The costs of parenthood

As a member of Gen X, I’m almost required to be a helicopter parent. But even if my generation didn’t feel this way, I would. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t planning ahead to when I would become a mom. I was stressing out about it at 17. I spent an entire year at 35 trying to get and stay pregnant, and half of one at 39. I quit my job of 12 years for a part-time job that allowed me to work at home so I could have more time with my kids. And now, while facing financial ruination, I am holding out for another job that will allow me to work from home. Because money < time.

I live in a country that, inexplicably, does not provide paid maternity leave. Even though I took out a short-term disability insurance policy, the three months I took off with each of my newborns were largely unpaid. Forget the cost of diapers. Simply spending my children’s first three months of life with them (two-thirds of which I was medically required to take off as I recovered from my cesareans) cost me more than $20,000 in lost wages. I promise you that diapers are nowhere near that expensive. I could have purchased a car with the money I lost by not working those months.

I would not have traded that time for the world, though. Nor am I itching to get back to the office. When I returned to work after my daughter was born, my days looked like this:

5:00 a.m.: Get up. Slap on makeup, fix hair, get dressed.

5:15: Gather gear for work (bag, lunch, travel mug, phone).

5:20: Change the baby. Take her to my parents’ house. Snuggle her for a few moments.

5:45: Head to work. Cry the whole way there.

7-11:00: Work. Take frequent bathroom breaks to cry.

11:00-11:30: Spend lunch buying baby things in Target to assuage the guilt of being away from her all day.

11:30-3:00 p.m.: Work. And cry, quietly, claiming allergies if someone asked why I was sniffling.

3:00: Head home. Cry more.

4:15-6:00: Hug my baby, chat with my parents, eat dinner.

6:00-7:00: Hug my baby. Chat with R.

7:00: Shower; start preparing to do it all again tomorrow.

I didn’t have a kid to spend just a handful of hours with her per day. And now that I have two kids, my time is even more precious.

I don’t want them to remember me as constantly working. I want to go on field trips, be involved in the PTO, take them to museums and parks, watch sunsets and shooting stars. I want to cook them dinner, bake them cookies, play board games with them. I don’t want to be exhausted all the time. I don’t want to have to outsource household tasks just to maintain my sanity.

How much is all that worth? Can you put a price on family time?

So no, I am not eager to take up my commute again. I’m not chomping at the bit to return to the cubicle. I want to be here for my kids while they’re kids. They don’t care if we have a nice car or live in a huge house. They care that they have their mommy on tap, whenever they may need her. So that’s my main priority. I owe them that much. The rest I’ll deal with best I can.

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