I think we have a problem. For most of us, it’s nearly impossible to get by on just one income, and yet, having both parents work takes its toll, too. Any parent knows that keeping a home and family running is a full-time job. Fitting it all in around a 50-hour work week isn’t easy.
“But it’s totally possible for one parent to stay home if you’re careful with your money!” people say. But those are usually people whose spouse has a job that offers a living wage, people who really could pay a mortgage on one income if they are frugal. But that’s not everyone. And let’s not pretend it is.
For the longest time I thought living on one income was the way it was supposed to be done.
But as I looked around, I had almost no peers who were managing to make it work without working at least part-time in some capacity. And we were all being frugal. The post-recession world is just different.
When I became a parent, I was working full-time while my husband finished the last 18 months of his degree. I hated being away from my baby. I was living on three hours of (broken) sleep a night and completely drowning in the responsibility of my job, my role as a new mom and trying to fit in all of the home maintenance and adulting that needed to happen in the “extra” hours of my day. Hours that didn’t exist.
We made a move from Texas to Florida when my husband graduated and we switched roles as breadwinner. But the job market was rough, even for someone like him with a four-year degree from a prestigious program at a private university. After working for a few months as a medical tech at a mental health facility—a high stress job with 12-hour shifts that paid just above minimum wage—he found a salaried position elsewhere with regular 9 to 5 office hours. The salary was $25,000 per year.
After our daughter was born and we were a family of four, our household was right at the federal poverty line.
We lived in a tiny house. We shared a car (and didn’t have a car payment). We cooked at home. We didn’t take vacations or shop for entertainment. We didn’t have cable. But mortgage, gas, health insurance, car maintenance, some small student loan payments and groceries couldn’t be covered on that salary.
I worked part-time teaching ballet to help supplement. Daniel worked tons of overtime to keep us afloat. We had no savings. How could we? We could barely survive month-to-month.
But it made absolutely no financial sense for me to get a job and have to pay for childcare for three little kids. We would be paying more than $20,000 per year in child care costs. Even if I could find a job that paid the same as my husband’s (it was deep in the recession so jobs were scarce), I would be taking home less than $5,000 per year.
That $5,000 would evaporate if we needed a second car to get me to work. I would have less time to meal plan, cook at home and save money. We could actually LOSE money if I went back to work. And I would be missing out on being home with my babies—something I did not want to miss out on.
There’s major problems with an economy that requires both parents to work in order to survive.
As devout Catholics, we believe that children are gifts from God and that openness to life is a virtue. We believe that the family and home should center our lives and that nurturing them is a duty that takes precedence over any career. And yet, the way our economy is set up makes that very difficult to live that out.
Not all technological progress ends up having positive results, but one thing I love about the age of the Internet is that it has opened up so many opportunities for parents to pursue unconventional ways to support their families.
While I can’t change the whole economy single-handedly, helping people figure out how to work from home is a huge passion of mine. Because it has completely changed our lives.Supplementing our income with my work as a blogger and freelance writer made it possible for my husband to cut back to reasonable hours and be able to spend time with our kids. It made it possible for us to make a crazy career change and move to a non-profit sustainable agriculture training farm so my husband could do a year-long internship.
Working from home has allowed me to have the parenting relationship with my kids that I always wanted. I can homeschool, keep the laundry going and help pay our bills with work that I love to do.
I control my hours. I can ignore work if my kids are sick and need more of their mom—because my boss is me. I can fit my hours in when my kids are asleep if I need to. Working from home has completely changed our family life for the better.
And because blogging has brought me into a network of other women who are also working from home, I see how it is benefitting families in a variety of circumstances. There are so many different work-at-home opportunities out there that would have been unimaginable 25 years ago.
While I wish that two incomes just weren’t necessary for families to make it, I think that for a lot of parents working from home is the best answer we’ve got right now.