Monday, March 14, 2011

A bookkeeper, not a money manager

I read this article in Salon and shuddered nervously, mainly because it speaks to a lot of the big fears that I am grappling with right now.

“I had inadvertently become part of an opt-out revolution much different than the one writer Lisa Belkin described in an article for the New York Times Magazine in 2003. In that revolution, upper-middle-class, Type A women opted out of their MBA-fueled careers to stay home and overzealously manage their toddlers' lives. In my revolution, relatively average women get married and -- especially after having children -- consciously opt out of duties considered somehow "male," and I'm not just talking about mowing the lawn. I'm talking about money. I became, like many other middle-aged married mothers, Lucy to my husband's Ricky, focusing on kids and home and letting him focus on money and all the big decisions that come with it -- should we refinance the house? Buy a minivan? Get a new dining room table? Fix the roof? Open a Roth IRA?”

With Z2 on the way, I have been thinking a lot about what I want to do for work after my maternity leave and what that means for our financial situation. To be 100% crystal clear, I want to work. I am work-identified, I want my career, and I don’t think that going to work has any impact on my kids, other than a positive one. However, I have lots of conflicting feelings about leaving those kids to go to a job that I can barely tolerate and that I don’t seem to be advancing in anymore. There are also real challenges to trying to juggle two corporate work schedules especially when one person’s schedule (YG’s) requires a lot of traveling, and the other person’s (my) company values a lot of face time. I would like something with a little more flexibility, and in some ideal utopia, I would not mind working somewhere where the product or solution or whatever was something I really cared about. I would not mind that at all.

But, dudes, I am SCARED. Like the author, “I bought into the belief system -- one that pervades society . . . -- that the only jobs with value are the ones with a paycheck.” It was scary enough to cut my hours back after Zygote, but I knew that I was still bringing in a decent paycheck. To leave the corporate life behind entirely means leaving behind money, and that terrifies me to my core for the following list of random reasons*:

*NOTE: These are all MY reasons and don’t really reflect the realities of our marriage in any way. YG remains the most awesome of husbands and is not driving these thoughts. It's all my stuff -- most of which could be filed away in the whole ‘way you were raised’ drawer of shit.

· If I don’t make as much money, my needs become less important. When we both work the same amount, we both can ask for what we need – like time to go to the gym or out with friends or to watch whatever the hell tv we want to watch.

· If I don’t make as much money, I don’t get a say in our money. I have always been in control of my own finances – bought my own house, have the 401k, have to IRA, have Zygote’s 529, etc. Would working less mean giving some of that up? If YG gets transferred across the world, do I have a choice? If YG thinks we should pay off all our debt, do I have a say? Right now I do, but what about later?

· If I don’t make money, my career doesn’t really count. I don’t want my career to be just another thing we try to squeeze into our really busy lives. Right now, it matters because it helps pay the bills. If it doesn’t pay the bills, is it still important? From a mental health perspective, yes, but what if my job is just something else to schedule around?

· If I don’t make money, I won’t be taken seriously as an employee. I will be just a wife and just a mom and just an order taker and…

· Total transparency about what I spend my money on. Right now, we have my money, his money and our money. We spend within reason, but if I want to buy a sweater or a round of drinks for my friends, I do and I don’t really think about it. If I don’t bring in money, does YG get to tell me what I can and cannot spend on? Is it going to be all Sophie’s choice between clean bikini line and college education for the kids?

And probably the biggest, and therefore, least rationale of the bunch:

· What else would I do for work?

· What if I decide to leave the corporate life and feed the poor, and I become financially dependent on YG, and then he trades me in for a newer model or gets terribly sick and I have to raise all these kids by myself on a crappy salary?

· What if I’m not actually good at anything besides being a cog in the machine?

We have some time to work this out, and I alternate between thinking that this is the most terrifying time of my life and also the most exciting. I never really thought about my career in detail – it just sort of happened. I thought I would be writing stories and working at a coffee shop, so when something different happened, I just went with it. I have never asked myself the question, “What do you want to do every day?” Until now.

1 comment:

shanna said...

Totally depressing to say this, but: right now, as the non-money-earner in our family, a lot of those fears have become my reality.