The Weight of the Provider

I have a friend who like me, also works in the IT industry. But what he’d really like to do is be a winemaker. The frustrated winemaker in him expresses itself in several ways – remoteness, depression, anger and resentment. But he stays the course with his job because he has a family that he wants to provide for.

Of all the things that have come with choosing to become a single mom of two kids, the most unexpected for me is the increased understanding and empathy for men. Which isn’t to say that I was unsympathetic to men before having kids. It’s just that for all the time I’ve spent working, loving, climbing and being friends with men, none of that prepared me for the insight that came with taking on the role of Provider for my family.

Since I graduated from college, I have had a career as a computer consultant and business owner. I have provided for myself, purchased my first house by myself, financed my adventures, contributed to the household when I was married and then once I was divorced, figured out how to afford starting a family.

When I say Provider I mean more than all that. It’s the feeling that hits me in the bottom of my gut when I think about my children having the means to have a comfortable, carefree, better-off-than-I-was childhood. It’s far more than money; it’s a feeling of being responsible at the very basic level for these kids’ existence so I must be able to Provide for a charmed life. It’s more instinctive than logical.

The first time that I felt the Provider responsibility, I was weighing the many options for healthcare for my family, all of them a small fortune. I was sitting at my desk looking over the bronze, silver and gold options as if the companies were awarding medals for those who can afford to pay for basic care. Tightness gripped me not only for this decision, but for all gold options I want to provide for my kids care and education.

What became perfectly clear was that all the years that I’d worked before that moment were about money with a small “m.” Now it was about Providing with a capital “P.” Baby needs new shoes is not just a cute phrase, it’s a gut-wrenching motivation!

I have a lot of pride when I’m doing well as a Provider but when I’m gripped by the fear of being the Provider, I feel like my base emotions are winning out. I do not feel gracious, accepting, creative, selfless, or enlightened. When in that feverish haze of scarcity and single-mindedness, I can’t see a way to both evolve as a person and provide for a family.

What saves me in this situation is that although it takes balls to choose to parent alone, no one expects me to have them, so I am free to be flexible, a quality that I think has been deeply instilled in women for generations. I’m free to admit I’m terrified some of the time, which bleeds out some of the pressure. I lived more years without the expectations of the Provider than with, so I can recognize the unhelpful expectations fairly easily.

I know many women who have taken on the role of the Provider and my experience shows me that women can be just as gripped by the role and pressures of the Provider. But my new understanding makes me suspect that the Provider may be so deeply inculcated for men that they feel it whether or not they have a family, whether or not they have accepted the role the Provider, and whether or not they are successful at it.

As women, we may not have reached equal pay for equal work, but we keep pushing forward to redefine expectations for our role in society, in the workplace and in our families. But I wonder if we are doing enough to help men grow with us. Because as women change it drastically changes not only our expectations for our partners but the model for what a healthy relationship looks like. We may need to help empower men to measure their worth in being useful rather than successful. It may not change how the sexes choose to divide responsibilities but it could help to introduce more flexibility in how we view each other.

I recently saw the results of a study that showed that when fathers have daughters, it affects their beliefs of whether or not women should be expected to conform to traditional gender roles. But it makes me wonder why I’ve never seen a study of whether sons should or should not conform to traditional gender roles.

There is a story that John Lennon used to tell, “When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

It’s a funny story, especially coming from a man who was very successful.  It gives me great sympathy for my friend who wants to provide and also be a winemaker. I hope he finds a way to be happy.  

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15 thoughts on “The Weight of the Provider

  1. I am the main Provider for my family, and proud to be, so is my husband. I am lucky being married to someone very modern in his mind and behaviour. On top of that I taught my son to do all the house works, ironing including. All my women friends have been impressed by that but my mother (she is over 80) finds it a bit strange 🙂

    1. Wow – I love hearing how you’ve pushed this forward. So impressive! And funny about your mom – the older generations could find it strange, I’m sure!

  2. Glad to read this. I’ve had several women friends divorce and become providers. I’ve seen how hard it is. I wish more women would start using that title.

  3. Having raised 2 children thru some very hard times, the Provider duty kept me working some horrific and demeaning jobs that I would have otherwise dropped in a heartbeat. Probably kept me out of a divorce too. When Provider kicks in, it becomes the most important thing in life. Sometimes the only thing that matters.

    Both kids have been an adult for a decade or more, I’m retired, and it still tugs on my heartstrings. I have a granddaughter now.

    1. Wow, what interesting history and perspective you contribute, Fred. “Sometimes the only thing that matters.” Yes – a powerful pull indeed.

      Congratulations on your retirement — and your granddaughter. Both but especially the latter must bring you lots of joy!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Wonderful post Wynne. I feel this weight as a provider. I’m at a point where I honestly don’t know if I can keep up with the pressure my work is demanding of me. It’s certainly been affecting my mental health. I worry about my longer term health too because of the nature of my job. Always working through the night. I can sympathise with your friend. I feel awfully conflicted about leaving because of what it might mean for the future I can provide for my kids. I fear I would be letting my family down/that I might fail if I try to do something else. Luckily I have a very supportive wife who is willing to go back to work and get a corporate job. But I feel bad about even asking her to do that. I think you raise a very important issue here. Wishing you well Wynne. Thank you for bringing it up. 🙏

    1. It sounds like you do have an awesome wife and that you guys are considering all the important things. As I’ve moved through the Provider, I know exactly what you mean about feeling like you might fail if you try to do something else. But I’ve finally landed on that being irrelevant because if I fail at something, I know myself well enough to know that it’ll not be a final failure, just a redirection. And what our families need most of all is us as healthy and whole people that can engage with all of ourselves because we aren’t locking our passion in the closet.

      Thanks for reading and the very insightful comment! Wishing you all the best!

      1. Thanks Wynne. This is exactly what I need to hear and understand. Yes, I have an extraordinary wife. Wishing you well 🙏

  5. My late father-in-law, who was an accountant before he retired, took up sculpture and created many beautiful pieces when he retired. He spent his days listening to classical music, and loved going to the opera. My late husband once said to me that, though he appreciated the sacrifices his father had made to support his family, he never wanted to work at a job he didn’t love. I wonder what my father-in-law might have done with his life in an ideal world! I think many people have chosen careers with the primary motivation of making money, seeking more creative pursuits and fulfilling longtime dreams in retirement. How lucky are those who find success in careers that are meaningful to them!

    Wynne, thank you for sharing your reflections on career choice and single parenting. Wishing you all the best! <3

    1. What an interesting story about your father-in-law, Cheryl. I love the triumphant aspect of him being able to fulfill his creativity when he retired. You said it so well when you said “How lucky are those who find success in careers that are meaningful to them!”

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Cheryl. I really appreciate you sharing your perspective and experience! Sending my best – Wynne

  6. Wynne, I was intrigued reading your new found perspective and unexpected new found empathy as well. I really liked what you said about women redefining our roles in society, and that it also means men will have to redefine theirs, too. Flexibility is key in that, as well as empathy and understanding of others. Thanks for this post, definitely some food for thought…

  7. I know many people go through the terror of being The Provider. Chances are my husband is still going through it to an extent because both of us are disabled. I was a single mom of one child for 14 years. Perhaps it was because I worked for the government most of those years, but I’ll tell you, I didn’t feel the pinch of being The Provider. I always thought of my son and me being one unit against the world. And we did okay all those years too.

    1. What a beautiful perspective you contribute. There is such solidarity when we band together as a unit and I love hearing how that held you all those years it was just you and your son. And from your posts, it seems like you and your husband have figured out a healthy relationship with money so hopefully the Provider doesn’t weight too heavily.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, G.J. I love hearing your perspective! Best – Wynne

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