In a lot of cases, the responsibility for income changed from year to year. Maybe the husband put the wife through school, and then the wife did the same for her husband. Maybe the wife stayed home with the babies for the first few years and then went back to work while the husband stayed home. Maybe she worked full-time and her husband freelanced, then she lost her job, so now they’re both working part-time, but soon he’s going back to school so he can get more credentials.
I never thought about stuff like this when I was a teenager. I thought you either worked full-time or you stayed home with your kids. I don’t know why I never considered other options, or never imagined that I’d do one thing for a while and then do something else. I knew that life might derail my plans, but to me that only meant that my husband might die and I’d have to work full-time. I was planning for SAHM-hood all the way, baby. I don’t regret staying home, but I do regret my lack of planning for other possibilities. I wish it had occurred to me that there were more than two options.
What would I do differently with my perfect hindsight?
I would have taken advantage of my opportunities at a younger age. I married and graduated at just about the same time, but DH still had a year of school left. I told myself I was just putting in time until he was done with school, so it didn’t matter what kind of job I had—I ended up in a call center, commuting by bus every day from Provo to Salt Lake City.
It was horrible.
We were poor, so poor, and I hated my job. But I didn’t think my BA qualified me to do much else. I didn’t realize then that once we started having kids and I could quit my job, that the next stage of life was finite. I probably won’t stay home forever. I also didn’t realize I was selling myself short.
Looking back on it now, I’d use that pre-kid time as preparation for the rest of my life. I’d get out there and knock on doors and get myself a better-paying job with real experience, or I’d go to graduate school. As it was, my life felt so overwhelming then that I just felt completely trapped. Of course I can see a more sensible direction now. If, pre-kid, I’d had a more demanding job where my skills were more valued, I might have been able to talk myself into a part-time position later on if and when I decided to go back to work. Like many newlyweds, I didn’t appreciate my pre-child days because I didn’t recognize the opportunities right in front of me.
This doesn’t mean that I’m trapped now (or later, when I go back to work) because I didn’t take advantage of all the options I had then. There are still options. They might take longer than they would have at a younger age, but they’re still available.
All or nothing aren’t the only choices, but it can feel that way. And when neither all nor nothing works well for me, it’s easy to believe I’m trapped. I can get so frustrated looking at the either/or that I forget to look at the in-between: Options C, D, and E. And any one of those options doesn’t have to be a life sentence. A choice can last any length of time: for a year, maybe, or just while the kids are little, or until I get something else figured out. I often have more choices than I think I do, but if I don’t explore all the options, my circumstances become excuses to make myself miserable.
Life gives us a lot of choices. And sometimes they aren’t as simple as we think they’ll be. So this is what I’ll tell my kids: Don’t assume you know how your life is going to work out, because you don’t. Structure your choices to open as many doors for yourself as possible, both now and in the future.