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On becoming the breadwinner

Categories: economy


I’ve been working like an addict since January 1, lining up freelance jobs in neat parallel rows on the table before me, and then snorting them until my brain goes numb. It wasn’t that I wanted to give up the rest of my life for two months–family, friends, sleep–but that I couldn’t say no. Extra work = extra money, and extra money = less worry. The trade-off, however (and there’s always a trade-off), has been feeling disconnected, like an outsider in my own home, in my own family. I’ve watched from afar while everyone else went to Superbowl parties and the aquarium, while Daddy read bedtime stories alone (well, with the baby), and then ate dinner and watched the Olympics without me. Other families have it far worse and for far longer, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard.

And then the bomb dropped.

The company my spouse contracts with–the only company he contracts with–decided, amidst a weak (albeit recovering) economy and a spate of bad luck, to go out of business. Just like that, we became a one-income family, and a part-time income at that. All the extra freelance money I’d earmarked for this or that minor splurge? Yanked out of the vacation fund, the sushi fund, the pants-that-fit fund, and dragged kicking and screaming into the mortgage fund, the property tax fund, the gas/electricity/phone fund, the ramen fund.

I’m trying not to panic, at least not right away. We have a little savings, we have saleable assets (I paid off my car just two weeks ago!), and we have the kinds of education and job experience that lead to opportunity. We have options. There is more than one way we can make this work. And yet…MAN. It sucks.

One of the options–a last-resort option, in my opinion–is for me to look for full-time work at a company who can pay more and offer better benefits than the indie nonprofit I’ve been employed at for going on nine years–the company that allows me complete schedule flexibility, the company that allows me to work from home when I need/want to, the company that I LOVE. Like I said, this is the last option I want to explore, but already I’ve pulled out the pro/con list and started weighing a full-time salary against things like spending less time with my son, and sending him to daycare for the first time in his life. I always knew having a baby would permanently tip the scale of my loyalties to favor family over career, but I didn’t count on that shift being so…incomplete and tenuous. I thought the issue would be simple, obvious, black and white, not this grayscale gradient of indecision. What am I willing to give up, and for what gains? Is there a price at which I can be bought away from my family, in order to support my family?

It’s nothing we haven’t heard before: It’s merely that old struggle of a mom trying to preserve who she is as a person outside of being a parent and partner, but it means something different to me now that I might soon become one of those women who really doesn’t have a choice. They say you can’t put a price on family, on togetherness, on being there as your children grow up, but you know what? Sometimes you have to.

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14 comments so far...

  • Oh god, I’m so sorry to hear about this! What rotten luck. Poor Simon. Will keep our ears to the ground for job leads. Let us know if we can help at all with anything else. The offer of free babysitting is an open-ended one!

    Nothing But Bonfires  |  February 24th, 2010 at 12:21 pm

  • As you very well know, I’m in the same boat as you. While I consider it a huge blessing that I can provide for our family, I kind of hate that I HAVE to do it, as opposed to choosing to do it.

    Rooting for you guys, per always.

    Angella  |  February 24th, 2010 at 12:54 pm

  • I hear you. OH DO I HEAR YOU. Bryan has been out of work for 18 months so my paycheck? IS IT. And it’s not enough, not by a longshot. So I weigh the options of moving to another job pros/cons etc. And it sucks the big one for sure. So feel free to vent.

    And let me know what Simon does and I will help with any job leads that I can. Thinking of you guys!!!

    samantha jo campen  |  February 24th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

  • What a crappy-ass situation. I know you guys will pull through and find something that works for you, but in the meantime it’s just got to be a lot of stress and questions. Bah! Sorry to hear the news.
    Maybe you could just move to Canada and we could have a Kickyboots/DutchBlitz/AGirlandABoy commune? Think of the fun….

    Amanda Brown  |  February 24th, 2010 at 1:07 pm

  • Oooh, I hear you. I’m in the same boat. You will find a way to make it work, but you’re right, there’s a price, and what that is is different for every family.

    Hang in there!

    Lylah  |  February 24th, 2010 at 1:11 pm

  • Thanks, you guys. I’m definitely still in the “Wah! Why me?” stage, which I suppose is better than the “Oh god, we’re going to be homeless” stage, but it’s still the pits. Thanks for your support.

    Leah K  |  February 24th, 2010 at 1:18 pm

  • Ah, women have pretty much always worked full-time. The woman in the cottage didn’t have a choice about spinning and weaving all day long, either. The best thing to do is take on a positive mindset - I thank God that I am able to do what it takes on this particular day. There is really nothing to be resentful about. It’s an adjustment, but that could be a good thing ultimately.

    Good luck!

    SKL  |  February 24th, 2010 at 1:22 pm

  • I feel for you! I have been the breadwinner from the start in my family so it’s a bit different since it didnt happen suddenly. However, not having the option to work is sometimes so hard. I often wish that I could stay home or work part-time, but then I try to remember and remind myself that at least one of us has a great job in this economy.

    All the best!

    Melanie  |  February 25th, 2010 at 9:11 am

  • So sorry Leah. That really sucks. I was the one who got the axe in my family and I consider that a blessing…I’m where I want to be and I’m better at being the SAH parent as well. Wishing the best for you guys. This economy is making my hair grey!

    lainey  |  February 26th, 2010 at 2:21 pm

  • Oh fuck! Poor Simon! And you!

    Doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out for another, better gig. (i have all Bay Area design job postings on CraigsList automatically delivered right to my Google reader - lazystyle!) You don’t have to apply for anything, and even if you do apply, you don’t have to take it. There just might be something ELSE out there that’s almost as good as what you’ve got going now but pays you more. You know all this! Why am I saying it?! I love to hear myself talk…?

    Let’s get together soon so I can tell you some more stuff you already know!

    Sara  |  February 26th, 2010 at 5:07 pm

  • Situations like that are always incredibly difficult. Whatever has the best balance of schedule flexibility, genuine interest, and monetary benefits has to be the best choice but finding the best middle ground can be really tough. Great post though.

    ZFrancis  |  March 1st, 2010 at 1:13 pm

  • I am a full-time working mother of a 7 month-old and for all intents and purposes, have no real choice about working. I feel your struggle…I live it everyday. I am thankful for a job, but when I had to send my sick daughter to day care this morning, I was so sad and felt so guilty. At the end of the day, I have to believe that life is about seasons…and this season is the one where I work and care for my child and the “me” has to take a secondary spot…for now.

    JHS  |  March 2nd, 2010 at 9:08 am

  • So sorry you are going through that. I was in the same position for awhile. While tough, it really made me proud that I could support my family when they needed it. I hope that it is temporary and that you figure out what is best for all of you.

    StaceyS  |  March 9th, 2010 at 10:41 am

  • I am so, so grateful that I stumbled across this blog. wow, you sound like me in every way. i can’t wait to keep reading. i feel so alone trying to juggle it all. especially the housework. the career-work i can do. ;-)

    Najwa  |  April 1st, 2010 at 6:35 pm