Friday, March 6, 2015

please tell me we're not alone.

I had a kind of horrible wake-up call yesterday. I was printing out our W-2 forms and, for the first time since I quit my job last June, really looked at the big-picture numbers. That's how much money I made last year? And that's how much money we're bringing in these days? Oh. Shit.

Aaaand cue panic attack.

Now I really remember why I was freaking out about leaving my job: money, duh. I had mild concerns that I'd be bored being home full-time or would miss the work I once loved or wouldn't be setting an ideal example for Rowan. So far? I love being home full-time (minus her short-nap stints); I'm surprised to find I rarely miss early childhood social work; and it turns out that the example I want to set is one of following your heart and finding your bliss. To be sure, I've experienced bliss awareness - being deeply content and knowing it - more often since last June than ever before in my life. 

Moment of bliss.

But seeing those numbers yesterday sent me spiraling.

I texted my Person, my friend Kristen. She's the kind of friend who doesn't need any backstory or sugar-coating. She's the kind of friend who's been in your position before, but isn't so far removed from it that she inadvertently invalidates your worries. She's the kind of friend who won't one-up your fears and is somehow never too busy for a conversation that devolves into excessive use of emojis. She's the kind of friend who knows how to talk me down from this: 

Just printed out our W-2s and am having a panic attack. We are making nothing. Wtf did I do. :(

Her response - couched in comfort and support and emojis, but free of platitudes - contained this surprisingly reassuring nugget: Money just doesn't exist when you have small kids. 


Money just doesn't exist when you have small kids.

Is that true? I want so badly to believe it - that this is a temporary struggle while we have little babies in need of constant care. But I wouldn't know for sure, considering how infrequently I talk with others about money. It's funny: I've bonded with friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers in the last two years about bodily fluids, hormonal rampages, and everything nipple-related you can think of - but not money.

I also grew up in a socioeconomic culture where we didn't talk about money problems. Lots of people flaunted their money, sure, but conversations about economic hardship were few and far between - possibly because, in my town, the hardships themselves were few and far between. For all the financial wisdom I've gleaned from my parents, my experiences, and good ol' Suze Orman, I neglected to do the research on this stage of life. Is it really true that lots of families struggle during these early-childhood years, but can still come out on the other side and do things like help pay for college and adequately save for retirement? And...like...not default on the mortgage?

Sorry, kid, for making you clean up my mess.

The numbers staring plainly back at me from my tax forms lit a fire under all sorts of insecurities I thought I'd vanquished. Why are we struggling with money? Am I doing something wrong? Are my talents subpar? Is my work ethic too meager? Did I not adequately hone the proper marketable skills? Is this the just punishment for selfishly choosing to be home with my baby? Is (mostly) ignoring the figures a benign patron of bliss, or the edge of our downfall? I've only recently come to terms with all my new identities from the last two years: mother, former social worker, exclusive pumper, stay-at-home mom. It's difficult to add another to the list: financially unstable.

I know money isn't this tight for every young family. I have people close to me with tiny children who are shelling out for expensive preschools, not wearing clothes they bought ten years ago, buying new houses, taking vacations - and staying home with their kids. Maybe they're racking up thousands in debt or have mysterious benefactors, but it's more likely they're just in a different (better) income situation. Regardless, these are the families I've been comparing us to.

Maybe, instead, I need to tune into the memories nudging the back of my mind...memories of people saying things about it was so hard when the kids were little, or we had to make extreme sacrifices. I guess I just thought that's what other people were dealing with. I had a winning combo of being lucky enough to grow up well-off and turning into a financial conservative (read: cheapskate) in my twenties. Money was never an issue...until now. It is most certainly an issue now.

Maybe, too, I could stand to listen to the title of my own blog post. Please Tell Me We're Not Alone. "We." Even if no other family out there is struggling through extreme adjustments to income flow (doubtful), we are. The two of us - J.J. and me. It sometimes feels like it's me, because I'm the one who quit my job and I'm the default parent and I'm in charge of our bills and I'm the one who was always conscientious about money. But it's never just me, and that's important to remember. For richer and for poorer, because here's the thing I'm working on believing, thanks to Kristen: Money's just like everything else in life. It ebbs and it flows. There will be richer, there will be poorer. Part of the point of a lifelong partnership is agreeing to weather those vicissitudes together, and - importantly - taking comfort in the knowledge that you're weathering them together. 

I depend on my community, too, though, and here's what I know for sure: It would do wonders to hear that we're not alone. Part of Kristen's text read, "I imagine if you talked with other families about money, many would be in the same boat." Money is such taboo topic; I'm probably making a lot of people uncomfortable just by writing about it. But tell me: Isn't anyone else making sacrifices they never thought they'd have to make? Isn't anyone else crying over their W-2s? Isn't anyone else terrified of taking such extreme financial risks (by, say, staying home instead of working for pay)? And if so - what makes it easier? What helps you sleep at night?

And did you know you're not alone?


  1. Loved this. You're so not alone, and it helped me to know I wasn't either!

  2. About to have my first kid in June and had to ramp down my freelance work at the same time as shelling out for self-employment taxes, having a client not pay a big bill, and having construction done on the house. You're not alone and I too am feeling the panic... and I'm not even on maternity leave yet.

  3. This is a very inspiring and soul-strengthening story. I am soo glad you posted. Keep the faith! Life is beautiful....

  4. Cathy, you are not alone. I think ebb and flow is a really good framework for what happens when you have kids. Daycare costs totally tanked our finances when the kids were little. When they went to elementary school, we were thrilled at how our finances improved. During the middle years, we saved some. Now we have one in college and one about to go, and money is very tight again. But it would have been much tighter without having saved for college. You all just need to figure out what level of debt or deprivation you can live with and know it's probably just for now.

  5. Agreed, you're not alone, I too wonder how I'll manage with my 3 kids, but make with what I can for them. Thanks for sharing!



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