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Dating Advice #197 - The Working Wife?

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

In her family, the man was always the bread-winner. Should she insist on the same?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I have read many of your articles and they all make perfect sense. Also, I wrote to you before and you really helped me out a great deal. Now, I need more advice.

I met this great guy two months ago. We get along perfectly. However, we were raised differently and this is causing major problems. For example, his mother is a working mother and mine is not. His salary can't support two people, or even a family, and as a result if we ever got married, I would have to work.

My parents, on the other hand, are totally opposed to this idea. They think the man should be motivated and a hustler, and he should be able to support his wife and family no matter what it takes, and he shouldn't make his wife work.

Another issue is the gap in our ages. He is 25 and I am 18. He feels weird going out with someone younger, while this is common in my community and I am comfortable with it.

Because of all of this, he said that we will wait and be friends for now. The problem is that I don't want to wait, so I am seeing others, but every time I do I feel guilty.

Should I wait for him? Should I continue seeing others? Should I go against my parents and work, or should I forget about this guy and miss out on a wonderful person? Help!


Dear Maggie,

To start, we would like to say that it is less important to resolve the issue of whether or not you should work, and more important to figure out why that issue came up in the first place.

We can see from your letter that your parents are playing a considerable role in your decision-making process. Since you are 18 and just emerging into adulthood, that is understandable. They are probably giving you a great deal of advice because they believe that you are still maturing and need to develop a stronger sense of self and judgment. Even if you are a very mature 18-year-old, your parents are right in this assessment, since young adults (18-22) continue to develop their cognitive abilities and moral sense.

During this time period, men and women also go through a developmental process called "individuation" from their parents. In other words, they begin to see themselves as separate from their parents, develop their own view of life, and make choices and decisions based on their own assessment of circumstances. When they make these assessments, they may choose to consider the advice or outlook of their parents, but ultimately make their own decisions. You will see this happening to you over the next few years.

You are not be ready to get married until you've individuated and are able to make your own lifestyle choices.

The fact that your parents' views currently plays such a great role in your decision-making process shows that you are at the beginning stages of the individuation process. That's perfectly okay -- most 18-year-olds are at a similar stage of development. However, we'd like you to be mindful of the fact that you will not be ready to get married and build a life with someone until you've individuated from your parents and are able to make your own lifestyle choices.

We don't know how long this process will take. We do know that over the course of the next two or three years, your view of life, goals for the future, way of reasoning things through, and even aspects of your personality will continue to develop. You and this man may find that you are moving in different directions, or are no longer a good fit as a couple because of these changes. For this reason, it isn't a good idea for people as young as you to put the relationship on hold and "wait." You aren't going to be the same person a year or two from now.

We suggest that you allow yourselves to move in your own directions and date other people without feeling guilty. A few years down the line, your paths may cross and you'll find out that after all of the changes you've been through, you're right for each other. However, there is a strong likelihood that this will not be the case.

Mommy Track

The other issue we'd like to discuss is how to deal with your parents' insistence that you should be financially supported by your husband. This is tied into the concept of individuation. A married couple should make decisions about their lifestyle on their own, based on what is important to them. Certainly, they will be influenced by the way they were raised, but they will take many other factors into account.

You probably have observed that in contemporary society, most women work at some point during marriage. Many do so for the stimulation it provides, others do so out of economic necessity, and most for both reasons. Women can choose to work full- or part-time, stop working or go on the "mommy track" when their children are growing up, or work only at times that family economics require their contribution.

Others enter the work force only when their children are adults, or when they are compelled to support themselves because of divorce or because of their husband's illness or death.

The two of you will balance many priorities in addition to income.

Even though your parents feel strongly that a husband should make sacrifices to fully support his wife and children, you and the man you someday marry will ultimately make this decision on your own. While we hope that you will choose someone who is motivated to do the best he can for his family, and that the two of you will balance many priorities in addition to income. These may include spending time together and with your children, being involved in your community, and having outside interests.

And life doesn't always go according to plan -- you may need to work even if you don't really want to do so.

We hope that you give yourself the opportunity to open whatever doors you may need to enter, by getting the education and training that will enable you to have an interesting career that provides a decent income. Even if you choose not to work now, you'll have the ability to do so if the need arises or if you decide to work later. That's just a smart way for a woman to protect herself.

Rosie & Sherry

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