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.