Monday, January 31, 2011

Feminist Apology

As a modern, educated, self-proclaimed feminist, I’m sorry for leaving my career, leaving the workforce, and leaving the rest of the women in the working world to fight for equality. This is where my apology ends. Because while I believe that my mother and grandmothers fought their way into the paid workforce, they did so on men’s terms.

That is why even now in these modern times, having a baby qualifies as a disability. Let me know spell that out again in case anyone hasn’t grasped the absurdity. A woman doing something so natural as carrying a child and giving birth to that child, qualifies for leave time only because it is considered a “disability”. Then, only if you’re luck and have an employer who provides paid leave or live in one of the few states the provide paid family leave, are you at all compensated during your “disability”. Then, once you’ve had the child and exhausted your twelve weeks of partial paid or unpaid leave, you must return to workforce. Once you’ve returned, you are on your own to try and negotiate with your employer for accommodations as a new working mother, whether that be a room with a door to allow for pumping, an alternative or reduced schedule or even just additional breaks to allow you to continue breastfeeding. All the while, you must keep up the appearance that you are putting in as much time and effort as your work colleagues.

Women gave up something crucial when we entered the workforce on men’s terms. We didn’t demand to be treated as women—women who become mothers and shoulder the sole responsibility for pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. I don’t place blame at the feet of those who marched before me. Who can argue with the civil and social rights that women have gained over the past century and a half. We now make up half the work force, and if forecasts are accurate, we’ll be the more educated, skilled half of the workforce in the coming years. It is time to right the injustice, for women to claim and elevate their roles as not just women, employees, but also as mothers, wives and the caregivers of our society.

One could argue that I’m running away instead of staying and fighting for paid family leave, flexible work schedules, regulation to require employers to provide pumping rooms, on-site daycare, et cetera. I like to think of it as non-conformance. I am striking from the workforce until working mothers receive equitable treatment. I’ll still be fighting from the sidelines.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


After multiple lengthy discussions with my husband over the past couple of days, we’ve made the decision to downsize our home. We live in a great rental house. It’s over 1800 square feet with 3 bedroom, 2 full baths, and a den. It is a 1950s house and is showing its age. However, it is the nicest place we’ve ever lived. It’s in a great neighborhood. There is a million dollar home next door. It is in walking distance to my daughter’s school, shops, the library, and the park and rec center. There isn’t much I don’t like about the house except for maybe the dated kitchen. The problem is that the house will eat up almost 40% of my husband’s base take home pay after I leave my job. We have a great deal right now; the rent is under market. The big “but” is that the rent won’t be in line with our new income. My original plan had been to stay here and see how everything shakes out after I leave my job in April. We’ve decided though that it would be better to move to a cheaper place more in line with our income before I quit my job. I didn’t want to leave this house. In fact, I’m still a little sad to give up all this space. Now, that we’ve made the decision I feel relieved. If we move to a cheaper house or apartment, we’ll be very close to making ends meet. The pressure will be off for me to make a certain income each month. When I do get a part-time job that money can go to savings and for the extra little fun things. Now, it is an adventure. I am religiously skimming the craigslist ads looking for our new home. I know it will be smaller, maybe in a less desirable location, and it might even be an apartment. I also know that this is what is allowing me to downshift my life. In a way, it’s exciting. The next step in my journey home, wherever that may end up being.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Life and Taxes

I worked on my taxes this morning. In past years, it was a little like playing the slot machines watching the turbo tax refund box tick up and down until it landed on a nice sizable sum. It is now one of my least favorite activities. Now the question seems to be who do we owe and how much. I’ve been thinking a lot about taxes lately because of how this is now really figuring into my decision on how to balance paid work and family life. We’re stuck in that place that most young families in high cost of living areas find themselves. We’re young professionals making a decent dual income but we don’t make enough to be able to afford to buy a house. Therefore, we can’t take the mortgage interest deduction to be able to itemize our taxes.

So…I’m trying to figure out how to work it so that I make enough in whatever my next job is to supplement my husband’s modest teacher salary while keeping our tax bill to a minimum. This is not to say that I’m opposed to paying taxes. In my soon to be former career, I work for a local government. I know what taxes are used for, and they are things that I value like education, public safety, and infrastructure. However, I do believe that the current tax structure places an disproportionate burden on the wage earning class. I also feel as though dual income families are also further burdened because when the second parent has to go to work because they need to earn a sufficient income to pay for all the expenses associated with it. This includes things beyond the traditional childcare expenses; it ranges all the way from convenience meals because no one is home to cook to household help.

I hope that in working through this in the next several months that we’ll find a good balance where one of us can be almost solely dedicated to taking care of the family and the other can focus on earning a livable wage. I’ll admit that I’m scared and perhaps even terrified to see our gross income chopped in half in the next few months. I remember days in the not too distant past when we struggled to pay our bills. I do feel better equipped now after these past few years since I’ve focused on budgeting, paying off debt, and keeping our expenses contained. So perhaps, next year, when we do our taxes, in a much lower tax bracket, I won’t sigh when I see that magic number in the turbo tax box. Maybe it’ll even be green.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why Fridays off just aren’t enough.

It’s Friday. The day that makes working the rest of the four days of the week bearable. It’s the day that I get to pretend that my only job in the world is to be a wife, a mommy, and a friend. My Fridays off were a negotiation with my employer. I agreed to keep my current workload. They pay me for only thirty hours a week, and I get my Friday off. It sounds like a pretty sweet deal all around. For other working moms slogging their way through 40+ hour work weeks and toting kids back and forth to daycare five days a week, it probably sounds a lot like heaven. However, instead of satisfying me in a way that I get to keep my professional career and play stay at home mommy, it has instead made me realize how much I enjoy my Fridays with the kids and abhore my Monday through Thursday work. I love walking my older daughter to school, walking down to the village with a friend for a cup of coffee, and hitting the park on the way home to play with my youngest. I love the busyness of home life. I love the creativity of planning and cooking meals of sewing, knitting and making fun little toys for my daughters. I love the expectancy of waiting for my husband to get home. I love greeting him tired but happy with dinner well on its way. I know when I’m finally home that every day won’t be perfect. Some will be tough. There will be new worries about paying bills. But I’m happy in the moment in this beautiful day where I get to dream about a not to distant future when Fridays won’t just be Fridays. Fridays will be all week long.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I quit! Or at least I will quit in the very near future.

51 working days from today, I’ll take a leap of faith and leave my job. Over six years I’ve spent juggling work, family and often school. When I was younger I dreamed of a professional career with an office downtown. I thought that was what I really wanted in life. Of course, eventually I’d want marriage and kids and all that too. Somewhere along the trip, it all flip-flopped and went upside down. Suddenly, the marriage and the kids are what is important. Spending time with my kids and taking care of my family gives me fulfillment. The career became a job. Quickly it became not just a job but a job that I could barely stand but for the paycheck. For the past couple of years ever since my second daughter was born, I’ve been dreaming of leaving my job to stay home with my kids. It’s not because I don’t want to have a career. I do still want to have a professional career, a life outside of the home. I know that this isn’t the career for me. I don’t enjoy the work much, and the working environment is often unpleasant. I’ve also realized like many working moms that I exist in an uncomfortable place between two worlds. Drawn in by the smiles, laughs and tears of my children and weighted down by the responsibilities and stress of working on someone else’s terms. There are the heartbreaking moments when your child wakes up in the middle of the night with a fever and your first thought is that you have an important meeting you can’t miss the next day. The push and pull of strong maternal desires and the need and desire to perform at the job rends at the fabric of my heart. I want to be there to walk my oldest daughter to school and take my youngest to play at the park. It’s been a long time in coming but I’m ready to put my life and energy into what I really care about: my family.
So for the last two years, I’ve had a dirty little secret that I turn to whenever things aren’t going well. It’s a tab on my budget spreadsheet that I’ve spent hours poring over tweaking expenses and income to find that perfect match of end meeting end so that I can quit my job. The ends have never met despite all of my attempts at fitting the puzzle pieces together. An endless string of pondering questions: What if we moved to a cheaper house? What if we got rid of our home phone? How much more money would he need to make and how many more jumps on the pay scale to get there? So when I hit the latest bumpy patch at work, I turned back to the spreadsheet. I also did some quick calculations to estimate our taxes for the year, and realized that as a family we are paying over $400 a month extra in federal taxes because I work. So of my take home pay over 40% is going to pay for childcare and taxes. Of course, there are other benefits to consider: retirement savings, health benefits, career et cet. I opened up my spreadsheet again and ran my calculations including our reduced tax bill. Of course, as usual, the ends don’t meet. They’re about $500 precious dollars a month from meeting. My husband is a teacher and we live in a relatively high cost of living area. At first as usual that $500 seemed insurmountable. How could we find an extra $500 a month? The short answer is that we can’t. We’ve pared the budget down to the basics. Then, I began to weigh my choices.
· The status quo.
· Quit my job and find a part-time job in the evenings or weekends.
· Drastically change our lifestyle
As I’ve said the status quo is no longer desirable or sustainable. I can’t stay in a career that I don’t enjoy. I don’t want to make the tradeoffs required as a working mom with a professional career.
The second option started to become much more attractive. I could be home during the day with the kids and then find some part-time subprofessional work in the evenings/weekends. It isn’t ideal. I’d like to leave the workforce entirely for some time but it might give me more of what I’m looking for.
The third option is a possibility. I think it is my plan B if things don’t work out with option two. We could move to 2 bedroom apartment and sell our car that still has a car payment. That would just about close the gap. I do worry about our quality of life suffering. I did spend some time living in a one bedroom apartment with my husband and infant daughter when we were finishing up our degrees. We had one car in an extremely car-dependent city. It was somewhat of a stifling experience.
So the plan for now is to save as much money as we possibly can in the next three months and build up our cushion of savings. I’ll look for good part-time jobs and possibly even look into teaching at a community college as a solid part-time job. In the meantime, I’ll probably still be playing with my spreadsheet.