Every subsequent child born into a family is supposedly better off. Their parents are further along in their careers, and there’s more money to go around for everyone.
Not exactly true at my house. When it comes to our October focus on Women, Work & Money, my third child is actually the most underprivileged.
When my oldest was her age, his father and I were both working full-time, corporate jobs. When my middle son was her age, his dad was still working corporate full-time, while I had switched to corporate part-time (and had two consecutive books on the New York Times best-seller list). Now dad’s a high-school teacher and mom is a freelance writer.
It would be easy to blame the economy for our decade-long downward mobility. And it is somewhat responsible (I lost my corporate gig with Procter & Gamble Productions when the stock market went South and the soap operas I worked for grew no longer profitable to produce). But, mostly, the reversal of fortune was our decision.
I took the plunge first. Pregnant for the third time, busing one kid to 2nd grade, another to pre-school, while also working full-time in an office and pretending to be running a household simultaneously proved too much. I gave my notice and took a huge pay-cut (along with no benefits) when they, instead of accepting the resignation, generously allowed me to work my own hours from home.
My husband went next. He’d been a teacher earlier in his career, and was in the process of getting his Master’s in Instructional Technology when the Internet boom hit, and the siren song of well-funded start-ups versus struggling non-profits beckoned him away. But, the plan was always for him to go back to teaching, and, after we finished paying off our NYC co-op, that’s exactly what we did. He also took a substantial pay-cut to return to doing what he loved.
We tightened our belts, but, things were alright. Until I lost my gig, too.
We had a choice now. We could both have gone back to corporate, or we could stick to our low paying, but fulfilling careers (not to mention summers and holidays off with the kids and a schedule flexible enough to stay home when someone got sick). My husband remained a teacher and I began hustling frantically for freelance writing work, as well as republishing my previously in print novels as enhanced e-books. And we tightened out belts even more.
Cable was the first thing to go. Followed by vacations, eating out, new clothes, movies seen in theaters, magazine subscriptions, toys, books not from the library, groceries not on sale… if it wasn’t vital to survival, it was out. (Read more of my cheap chronicles, here.)
And–knock wood, pooh, pooh, pooh–everything is still alright. Yes, life is harder in some ways now, always hunting for bargains, getting creative with leftovers (a popular dish at our house is “Mommy, mommy, what do you see?” which basically involves throwing all odds and ends into a pan and seeing what happens), walking to pick up each of the kids from school to save money on bus fare (no matter rain, sleet, or snow), sewing clothes and scrubbing out the stains (my husband does that one) to pass them down. Not to mention my basically working all the time since, when you’re self-employed, there’s no such thing as taking a break on someone else’s dime.
But, I’m okay with all that. The thing that I find nearly unbearable at times, is the lack of steady personal income. There are days when I literally only sell one book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble and make a whopping $2 bucks.
It’s not that we need the money, per se. (Though, of course, we do need the money. Want to buy an enhanced e-book?) It’s more the fact that money equals validation. And no money equals, well….
A paycheck implies that you were judged and deemed worthy by someone. Anyone. It doesn’t really matter who. It means that you are a contributing member of society and to your own family. As they say on Thomas, “I’m a Really Useful Engine!” It means that you did something right. Something quantifiably right.
Yes, my husband appreciates me. Yes, my kids remember (sometimes) to say thank you. I offer advice free of charge on NYC schools to grateful parents, and pass on frugal family tips to others who can use them, and answer questions for fellow writers looking to make the leap into digital publishing.
But, none of that pays. And money talks. Apparently a lot louder than I ever realized when I was regularly earning it.
I know that you shouldn’t judge a person’s self worth by their net worth. I know that money doesn’t bring happiness (obviously, since we’ve chosen to turn our backs on potentially a great deal of it). I know all those things and I do my best to live by those principles. And yet, on days when, despite monumental effort and a ton of other Really Useful tasks accomplished, I’ve failed to earn a dime, I feel like I’ve simply… failed.