Friday, June 29, 2007

Ten years (part 2)

Writing the 2nd half of my ‘Ten Years’ topic is going to be hard for me. Mainly because it deals with an issue which I’ve been struggling with for over 6 years.

I Want To Be Home With My Kids

It’s something I never considered before Abby was born – I just knew that I would have to go back to work after my maternity leave and I never thought much about it. Until she was born and I realized that my life’s ambition, my career goal and the one thing I wanted more than any other was to be home with my baby girl every single day.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of obstacles to this goal. Bad financial decisions that Ron and I each made before we even met (remember my ever-growing credit card?) caused a lot of debt. And I have a degree – Ron does not. For most of our marriage, I have made twice what he’s made in salary. And our insurance has almost always been through my job – his employers have either not offered insurance at all, or have offered insurance that would be unaffordable, especially if we went down to one income. At the time Abby was born, our health insurance was FREE through my job. Yes, one bonus for government employment is usually very good benefits.

We’ve tried having Ron be the ‘at-home’ parent. Twice. First, when Abby was 4 months old and I couldn’t stand the thought of her in daycare (we weren’t thrilled with the one we’d found) and just wanted her home, even if it wasn’t with me. Then again after we moved here to the Grand Rapids area and Ron got a job with a friend of his where he worked part-time from home for the first several months. In both cases, he realized after a few months that he is not cut out to be at home. He doesn’t have the patience for it and he wasn’t happy. And therefore the girls weren't happy either.

When we had Hannah, I came very close to quitting my job and staying home to do in-home daycare. When I say close, I mean that I had applied for licensing and it was down to the last couple of months before her birth where I was 100% sure that I was going through with that plan. But, we both had doubts about the financial aspect – mainly the reliability of the income, as well as the insurance issues and I let Ron talk me into going back to work ‘temporarily’ after my maternity leave ended. Which turned into 3 years.

So when we got pregnant with Becca, my goal was to absolutely find a way to stay home. Ron was supportive – he knows how much I want to be home and he has never vetoed the idea, as long as it didn’t hurt us financially. I looked into the home daycare idea again because I liked the idea of having other kids around for my kids to play with and I like kids so I thought it would be fun. Ron still had major concerns (as did I) about the financial aspects of it but this time I was sure that everything was pointing me at this being the path that I was meant to take.

So, enter in 2006. It started off amazingly – Becca was born in January and was beautiful and wonderful. I had 3 months of maternity leave to look forward to and to finalize my plans. So I only had 5 weeks of disability pay (at 60% of my salary) – we’d make that stretch. And of course I would find the 3 full-time (or equivalent) kids that I needed to watch in order to keep us afloat.

Things we hadn’t considered:

1. In the current economy in Michigan, families are struggling and finding creative alternatives to full-time daycare whenever possible. Many families include someone who is out of work and therefore able to care for children.

2. Starting a new business like daycare, at only a couple of months postpartum and with 2 other small children at home as well is not always wise.

3. You can only cut so much and 1/3 of the income doesn’t go very far especially when you were struggling to begin with. Saving on our own daycare costs didn’t make enough of a difference.

4. It sucks to be without health insurance. Thankfully there are programs to cover the kids, but adults are much more expensive to cover – if you can even find one that will accept you.

2006 was the year of my bad choice. Yes, I can say that now. Leaving my secure, full-time, fairly high income, $20/month for health insurance for all of us job – as much as I struggled with work/home balance, as much as I hated how inflexible and less family-friendly the company was becoming, as much as I felt like they were subtly pushing me out the door – probably not the best choice as I look back on things. Yes, I am so glad to have had the extra time home with the girls, especially Becca. But in the long run, I don’t know if it was worth everything that we went through last year. Almost losing our house (we came closer than I even dare to think about). Completely trashing our credit because of late payments on everything, plus our bankruptcy (a whole other story there). The stress all of this took on our marriage and therefore our kids as well… I had more time home with the girls, but it wasn’t quality time. I was depressed, anxious, stressed out and exhausted. I did watch one child last summer – a baby less than a month older than Becca. So I had 2 babies to watch plus the two older girls who got almost no attention since the babies took up almost all of what energy I had. We did have some fun times, but the older girls were on their own playing a lot more than I had wanted – the arts and craft projects, fun field trips and everything else I thought I would do with my home daycare just never happened.

So I looked for a new job. As well as desperately looking for more kids to watch – anything to get us back on our feet. In July, I got an interview and then a job. A good job, although still making considerably less than I was before. But a job in a field related to my own and that I like much better. A job to save our house and our family. And so here I sit at work typing this (shhh!). Ten years. A lot of changes. My dream ‘job’ is still to be a stay-at-home mom. I am jealous of all of the support out there for at-home moms and the things I can never take my kids to. MOPS groups, playgroups, internet support groups, library story hours, daytime classes and lessons. ‘Working’ moms have a hard time meeting other moms because between work and keeping up with home chores, there’s just no time. I try – I belong to message boards where I can never make it to the playgroups and Mom’s Night Out events. The girls sing in church choir one evening a week. Abby played soccer for the past 2 years, on Saturdays and evenings. We’ve done evening swimming lessons. We’ve met parents through preschool. But almost every mom I know stays home, either full-time or part-time. And I so wish that I could.

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2 wonderful people said...:

Believer in Balance said...

I appreciate you sharing your story. I consider myself a work-at-home mom, though I do work as a school counselor one day a week during the school year. So, I'm home with my baby and my other two are school age. I'm very glad I can do it, and I wish you could too, but I feel the stress financially. There's always a trade off with our choices. Ugh.

DebMomOf3 said...

Yeah, it seems sometimes like nobody's ever completely happy, no matter which way they've got it. Something to keep in mind, I suppose!