Saturday, September 29, 2012

"So, will you stay home?"

I have been asked this question a lot lately, mostly at work. For reference, my school is in a very wealthy suburb of Boston, and for the most part, women (although we have a couple of stay at home fathers) stay home when they have children. Not to say there aren't any working moms, but even those women usually stayed home for some extended period of time when they had babies. Additionally, there has been a series of teachers at school who quit after their maternity leave. So, I get it. They are asking a logical question. Often, it is even followed by a heartfelt expression of how disappointing it would be if I did stay home. It is meant to be an earnest question and one that is even a compliment.

But, here's the rub.

It's starting to become a painful topic, and one that brings regret and guilt to the surface. For KG and I, it is just not an option for one of us to stay home. Financially, it would be disastrous. I've discussed here before how we have been on our own (money-wise) since we were 18 and each brought some debt to our relationship. In the 11+ years we have been together, our debt grew. We have spent the last several years chipping away at it with moderate success, both working full-time, medium-ish income jobs. But, there is still a long way to go, and that isn't even touching my education debt, which I'm pretty sure I'll have until I'm 80.

We are not lazy, careless, or extravagant people. We rent, we have taken one major vacation in over a decade, KG drives a '97 Camry, and I'm in an '03 CRV. High rollers over here. But, it seems like no matter how conservative we are, we can only get so far. There is no possibility of family help with things like a house, etc. It's just us, trying to make it work. So, living on one income just isn't an option. Do I regret not being more careful with money in my late teens and early/mid twenties? Yes. Do I wish one of us made a lot more money (i.e. went into a more lucrative career path?) Yes. But, we are where we are.

Even when I fantasize about being able to stay home, I get a crushing blow of reality. For example, I was in the car trying to imagine a scenario where it might work, i.e. "What if I never ate out again? What if we rented for another 5 years?" Then, it hit me. ALL of our benefits (medical, dental, retirement) are through my job. KG works for a small company that offers none of these. So, even if we figured out some hypothetical way to make being a stay at home parent work, it would not be me that got that opportunity. That brought a wave of sadness. This is a done deal.

The kicker is that BOTH of us would kill for the CHOICE to be a stay-at-home parent for any significant length of time. I've mentioned how head-over-heels in love with this baby KG is, and I'm pretty sure he would carry the baby and give birth himself if he could. He would be an incredible stay-at-home dad. And I have no idea how I'll feel during my maternity leave. Maybe I'll be dying to go back to work, or maybe I'll feel crushed at the thought. There is no way to predict that now, with no experience in this area. But given the current economy, and the lack of governmental support for new parents, this is the way it is. There is no choice for us.

Sometimes I think people (those I work with, and even some commenters on this blog) assume everyone has this choice. Some have even insinuated that I am selfish or strange for going back to work and leaving The Nugget in daycare (and with my father-in-law 2 days per week) this spring. I get those questions like, "Are you sure you want to do that? I would never leave my baby with strangers," and my heart sinks. They just don't know how lucky they are to be able to make that decision purely based on preference, and not on survival.

Is their perspective skewed? Don't most people have to work when they have kids? 

There's another layer to this. The infertile layer. I had to work for years to have this baby. We went through so much pain and disappointment to get this far. And yet, because of our financial situation, I am sacrificing some really important time with the baby. I suppose I am luckier than most - I get 8 to 10 weeks off in the summer to be with The Nugget. But still, it feels like after all we've been through, it feels like a loss to not get to be with him 100% of the time.

These are the times when I wish I had a rewind button and could make different choices at ages 20, 21, 22... which might have left us with more options. But, instead, I've got to come to terms with the place we are in, which compared to many isn't so bad. Right?

15 comments:

  1. :( I think this is a very valid reason to be upset. The only way it could maybe, possibly work out is if your DH got a different job that made much more and had benefits, but I don't know what he does and there is definitely something to be said for job stability in this economy.

    And you are not selfish or strange to leave the Nugget in daycare. I hope you have found a place that both you and Nugget love so it won't be so hard. You said you are a teacher - will you be able to skip out of there and pick him up right at 3:30 or whenever?

    Maybe DH could keep his eyes open for something with better benefits and then you could make up for that time (plus some) in daycare by homeschooling :)

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    1. Well I work a half hour from daycare, so the earliest I'll be able to get him is at 4pm. But, with teaching, I often have meetings and such after school. So, I'll just get him as soon as I possibly can.

      DH always keeps his eye out but it's a tough market. He's in customer service. Maybe we should move to one of the countries those jobs are exported to... :)

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  2. P.S. - I think that is extremely sweet that your DH would "carry the baby and birth it himself if he could". My DH is definitely a lot more connected than a lot of soon-to-be dads (or so I hear), but he has told me many times that if we relied on him we wouldn't be having children lol.

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  3. This is so hard! I too wish I could stay home long term. I was able to save up for awhile in order to extend my leave to about six months. But there is guilt that that money could also go towards startin a college fund, adding to our measily retirement savings, I something else that feels less luxurious than staying home for six months. I rationalize it by thinking that even though I won't be making money in that time, I also won't be spending money on day care for a little longer and I can try to save on diapers by doing cloth while I'm home, etc. the frustrating fact of life, especially in these parts is that unless one member of a couple is in finance or high tech, there is no choice but to have two incomes. Especially if you ever want to retire or send a kid to college. It blows my mind when I see some of these non-working moms who I'm sure fit right in at your school with three and four children. I can't even begun to fathom how much money their husbands must pull in. But, not everyone can go to MIT and create a million dollar startup, right? Somebody has to teach their kids. We just have to do the best we can. And you are. I happen to think a few days a week of daycare is beneficial for socialization, and probably helps strengthen baby's immune system as well.

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  4. Yeah, i think they're perception is skewed. I think about half of parents in ourthe area have the financial opportunity to stay at home. But a lot like us, have to have double income families to live in the bay area. I'm going back, but thinking now that i might want to take a little more time if possible.

    I've gotten a lot of questions at work about leaving my baby in childcare, as if everyone has a mother nearby that they can leave their child with.

    It's tough, but our babies will be fine, social, well adjusted kids with a strong work ethic, and responsible mamas!

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  5. In an era where people are now pushing for staying at home vs. working, I think this post is an important one. The fact is, some people don't have the option. Does this make them less deserving to be parents? No. I've met plenty of wonderful women who work full time. In a lot of ways, it can actually be a benefit to the child. Others find that having one partner stay at home is best financially, so they make that decision. There's obvious benefits to this, but there are sacrifices too.

    The point of all of this, one can't judge. Telling someone that they would never leave their child in the hands of strangers is assuming that they had the exact same options as you in life, which is incredibly liminal.

    So, stop apologizing and feeling guilty. You are doing nothing wrong and I'm certain The Nugget will have a wonderful childhood because he has you and KG for parents. And at the end of the day, growing up in a household filled with love and acceptance IS the most important thing. I see too many young adults who grew up with everything else but that and the damage done is unrepairable.

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  6. My mom went right back to work after she had me. I'm not sure if she could have stayed home, probably not at that time, but I know that she didn't want to. She was extremely career focused and I really respected that my whole life. I grew up in daycare, but no one raised me except my mom and dad. If anything, I always thought it made me better by exposing me to different people and situations early on.

    I never thought about the "infertile layer" to this whole decision but you're right - it's sad that after working so hard for so long for our children, that we shouldn't get to spend every waking moment with them if we want. So while I completely support the idea of putting your kids in daycare full time, I also completely understand your desire to stay home.

    One thought: I worked at one point for a 4th grade teacher in Mass. who was able to do a part-time schedule. She was working Monday - Wednesday and home with the kids Thurs-Fri. Seemed like a kind of "best of both worlds" scenario but I'm sure it's not possible for everyone.

    Wishing you the best of luck in whatever you decide!

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    1. Was she a homeroom teacher? Or did she teach a special subject like art or music? I can't imagine being able to teach a homeroom position part time! Lucky her!

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  7. If we ever get to this point we too will have the same issue. We have a lot of debt and if we have to go the expensive route to conceive then chances are we are going to have more. I know you will inevitably feel guilty no matter what anyone says but try not to. You love this baby so much and worked so hard for him - he couldn't have better parents even if they did stay at home xox

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  8. This is a very hard topic. And one I am thinking about too. I don't have much of a choice either. If we didn't have IVF debt along with car payments and substatial credit card debt, I would try to stay home. But...that is not our lot. Instead of paying those last few things off and saving, we put all out extra money into medical bills and infertility treatments just to have this baby. It's so hard, because I would love to take a year off and raise Raz, but I know I can't.
    You aren't alone in feeling sad and guilty. I just want you to know that people have to make this decision all the time and it's a reality that many of us just have to work.

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  9. Thank your for this post. I was writing one about our financial situation as well, but more about affording fertility treatments. I totally understand your problem and when we are eventually blessed with a viable pregnancy, we will feel the same way you and KG feel. For now, enjoy your pregnancy, then enjoy your little Nugget and we'll be here for you when the time comes to go back to work. And tell everyone who asks if you're going to stay home to stuck it. Jk! Hugs!

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  10. My husband and I live in a neighborhood where there are a lot of stay at home moms. While that would be awesome, part of the reason that we are in that neighborhood is because the only house we could afford was a major fixer upper! Needless to say, we absolutely need my salary to pay our bills so if I ever get pregnant, I will hopefully get 2-3 months off of work but that's it.

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  11. I've been thinking about you alot lately and this post. I completely understand how you are feeling. I am still not pregnant and yet I think about this all the time. How I would love the opportunity even to stay home, but because I we were not fortunate enough to have children the traditional way, and payed a fortune for fertility treatments and now are stuck with the debt, when we do have kids, I will HAVE to work. No ifs and or buts, our debt is so high because we desire a baby so badly. I find myself lately in an even more desperate situation... still no baby and contemplating adoption and not able to go forward with this as we have no money to even begin the process and if we did and we were blessed by a baby... then we need to come up with money for daycare.. which again is alot of money. I feel very backed into a wall right now and feel like MONEY is keeping me from a baby and it is such a heavy feeling. Please know that there are others out there that feel for you.

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    1. Thank you so much for this. Sending you big hugs.

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  12. This post is so needed in a world where some people just don't get it. Just remember that day care will give your child the opportunity and skills to be able to relate to other children which will be a benefit for the rest of their lives. Please don't feel guilty at all!

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