Yesterday morning I was up in the wee hours of the 4 o'clocks cuddling my sick little baby. Despite the hour, it was bliss, because I don't get cuddles like that very often anymore. I swear he was just born yesterday, but apparently I blinked, and then he was two years old.
It sounds so cliche, doesn't it? He was born, and then I blinked, and now he is two. And sometimes (no offense), but when empty-nesters say it, ("Oh, it goes by in the blink of an eye! Love every minute!") those of us still in the trenches just have to politely smile and nod because it feels like they can't possibly remember how hard every.single.day with littles can really be. No parent actually loves every single minute.
But the blink of an eye thing...that part is totally true. And as a young mom currently in the trenches of raising four littles every single day, I can totally attest to the truth that one day my baby girls were zero and two, and then I blinked, and we were riding bike to kindergarten and second grade. And one day my newborn baby boy was asleep on a blanket outside while his big sisters played, and then I blinked, and I was outside pitching baseballs to a strong, fast, four-year-old. And one day my other baby boy was just born, and then I blinked, and he was blowing out two candles on a dinosaur cake.
Seriously, all I did was blink. How is that possible?
And we can so easily miss it, friends. We tell ourselves that so many other things are more important than these "blink-of-an-eye" moments, but really, nothing is.
This morning, I was out pitching baseballs to my four-year-old, and while we were doing that, his two-year-old brother was hitting baseballs off the T-ball stand. Every time he hit it, I would reset it for him, and his eyes would gleam as he did it again and again, clapping for himself and looking at me to make sure I saw his success. A thousand times over, eyes gleaming, face beaming, big brother cheering him on, "Good hit Griffy!"
Both boys were dressed in flannel fire truck pj's as it was only about 55 degrees out on this unseasonably cool August morning, and it was perfect. You could not have paid me a million dollars to have missed it.
I have many dear friends who work full time because God has placed that passion on their hearts and called them into their profession, and friend, I support you all the way. Truth be told, sometimes I'm even a tiny bit jealous of you because God keeps telling me "Not now Rebecca."
I also have many friends who have to work full time to make ends meet at home, and sister, I support you too. Please let me know how I can help you, friend.
But I also have many dear friends who have expressed a desire to stay home with their babies, but the financial concerns or the inter-personal/social concerns have held them back, and every day they have this stirring in their hearts, "I want to stay home with my babies. Can I stay home? Should I stay home? Could we ever really make that work?"
If that last one is you, then sister, this message on my heart today is for you. This blog has nothing to do with which way is right - one income, two incomes, one and a half incomes - whatever. Because we all know that the "right" way is whatever God has told you is right for your individual family. But if you are feeling a stirring in your heart about staying home and reducing to one income, there's a very high likelihood that that stirring is the Holy Spirit, and you should pay attention. Don't miss it. Don't blink it away.
So long as God is in your lead and your husband is supportive, then you can make it work to stay home. Because it's not forever; it's actually just for the blink of an eye. The penny-pinching is likely temporary. It takes a lot of work and cooperation to make it work, but oh friend, it's one of the most "worth it" things we'll ever do.
Sometimes I think culturally we either glamorize this very hard endeavor of one-income living, or we just toss it out the window as impossible - and neither of those attitudes is really helpful to other families who are wondering if its possible for them.
I'd like to share a bit about the reality of how it works, because honestly, it's neither pretty nor impossible. Our checkbook, our living room, our lunch tables, and our routines are all pretty much chaos every single day (but at least it's controlled chaos, so that's okay).
Living on one income is hard, absolutely. And friends, I am NOT a financial person whatsoever except that I'm the one that pays the bills and (occasionally) balances the checkbook in my family. That is the extent of my financial expertise. And if you ask me how it works, I would say "Not easily. And on paper, it doesn't." Because that's the truth. On paper, our budget doesn't work. I have tried for YEARS (even when I worked part-time) to get our budget to work out on paper, but it never did (I don't even know which is "in the black" and which is "in the red"...see what a bad financial person I am?) So guess what? I quit trying to make it work on paper.
(I know...the Dave Ramsey lovers out there are thinking I am the worst ever. Believe it or not, I have listened to the entire audio version of Financial Piece University, and think its fabulous. But our budget fails.)
And yet, even though on paper it doesn't work, we've never not paid a bill. Sure, sometimes a bill is a little late as I wait for paychecks to come in...but they do all get paid. So, for what it's worth, from a very non-financially- inclined stay-at-home-mom, I came up with a list of seven honest, real life ways we make it work - not prettily, yet not impossibly:
First of all, we give. Throughout our marriage we've strived to honor the Biblical expectation of 10% giving, although this past year we have fallen back a little and are currently working on getting back on track. I don't say this to make us look ultra-spiritual or anything like that...the reason I even mention this is because we are convinced that this is why it works out every month even though it doesn't work on paper. Friends, if we took the tithe out of the budget on paper, the numbers would match more closely. But when we trust God with that 10%, He blesses us with wisdom in how we spend the other 90%...Paul and I have seen God's faithfulness in this time and time again. And when we give, it changes our perspective in allowing us to be a part of something that is so much bigger than ourselves. It's hard to care about not having cable when you're giving so that a child in Kenya can have clean water.
Second, we cut where we can. We haven't had cable or dish TV since we had our first baby. Trust me, we don't miss it...we haven't watched TV other than cartoons since we had baby #4 anyway. We like our smart phones though so we put our "techy" money toward that instead (but we have the cheapest data package we can!) We seldom stay in hotels, but when we do, I bid on priceline. We only go out to eat if it's someplace that kids eat free, and we frequently only order water to drink. There have been many months when I literally have priced out my entire grocery list and then cut out extras like Doritos or soda from my list before even getting to the store.
Third, I price-compare til I'm blue in the face. Til I'm so sick of seeing numbers in my head that I want to scream. Honestly, name an item, and if it's something we consume in this house, I can probably tell you what it costs at Hornbachers, Target and Walmart. Maybe even Amazon. And I coupon. It makes me crazy. But it saves our pennies.
Fourth, we wait for things to go on sale. I know most of you do too...who ever pays full price anymore? But we have found that in the waiting, we often decide that we don't need the item as much as we thought. And while we wait, we talk about every purchase and pray about many of them too. I also buy ahead when things go on clearance. (Even though school just started, I just ordered next year's lunch boxes and pencil cases, as well as some new summer kids clothes, because they were crazy super clearanced online.)
Fifth, I try to use my passions of speaking and writing to help make ends meet. For many stay-at-home-moms, a small income can come from a place of passion in the woman that God allows to keep alive...a friend of mine's passion is fitness instructing, so she gets to earn some extra income that way, for some of you it's Thirty-One bags or Lia Sophia or Norwex, for some it's weekend nursing hours, for some it's substitute teaching...we all have our thing we love to do sometimes, and in that, God provides. (Okay, so my writing doesn't make us any income yet, but it does save me money on therapy...)
Sixth, we paid off our school loans as quickly as we could when we got married (perhaps the only thing that would make Dave Ramsey happy!). We thank God we were able to get those taken care of in our first 8 years of marriage so we could start a small college fund for our kids. However, as we've gone down to a single income, we've paused in putting money into that too. It's small and won't pay for much college right now, but me being home with my kids as babies is more important to us than growing the college fund. When I had our first child, my beloved aunt and godmother, who lost her life to breast cancer far too soon, told me that her choice to stay home with her babies was their college fund. She and her husband invested into their children's futures with her time at home in a way that money never could have. I'll never forget that, and I try to honor her by doing the same. So, while the college fund may not be growing very much, our love and connectedness are growing.
And last, we decide where to splurge (even if we shouldn't according to the paper budget). Our splurges would probably be our house - we chose to live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood; our cars - our paid for ones were costing us too much in repairs so now we've chosen car payments on newer vehicles; and our date nights. Date nights never fit on our paper budget either, but our marriage needs them. A healthy marriage is one of the most important investments we could ever make for our children. But even then we come home by 9:00 when the kids are in bed so that we aren't paying our sitter to sit in a quiet house, and we frequently share meals (unless we are super broke that month...then we do the McDonalds dollar menu or we just stay home, buy a $7 bottle of wine and a big bag of M&M's, and put the kids to bed at 7:30. It's all good.)
So friends, I could go on about what we've tried and what has failed and what has worked. It's all trial and error, trust me. There's no perfect, cut and dried way to do this. Every family is different. And we are so new at this that I know many more trials are coming our way.
But here's the deal. On the whole question of how to make it work...we do it because God has called us to do it. This is what God has for us right now. And He gives us wisdom and patience and sanity when our own wisdom and patience and sanity are all dried up. And He provides for our hearts and for our bills. This whole single-income thing is really a team thing. Husband and wife both have to be all in, together, committed to making it work not only financially but emotionally too.
But the peace it gives your family is so worth it friends. People talk of making "sacrifices" to live on one income, but Paul and I can't even talk of these things as "sacrifices." The blessings of time together outweigh the choices so vastly that it doesn't really feel like we're "sacrificing" anything.
Because the fact of life is that try as we might to not blink, we have to blink, and when we blink again, they'll be grown-up and out the door.
And when you blink again and suddenly your baby is biking off to second grade or seventh grade or senior year, you'll be so glad that you were home during that blink.