26 October 2009

Stay at Home Parenting - Since When is it Only for the Wealthy?

Earlier this year on the Work it Mom Blog, Nataly wrote a post on nannies at kids birthday parties. This generated a really interesting (read: somewhat ire inducing) comment thread and one theme that seemed to run subtly throughout was that parents who could "afford" to keep their kids home, out of daycare, were automatically relegated to a class of people who could "obviously" afford nannies or au pairs.

Reading through some of the comments, I could only scratch my head and say, "Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot. Over?"

We live in one of the more expensive cities in the country - Boston, MA. Granted, it's not as bad as NYC or San Francisco, but I've also lived in many other parts of this nation and it is right up there in terms of outrageous cost of living. That being said, as I've noted here before, my husband is a stay at home parent to our almost 14 month old child. But that doesn't mean we're wealthy. Rather, quite the opposite.

I suppose that on top of the title of "Working Mother", I also carry the honor of being a "Breadwinner Mom" (whoop dee doo?). That was never more apparent when, before Amelie came along, we sat down to figure out what our child care options were going to be after my maternity leave came to an end.

My husband worked as a mechanic and I work as an Emergency Manager for the Department of Defense. Neither of these job titles hold huge dollar signs behind them, believe me. Because that is the case, I also moonlight as a military reservist and a bartender at our VFW which makes a big difference - although admittedly, I had been performing all jobs long before my husband came into my life...and

No, the truth of the matter is that we're very, very lucky. Our condo is a 3 bedroom, 1000 square foot dream in a triple decker owned by a longtime friend - so we definitely don't pay anywhere near market value for it. We only own one car and we bought that from our best friend at a seriously reduced price after our old car blew a transmission (4 months after I finally paid it off). While I make too much to qualify for any form of assistance from anyone, anywhere in the universe, I did manage to sob story may way onto fixed price option utility plans. I have access to a military Commissary which means that even though I do spend 200 dollars every two weeks on food (so it seems), I still get 3x the amount that I could on the civilian market. Our furniture is a mix of rent-to-own, used and IKEA brand. My wardrobe, thankfully, will never go out of style unless women stop wearing jeans and t-shirts.

So that's how we do it...but why did we do it? Because the only daycares that we found in our area, with the schedules we needed, were astronomically high in price. My husband's entire paycheck and a little of my own would have gone to her care each week. We decided that working solely to provide daycare was pointless. Yes, it's meant a lot of sacrifice in terms of how we live, but I don't think that our daughter will ever know it. There's always food on her plate, clothes on her back and (too many) toys for her amusement. She has a bookcase brimming with books, enough stuffed animals to lose herself in (a favored pasttime, actually) and something to occupy her time, with or without our help.

To do this, it means we don't often go out. We have one night a month set aside for ourselves and we usually just go to our VFW where the entertainment is free, the drinks are dirt cheap and the friends are pletniful. To do this, it means I make my own lunches 5 days a week and rarely buy my coffee out anymore. To do this, we wear our own clothes and shoes until they simply can't be worn any longer. To do this, we rarely buy The Little Things - a book, a game, a trinket or bauble - that we might have not thought twice about in the past.

We're often down to our last before I get paid again, but that's OK. We have shelter, good food, lights, warmth, little perks like cable and yes, the internetz, phone and car. We use the subway as often as possible and limit our family outings to mostly free events and places (the beach, the parks, meandering, aimless rambles throughout the city).

It can be done without any measure of wealth. It's a matter of personal choices and for us, a lot of luck and goodwill from friends. We decided that we just don't NEED certain things and those things aren't missed. But does this mean we're well off enough to afford a nanny or to host an au pair? The idea makes me laugh. We've neither the income nor the space to do either (yes, we did research those options) and the implication that the ability to stay home equates to the ability to have this sort of child care is preposterous.

So, how's it working thus far? Well, Most days, M dreads the prospect of enrolling her in school and returning to work. That day is still a long way off, but he's accustomed to their routine and though he'll tell anyone who listens that he has the most demanding boss in the world, an observation that is pretty close to truth, he also admits to not wanting to trade this job in for anything else. Sure, sometimes the arrangement feels a little foreign to us - people seem to think that, by and large, we're an anomaly (not true!) and apparently, rich (lollerskates), but that's OK. Everyone's situation is different. Ours is no exception.


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