Monday, April 19, 2021

No Job. New Plan?

It's been a couple months since my sudden retirement, readers, and the days have been calm. Rewarding, even. This is the type of balance I need, at least while the pandemic drags on, Mrs. Done by Forty continues to work, while nearly nine months pregnant, and Toddler AF seeks our attention every moment. It's a lot, but it's a balance we can live with. For me, taking the corporate job out of the routine has added by subtracting. I'm happier. Calmer. More at peace.

What am I doing with my days? The short answer is spending a lot of time with Toddler AF, which means coloring (and buying packs of coloring books when I can find them on sale), reading children's books (and flying through the library's recommended reading lists), teaching him how to type out words on the laptop, squishing playdough into shapes, finding science experiments to do online, and getting all the time in the backyard we can before Arizona's sadistic summer drives us back inside or into the pool.

When he finally, thankfully naps around one, I catch up on reading, ride my bike (though that is not working the past few weeks as it's already too hot by the afternoon), work on the cars a bit (oh yeah, we bought, um, two used cars since I wrote that post about making one car work), taking my new-to-me Saab station wagon out in search of highway onramps, and catching up with friends on the telephone. Or nap. Sometimes I just nap.

Mrs. Done by Forty is again able to work a normal number of hours during a normal part of the day, which is way better than each of us shuffling back and forth between childcare and work until Toddler AF goes to sleep, and then catching up at night. She's calmer, too, and even in the last days of pregnancy, is enjoying the newfound work-life balance that was missing the past year.

It's been such a welcome change that our early retirement plans might be changing, too. Turns out that when we're not both saddled with the stresses of full time work and childcare at the same time, then Mrs. Done by Forty kind of likes her job. At least well enough to maybe keep going for a while, hypothetically, after MC Baby drops this month. She might want to work until the end of the year, or end of the academic year in 2022. Maybe even longer.

At least that's what we're talking about today. Who knows how we'll all feel once we double the amount of demanding children in the house.

She likes the adult outlet as a change of pace to Toddler AF time, and one that lets her use her PhD, too. It's a good fit, and one we never thought we'd be able to find in this city. If she hops out of the workforce now, neither of us are sure if another job will appear in her niche field when both kids are in school sometime around 2026, at least without us having to move to a new state.

And there are some other inherent challenges with this new, half baked plan. The big one, if I'm being honest with myself and with you readers, is that the big benefit of our early retirement was that we'd all have free time to do fun stuff together. We imagined we'd play board games and read books, team up on watching the kids and play together in the backyard. We'd go on excursions around the city, walks and hikes and maybe do some slow traveling internationally too, once MC Baby was old enough and the kids could be vaccinated.

With the caveat that we can never really know how things will turn out until we give them a try, I assume our early retirement day to day will be pretty different if Mrs. Done by Forty is working, maybe going into the office three or five days a week, and I'm home watching the kids.

I think I can get behind the idea of being a stay-at-home dad while my spouse works. I love and support her career choices, and spending time with family was always the big goal in FIRE for me. It's just a change to be doing the parenting alone during the day. A big one, maybe.

If I'm being honest, there are some not so great feelings attached with this change. We've been working towards this goal for about a decade. We talk about it a good bit. Now, there's this new change at the eleventh hour, after I've already left work. And I tend to have a tricky time handling changes.

That said, I'm sympathetic to the reality that, sometimes, when you're right on the precipice of a big decision, it looks different. It's hardest to take the leap when you're standing right on the edge.

In Mrs. Done by Forty's case, it's harder than usual. For one, it's way different for a woman to jump in and out of the workforce than it is for me. The motherhood penalty is real, and re-entering the workforce is harder for parents who leave to care for family than it is for parents who were laid off.

In academia, there are some known biases against mothers already. It's common in Mrs. Done by Forty's field for women to take off their wedding rings in interviews, so the interviewee doesn't immediately assume that she is married and therefore might be having children. She's been given well-meaning advice from professors to wait to have children until after getting tenure, because at that point the department can't discriminate against you if you decide to have them.

We hit a small lottery of sorts by getting a job in Mrs. Done by Forty's field in this city. We'd always assumed that we'd have to move to get a job like that, but we somehow lucked out. Now that she has the job it's harder to give it up, even if doing so was what we'd intended to do all along. Sure, our plan was to take five years off and work again once MC Baby is in school. But what jobs will be available?

More to the point, what jobs will be available to her? I likely can re-enter the workforce in procurement if I wanted to, even after a multi-year hiatus. I'll probably even get a fatherhood bonus of sorts in the interview, being viewed favorably as a parent who decided to spend time with his children.

Will she?

I know this post is already running too long, but there's also a less charitable problem I'm having with this change, too. But hey, if you can't be honest on your blog, where can you be?

I have some hang-ups about being a stay at home dad. It's stupid, but it doesn't feel the same to say, "We both retired early," as it does to say, "I stay at home watching the kids while my wife works." This is my own insecure, fairly sexist shit that I have to deal with. There isn't a man alive who doesn't have some sexist tendencies. We're all living in a patriarchy: this is just one way it fucks with my thinking.

There's some status seeking wrapped up in this, sure. It's cooler to seem independently wealthy. But there's some plain old sexism, too: I'm worrying about how other people will maybe not view me with as much esteem or whatever, based on the fact that my wife works and I don't.

It feels weird to type this out. But, as always, I'll need to face my problems if I'm going to deal with them.

I like the boost of self esteem I feel if people know that Mrs. Done by Forty and I are both able to retire at a young age. If Mrs. Done by Forty works and I don't, some people will view our situation differently. They're not going to assume, "Oh, those people don't need to worry about money and one of them is just working for their own fulfillment." They'll assume we, like the rest of humanity, work because we need a paycheck. And that, maybe, there is something not so great about me, since I'm not out there working, too.

Of course, male insecurity is not a good reason to make major life decisions. It's just something to talk to a therapist about, and to wonder why it matters so much to me what others think about the fact that I am working. And why, in my weak moments, why it isn't enough that Mrs. Done by Forty just wants to do this thing, just because she enjoys it.

No one ever said money would make us better people. In fact, it likely does the opposite. Whatever the reason, leaving work has shown me there's some not-great stuff in between my ears. Looks like I have something new to work on when the kids are asleep.

*Photo is from xddorox at Flickr Creative Commons

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  1. As an academic, let me say: Mrs. Done By Forty should NOT NOT NOT leave a job in her field, that she actually likes, in a location she likes, if she ever wants to work again. This is the rarest of rare birds for PhDs, at least in many disciplines. (If she is in a very high-demand discipline, the advice might be different - but, in a location that you both like? probably not even then.) You seem to recognize that she has won the lottery - and you too, because being the trailing spouse of an academic to a location neither of you has connections to or particularly likes is no picnic - but it is not a "small lottery," so put it in all caps, in your mind: SHE HAS WON THE LOTTERY.

    I don't usually comment but this is such a no-brainer for any academic. It is such a joy to teach in a field you love, in a department you like. Take advantage of summers, long winter breaks, sabbaticals if she gets them.

    1. Thanks for the advice. She's not actually a professor, but I think I get where you're coming from.

  2. If she likes her job, she should stay a while longer. See if it works out. I was in a similar position as you when I quit my career. It hurts my pride a bit when I tell other people my wife still works. But that disappeared after a while. These days, I don't have that kind of feeling anymore.
    Having one spouse working a traditional job is really helpful. Health insurance is taken care of. That's a huge benefit. Income is really great too.

    1. As always, I appreciate that whenever I run into an issue with FIRE I know there's someone who's run into it before. It's good to hear that the hurt pride can fade over time.

      Like you said, there are a lot of upsides to having one person working. Income is not a bad thing! Selfishly, though, I would not mind spending a couple months in Europe as a family.

    2. For us, I think we'll spend more time apart as we get older. I want to travel more and visit my families in Thailand. Eventually, I'll probably spend 6 months/year out of the U.S. My wife wants to spend more time with her families too. Once our son goes to college, we'll probably spend more time apart. It's unconventional, but I think that's a good way to go.

    3. I can see how having some time apart would be a good thing, for sure, Joe. After being in the same house 24/7 for the past few years, I can see that being a very nice idea on some days.

  3. I appreciate your honesty. We all have some societally baked in nonsense that we have to uncrud and you can work on that now that you've identified it. And to give you some points to help with that uncrudding: you're the envy of THIS household that you get to SAHD, it's so awesome! We aspire to that here. We always said PiC would be the SAHP and I would work because he'd be better at the parenting and I'm better at working. So you've achieved our ideal :)

    Also in my family, the families where the dad was the SAHP? Their kids were the most well adjusted and successful in their careers. Now I understand correlation is not causation but quite honestly? I think it was a major root cause in this equation because the kids had their dad to rely on. We've not had any SAHM that I can think of so I can't compare but at least in my anecdotal observations, a SAHD is gold. Given Mrs DbF loves her job, I hope you find your inner peace with this set up.

    1. That's so comforting to read, friend. I do think this is a setup that could certainly work and I have to remind myself that this is potentially only for one more year. But who knows: if it works well it could be longer, too.

      Your comment reminded me that our own situation that has problems might be someone else's ideal: as always, the perspective is very welcome. Thanks, Revanche.

    2. Now that you say that, I realize my comment could have come off as "you should be grateful because that's what I want" and OMG *facepalm* that's not what I meant to say at all! Rather, that you wouldn't be alone in liking this set up if you come around to feeling good about it. I hope that makes more sense.

      Another thing a friend likes to remind me: Your decisions don't have to be set in stone. This is what you're doing right now for now. If you need to change it later, you can and will. And that's strangely freeing sometimes, too.

    3. Not at all! I didn't take it that way. I think it's good for me to get that perspective.

      It's very helpful to remind myself that none of this is in stone. We can change our minds if the plan isn't working out!

  4. Appreciate the honesty! Lots to unpack. It's a big change to plans - anyone would have trouble adjusting on that basis alone. I will say that options are nice to have and it may be easier to delay that decision until she's totally sure.

    1. Thanks, NZ, Muse. It is a big change, maybe I just need more time to adjust.

      Like you said, options are a good thing! We can always wait until we're sure.

  5. Call me weird but what happens when she resents you for being home with the kids, while she is out working? She will be dealing with orther male providers at work and industry while her man is watching kids cleaning, and cooking. Its not a mattet of if, but when.

    My advice set a goal of not wprkong for six months and get back after it. She married you for love, protection, and for you to be able to provide for your family. Google Hypergamy.

    1. Yeah, you are right: you're weird.

      Go away and don't come back, you little red pill dweeb.

  6. "I'm sympathetic to the reality that, sometimes, when you're right on the precipice of a big decision, it looks different. It's hardest to take the leap when you're standing right on the edge."
    So true, so very true. Things often don't happen how you imagine and even if they did, you might not necessarily feel the same about them when it does happen. I definitely was looking forward to more family time, but when I got that during the wasn't always what it was cracked up to be. I'm not saying I don't want or love family time, and it could be a combination of a pandemic and other stressors related to that, like trying to "homeschool" while also working...I dunno. (Even people you love can get on your nerves when you're with them 24/7! =) And as to the hang ups about being a stay at home dad...I get that too. Even though, we know we should feel that way, sometimes it's hard to help while living in a patriarchal society. Best of luck with everything!

    1. Andrew! So good to hear from you. Just the other day Mrs. Done by Forty and I were talking about how we can make our year in NYC happen someday.

      Like you said, sometimes all that family time can be more than you bargained for. We're feeling that some days, for sure.

      And yeah, there's some baggage associated with being a SAHD, for sure. I don't see the patriarchy changing dramatically any time soon so the best thing I can do is get over my own hangups.

      Good to hear from you and I hope everything is going well over in your neck of the woods.