I grew up during the age of epidemic divorce. By the time I hit high school, divorce rates were so common that nearly one out of two of my classmates (who had parents married in the 80s) had divorced parents (this is not to mention the number of classmates who had never-married parents which was around 1 in 10 in my district). Broken promises and broken houses were the facts of my childhood.
My growing up years were squeezed between the end of the feminist movement and the beginning of the post-feminist movement (neither movement is one I like, but I'm very grateful for both of them). The promises of kids and the corner office were beginning to fall flat among the women who had missed out on their kids growing up years, but also had failed to develop a thriving career. On the other hand, the militant mamas (and their well meaning husbands) who insist on the economic valuation of their vocation as a stay at home mom were not yet popular.
Rather than succumbing to one trend or the other, or simply allowing me drift aimlessly trying to figure everything out on my own, my parents made the decision to teach me how to value people (especially children), relationships (especially marriage), and commitments more highly than money.
They made sure that I understood that I had choices. They helped me to understand that I could have all the business acumen in the world and still decide to stay home. They made sure that I didn't view staying at home with children as a consolation prize for unintelligent women. And they taught me that if I got married (which I did), that I was entering a team, and not both teammates had to make money. And most of all, they taught me not to fear making these choices. Our culture already values the corner office and wealth- my parents taught me that wasn't the only life of value.
I so wish that other women knew that they have choices. I wish I could shout it from the rooftops.
In my daily life, I see women struggling to express what they want in a relationship because they fear divorce. I see women painfully putting off having children because they fear the economic timing isn't right for their family. I see so many women who are trapped in their six figure jobs because they fear that stepping away from it means choosing a less valuable life (economically speaking, they are correct).
But when money stops being our primary value, then we are set free from the bondage of fear, and we can really start to live. And I see that this practically plays out (in a mostly good way) in my life.
The problem is fear not money
Sometimes, I read about people who wonder whether they should pay off all their debt before getting married. I see experts advising that couples should keep their finances separate until the debts are paid or until some time has passed or whatever. How should we split the bills? How much blow money do we get?
These questions seem to be about money, but really they are about fear. Can I trust my husband if we don't come into the relationship with perfect economic equality? Will my wife begrudge me if I spend money and only earn half of what she does? Can I buy new underwear or will it undermine our relationship?
If you've only seen relationships that operate within the fragile framework of fear, then its going to be difficult to overcome fear in your own life (though I think its possible). And if we think about marriage and kids and career only in the context of money we're never going to address the problem that fear is keeping us from saying what we really want.
I think that the main reason that my husband is in grad school right now is because he trusts me. I think the main reason I can consider quitting my job is because I trust him. We don't need to have our entire economic future shored up to build the lifestyle we want now. It turns out that we just need to be a little entrepreneurial and a lot frugal (sadly, no more throwing money at people to solve all our problems), and we can move more towards our desired lifestyle.
I'm not saying our marriage is perfect (it's definitely not), nor am I saying that our life visions are perfectly aligned (we try). What I'm saying is that I can trust that my husband doesn't belittle my desires, and he supports my vocational aspirations.
But Don't Be Stupid
When you take fear out of your life decisions, then you open up a whole world of possibilities including staying home with kids, marrying a dude with debt, or risking your career for an entrepreneurial idea, but please don't be stupid. Don't saddle yourself by taking on consumer debt. To the extent that is humanly possible, make wise choices with your money (or lack thereof).
You don't have to grow wealthy now, or even later on, but your decisions will impact your financial flexibility. Your ability to choose the life you want as you have opportunity. Please remember that your future self wants to make choices too. So, don't be stupid.
I haven't quit my job just yet, because I'm trying not to be stupid. I definitely want health coverage for the delivery of our baby. I want to have steady enough freelance income to know that if we got into a pinch, we could rebuild our emergency fund. Maybe I'm living out of fear- I don't deny the possibility. But I think I'm just trying to not be stupid which is about the best I can ask for right now.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.