Double Income No Kids to Stay at Home Mom – When Going Back to Work Doesn’t Work
Summary: The plan was for her to go back to work after four months maternity leave. What were we thinking?
My partner took about four and half months off from her job as a preschool teacher to have our daughter. One month before and three and a half months after. The plan was that she would go back to work and resume our regular lives.
She was only going to go back part-time so she would work a shorter schedule by coming in later at 10:30 and then working till the end of the day 2:30. She’d had the job for nine years, and for a preschool teacher was at the top of her pay scale in our area, but her take home pay was still low. About $850 per month for the part time schedule.
I, on the other hand, was self-employed. I had my own graphic design business and worked from home. The plan was that after she went back to work I would take care of our daughter and work on and off when possible. Mostly when she was asleep. When my partner got home I’d be free to devote all of my remaining hours to my job while she took care of our daughter.
Well the harsh realities of parenthood hit fast and hard. It was clear after one week that there would be no way to slip in a bit of work here and there. Perhaps answer the phone or handle an email or two, but that was it.
I was too busy doing feedings, changing diapers, taking her for walks and playing with her to do anything else with any proficiency. The idea that she would sleep most of the time was clearly not a reality.
Because we still shared one car, and I needed to preserve my sanity, my daughter and I started going to lunch regularly and then would swing by the preschool to pick my partner after work ended.
When I got to the restaurant she’d still be asleep from the car ride. I’d carefully detach her from the car seat base and sneak into the restaurant with the canopy down. I’d place her carrier on the table and then order. The whole trick was to eat as quickly as possible before she woke up. If I got through half the meal I was lucky. I got really good at rocking her carrier while using the other hand to eat.
By the time we all got home I had a pile of unfinished work and a bunch of anxious clients while my partner was already a bit exhausted from teaching preschool all morning.
We did this for six weeks before we started to wonder if we really HAD to do this. We were sacrificing my higher earning potential for her lower end fixed income. She was spending time teaching other people’s children when she really wanted to be with her own. Neither one of us was happy.
So we sat down and ‘”crunched the numbers” and realized that I could probably make up for her income just on increased efficiency alone. Also my business was really starting to take off and all indications were that it would continue.
So with much guilt in her heart my partner broke the news to her employer – she won’t be coming back.
Rather than being disappointed they said they were actually surprised she came back at all after the pregnancy.
“Yes, go be with your child, we’ll be fine,” they told her.
So that was it. We went from double income no kids to single income stay at home mom and it’s been that way for seven years now. It was one of the smartest things we ever did.
Making the Transition from Financial Independence to Stay at Home Mom
One of the hardest transitions to stay at home mom was my partner’s loss of her previous identity. For fifteen years she had been my partner, but she was also financially independent and childless. The same was true for me. We were a couple, but clearly two individuals as well.
We had our own checking accounts, credit cards and personal spending money. When it came time to the pay bills, one of us would transfer funds into the others account to cover our share of the expenses. That person would then write a single check to whomever we owed money to. We bought our own food and when we went to dinner or a movie we each paid our own way. Our shared expenses weren’t split 50/50. The proportion we paid was based upon our income. I always made a little more than her, so I paid a larger share. This fit nicely into our egalitarian political views.
However, when she no longer had her own income it created an unanticipated problem. She’d always used her own money and checking account to pay for things but now her bank account was empty. At first we tried to do something that on hindsight now seems absurd. I would transfer money into her account so she could use it for personal expenses, paying her own bills like personal credit cards and to pay for her “half” of everything else. It was terribly inefficient and I think we kept this arrangement for a year or so.
“I think we should close your accounts and just put you on my mine. It doesn’t make sense for me to keep transferring money to your account so you can pay your bills and handle your personal expenses when it’s all coming from one source anyway.”
“I know, it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s hard to give up my own accounts. I’ve always had my own money and been independent. I’ve been making my own money since I was twelve. It makes me a little sad that it’s over.”
“Well I’m also loosing my accounts as well. Once we put you on everything, anything in there is just as much yours as it is mine. It’s like that already, this is just making it official. So “my money” is no longer “mine” either.”
So that’s what we did. We made all of my accounts joint and paid everything, whether my credit cards or hers, whether personal or shared expenses, from the same accounts.
So When Are You Going back to Work?
When people ask my partner when she plans to go back to work she has a snappy reply, “I already have a job, I’m a full-time mom.”
For some reason most people think that being a full-time parent, homemaker and school volunteer is not as personally fulfilling as working for a paycheck at a company. Like it’s just something you do because you have to and you would naturally would like to escape back to the workforce as soon as possible.
Yet how many people would keep their paycheck jobs if they suddenly won the lottery. Experience tells us few if any. However, how many people would abandon their family and home and stop volunteering at their child’s school if one day they woke up a multi-millionaire. Probably no one. In fact, you’d probably use that financial security to increase your commitment to family duties and volunteer work.
It seems that the concept of work for money as the path to personal fulfilment and self-worth has been instilled in us so strongly that we internalize it even though most of would drop our jobs in a second if we could.
And truth be told, I don’t want her going back to work unless she’s really into it, no matter how old our daughter is. The house is run magnificently and our daughter is never without access to at least one parent at all times. It’s something that neither one of us want to give up anytime soon.
The Working Mom – A Historical Perspective to Keep Us Sane
This isn’t about what’s bad or what’s good, it’s about what is. We did the double income no kids thing for 15 years and it was great. We been doing the full time mom, single income thing for seven years and it’s also been great. Each situation required it’s own solution.
Moms have always worked, both inside and outside the home. Same with dads. The alledged conflict between full-time moms and working moms is largely a fabrication of bored pundits, political analyst, and journalists trying to justify their existence. In the real world people don’t think along such simplistic lines.
The concept of working for a company for a paycheck is a very recent idea dating only back to the industrial revolution. Before that, most people were farmers, merchants or trades people who largely worked independently. The rest were migrant workers and slaves. Putting in twenty years at a company doing the same thing every day just didn’t exist for most people because there were no huge corporate factories to work in and the economy was local and fragmented.
Much of the new urban planning ideas to integrate our communities are not new at all. Mixing housing and business has always been the norm. If you were a baker, you lived above your bakery. Tailors lived behind their shop and moms made clothes, preserves and house hold items to trade and sell to others while taking miscellaneous domestic jobs whenever they could. Only the very wealthy and privileged knew of leisure. There were no social programs to keep you from falling through the cracks and no pensions for retirement. Children helped by apprenticing with their parents and were working and learning real world skills at a very early age. People didn’t think about balancing work and family because they were completely integrated already.
Do I want to go back to the world my great grandparents lived in? Heck no. I like good public sanitation, affordable consumer goods, and easy access to credit. It’s nice to know that if my neighbors should become unemployed there are programs like food stamps and unemployment benefits to keep them from living on the streets. But conversely the conservative fantasy about a man supporting his family on a single paycheck while the mom raises three kids in a big suburban home is just that, a fantasy. This modern throwback to a “simpler time” was only available to a select portion of our population and really only existed from the end of World War II to the recessions and globalization movements of the late 70′s. That’s it, maybe 30 years tops, yet we as a nation, our media and especially social and economic conservatives cling to this historical anomaly as if it always existed.
The irony of this fantasy, that conservatives are apparently oblivious to, is that it was largely the result of high paying union wages and strong government stimulus and infrastructure programs like the Federal Highway Act. Taxes were high and the federal government pumped billions into the economy in the form of defense research. Returning soldiers were guaranteed a free university education through the GI Bill and FHA approved loans made homeownership a reality for the first time to millions of families. The government provided huge economic incentives to build out the suburbs, to keep gasoline cheap and to keep the economy moving forward.
Even the computer that I’m writing this very post with and especially the internet that delivers it to your home couldn’t had been possible without massive government subsidies and investments. While Al Gore didn’t technically invent the internet, it is true that the government did, or more accurately, provided the funding and incentives. It was government funded and directed research projects in the universities and defense department contractors that built our entire global digital lifestyle before it was efficient and affordable enough to be exploited by private enterprise.
So why is it important to know all this? Because having a historical perspective keeps you sane and preserves your self-esteem. There is no mythical life you are missing. Families have always done the best they could with whatever resources were available to them at the time. There’s never been a moment where we all lived the same way.
In my family we’re grateful that I can work from home and she can be a full-time parent. It’s a sweet deal for us. For others, our situation would not be economically possible or even desirable. Not everyone wants to be a full-time parent and not everyone wants to work independently at home. For them our life would be a big downer.
So don’t stress about what the pundits tell you. Do what’s right for your sanity and your family. That’s the only “right” choice.
File Under: Working Moms – Family Economics – Working Outside the Home – Debunking the Stay at Home Mom and Working Mom Stereotypes – Working Mom Versus Stat at Home Mom