|Suitably lonely looking road.
Before I go any further, a SAHM is a "stay at home mother," o readers who are not acquainted with Christian lifestyle disputes on Twitter.
Occasionally I go over my past to find my life-changing mistakes: a terrible, demoralising habit. It is tempting to think that everyone else was handed a foolproof template of "What To Do and How To Do It" by their parents when they were 16. I am now inclined to think that almost everyone in my generation (X/Y) just stumbled from this imperfect decision to that, backtracked, leapt forward, and generally found themselves on a life-sized game of Snakes and Ladders.
It has become a cliche for social conservative women to write essays detailing how "feminism lied to us." Although certain famous feminists most certainly tell lies, I'm more inclined to blame our reading and viewing material from preventing us from putting down roots into reality.
It is a mistake, for example, to over-identify with the heroines of Regency romances. Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Bennett, who never had to work for a living, was the equivalent of today's multi-millionaire. Mr. Darcy was the equivalent of a 21st century billionaire. I'm unlikely ever to have seen a modern-day Elizabeth Bennett, unless she came north for the Knights of Malta Ball and bid for that jaw-droppingly expensive holiday on Gozo. Thinking we might be an Elizabeth Bennett of our time is an error for all whose photograph has not graced the pages of Country Life or Tatler.
I forget when I realised that it was a mistake to grow up always reading and studying books whose authors and characters think that having to work for your living (even if male, but definitely if female) is a brutal misfortune. That was as much as mistake as to think that people with the requisite brains and background are always blessed with high-status "careers" instead of jobs.
Meanwhile, I had a magical feeling that I would always be financially okay unless I got addicted to drugs. (All adults and Time magazine rubbed it in well that drugs were a one-way ticket to earthly hell.) And, generally speaking, I was usually (not always) financially (just) okay until I found myself asking an HR man from my husband's work how much money I would get if/when he died.
Guess what was the most traumatic episode of my life. Go on. Guess.
Listen up, prospective young--and current--SAHMs! If your husband is lying in hospital and it is very possible he will die in the next six months, you do not want to have conversations about money with strangers. Neither do you want to take papers to the hospital for your horribly ill husband to sign, so that you are not left homeless and destitute. And you also do not want to freak out that the postman left something that cost you £30 in the wrong place because you're still processing a financial trauma that happened five years before.
So you can reject feminism all you like and write splendid Tweets about how much you enjoy spending your days in the kitchen with your children cooking and then going out with them on nature walks, but I implore you to plan for your husband's eventual last sickness and death. Hopefully those sad things won't happen until he is 79.3+, but it could happen when he is 29. It could happen when he is 26. I once went to the funeral of a married man who died at 26. He had been married for only six months, and his unborn baby was due in five.
The fact is that your husband is going to die, and you don't know when. This is why you, the prospective SAHM who as yet does not have a husband, let alone dependent children, are going to LEARN A TRADE, and for the time being AVOID DEBT, GET A JOB, and SAVE SOME MONEY. You are also going to FIND OUT HOW MUCH LIFE COSTS, even if your parents have always sheltered you from this or told you that it's none of your business. (To dip a toe in the water, ask them/him/her how much the electricity bill is.) You are also going to READ BOOKS ON HOUSEHOLD FINANCE/FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE.
When a young man you actually would fancy marrying begins to talk to you about marriage ("Would you ever consider marrying me?" is how one of my friends put it to his girlfriend), this is a good time to ask him if he thinks he can support a SAHM and a flock of children and, if so, how. (Incidentally, this is also a good time to bring up the adoption issue because not all men are keen on raising what they have traditionally called "other men's children.")
Hopefully the young man has a solid job or career plan. (If his marriage plan is to travel the world as a busker, ponder if you will still want to pass the hat when you're 9 months pregnant.) If he already has a job/career, then he should look into such things as health insurance and workplace pension plans and how they relate to his future wife and children. He should also, when he is young and in the pink of health, buy life insurance. Immediately after marrying, you must both make your wills. The first three months you are married, write down everything you spend so you can realistically create the backbone of a budget.
When you buy a home, make sure your name is on the deeds. Heck, make sure your name is on everything. This is not because you are a money-grubbing gold digger. It is because you have entrusted a man with your life and the lives of your future children and you are vulnerable. And it is also, by the way, because he is vulnerable. Men look all tough and strong but all kinds of dodgy cells are lurking in their hearts and brains and other places, biding their time to wipe them out and break your heart.
So to make this a handy list, the prospective SAHM must:
1. Learn a trade or profession to fall back on if her husband becomes terminally ill or simply dies.
2. Do this without going into large amounts of debt.
3. Use her pre-married life to get a job, get out of debt, and save as much as she can.
4. Learn how much life for young couples with children in her area costs. (Obviously 2 adults and a baby living in a one-bedroom flat in Dundee spend less on housing than 2 adults and a baby living in a townhouse in central Edinburgh.)
5. Read books on household finance/financial independence.
6. Ask suitors who have started to make marriage noises if they can afford to support a SAHM and, if yes, how.
7. Ask suitors how they would feel about adopting, should he and the prospective SAHM be unable to beget/conceive children. If this really is a deal-breaker (it wasn't for me), say so.
8. Encourage her fiancé to take out spouse-covering health insurance, join workplace pension schemes, and buy life insurance.
9. After marriage, make a will and encourage her husband to make a will.
10. Begin to record everything the couple spends so that they have enough data to make a workable budget.
11. When the couple buys a home, makes sure her name is on the deeds.
For my next post, I will offer advice for keeping your husband alive.