Thursday, February 23, 2012

An uncouth post about money

I thought these decisions had been made. I am a working mom. I have found balance by working only 30 hrs a week. I have some schedule flexibility to take care of my daughter when she's ill or watch her kick a soccer ball. All in all, things are pretty good. I get to use my brain again. I get to have an identity separate from my husband and my children. But I still get to be there.

But now, 1.5 months into a new job, it's all in question again.  I did that pesky math that I mentioned in my last post, and realized that by me continuing to work, if everything else stays unchanged, I will be $7,000 in the hole once we add baby #2 to the mix.  This is primarily for two reasons.  1) My husband makes a lot more than I do, so my salary essentially gets taxed at his rate, which means that my take home pay is quite a bit lower than it otherwise would be, and 2) Daycare costs in this city are astronomical.  I did this math before I started back to work, after I found out I was pregnant, but didn't properly account for the tax portion.

My daughter is currently in a daycare center, and it's actually on the lower end of cost as far as centers go, but still quite a lot compared to other geographical locations.  We could move her to an in home day care, but I've never found one I feel comfortable with, and I've always been more comfortable with the idea of a center.  Maybe this is based on my personal inadequacies.  Because when I watch a young child all day, I sometimes get cranky and impatient.  When there are other people (i.e. dear husband) I can step away for a moment if I need to collect myself.  In home daycare providers don't have that option.  So while they may be wonderful, doesn't everyone have their moments?  I have a hard time getting comfortable with an environment that doesn't have any backup for the providers, and for which there is essentially no oversight.  I know there are wonderful places out there, I'm certainly not accusing anyone, that's just how I feel.

After pondering the possibility of returning home full time, I find myself not fond of the idea.  For a whole lot of reasons.  If I could leave temporarily, for a couple years, and know I could return to the work force, I'd probably do it, even though it's isolating and sometimes mind-numbing.  But what if I can't find a job I like?  Or that works for us?  This 30 hours a week gig is perfect, I'm skeptical I'd find another such opportunity doing something I like.  There just aren't a whole lot of Geochemists in the world, sadly.  And not an overwhelming need for more.

Let me bore you with a little more math.  The $7,000 figure is probably a bit lower, because that doesn't account for retirement benefits (which would bring the number closer to  $4500) and other benefits, most of which we don't need because we get them through DH's employer.  But it also doesn't account for things like parking fees, or the costs of keeping a child home (including more outings).  These numbers add some fuzz to the $7,000 number, but it's a rough estimate.

So now I need to come up with a solution.  Something I can sleep with at night, because paying $7,000 a year for the right to go to work doesn't sit easy with me.  I have to ask, if you feel comfortable talking about it, what would be your breaking point?  At what point would you throw in the towel and say "Enough!  I'm staying home!"  Do you worry about losing skills and not being employable?  Do you worry about not being financially independent and relying on your spouse?  That last question is poignant for me.  As a child of divorce, I remember a few lessons about keeping financial independence that stuck with me.  (I appreciate those lessons, Mom).  I don't currently worry about this, but it happens to a lot of unsuspecting women, and I want to have the option for self-reliance.  But how do you balance that with the realities of having small children that need you around?


  1. This is a really tough problem. I don't think you can really put a price on your sanity and self-reliance... I'm not sure what my breaking point would be exactly. I'm interested to see what kind of responses you get...

    Honestly, if we paid what I suspect you did, my actual take home pay would be nearly the same as daycare, however I also hold all the benefits and have money taken out for daycare, etc, so it's a bit of a different situation there. I guess since you can afford for you to work (how odd to say it that way) $7K doesn't sound so bad (really try to focus on the $4.5K number... that sounds better)... Also, I DEFINITELY think that staying at home would probably actually cost that much in increased food and activities unless you were really frugal about it.

  2. That is a pickle.

    My plan, honestly, is to work free-lance if possible for three or four years. Then when baby X is in pre-school, I can go back to working more regular hours. It's not as regular money, it's not as good money, but it's SOMETHING, and the childcare for three under three? No way can I justify paying that.

  3. I understand running the numbers the way you did, but I would suggest not drawing a distinction between your income and your husband's income. Your income as a couple is your income as a couple. It is not you who is $7000 in the hole. Each of you are $3500 "in the hole" if you must each have your own number. Daycare costs are high, but the payments don't last that long on the time scale of a career. If you both see working as part of your identity and it is something that you want to do, then you should do it. It seems like you have a great situation carved out for yourself. A couple thousand dollars shouldn't be what determines your identity. That said, there are a lot of valid reasons to choose not to work and it is a fine choice to make.

  4. I think a lot of success is about options and keeping your options open. Keeping up skills is very important when it comes to your options. No one knows the future and when my mother was widowed with several small children, she wished she had more options. I'm now reaping the benefits of several years of low pay combined with child care and in retrospect, it was just a short time during a long career and well worth it. Part time is perfect for working moms and me being able to have those kinds of options was a blessing.

  5. Numbers have no soul or value except what you attach. All your math is DH centric, your benefits dont count b.c. he already has them, your pay doesnt count b.c. his is the high one. I hear lots of people talk about their work being philanthropy b.c. of tax rates and their partner working.
    I think the question is why you feel you need to be home - why do you always come back to that? It seems like a guilt thing.
    What if DH is unwell and it makes sense for you to support everyone?
    Do you want to participate in the economy?
    What is so bad about paying taxes, arent you proud to support bridges, roads, 911, public school. You are participating in society.

  6. Thanks for the great comments guys. Although I sometimes frame this conversation in my head as "Why shouldn't my benefits matter? The costs really come out of both of our salaries!" it's mostly to make myself feel better. The reality is that this a choice I get to make, my husband isn't lucky enough to have the same choice. He's the primary bread winner, we have bills to pay, etc., and he basically has to work. If he lost his job for some reason, we would be facing major life changes that neither of wants to make. So basically, it's not really fair to him to frame it another way. The reality is what it is, I knew this long ago and made peace with it.

    To another commenter, there is definitely a guilt component. I think every working mother I know has some amount of this wrapped up into their decision to work. Is it biological? Is it pressured by society? I suspect there's some of both. But it's a lot easier to make peace with that guilt when you can clearly tell yourself you're still contributing to the household, even if you're not home with the children. If you're not home with the kids, and not making money either, how are you helping the household? In my case, I pick up 98% of the household slack (sick kids! need to be home for the repairman! etc.) but is that enough? My desire to work can feel selfish when I look at how much we'd be paying for me to achieve it.

  7. There is definitely a huge amount of guilt that we working mothers carry. I work from home about 4.15 days a week but even seeing my child every day isn't enough so when I'm not working I'm with her almost's a guilt thing....making time for the gym/working out when she's awake....makes me feel guilty. I think it's biological as a mother and a working mother. It sucks but something some of us just have to do! We do the best we can with it and do the best we can when we're a full time parent! :) Kitty

  8. Separate this analysis from the money. You can do the accounting all different ways to rationalize your decision. If you look at the longer term, you are not "paying" to work, but rather running a temporary deficit for a few years. You would most likely quickly make up the difference by increased future earnings from continuous involvement in your profession. So in that sense, is it selfish to not work? Make your self reflection an examination of the guilt and what you want out of life. I think this guilt has very little to do with biology and almost everything to do with culture. There is a lot of asymmetry in your relationship. Some of that is unavoidable, but a lot of it is a choice.

  9. Hi Allison...I'm friends (and coworkers) with Erin and she forwarded me your post because she and I talk about parenting stuff a lot. In addition to agreeing wholeheartedly with Anonymous about thinking differently about the economics of the situation, here is my take: it seems like you're feeling a lot of guilt about the fact that you tried staying at home and it didn't suit you, but working "costs" you money right now (which I don't agree with!) so you feel like you should be more okay with staying at home than you are. I say: don't do this to yourself! Parents, especially moms, feel guilt about a lot of our choices, because there is judgment (both real and perceived) from friends, family and society at large, not to mention our own insecurities and desire to do things "right." But there is no "right;" there is just what works for you. The only way to stop feeling guilty is to make the choices that are right for you...and then give yourself permission to feeel good about making that choice. No one else can do that for you. Good luck!

  10. Ugh!!! I am in your shoes - except I have 2 angel boys under 3. I feel guilty and get a lot of flack from family because I send them to preschool. I don't know what to do. Part of me wants to be home and love on them all day - but I don't know if we can afford it. And I don't know if I WANT to stay home full time either. This is so sucky!

  11. I just read the Washington Post article on french parenting (,
    turns out the French are not guilty about working and sending children to preschool/day care. This reminds me of how when I was 18 I lived in Italy, before that I thought guilt/shame were inherent to promiscuity, abortion, etc etc any sex outside of long term monogamous relationship. Living with Germans and Swedes I learned that actually guilt and shame are just just part of our cultural values, and in some way they are a choice. It seems really important to explore why we feel guilt, maybe it is less about our child and more about our other relationships. I know for me, family pressure to stay home made me feel like I had to be guilty for working.
    At this point, my son is two, we did not put him in daycare until he was 10 months, and now my husband and I both work full time. I feel no guilt for working. I do feel guilty for not having a second yet and giving my son a sibling to play with (and just b/c I want another child), but I cant figure out how to do it in our transitory, financially unstable life as migratory scientists. I think this guilt is a mix of emotion about being generally unsettled and wanting to just grow my life with some roots.