A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way


Mommin' It Up, Pandemic Style


It's 10 AM and so far this morning I have:

-run two loads of laundry

-unloaded the dishwasher

-washed the breakfast plates

-badgered the Kiddo to brush his teeth and get to (virtual) class on time

-cleaned the cat litter and fed the cat

-investigated a missing Target shipment

-checked our bank accounts

-done a smattering of "official" work (grading, etc.) 

Although I'm only a few hours into the day, this list is fairly representative of my daily activities in the COVIDtimes. Add in more cleaning, some baking, some managing of finances, some schoolwork assisting, some lunch making, and some working out, and that pretty much covers it. 

One thing I'm struggling with right now is, well, this. When I went to graduate school 10 years ago, I did so intending to land a full-time job that would mostly or entirely cover our expenses. Our plan was for me to be the breadwinner - a solid idea, considering that Fortysomething loves doing introverty, stay-at-home-dad things with a sprinkle of contract work when he feels like it, and I like being part of an organization (in theory) and having Society-Approved, Overachiever-Friendly Important Tasks to do. When I graduated and immediately landed a tenure-track job, I felt like everything I'd strived for was falling into place. I couldn't wait to be a career lady! 

Until my brain was like, Yeah, sorry, this isn't going to work.

What we've realized since then is that Fortysomething is better than I am at managing a full-time job. He doesn't suffer from anxiety and depression. He's never experienced insomnia. He isn't prone to panic attacks in the middle of meetings. When he makes a mistake on the job, he doesn't obsess over it. When someone tries to micromanage him, he nods, smiles, and proceeds to ignore them for as long as possible. Unexpected policy changes don't send his blood pressure skyrocketing. He doesn't love what he does, but he also knows how to compartmentalize.

So Fortysomething and I have switched roles. He's now the breadwinner by far, with his exhausting combination of teaching and contracting, and I am very much the active parent/homemaker, at least during the day. In the COVID era, this division of labor makes sense for us. He has time-consuming jobs that make money, and we need to sock away as much money as possible to ensure we can ride out this pandemic without backsliding financially. My income-generating job doesn't take much time, so I have more opportunities to cover the other necessary tasks in our household. 

(Important disclaimer: Fortysomething also contributes to the chores, including recycling, taking out the trash, putting in the grocery orders, and making dinner several times a week. I think our physical division of labor is pretty fair, though like many women, I take on more of the emotional labor.)

And let me say this: logically, I know the way we've divvied up our responsibilities is ideal, at least for now. I know I'm contributing in a meaningful way by ensuring that our household and finances are operating smoothly during this stressful time. I take pride in creating an environment that is clean, comfortable, and relaxing so that when they're done working at their computers all day, they can kick back and chill. I realize that having one parent who is always available to help out with online schooling is a major privilege. Besides, I love being a mom, and I enjoy managing our home life.

Sometimes, though, I still feel like it doesn't matter very much, like I'm futzing around all day while other people do Important Things That Contribute To Society. People can tell me that what I'm doing does matter, but sometimes it's hard to believe that. Maybe it's because I grew up in a very traditional household with a homemaker mom and engineer dad, and I saw day in and day out who got the respect and who didn't. Or maybe it's because I equate meaningful work with money, and the people doing supposedly meaningful work at home don't get paid anything for what they do. Maybe it's because everyone I graduated with is now doing cool research projects and applying for tenure/promotion while I'm baking cookies and trying to determine why the Internet has suddenly gone out.

My floundering career has been low-key bothering me for the past five years. The effects of the pandemic seem to have cast those insecurities into much sharper relief in my mind, especially in the weeks since Fortysomething and the Kiddo have gone back to work and school. I'm trying to find a way to move on. Sometimes where you thought you'd end up and where you worked really hard to end up isn't where you end up. That's life, but it takes a while to come to terms with it.

Has anyone else had this sort of experience? That is, has the pandemic forced you to grapple with issues that were previously lurking beneath the surface? Or tossed you into a role you weren't planning to occupy?



  1. The pandemic has forced me to confront every single thought I've ever had about education and teaching. So yes.

    Hang in there. (She tells herself)

    1. Thank you, Penny. <3 I appreciate you so much. I wish things were easier right now.

  2. Hm. I've spent the last seven years railing about the state of education with a teacher friend so that's nothing new but it's taken on a new intensity.
    PiC is more you in this situation from the perspective that he has a more flexible lower load job at the moment (partly because of the pandemic) so he's largely taken over the housework, cooking, and childcare while I carry on with full time work and all the household management. It sort of reaffirms that I am not cut out to be a SAHP but also that PiC would be a more effective one if he didn't also have an income producing job to tend to. But this is an observation based on some suboptimal circumstances of course.
    The pandemic has forced me to focus on my brain therapy in a way I might not have if we hadn't basically stripped out all the extracurriculars during SIP. That one is a good thing.

    I think I've recently discovered that I'm not a terrible mom if I can occasionally have some unadulterated fun and a break from parenting day in and day out. I would have bet money on my ability to keep on soldiering on without any fun for months, before all this.

    I'm sure there are other bits that will bubble up but those are the biggest things.

    1. You're a great mom! I can assure you of that.

      "I would have bet money on my ability to keep on soldiering on without any fun for months, before all this." - ME TOO! If someone had told me this would happen, I would've been like, Staying home all the time and not dealing with people? SOUNDS GREAT.

      But wow, this is honestly one of the biggest challenges I've ever faced.

  3. This is me or almost me! I toy with the idea of leaving the work force to be at home more and honestly, get out of the rat race. But then the voices in my head start in about the "what will others think," if I don't earn money am I still an equal partner, etc (all the things you talk about). It is one of the reasons I haven't made the leap. We can live on one income (with cutting out some vacation splurges or impulse buys) but I still worry that my self worth will decrease. But at the end of the day, I just want time to organize my closets and make jams/pickles/sauces and a nice home life for my family. Aggghhh!

    1. I think my main problem is that I'm stuck in this sunk cost fallacy. Like, I went to grad school for four years, I did well, I should have more to show for it, what a waste. Of course, I would NEVER look at anyone in my position and feel that way about them. I'm just being really hard on myself. Ugh.

      I do enjoy baking (my breadmaking skills have come a long way in the last year!) and cleaning. Organizing is my jam.

      The nice thing about part-time work is that you can see how you really feel about traditional work vs. being CEO of your household. For myself, I've learned I need a little more worky work to feel satisfied. But I'm not sure I would've predicted that.

  4. I hear you about how running a household doesn't get as much respect as running a business or other job, but everything you wrote sounds like it makes so much sense for you and your family and that's all that matters. Society will catch up someday. In the meantime, do what makes sense for you and yours. I'm a career coach by day and I see contented people and malcontents in every combination -- work FT, PT, stay at home, etc. So if you found something that works for you, that's good enough!