Robbing Peter to Pay Paul
Because my husband had been a veteran of the first Gulf War, his college education had been interrupted. So, he was still finishing up his degree when we married, and I was working — as the sole breadwinner. Did I mention I was teaching at a private school? Yeah, well private school teachers earn about half of what public school teachers are paid. And we all know how shamefully little public school teachers are getting. Anyway, after my husband graduated, we were both working for a time.
But as soon as we had our first child, we both agreed that I would stay home. I really loved teaching, and we decided that as soon as our youngest was in school full time, I would go back to teaching. From there, I was hooked, line and sinker. But, we kept creating babies. Yes, we knew how it was happening. In fact, we enjoyed it and were pretty darn good at it. Yes, we knew it was expensive. How could we not? And yes, we were practicing Catholics.
To his absolute credit, after we’d started our family, my husband had never once asked me to get a job or made me feel guilty about staying home. I heard enough horror stories from other moms like me, to genuinely appreciate that fact, too. Besides, he knew I was careful with our money; we never “splurged,” never went on family vacations, and we shopped thriftily. Like many other stay-at-home moms (SAHM) I knew, I usually felt guilty every time I wanted to take the kids to the movies, run through the drive-thru at Chick-fil-A, or buy the extra shoes, even on sale, because my little darlings just “had to have them!” We were a family of six, with three children in private school, a mortgage, and two car notes living on one income.
Budgeting was not exactly my forte and I constantly found myself robbing Peter to pay Paul and worrying about finances. I became a pro at juggling the water bill vs. the utility bill vs. the TiVo bill — which I did not consider a luxury because it was cheaper than therapy. My husband and I had just finished paying off a mammoth mound of credit card debt that centered mostly around uninsured and later under-insured medical debt. But regardless, we’d accumulated it over the first ten years of our marriage, and after years of tackling it head-on to finally pay it off, we had sworn off credit cards.
Tired of Diapers & Dinner
After eight years of being an exclusive SAHM, I found myself, well, going a little nuts. Before starting our family, I’d consistently worked in one capacity or another since I was sixteen years old. I’d worked in fashion and food (read: retail and hostessing). I was a nanny to an enchanting little prodigy while in college. After graduating from Texas Tech, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching secondary English to a motley crew of colorful characters for several years before becoming Mom. After a decade of being an honest to goodness People Person with a lot of social contact and interaction, I had suddenly become my own sole adult company eight to ten hours a day.
I genuinely enjoyed being home with my four “smocklings” and eventually came to consider motherhood a worthy vocation, but it was not an easy trip. It took me almost eight years of struggling to declare myself as “just a housewife,” always prefacing the phrase with “Well I used to be a teacher but now…” I’d finally come to regard it an honor to be home with them full time. The social tide had just started turning and Motherhood no longer conjured images of miserable barefooted and pregnant women chained to hot stoves, drudging through household chores all day. Instead, the whole “Working Mom” versus “Stay at Home Mom” debate was being waged. In fact, my second cousin, Leslie Morgan Steiner, was working on her book Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face off on their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families.
But, women on both sides were just then finally beginning to realize that neither team had it easy. They were discovering that there were challenges and benefits, regrets and rewards for both camps. Yes, they may have been defensive, but at least there was dialogue.
As for my children, their amazing array of different little personalities always kept me entertained. Of course, their amazing array of different little personalities also frankly kept me frazzled. They brought so much laughter and happiness into my life that some days I thought I would burst at the seams with joy. On other days, after years and years of Barney, Tonka trucks, and Barbie dolls, I was beginning to feel isolated, not to mention a little fuzzy in the brain. It finally came to a point that, when I was honest with myself, I realized that I was tired of having my most decisive duties center around diapers and dinner.
The Best of Both Worlds
So, what to do? One day, I finally sat down and made a list of pros and cons, as I saw them, of working and staying put. Remember, On the one hand, I reasoned that I didn’t have my four precious children just so someone else could “raise” them and have all the fun. I wanted to be the one to take them to school and visit them at lunchtime, go on field trips, volunteer on field days, and have all the adventures I so enjoyed with them. One the other hand, I wanted to generate income — my own income — that I wouldn’t feel guilty spending. I also really needed adult company. I was starving for camaraderie, especially with like-minded women. I wanted something that was mine. While looking over the pros and cons, it dawned on me: Why shouldn’t I enjoy the best of both worlds? Why not work and stay home. Yeah, work from home. That’s the ticket. That’s when I finally decided to bite the bullet and go from being SAHM to WAHM (work-at-home mom).