As a working professional and parent, having to choose to return to the workforce after the birth of your child is, to me, an unfair and cruel choice to make. Ask any parent who stayed at home for a mere six weeks to bond with their bundle of joy only to have to turn him or her over to someone else for eight hours a day and sometimes more. It’s excruciating. For the majority of us, gone are the days where the household is sustainable by one paycheck; it takes two to support a family. Emotionally I contemplated not coming back to work. Logically I had a lot more factors to consider. It is the emotional that propels many of us to stay at home. That is not necessarily a wrong decision. However with this new responsibility of being a parent, you cannot always think with your heart.
So I pose this question to all parents who are in or will soon find yourselves to be in the same situation. As parents, with all of our other responsibilities, do we not also have an obligation to provide a stable financial environment for our children, and if need be, return to the workforce as a way to provide that stability?
I remember being stopped by a colleague in the parking lot shortly after I returned from my three-month maternity leave and I began sobbing. I was saying that I didn’t know how I was going to do this, meaning going back to work; I missed my son so much. Her answer to my emotional breakdown? Peanut butter and macaroni and cheese. Yes, she told me that if I cut back my expenses and lived on mac and peanut butter then I could afford to stay at home with my son.
I am a certified credit counselor. Did it not occur to her that I work budgets for a living? Did she think it was as simple as that?
Recently another colleague and I were talking about daycare arrangements. She is expecting her first child this spring. Her words were, “I simply can’t fathom paying someone else to raise my baby; no offense to what you chose to do, Morgan”.
I strongly believe that everyone at some point in one’s life, everyone needs to be a credit counselor. They need to take a big drink of reality and see what I see on a daily basis. They need to see the clients who have stopped working after the baby is born, but have not stopped spending accordingly. They also need to see the emotional toll that financial strain can take on a family. They need to sit with the client who is crying and not sleeping at night because they are constantly worried about bills. They are arguing with their spouse constantly about stress and money; that stress affects all of your relationships and often is a recipe for a family upheaval.
And because the paycheck stops doesn’t mean life stops happening. Appliances will break, cars will need repair, people will need medical attention, and new clothes and savings accounts will have to be dipped into. They will not be replenished as quickly, if at all, however as they once were. You will still want to take vacations (I know how to research free museum days and have a “staycation” to have fun on the cheap but there are still expenses there), and there will still be holidays and birthdays to buy for and celebrate. If I did not go back to work and chose not to put the above examples on credit cards, am I depriving my child of a certain quality of life? What if money was so tight we couldn’t go out for pizza or to a movie?
On occasion to accommodate one parent staying home, the other will either pick up more hours at work or take on an additional job. However then you never see your spouse, your child never sees his mother or father, and your marriage is at risk of disintegrating.
Logically, we had to think in the long term and not in the immediate emotional term what was going to be best us. That is where parents have a very hard decision to make; you make an emotional sacrifice to provide financial wellness for your family. If you do choose to return to work there will be days when you will feel vulnerable and guilty for the choice you have made and you may question yourself. The irony of this is that your choice makes you an incredibly selfless and strong parent for putting your family’s needs before your own emotions.
So I did not choose to go back to work, and I did not choose to put my child in daycare. To me there was no choice. I choose to work so I can save money out of every paycheck for my family’s emergency fund, and my son’s savings account. I choose to work because my employer provides a decent health insurance plan that my son will depend on. I choose to work because doing so enables my husband and son and I to do things and go places as a family. I choose to work because I am playing a major role in contributing to the financial stability my son so deserves.
Morgan Gee is a Certified Credit Counselor with Chestnut Credit Counseling Services. Chestnut Credit Counseling Services is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.
Views expressed are the personal views of the author, and do not represent the views of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, its employees, its members, or its clients.