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.