I never thought about what career my husband would have when I was single. You just had to like the guy, right? When I got engaged to a law student I was mildly amused. He got fantastic grades and I was proud of him. After graduation he applied to and was accepted by top firms. So we took a competitive job that promised prestige and financial success. The work was fast paced but the salary let me stay at home with our child without worry. He did well and was respected by his peers. And sometimes he came home.
But usually he didn’t. We were “brave” and thought these sacrifices would be rewarded in the long run. For the last six months of 2006 my husband only saw our daughter a few hours a week on Sundays. He would come home from work late and we’d cling to each other for a few minutes before he crashed in bed only to go back the next day to do it all over again. Most nights he couldn’t even sleep because of stress. But we had big plans. A nice house, epic vacations, expensive pre-schools, an early retirement; we told ourselves these things would make it all worth it someday.
Two days before Christmas he came home from work and gave me one look - it was over. I’ve never seen anyone so emotionally exhausted. “Call them right now,” I said. “You never have to go back.” So he didn’t.
After two months of job hunting, I’m happy to report that in early March we had the rare chance to start over. His new job isn’t fancy, the paycheck modest, but it gets him home by 5:30 to eat dinner with us and tell our daughter a bedtime story. The part-time job that I took on a whim last year as an apartment manager is now crucial to our financial plan. The other day he remarked to me that our daughter actually liked him at last. “That makes sense, she’s finally getting to know you!” I replied. She’s two years old and is just beginning to establish a real relationship with her dad. Better late than never. And at the other job, it would have been never.
Because of the reduced income, our talks of home ownership are again indefinitely delayed. I’m no longer planning on pre-school for our kids and we’ve canceled many of our memberships. We softly discuss the budget in the evenings and are happy to find most of the luxuries we’ve enjoyed in the past have been easily replaced with this simple quiet time together. Somehow we failed to realize before that this is what we’ve wanted all along.
I don’t know how primary bread winners don’t all go nuts. All day in the work place salary, promotion and prestige are stressed - all of which can be in direct conflict with being part of a family. It was difficult for my husband to disassociate his self worth from his paycheck. He’s even tried apologizing to me a few times since taking this new job for not being able to fill our bank account like he used to. The truly scary thing is how many professionals really do put career before family for years on end. Some even make it look fun. Have they found some loophole to happiness?
I see many of my friends and family graduating from school taking high stress, high paying jobs and wonder what will happen to them. Will they be able to balance a personal life with a high stress career? Were my husband and I just not tough enough to enjoy the “blessing” of a mega-blaster career? Were we foolish to throw away a chance for him to rise to the top of his profession? Seeing my husband and toddler making smoothies and laughing together in the kitchen tonight helped ease these fears. Maybe for some, but not for us. We have a chance to start over and I hope this time we got it right. So far so good.
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