It was on a cold January morning, with my 3-week-old baby curled into my lap, that I finally spent some time investigating childcare options for my anticipated return to work. I made a few calls to local daycare centers, looked up babysitter rates online, and started to crunch some numbers.
I soon realized that however I cut it, there was no way it would make sense for me to return to my part-time college teaching job. Between the cost of childcare and commuting, I would break even, if that.
That was the moment that I became a SAHM. And although I was kind of nervous at the prospect, the truth was, it was what I wanted to do in my heart anyway. I couldn’t really imagine being separated from my sweet baby boy, and couldn’t yet stomach the idea of someone other than me or my husband caring for him.
What followed were many years of joy, coupled with a fair amount of financial stress. My husband worked several part-time jobs, and we lived frugally and simply, considering every purchase we made carefully, and going without whenever we could. We lived in a 600 square-foot apartment when my son was little, because moving to a bigger place was decidedly out of our budget.
And as strange as it may sound, that tiny apartment and minimalistic lifestyle brought us much happiness. I have wonderful memories of being huddled together in our little living room, just the three of us. Even though there was financial strain, the magic of watching our young child grow and change, miraculously, right before our very eyes, was enough to overshadow most of the stress.
Plus, the fact that my husband had a flexible schedule meant that he got to spend a lot of time with us. He was an extremely hands-on dad, helping with the baby, staying up all night with him if he was sick, and letting me sleep in the mornings if he could (every mom knows what a huge bonus this is!). A simple life can have its perks like that.
I won’t lie, though: It was really tough to live off one income. Even though our expenses were very low and we made a conscious effort to live as frugally as possible, living paycheck to paycheck sometimes meant that we needed to put purchases on our credit card, and credit card debt can start to mount up pretty quickly.
But our financial woes reached a crisis state when our son was five, and I was newly pregnant with our second child. My husband lost one of his part-time jobs, and then promptly lost the other. That second one was the main, steadiest source of his income, and also gave us our health insurance.
Soon after that, we began receiving public assistance (Medicaid and food stamps, in our case). We got some help from family, and lived off of our meager savings. But it was a lot of financial strife at once. And it didn’t help that I was sick and pregnant.
Our credit card debt climbed to a place I was definitely embarrassed and terrified to admit, and there were times that I was so consumed with worry, I couldn’t sleep. I was frightened about bringing a new baby into our financial mess, and I worried that we would never get out of it.
That was five years ago, and thankfully, we are in a much better place financially now. My husband has a great job, and now that our kids are older, I have found ways to work from home while they are in school. We have moved to a bigger home, and live what we consider to be a rather charmed life, at least compared to where we were before.
Best of all, we are slowly, but surely climbing out of debt, which is huge for us. And we are even finding ourselves able to save a little here and there.
But those early years, man … they were definitely very tough on us — both financially and emotionally. The level of worry I had to experience in the year or so that my husband was unemployed was dark and deep. It’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
But I will say this: looking back, I have very few regrets.
In our case, living with less meant we got to spend more time with each other. My husband works 50-hour work weeks now, and while he almost always gets home in time for dinner and bedtime, we feel incredibly lucky that he got to spend so much time in the early years with our sons, really forming a deep and lasting bond with them.
And as tough as it was to not be contributing financially to our family (and believe me, I felt some major guilt about that), I don’t regret my years as a SAHM. I couldn’t take my kids to every mommy-and-me class out there, and our “playroom” doubled as our dining room, but I wouldn’t trade those years with my kids for the world.
I know for sure that living simply — and perhaps not entirely financially responsibly — is not for everyone. I also know that there are many valid ways to raise and provide for your family. (Working moms definitely find amazing ways to spend quality time with their kids.)
But if you’re just starting your family, and feel unsure of how it is all going to shake out financially, keep in mind that your kids are only itty-bitty for so long. Eventually they will be in school and you’ll have some extra time to work without having to pay astronomical childcare costs. And before you know it, your children will be able to stay home alone without you — and even get jobs of their own!
If you’re going through those early years right now, and are finding it hard to keep your head above water, hang in there. These years may be rough, but they almost always have a way of working themselves out. So scale back on your life as much as possible, and do what you need to do to stay afloat. Remember: This isn’t forever; it’s just for now. And I promise you it’s more than worth it.
But above all, know this: You are not alone. A lot of us find it really tough at first; and despite how Instagram may make you feel, not everyone is finding it easy to balance the kids and the bills behind the scenes. Have faith that you, too, will get back on your feet in time, and try to enjoy the heck out of your kids when they are as little as they are. It really does go by so fast.