Two Roads To Nowhere and Everywhere: Stay at Home Mom vs Working Mom

I’m sure people reading my blog think I’m crazy with now over $2M in net worth not feeling comfortable leaving work for a while… a few months… a year or two… to spend with my young children. Maybe I am crazy. I’ll tell you what I feel. I feel no different than I did five years ago when my net worth was $500k or 10 years ago when it was $150k.

I am struggling with the concept of time and the time of time. 10 years passes in a blink and yet was it all that fast? I don’t know. 10 years ago with $150k net worth I was just starting my first job in this series of jobs after another series of jobs. I was making $100k. At the time that was such a huge salary I thought I would never earn more. Who would pay me more than $100k for anything?

10 years ago I was 27 going on 28. Approaching my 30s. A far different mindset than approaching one’s 40s. Pre children. Pre marriage. Living with roommates and dating my now husband and struggling with enough depression and self-hatred to push myself to keep going to prove that I could survive. Don’t believe me? It’s all here in this blog. All the years that have sprinted by. The failures. The successes. Three firings later. Day after day of waking up feeling not good enough. Not knowing what I’m doing. Trying to make it work. Trying to fit in. Having good moments. And many bad ones. Ten years later.

What will my life be 10 years from now? I’ll be 47 going on 48. What then? Will this decade feel over in a blink as well? How can I slow it down and make sure it lasts as long as possible – savor every second of it? I don’t know if one can at this age. Time just speeds up. And so there’s time and there’s money. It’s the race of both. You can spend less money. You can’t actually stop time. But to afford to leave the workforce you need a lot of money– and even then the system is rigged against you. That money in the stock market. Sure it will likely keep going up over time. That’s what they tell you. It has in the past. But the past is no indication of what will happen in the future. Though the only way to actually afford the future is to take what you’ve earned and bet on something that likely will go up but really who knows.

I’m too heavy in equities. Too heavy in individual stocks, although mostly in index funds. If the whole market crashes, how much does it matter? Does this mystical, mythical $2M disappear overnight? It doesn’t feel real if it’s not spent and if it’s spent then it isn’t real anymore at all. So it sits there, notated in an overly complex google spreadsheet that I look at each morning to see what it all looks like on that day. I open my computer and start trying to do work for my job that is fulfilling only in when I can help other people do their jobs that I’m uncertain if they find fulfilling or just acceptable in order to earn their own mystical, mythical money. I don’t know. I sit in meetings with senior executives who go off on some rant about something that at best doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of the betterment of the world and at worst are stained with sociopathy and that sly smile in passive aggressive attack that only someone with way more money in the bank can slide across their face so damn effortlessly. Everyone is trying to prove to everyone else that they are needed for those ahead of them to win and so even with the best of intentions it becomes this sick game that I’m not cut out to play.

10 years. My father was still alive. Still diagnosed with cancer. Still dying. But alive. Still yelling at my mother. An artist of arrogance. We were all so much younger then. I try to tell myself. 10 years is a long time. 10 years from now my oldest will be 13. Thirteen. My youngest, either 11 or 9 depending if I have another. I’ll hopefully be alive, but 10 years is also a long time for one’s body to attack itself, for health to slowly… or rapidly fail. For my husband to be here or to be ill or not here at all. For my mother to make it to 78 or pass away in her 70s, at an age that no longer inspires those who hear of passing to gasp noting “she was so young” in their condolences. It seems at 70 or maybe 75 it becomes acceptable to die. In ones 80s no one would feel pity over an early death. And 90 is when one feels pity that the person is still living. How fast the years go. Especially if you don’t make the greatest effort to slow them down.

And how can you slow them down? How can I? Well, I feel like there is a choice here. A fork in the road. Like in Squid Game — everyone chooses to play, even after they see what is at stake. Here I am and I see ahead of me 10 years of my children aging from babies to teens and I wonder how much of those 10 years is worth trading for days of panic attacks and feeling horrible at my job and to tired to be much of a mother.

Quit now and move somewhere affordable seems both like an impossible movie plot and an actual life story that could be mine. If only I wanted it enough. And then my husband agreed to it as well. Which would be quite difficult, but if I really knew in my heart it was the right decision — I don’t know — maybe I could convince him we need to leave this place. In a year sell our house. Get away from the rat race. The rat jungle. The rat infestation and bro culture and imposter syndrome and open office spaces and egos and people do don’t have time to connect or build community or they want you to pay a lot to buy in to a community you’ll never be a part of anyway.

If I quit here and stayed here I’d surely eat into my savings quickly. I’d want to do things during the day and going for walks to local parks would get boring after a while, wouldn’t it? There is much to sign up for if you’re a stay at home mom but then you need the money to fund it. Writing is free, at least. But what about my kid’s activities? How do I make sure I have enough to support their lives? I feel that I owe them the upper middle class life I was raised into. I didn’t know how to provide that but somehow through luck and determination here I am. Upper middle class. I guess. It doesn’t feel it. Not like my parent’s generation. One working parent and a nice house with decently nice everything. I’m certainly well off now in most of the world. I certainly don’t feel it.

But I do feel I owe my kids a life at least as good as the one I had growing up. My sister, who makes $14 an hour, refuses to have children because she says she can’t afford them. Yet many people have kids with low incomes — it’s just we were raised into a certain style of childhood and life and we feel our kids deserve at least that. I don’t want my kids to be spoiled. I don’t think I was either. Not horribly so. A little. But not enough to sit on my ass and do nothing. My sister has an incredible work ethic but no belief in herself or her ability to do better. I have random spurts of energy and a character flaw that is my need above all else to prove that I can survive and fit in and thrive in a world that may not be worth surviving.

What if — one year from now — I’m sitting somewhere, some nondescript down maybe — watching waves of a lake-ocean-river-sea crash to shore. Maybe it’s thundering. Or drizzling. Or pouring.  And I’m soaked and running in puddles with my children who are still children. And they don’t remember mom everyday at her laptop working or avoiding working and looking at social media only to be working later when she shouldn’t be because she can’t focus or get anything done. They wouldn’t remember the mess of a house or limited meals but instead clean floors and nutritious fresh food. We’d go on playdates and maybe get to know some people. Really get to know them as friends and build a community, though that’s wishful thinking as being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t suddenly turn me into Miss Popular. But still. What kind of life would that be? One where I am watching my account balances shrink each month instead of grow. I’d be terrified.

That fear is what drives me. But I don’t want to get to 2031 and look back on the last 10 years and say I traded moments for money. I let myself fall into the trap of worrying every single fucking day and waking up each morning feeling sick to my stomach because I know I’ll never do a consistently good enough job at work. Because I’m always on the verge of losing my job and having to admit failure yet again. To pick myself up again. And spend months trying to prove myself. A few victories here and there but nothing enough to stick. And so on. 10 years of that. I don’t know if I can take 10 more years of that.

See, 10 years ago seems like a long time ago. But 4 years ago seems like practically no time at all. Sure, in that time I’ve had two kids and both have grown quite a bit, but that time is all a blur and it doesn’t feel like 4 years it feels like 3 months. Though there is so much of it that I don’t remember. That skips time. And I’m afraid the next 10 years will be that but even faster. So I desperately want to slow the time down. To be present with my family. To take time to be a mom, not a mom who is thinking about the 10 meetings she has the next week while assisting her sons onto an amusement park ride.

I should be grateful that I have the money I do have. It does provide some options. It’s enough to tease me with those options but not enough for the options to be all that real. It’s enough, earned fast enough, to throw in my face that if I leave the workforce I’m not only going to be digging into my savings, but I’m also giving up the opportunity to really get to a place of financial independence for a lifestyle I want to have for my family. Why not a few more months? A few more years? Why not just keep holding my breath until my bank account ticks up to the next hundred thousand? I’m thinking $2.5M before leaving this job, but why not stick around until $3? Why not find another job to take me to $4 or $5M? $5M is the ultimate goal, $200k a year of income from the growth. Maybe then. Maybe then I’ll feel like I can slow down. But when will then be? Will my mind be complete mush by then? It’s hard to say. I just know I’m tired. I’m so tired. I’m tired mentally and physically and I need to sleep. So I’ll sleep now and wonder more about how people make decisions and how I can make decisions and if I’m even allowed to since now I’m a mom and a breadwinner and a home owner and I don’t get to just pick up and change things if they get too hard. This is real adulting. And it better be because I’m fucking old now.

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