I’m a part of a strange tribe of the middle class I call the “elite poor.” My husband and I have strong educations and full resumes, and we have held well-paying jobs in the past. We own a home, and we know what stability feels like. But a few years ago, we chose to make less money so we could be present with our children as they grew up.
Our plan would have worked perfectly if nothing had ever gone wrong.
My husband and I were the first in our families to graduate from college. Our parents and society led us to believe that completing college was the only way to become successful—no matter the cost. So we completed our degrees and accrued copious debt. I came to terms with the sad fact that we’d never pay off our loans, and in my mind I equated them with Social Security—something we would pay into without end.
Despite the debt, we had a wonderful, work-filled life. My husband traveled five days a week, and I worked in corporate cubicle land. Every Friday, we drank with friends and vented about how unfulfilled we were at work.
A few years ago, after deep thought, intense conversation, and much financial planning, we decided it was the “right” time to have a baby. We attended all the classes and read all the books. We were ready to squeeze a baby into our busy lives. What we didn’t plan for was how much we would love this tiny human—and what that love would require.
Our lives weren’t a good fit for parenting. We didn’t bat an eye at spending on a nanny, but we found that to make it all work, we had to leave the house before our child woke to beat traffic, then get home just two hours before bedtime.
How do you parent kids you don’t know? Since there is no universal maternity leave, no paternity leave, and no instruction manual on how to parent while climbing the corporate ladder, we started to examine how we could change our lives to be more present for our kids.
We became a one-income family. Since that income was modest, we became masters at living modestly.