Choices

This article on Minimalist Mom yesterday was particularly interesting, and got even more so in the comments section.  Rachel’s life is quite similar to my own – she’s a stay at home mom who also works part time from home, and has a husband who is an entrepreneur.  She manages the bulk of the household responsibilities, while her husband earns the bulk of the family income.  In our situation, my husband and I are both W2 employees of our corporation – and have been for years now – but while he works at least 40 hours a week at our business, I work about 10 – 15.  I take care of most of the responsibilities of running the household (stuff like laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc.) and I’m with our son all day while my husband works.  In the evenings, we’re both with our son.  My husband takes care of stuff like the lawn, construction projects, fixing things around the house, etc.

20 years ago, I would have kicked and screamed if anyone had told me that I would eventually find myself with such a traditional division of labor in terms of gender roles.  As a teen, I had no desire to cook, clean, or do anything else related to “keeping house”.  I got a college degree, and then took a bit of a non-traditional path by joining the Peace Corps and spending two years teaching math in Africa.  I came back and got a job in the corporate world, and found myself moving pretty quickly up the corporate ladder.  At 24 I was a manager with 10 employees.  I went on business trips all over the country.  I wore suits to work.  I had a 401k and fancy business cards.  I worked 60 hours a week.  I hated my job and everything that went along with it.

In the summer of 2003, I quit my job and joined my husband in the fledgling insurance agency he had created the year before.  My income dropped significantly.  We went into debt to keep our little business running, and didn’t get it all paid off until 2007.  Life was definitely not easy from a financial point of view, but we were both so much happier working for ourselves.  We knew that eventually we wanted to have children, and that working from home would make things easier when we did.

When our son was born in 2008, I quit my side-job at the local library and scaled way back on the number of hours I was working for our business.  My husband took on some of the work I had been doing, and we settled into our new roles just fine.  Three years later, it’s still a very good setup for our family.  We realize that we’re extremely fortunate to be able to make a good living without either of us ever having to leave the house.  Although I’m the one taking care of our son during the day, my husband is just a few seconds away in the basement, and can come up to help us out if we need him.  He eats lunch with us every day, and sometimes takes a break in the middle of the day to take our son to the park, run errands, or just hang out with us in the backyard.

Although my teenage self would have shuddered at the thought of spending days washing diapers and cooking, I’m right where I want to be.  I’m sure that once our children are in school, my life will change again to focus more on our business.  (I realize that I’m fortunate to be in a situation where we own our business and I don’t have to convince anyone to hire me).

Although the commenter on Rachel’s post was adamant that women who leave or pause their careers to take care of children are doing themselves a disservice, I see it a little differently.  I just see choices, and we all have to make them.  We choose whether or not to partner with someone long-term or remain independent.  We choose whether or not to have children.  We choose career paths based on all sorts of different motivation:  some seek careers with high pay, others want prestige, some want fulfilling work, others want work that gives them flexibility in terms of how they spend their days…  There’s no one path or series of choices that works for everyone.  I have no desire to ever own a brand new car or live in a mansion.  I don’t need new clothing (since I can get all the designer stuff I want for pennies on the dollar at thrift stores) or high end purses.  I don’t want mani/pedis, facials, or massages.  Because my husband and I are low-maintenance, we don’t need a whole lot of money to be happy.  That means that we’re able to save for the future and have everything we need even though I spend most of my time taking care of our household.  Someone who does want all of those things that I mentioned might find that they need to have two full time incomes to make it work.  And if they choose to not have children, they’ll probably find it even easier to have those things.  That’s not to say that one way is better or worse, just that we have to make choices.

I have found that I’m much happier when I’m not judging other people who want something different out of life than I want.  Having a spouse and children makes me happy, but that doesn’t mean that it makes everyone happy.  Taking care of our household also makes me happy, but I know that it would make some people go crazy with boredom and frustration.  My husband and I feel most comfortable with completely shared finances, but I know that isn’t the case for all couples.  I think “dd” (the commenter on Rachel’s article) is being a bit overly dramatic in saying that most marriages break up and then we women will all end up living “off the government”.  One has to assume that dd has also had to make choices in his/her life – those same choices that we all have to make.  And while I assume that dd would make different choices than Rachel and I have made, that doesn’t mean that he/she hasn’t had to give up things in order to pursue his/her chosen path.  We can’t have everything.  We can’t be both single and married.  We can’t work full time and also be stay at home parents.  We can’t opt to work in a non-profit for $30,000/year and also live a millionaire lifestyle with a yacht.  We just have to choose which things are worth giving up, and which are worth pursuing.  And those choices will be different for all of us.

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Comments

  1. DD says

    It’s amazing how our perspective changes as we mature. My wife and I have different goals from when we were teenagers too. I like how you and your husband really though about what you wanted in life and went after it. It’s certainly not the easiest road, but I’m sure it’s the most rewarding.

  2. flo kennedy says

    As a Feminist in my late forties, I applaud you. This is what it (feminism) is all about. Choice! My choices were different with more focus on career, I’m happy where I am, and I’m glad to see you happy with yours!

  3. Jaime B says

    I think your situation is truly the best of both worlds. Since you and your husband both work out of your home, and for yourselves, it does not seem like such a choice between your career or staying home. You *are* essentially a SAHM but you and your husband are not only together in your financial goals but also in the way you achieve them. All eggs in one basket as it were.

    I am single and childless, so this is not a choice I have to make. Honestly, I cannot even conceive of being with someone I trust so much. I can be a bit of a control freak, especially when it comes to my money and I have trust issues, particularly with men. I just can’t imagine putting total control of earning the money for day to day things plus retirement into the hands of a husband. lol, though it would not bother me to have a husband put that kind of trust in me. I don’t have a problem with prioritizing someone to stay home with the kids, I have a problem with putting all the money power in the hands of 1/2 of the couple. Personally, the only way it would work would be to have many frank discussions about income distribution and a strong talk about how while the stay at home spouse may be doing the majority of cleaning that that doesn’t mean dirty clothes can be thrown on the floor or dirty dishes left in the livingroom, etc. IE, we all still need to be adults and clean up after ourselves.

    But, considering the comments of DD … they could have been better said but it is true that statistics show that women typically end up worse off after divorce than men. That women leaving the workforce to stay home with kids tend to have a tougher time re-entering in their field and earn less than other women who don’t have children and especially men (with or without kids). Of course, those statistics also show that women with kids face more wage discrimination than women without and men – even if they never take a break from work. Part of that is the gender disparity in who calls in sick with the kids too.

    There is nothing wrong with being a stay at home mother or father, whatever works for your family is what is “right.” The problem is not with you, but with those who want to take look at your individual situation and try to make a generalized conclusion from it.

  4. Karen (Scotland) says

    I totally loved the discussion at Minimalist Mom yesterday and I was so happy to hear from so many other woman who have chosen to stay at home, despite having professional qualifications.
    As a teenager, I too would have been horrified at the idea of being a housewife, dependent on a man’s income. I was Dux, House Captain, straight A student and I went on to gain a law degree. I felt that this was what someone of “intelligence” and capability was supposed to do.
    It’s only now that I have kids that I realise that THIS is what I want to apply my brain and skills to – the raising of my children and the nurturing of our family unit as a whole. I honestly can’t think of a more important job.

    As an extra wee point, it occurred to me that dd’s comment about the amount of divorces might have a connection with the amount of couples who tried to both go back to work full-time over the last couple of decades. It works for some couples but I’m fairly sure would end in divorce for my husband and me.

    (Also, @Jaime B – I totally get what you mean about believing you could never trust someone this much. I have MAJOR control issues and suffered extreme financial hardship when my parents divorced when I was 17. Because of that, I thought I would never be able to give up my treasured financial independence. However, when I met my husband, a man of quality, taking that leap wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined it would be. Some lengthy discussions, lots of re-evaluations, our wee pocket money accounts each, and we found our solution. Also, my husband and I have fully shared finances but I tend to do all the admin. Although I don’t earn the money, I do “control” it. ;-) Only half-kidding.
    When you meet someone you trust enough, you will find a solution that works for you.)

    Thanks again for a good post, FrugalBabe,
    Karen (Scotland)

  5. says

    My high school self would have balked at that idea of division of labor too. I was going to be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and save the world a tthe same time. But now I just want to get married and make babies… things change and it’s okay!

  6. SarahA says

    Until I had my daughter, I thought that there was no way I would ever be able to stay home all day and now…..I hate going to work even though I love my job. Things change.

  7. Jayne says

    Very well said! Thank you! Many of us change as we age and mature. I am also an ardent feminist who has chosen to follow traditional gender roles in household duties, as well! Sometimes I jokingly groan a little, but then my husband takes out the trash and fixes the clogged toilet (things I am absolutely capable of, but don’t enjoy!) and I smile and feel grateful. He can cook and clean as well as I can, as well, but we’ve CHOSEN these roles because it fits our lifestyle and frankly, I like cooking better than yardwork! As a previous poster wisely said, feminism is about choices! And, I like what you said about not judging others. Something we probably all need to work harder on not doing!

  8. Laura says

    This line really struck a chord with me in a good way “We just have to choose which things are worth giving up, and which are worth pursuing. And those choices will be different for all of us.” My husband was layed off in Sept and I am a stay at home mom. He still has not found a full time job. He is currently working on a part time basis but is making half of what he used too. It definatley has been an adjustment and has really made us look at our choices. And like you said it all comes down to making choices. By the way I am new to your blog and it has really helped us reevaluate what is important to us and what we truly need, so thanks!

  9. Amanda says

    I don’t have kids but I choose to spend the majority of my time as a volunteer Bible teacher. Therefore, I don’t work much! But, I work part time seasonally to “keep my foot in the door”. You’re doing this in a way FB by working 10-15 hours a week in your family business. =)

    I think this is an option for mom’s who don’t want to have a blank resume for 18 years!

  10. Jaime B says

    :) Thanks Karen. I liken it to how people say it’s different when it’s your kids, lol. I know quite a few really good men, I’m not cynical about the presence of “good” mean but maybe more so about finding one who’d suit me and vice versa (I’m no picnic to live with either! lol).

  11. Candy K says

    I got married while I was still in college. After graduating I started my teaching career; two years later we had our first son. Long story short, I took off 11 years until our third son started to school. Our youngest is now in college and both of our older sons have graduated with no student loans. I would be much closer to retirement if I had not taken off those 11 years, but I will never regret spending that time with the boys. We were very frugal and now have our home on 8 acres paid off. We have supplement retirement accounts. I personally feel parents do their children a disservice when we give birth & immediately hand them off to someone else to raise. I commend you for your choices and wish ALL parents would make their children their top priority.

  12. Lori McKinney says

    what a wonderful dose of reality! I too put my career on hold for 15 years to be at home with our daughters. When I did return to the job market, it was as an entrepreneur so I could still be home when they got off the school bus and hear about their day. That is critical in my eyes. As they left home, I delved into my career a little deeper but I have a huge appreciation for my home and still make the time to make it a welcome happy place to be. I do not regret any of my choices, and my husband has supported me 100% for 34 years.

  13. Tiffany says

    What an interesting discussion. My FI and I don’t have kids yet, but are planning on having a couple in the next few years. In the meantime, we have chosen to divide the household chores along traditional gender lines. I do most of the cooking/cleaning/grocery shopping and he does most (ok all) of the yard work, takes out the garbage, and fixes things that break. I fought this division of chores a LOT when we first moved in together. I was constantly saying things like “I don’t automatically get second shift just because I have ovaries” etc. It took me a while to realize that I actually like the division of labor split up this way. I don’t want to shovel the driveway, or mow the lawn, or take out the trash. I would much rather cook and clean. The feminist in me was fighting so hard I never saw that I was enjoying our roles. Now I just relax and love it. He shovels, and I make him a nice hot lunch. It’s great :)

    When we talk about kids, we do so with the understanding that I will stay home with them. I have two degrees and am very career driven. However, I grew up with a mom that didn’t work during the day and I want to provide the same to my kids.

    I think the important thing is recognizing your choices and communicating with your partner so that you reach an agreement together.

  14. says

    I couldn’t agree more with what you have written. I too, would find my teenage self shuddering at my stay at home, frugal living lifestyle. I can honestly stay that decision to focus on being a mother, and creating a simple, frugal life for my family has brought more joy that I would have ever thought. Thank you for the post. It is fabulous.

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