This is a guest post from Sarah Gilbert.
Every once in a while, I’ll get swept up in the idea of a job. A friend will post something on Facebook or e-mail me a job description or I’ll just come across it, in the way we do these days — on the internet, it’s sure — and I’ll engage in desperate mental flirtation with the concept of me as (who knows)…
The executive director of a farm-centric non-profit, or the half-time marketing manager of my friend’s startup, or the web editor of a bike culture magazine, or even the farmer’s market counter girl for another friend’s chocolate shop. I’ll come up with all the ways I could fit this into my life (how do I still find time for the personal finance writing? The book I’m working on?) and figure out how I’d be able to save some of the income and then…
Childcare is the profit-killer
I had a dream. Or, I have one regularly, typically involving barista spots at Starbucks or local coffeehouses, or getting up at 6 a.m. Saturday to sell vegetables at the farmer’s market. While I have an MBA and could get a high-pressure all-of-my-mental-energy job for six figures (and 60-80 hours a week), I’ve chosen to focus more of my mental energies on my kids and writing while they’re young. Food retail jobs, I’ve mused, would be a great way to earn a little money being around things I love (coffee, local food) and enjoying that precious opportunity to observe humanity! I am, at heart, a novelist.
Kids are expensive, and Saturday morning crack-of-dawn childcare isn’t cheap, though; I pay $10 or $12 an hour for those babysitters who would be willing and able to arrive before dawn. Unless I was paid $20 or $25 an hour (laugh along with me), I’d barely net enough to buy a couple of bunches of kale, let alone my favorite locally-raised-and-cured bacon. I’ve calculated, as I’ve biked to far-away events, that every 10 minutes costs $2 in child care. Great idea! But I can only “afford” to do jobs that pay professional rates.
Childcare costs are not the only thing
I spent five minutes intensely in love with the bike magazine editing position. The price seemed right, and I was skilled at all the duties the job description mentioned. The job was supposed to be “three hours a day” and I figured I could do this while my two older boys were in school. That just leaves my four-year-old! My sister’s been offering to watch him for about $4 an hour during the day. I’d have to get him there and pick him up, meaning my other two free hours would be used up in that. So I’d spend all my “free” time, needing more (and more expensive) child care for my other commitments and passions, and that would just be if I was, indeed, able to fit the responsibilities into those three hours — an assumption I doubted highly.
It wasn’t just the money this time. I would make a reasonable “real hourly wage” thanks to my sister’s bargain offer; less than that retirement-fund-growing goal I’d had in mind, but more than two bunches of kale. But I’d lose nearly as much mental space and most of my after-bedtime bonus time — when I usually do my for-love writing — as with the MBA-quality job. For a net of less than a thousand dollars a month. I dropped that dream job opportunity like a bad lover.
Sometimes, the opportunity is worth the opportunity cost
I’m not always so ruthless with my childcare cost-benefit analysis, and you shouldn’t be either. There are plenty of reasons why I might want to give up all my mental energy or work a job that netted me a bagful of organic vegetables. Take the marketing job at a friend’s startup; if my husband hadn’t been deployed halfway across the world, I probably would have gone for it. The job wouldn’t have made me a ton of net income, but I would have been able to deduct my childcare expenses on my taxes, and more importantly, I would have had some great resume-building experiences.
If my goal for the next five years was to get my kids off to school and find one of those MBA-quality jobs, I’d have been crazy not to take any position that allowed me to pad my resume without giving up much time with my kids.
And if my goal had been that non-profit executive director job (one I would so love), I think the farmer’s market position would have been a great door-opener. Working elbow-to-elbow with the leadership at the farmer’s market would prove my dedication to farming as well as making great connections in the local network of food-and-farms folks.
Juggling motherhood and money ain’t easy
Making a decision to devote your emotional self to your kids in the midst of the would-be-best years of one’s career isn’t easy. It can often mean some very difficult decisions — turning down great opportunities or realizing that rich sources of extra money are really money-losing after you count in the backs and the forths, the after-bedtime extra work, the “friction, ” as I like to call it. But that doesn’t mean you should say “no” to everything, as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons — and remembering to keep a little of your mental energies to devote to yourself!
It’s hardest of all to be a mom if you’re not holding a little back — money, time, and emotions — just for yourself.