many services you as a family would need to pay for if one parent was not able to devote so much time, energy, and resources to the raising of children. When we say that a husband “supports his wife” by working, this detracts from the valuable contribution being made by the wife, in that she is supporting the entire family by tending to the children and keeping the household running. Stay-at-home mothers are often the ones who make the appointments, go to the bank, meet with teachers, get groceries, and do all the things that make the household run while the husband is away.
It also often falls to the women or those playing the traditionally-feminine roles within family dynamics to do the work of tending to various relationships. Coordinating to get friends together, planning dinner menus, sending out invitations, fielding inquiries about get-togethers, etc. are all responsibilities that traditionally fall to the woman or the “wife”. If a parent isn’t doing this ‘job’, it will have to be paid for – and the roles that mothers traditionally take on usually require multiple paid people to fill.
The beauty and energy of life is part of the feminine domain (in all humans, not just females), and it is, generally speaking, not financially compensated or considered part of the necessary “work” in life. We have to bring this concept to the forefront of our family dynamics and recognize this contribution as “real work”, despite the fact that it doesn’t ‘earn’ the household money. The lack of financial compensation does not make it any less valuable; in fact, it makes it so much more valuable. This is why I think it is really important for women to feel their own financial sovereignty, and to be able to look at their situation and realize what they contribute to the household even though they are not compensated for it.
For me, this is one of the silver linings of having lived separately from both of my children’s fathers at different points during their childhood. It meant that we had to look at these things, rather than simply falling into habits the way we would if we lived together. We both have our roles in our family, and our separate living arrangement allows us the space to recognize that we are both deserving of honour and respect and recognition. When I moved from a place of being dependent on child support to earning enough money through my business and I am capable of supporting my children myself, I experienced a dramatic shift inside me. There was something really profound in the experience of recognizing that I still deserved to be paid child support for my emotional and physical efforts expended in raising my children, even though I wasn’t dependent on that money anymore for mine and my children’s survival. I was absolutely ‘earning’ every dollar of child support I received! It’s empowering, and it’s important.
The Sex and Cash Theory
One of my mentors once mentioned the idea of having “Sexy” projects and “Cash” projects. Essentially, we have two categories of activities: those that are fun, exciting, and bring us joy or fulfillment without or without financial compensation, and those that make us money, but may not feel ‘sexy’ or exciting. These projects can be the same, and we can make money doing things that feel fun or sexy, but they are not obligated to be so.
There has recently been a large surge of societal interest in the idea that our hobbies should be making us money. But I believe that this is where we get ourselves into trouble. When we obligate ourselves to turn our Sexy projects into Cash projects, we run the risk of losing interest in these projects, and losing that fulfillment and joy that we had in our lives. We need to recognize that we can do things for fun without needing them to bring us financial gains. And that we can do work for money that may not be our ‘deepest purpose’ or ‘zone of genius’.
The story that I most often tell on this subject is from back when my son was in kindergarten & my daughter was still a baby. I was getting back on my feet in terms of my coaching and teaching career, and during this time I took care of another family’s child in the afternoons, along with my own children. It didn’t provide me that much money, but I liked this child, and I like my own children, and it provided this little bridge to bring in a little bit more cash while my coaching career got up and running again.
When I looked at my life in order to make this choice, I realized I would rather have this time with my children than the potential to earn more money (hourly) as a coach than I could as a babysitter. Taking care of children is absolutely not my calling. This was a Cash project more than anything else, and I only kept it up until my daughter went to preschool, and I could devote more hours to my teaching and coaching without taking more time away from my children. I do want to be clear that more time with your children is not a moral imperative as a mother! This was simply the best choice for me at that time, and a great reminder that staying true to our values doesn’t mean never doing work that is simply for money.
Another story I like to tell when talking about this theory takes the other side of the theory: rather than separating Cash projects from Sexy projects, as I did with childcare, it illustrates how you can sort of combine them to allow your Sexy project to take up more of your time. This story is about a friend of mine who is trained as a CPA, but she’s also a visual artist.
For a long time, she would refer to herself as a CPA who makes art on the side, but then there was a period of time where she shifted the order to instead say: “I’m an artist, and I work as a CPA on the side”. It almost felt shameful to her when she would say that her art was her primary identity and admit that her being a CPA was “just for money”, but then there was a moment when she realized she was actually her own biggest patron. She’s a great CPA, she’s good with money, and as long as she could maintain clear boundaries around her CPA work vs. her art work,she essentially got to spend the majority of the year making art every single day. Only around tax time each year did she need to put the art on the back burner and focus more on her CPA work. It was a beautiful shift to see my friend acknowledge that she really is an artist, even when her art wasn’t selling much yet. By placing these boundaries on her time and prioritizing her projects, she allowed herself to become the primary patron of her own artistic capacity.
When I got back into coaching after taking years off to transition out of my marriage and be a full-time mom, I was not making as much money as I would have liked. It’s important to understand that you probably won’t either. We have this idea that if we’re doing anything that isn’t our dream or our passion or our highest purpose, then you shouldn’t be doing it. But this simply isn’t true. I do so many things each day that have nothing to do with my greatest passion. I take care of the house, and I take care of my children, and I do all kinds of things to support my business and my team that aren’t things at the top of my ‘love to do list’. Every day I get to do ‘sexy’ work and I also do both mundane and ‘cash’ work. All of these are what make my life and business work, flow and thrive.
I talk a lot more about this in my recent video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YndRBWEaGHc
Check it out if you want to delve deeper into this idea.
Like what you're reading?
To receive relational practices and posts like this, sign up here.