On being only a wife.

I often used to daydream about being able to give up my job and spend the long days meeting with friends in hip coffee shops, devouring books from the latest must read list, and cooking delicious meals that didn’t have a thirty minute time limit and come out of a packet with M&S; written on the front. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who truly love their job, I think all of us have had that feeling at some point. 

Invariably my wishful daydreams occurred on Monday mornings when I’d had to force myself to get out of bed whilst it was still dark and was scraping the ice off my car with an old gym membership card, or on a rainy Thursday afternoon when the clocks all seemed to have conspired to stop at 2.45 and refuse to move on towards the sacred 5.30 that meant I could crawl home after a stressful day and sink gratefully into that bottle of sauvignon blanc. 

Moving to Russia nearly three years ago now meant I got my wish. If I wanted to move, I would have to give up my career and become an ‘expat wife’. I didn’t go into it naively – I thought it through and discussed it over and over with people far older and wiser than me. With their help, I came to the conclusion that for me, moving overseas and the experiences that came with that, as well as being with Andy, meant more to me than my career.

The thing is though, as *******  says, you should be careful what you wish for.

I’d not realised though how intrinsically my self worth was linked to my career. 

I’d not realised how people’s perceptions of you change when you don’t work.

I was still the same person, and yet once I’d received my p45 my opinions and beliefs didn’t quite hold the same value. Having worked in a male-orientated environment I’d always been capable of holding my own and was never afraid of speaking up and getting involved in discussion. But when meeting new people after I’d left my job, I felt a subtle shift in the way people treated me. 

An element of it might have been me projecting my feelings onto others, but it seemed that my opinion was no longer that of an equal, but of someone who was being humoured. I felt like my status had been reduced, and that I no longer had the right to have opinions on anything more than fashion or domestic issues. No matter that I actually had far more interest in politics than Andy, or that I had studied and worked in industry for ten years. I was now a ‘wife’ and should know my place. And in fact, talking to people about it, the really honest ones admitted that they would immediately make assumptions about a woman who didn’t work.  If I’m being honest; would I have made the same assumptions? Quite possibly. 

I would love to say that I managed to overcome this bias, or give some magic tips as to how to not let it bother you. But I didn’t do the honourable thing and play the big feminist and fight these prejudices. Nope. I just accepted them and took the really easy way out.  I got myself a job. 

Immediately my self worth grew. I felt like what I had to say was valid and relevant again. People (particularly the men in our new social group) suddenly started showing interest in my opinions and were willing to do more than just nod and smile when I talked. For the last two years I have been a working woman and felt good about it.

But now, what with the move to KL and the whole growing-a-baby thing, I find myself standing on the edge of unemployment again, wondering how I can make it work this time. Will it feel different because I’m not just a ‘wife’ now, but a ‘wife’ *and* a ‘mother’? Or is ‘mother’ also not seen as an identity worthy of an opinion? Should we let our jobs define us, or should we be proud of who we are, job or not?
Categories: Becoming a Mother, Life Experience, Money and Career, Our Favourite Posts
16 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted September 15, 2011 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this. I'm an expat wife in London and it has taken me over a year to be comfortable in that role. Over that year I feverishly tried to get a job, any job, to make me feel better. I found that I was happy being a wife, for now, because I know I'm more than that and my friends know it too.
    And now that I have come to terms with my self worth without the help of a career or job, opportunities are appearing.

    Enjoy KL. Enjoy yourself.

  2. Posted September 15, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    This is a brilliant post and has really struck a chord. Last year I took a big decision and quit a job I hated, that was stressing me out and forcing me to commute 3 hours a day, trashing my social life and making me miserable. I left to pursue a dream of becoming a science writer and documentary maker. When I quit I had nothing lined up, I just needed to get out of there so I made a leap of faith. My H2B was unendingly supportive, but like you I had no idea how much my self-worth was tied up in the simple matter of EARNING. Of having a JOB. I felt both worthless and pointless, and a failure.

    For the past year I've been freelancing part-time and trying to make my way as a writer, at times it has been so hard. Coming to terms with the fact that I am not contributing equally to our finances was difficult, I felt like a kept woman and I hated it. I felt like it took away some of my rights in the relationship. I should add that MrG never ever made me feel this way, but I couldn't stop it being in my head, that I had less right to say what I felt because I was not contributing. It sounds silly, but it's how I felt. Feel sometimes.

    I'd love to say I am now entirely secure about it, I'm not. I'm about to start a research Masters in Structural Biology, so apart from some part-time stuff I still won't be earning for the next year. What I know now (in my sane, rational moments, few and far between though they are!) is that what I contribute to our relationship isn't financial, at all. Finances don't really matter, because were the positions reversed I would gladly support MrG with everything I own and more.

    I do agree though that peoples's attitudes towards you change when you are unemployed, or being supported by a man. It goes against things we are supposed to be now. And it is hard, so hard to buck the trend and be true to what you and your relationship and situation needs from you.

    But you need to remind yourself I think that when you look in the mirror you are not just seeing a wife, or a mother, or a confused 20-something with a vague life plan that got lost somewhere along the way. You're much more than the sum of your day-to-day life, you're something special to a lot of people. But most of all, you are yourself, which is always always worth the world.

    Wow that was long. I should REALLY put some clothes on and go to work, this being on of those days that I am in fact working!

  3. Posted September 15, 2011 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I think a big part of it is that many women (me included) let our jobs define us. And if we let jobs define us, then that means we define other people by theirs. And so when they don't have one…it sends off alarms that they either incapable of securing a job, too lazy to get a job, or have wilfully chosen not to exercise their brains.

    It's the last one that troubles me the most – and the closest to my prejudices. I know there are ways of exercising a brain that aren't paid employment. So why do some people feel like opting out of the 9-5 is the easy way out? Is it resentment, that women who don't work are more financially comfortable? Not always true. Is it jealousy, that those women have taken a leap many of us would love to take but are too scared to? Quite possibly.

    Brave post, C…we likes!

  4. Posted September 15, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    That last point is interesting Anna, because I quit my job to get the freedom to use my brain more. My job was not mentally demanding, just stressful, whereas writing about science allowed me to use all my knowledge and creativity. Things that I had been missing desperately.

    I think one problem is that our society is so money-orientated that we can't always see a way to be successfully achieving, and using what we have, without being paid.

  5. Posted September 15, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    As do women who quit their job to devote their time to writing, for example. Katielease I think you're right about it beng a money = prestiege = self worth thing.

    I once read a comic where the main character was asked what she does for a living, and she said "I'm a writer", and she talked about her writing all the way through, and then at the end she was asked how she makes money and she said "oh I work 9-5 in a bank". I thought that was really refreshing.

  6. Esme
    Posted September 15, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Yes, yes, yes! This is a really brave post and I really admire you Clare for writing it. I think you're right to be anxious about your move, but you shouldn't focus on what you're NOT, you should think about what you ARE.

    Women are so hard on each other! All I want for my female (and male) friends is for them to be content with their lives. So if that, for you, means being a mother and wife and working part time then I will fully support you.

    I will be thinking of you Clare!


  7. Posted September 15, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    I know exactly how you feel and I think it is true what you say. I don't have a job and am a kept woman and as soon as someone finds that out their behaviour towards me changes totally.

    I have been told by friends that all I know about is fashion, tv and celeb gossip; despite me going to the same university as them and having a law degree. My opinions are totally dismissed and sometimes I am told it is good that my husband look after me because I couldn't cope in the real world.

    I did have a job in a big firm and was treated totally differently when I worked there.

    It is has been a struggle at times for me to change the way I define myself and realise that I am not totally worhless just because I don't work 9-5 in an office, and everyone's judgments haven't made it much easier.

    Sorry that turned into a rant.
    Love the honesty Clare and as long as you are happy stuff them! hehe!


  8. Sarah
    Posted September 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I love Clare's posts! I have to say though, amongst all the articles out there about choices to work or not work, and amongst my friends, I seem to be in the minority in that I have to – whether we have children or not! There's no way we could pay the bills and the mortgage without two of us working. I've never expected my husband to support me finacially, we met as equals and have always earnt roughly the same amount. It's not something I ever thought about at all until recently when all my friends started having babies, going part time and giving up work. It's not that I'm envious…I just feel like I missed out on some sort of 'grand plan'! Surely, in this day and age lots of people's mortgages are based on two people working full time? Maybe we should have started thinking about babies and work earlier – but who goes into a relationship or career looking at the future balance of earnings! x

  9. Posted September 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I have no experience of this personally, but I wanted to let you know about an author who might be really interesting to you – Robin Pascoe. (Full disclosure: she happens to be the mother of one of my closest friends). She is a career-oriented and independent woman who chose to move with her husband around the world as he worked for the foreign service. She has written about defining herself, about being a parent, etc.

    I can only imagine how difficult that role is, as I also define myself through my work.

  10. Posted September 15, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Relatively recently I made the difficult decision to change career following redundancy and declining opportunities in my industry.

    I went from a moderately well paid, interesting and highly creative job into the minimum wage zone, often doing very menial work to get my foot on the ladder. I have found it much harder to deal with than I expected. I definitely define myself by my job, and it's knocked my self worth even more than I'd anticipated.

    Writing my blog and doing pro bono work in my old role has kept me sane, and I can't tell you how good it has been to have my writing up here. At this point I have to say how grateful I am to AOW and its amazing community of (frankly very clever) women, for reminding me that I do actually have a brain.


  11. Mahj
    Posted September 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Penny, you managed to say in 3 concise paragraphs what I have been trying to word in my head all day! So thank you! And snaps on having the same experience.

    Clare, I think your fab. And so very well dressed. And you will be amazing in whichever role you pick for yourself, be it wife, mother or working lady.


  12. Posted September 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Hello AOW ladies! Am writing from our hol in Thailand as just needed to get my AOW fix while I'm away! And wanted to check up on how the party-I-was-so-gutted-to-miss had gone….photos soon please !!!

    Clare thanks so much for this blog post. It's great to see everyone's replies & different experiences. It's relevant to me as I'm just in the middle of a sabbatical& career direction change & I'm totally with you on "my job= my identity". I'm so grateful to have this time with the support of my hubby, and I feel lucky as not everyone could take the chances I'm taking. But at the same time it's scary and I'm trying not to lose my confidence and belief in myself. X

  13. Anonymous
    Posted September 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    I think being an At Home Wife is a different beast entirely to an At Home Mum…as far as perceptions go. In my social circles, you are lucky if you can afford to be an AHM. I don't know one woman, who has no children, who does not work. There are so many opportunities in our world that the prospect of all time being leisure time makes no sense to me. You won't find yourself at a loose end with a baby around, anyway – there's always something to keep you busy physically but your very engaged brain will want to seek out some independent stimulation, and I have no doubt that you'll find it!

  14. Posted September 16, 2011 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Oh my. So true.

    I very much need a job but I want/need to get better too.

    A different situation but frustrating nonetheless!

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