Why I Am a SAHM

Sometimes, I think I am damaging my children’s understanding of what women can do by being a SAHM. Are my boys going to look for wives who will only be homemakers? Will my daughter think her career options are limited? Am I reinforcing gender stereotypes?

Of course, I know intellectually that the whole thrust of feminism isn’t to force all women into the workplace and devalue motherhood and being a homemaker. The point of feminism is to give women and men equal rights and opportunities so that if I want to work, I can work. If I want to stay at home, I can stay at home. (Same goes for my husband.)

Hapa Papa often jokes that I pulled a Bait and Switch on him. I looked good on paper: graduating from UCLA, working in marketing then becoming a financial advisor. And then, BAM! I popped out Cookie Monster and decided I never wanted to work again. (No, this is not a discussion on whether or not caring for children is work. Yes, it is. But I am merely referring to “work” as in an occupation for which I am paid taxable dollars.)

I always assumed I would work after I had kids. My mother worked and my brother and I turned out fine (dare I say, AWESOME?). But I do know that as much as I appreciated the freedom of being a latch-key kid and the hours and hours of TV we’d watch after school, I envied my friends whose mothers were home. Part of me longed for someone to welcome me home when I got back from school, perhaps with snacks.

Please don’t misunderstand me. My mother never missed a concert or school event. She always knew the gist of what was going on at school. (This is especially impressive since she was an immigrant and this was all PRE-internet!) She knew who my friends were and was incredibly strict regarding who I was and wasn’t allowed to hang out with. I am incredibly grateful – especially now that I realize just how easily influenced I am! (I am no stalwart independent. I am quite the follower and easily misled!)

At any rate, as soon as I took one look at Cookie Monster, I knew I would never work again. I didn’t want to miss a single moment of his little life and the lives of his siblings. I wanted to shape my children, for better or for worse. When the kids eventually go to school, I want to be there at pick up and drop off. I want to know their teachers. I want to be involved in the PTA and their classrooms. (Ok, I take that back. I definitely do NOT want to be Room Mom. NOPE. Not for me.)

But mostly, I want our home to be a sanctuary. A hub. I want the kids to bring their friends over after school, play, hang out, do their homework, eat, and bask in the inanities of life. I want to be in the background or foreground (depending on what is needed). I want to be the constant heartbeat of their lives until they launch themselves into college and young adulthood. I want to be their security. Their home.

I want to provide my children with the stability I never felt when I was growing up. I want to be their rock.

Of course, many parents provide these things even while working. But to me, I want to be home full time. Even when all the kids are in school, what place of work would have me work from 10-2? No one in their right mind would hire me unless it were shift work. Plus, I am more than certain those precious child-free hours would be quickly eaten up by the millions of little things it takes to manage a family of several children.

I am just so grateful that Hapa Papa’s job makes enough money so that we can live comfortably on one income without hardship. I am grateful that Hapa Papa supports me being at home. I am grateful that I get to be present for almost every glorious, boring, mundane, infuriating moment with my children. It is an incredible honor.

Wavering Between Choice and Life

Trigger Warning: Abortion, rape, incest

Comment Warning: My comment policy will be vigorously enforced. Any comment (on FB or otherwise) that smells even remotely of shaming, name-calling, abuse, general asshattery, (on either side of the discussion) will be swiftly and unapologetically deleted without regret. I am also completely uninterested in any type of propaganda for or against abortion. The comments that seem to be a giant cut and paste of the same, tired rhetoric on either side will be promptly removed.

I don’t care about your right to free speech if it means you taking a big, fat shit on my blog or FB (let alone insulting my friends and readers who run the gamut in terms of what they believe or do). This is your only warning. Be a grown up and act like one. Otherwise, I will be forced to treat you like a child and put you in time out. (I’m really, really good at that.)

Until I had children, I was mostly pro-choice. I say mostly because I didn’t think abortion was right, per se, but I didn’t think it was my business to tell a person she could or couldn’t have one. I considered it a lot like divorce – not ideal, but sometimes necessary. And better to err on the side of caution for a current life (in terms of safety and access to abortions) than to side predominantly with a possible life. This was a complicated knot that I tied up for myself since I also believed that life begins at conception. But it’s hard to think of a bunch of cells as a life so it was easier to think that abortion was just that – removing a mass of cells.

Then, I got pregnant and gave birth to a human.

Keep in mind, I was a science major. It’s not like I was unfamiliar with what occurred when a baby was forming. But every week, the book would tell me what size fruit my baby was, what was being knit together out of this mass of cells, that the baby was now capable of smiling, or burping, or kicking. I mean, holy fuck! I don’t care that they call it a fetus – it was a BABY. Growing INSIDE of me.

And then, when Cookie Monster was born and became the most perfect human I have ever loved or seen (until I laid eyes on my other two children), some invisible line was crossed and a switch was flipped inside of me. (Not that I realized it at the time.) I could no longer think that abortion was just removing a bunch of cells – like a tumor. Conception resulted in a perfect tiny PERSON.

Of course, when I actually thought about it, (I blame reading articles on abortion-related topics such as the Komen PR disaster, not funding Planned Parenthood, many legislative changes in the law, etc.) I became more and more aware of my changing opinion. Plus, I also knew more and more women who really WANTED to get pregnant but just couldn’t conceive, or couldn’t stay pregnant. That knowledge, coupled with my own bias towards the greatness of my own children, only deepened my conflict.

After all, just because someone CAN’T get/stay pregnant doesn’t mean someone ELSE has to stay pregnant. Just because I had highly desired pregnancies with zero health-related issues for both myself and my progeny which resulted in two awesome little boys and an awesome little girl, doesn’t mean that every one else is in that situation. I am in a very privileged position to have a baby; I am married, financially stable, living in a great area, have easy access to birth control and health services, and have the emotional and financial means to have and raise a child with a high probability of success. In fact, I can do so multiple times without great effect on my lifestyle or spending habits.

It is very easy for me to say that abortion is a horrible thing when I have never been poor, alone, on drugs, abandoned, raped, etc. It is all fine and well for me to tell a person, “Hey, you do know what makes babies, right? SEX. So if you have sex, you should be prepared to bring a life into the world. If you find yourself pregnant after having sex, you really shouldn’t be surprised. Deal with the consequences of your actions!”

But not everyone is in my position. And yes, just because a person isn’t in my privileged position, doesn’t mean that abortion is automatically acceptable and right, but it certainly makes it a decision that is fraught with more peril, with harder hitting consequences than it would if it were me.

I know several women who have had abortions. Once, when I was in my twenties and thought I perhaps might be pregnant, (although truly, I would have had a better chance of winning the lottery since I was on birth control and I didn’t actually have sex with the person – the mind can truly be boggling and lacking sense sometimes) I seriously considered abortion as well. I doubt that most of the women who do end up getting abortions do so nonchalantly. I am sure, to this day, it is a decision that has greatly affected them and the trajectory of their lives.

Here then, is the heart of my conflict. I really don’t like either side’s rhetoric or reasoning. Let’s start with the Pro-Lifers. (Sweeping generalizations are about to follow. I mean, SWEEPING. You have been duly warned.) Also, I totally know that I am oversimplifying the arguments. Please do not give me “lessons” in the comments.

If I had to generalize and stereotype a Pro-Life person, they would most likely be white, male, Christian/evangelical, Republican (because of course, all Christians are Republican – but that is another topic altogether), and believe in the “sanctity of life.” And because they are more likely to be Republican, they will likely also be against welfare, government assistance to the poor (eg: food stamps, free lunches, early intervention programs), pro-prisons, harsh sentences, pro-guns, and pro-death sentence. Also, they are likely to support abortion ONLY if the mother’s life is in danger, or in cases of rape or incest/abuse as a compromise and because geez, if they don’t support it in these cases, that’s just SQUICKY and cruel.

But here’s the thing. How dare a person tell another person that she should have a baby when they cut off any support that may be necessary in the first place for a woman to successfully raise a child? How dare a person say they believe in the sanctity of life when it only applies to an unborn child – but not the life and quality of life this child will have when they are born? (And how dare they assume that if it’s such a problem for the mother to raise the child, the best alternative is adoption?) How dare a person say they believe in the sanctity of life when they are for capital punishment? Or allow an abortion if the father of the unborn child is a rapist or abuser? How are these lives any less precious or alive?

Now, if I had to generalize and stereotype a Pro-Choice person, they would also most likely be white, female, Democrat, liberal, and support government assistance, etc. You know, the opposite of what I just sweepingly generalized about Pro-Lifers. They will likely say that it is a woman’s body and therefore her choice. That life doesn’t necessarily begin at conception and that late-term abortions may or may not be acceptable (depending on how palatable they want to make abortion).

But I have beef with that also. If life doesn’t begin at conception, when does it begin? At what week would be randomly deemed appropriate? Because if we want to be intellectually honest, if it doesn’t begin at conception, why do we bother saving babies that are born early? Like, really, really, really premature? Is the fetus only a baby and worth saving if it is WANTED by the mother? Otherwise, then it’s not alive? What if only the father wants the baby? Is it still a baby? Half a baby? But fathers don’t matter because it’s not their body – even though half their DNA is at stake.

I know. I’m being an ass and perhaps, purposely obtuse to both sides. But both sides really aggravate me. There are human lives (both grown and growing) at stake. Who do we value more? Who do we disenfranchise? What does that say about us as a people and culture? And what does it say about us when most conversations around this topic devolve into name-calling and meaningless propaganda?

I don’t have any answers. (I mean, really. If I did, don’t you think I would’ve made a bjillion dollars off of it by now?) Because this is a human, fallen situation, there really are no happy endings that tie up all the loose ends. We are only left with imperfect solutions and broken people on both sides – who all need compassion, understanding, and love.

Gah, I have now ventured into cliché and a Hallmark greeting card. I apologize.

I still have no idea what I think is right. I am just supremely grateful (and cowardly in this sense) that I don’t have to be in the position to make real life applications on this subject.

Make of that what you will.

How Am I Going to Send 3+ Kids to College?: Money Series Pt 1

The thought is terrifying from a monetary standpoint. In about twenty years, I will have three children in college AT THE SAME TIME. Talk about poor family planning (from a paying for college standpoint). And if I do end up having four kids, I will have three kids in college for at least 2-3 years IN A ROW. They’re on their own for grad school, man. Geez.

You’ve seen the numbers. From 1985-2011, college costs rose 500%. (I don’t even want to know what it will cost me in fifteen years when Cookie Monster starts college.) As for loans, I suppose I could have my kids take them out, but have you seen the statistics? Plus, all that brouhaha right now about student loans and interest rates and how I know people who are my age who are STILL paying off student loans (both for undergrad and grad school) and how much that hampers them financially.

So what am I to do? If I can help it, I don’t want my kids saddled with debt (at least too much of it). I can’t count on scholarships (especially not athletic) because who knows how smart or hard-working my kids will be? Since my neighborhood is half Indian/Pakistani and half Chinese, I really have no illusions of them being at the top of the pack. (And I’m OK with that. Hapa Papa was nowhere near the top of the pack in high school, went to a state school, and makes SCADS more money than I ever did because he works harder and smarter than I ever wanted to. That’s another post for some other day.)

And no, I’m not going to move to a less competitive neighborhood because really, who doesn’t want their kids surrounded by smart, hard-working kids? If I don’t like my kids’ grades, then they’ll just have to work HARDER, not move to an easier school. (White flight, I’m looking at YOU!)

The only other recourse (in terms of helping my kids with their education costs) is to save aggressively and to save NOW. (Of course, they can also work in high school – and Hapa Papa has big plans for that – and college, too. Those are absolutely on the table!) This is when it totally helps to be a financial advisor (and to have a mother for one as well).

Here is what we are currently doing and hoping to do so in the future. Hopefully, this will help you, but I do realize that I may be in a different financial situation than you and your family so please don’t feel too bad or too smug if you are doing better or worse than we are. There are many ways to pay for school. This is just what I am doing for now.

Disclaimer: I am a financial advisor and own a financial advising firm with my mother. I am not being compensated by any entity or company for the following information. I am ONLY explaining what I do for my own children. If you should so choose to take this advice, please realize that it is not customized nor tailored for your specific situation. I am not dispensing personalized advice for you or your situation. I am not responsible in any way, shape, or form if your investments rise or fall due to market conditions. YMMV. You have been warned.

1) 529 Plans – These are plans that accumulate tax-free and are dispensed tax-free as long as you use them for qualifying higher education costs. The funds remain in our custody and we can switch the beneficiary at any time. (So, if Cookie Monster gets a full ride and doesn’t need this money, then I can transfer the funds to Gamera or Baby3.)

We opened an account for each child as soon as I got their Social Security numbers. I seed it with some money and then contribute about $100/mo per account. I would put more in here, but because it can only be used for higher education costs, I don’t want to put TOO much money in here just in case the kids don’t end up at college or whatever.

2) UGMA/UTMA Accounts – These are just regular savings/investment accounts for my children. I am the custodian but my kids are the ultimate owners when they hit either 18, 21, or 25 (For CA). (I am pretty sure I chose 21.) After that, the money is theirs to do with HOWEVER THEY WISH. Somewhat terrifying, but hopefully, I will have taught my children how to handle their finances well and to make good decisions. I do have to pay taxes on these accounts, but since they’re children, the tax rate is not as horrible.

Any gift cards/checks/cash I received during baby showers, gifts, birthdays, Chinese New Year, etc., I put in here. (In the case of gift cards, I just use the gift card and deposit a corresponding amount into their account.) As with the 529 plan, as soon as I get their Social Security number, I open an UTMA for my kid and deposit a “seed” amount. Then, when they receive money, I put it in their accounts – even if it’s as trivial as a few dollars for a birthday or Chinese New Year. (Usually, I round up and add something on top of it.)

If Hapa Papa gets a bonus at work, or sells some stock grants, or whatever, I will take either all or a portion of it and apply it equally among the kids. If we happen to get a really nice financial gift from family, I do the same. Whatever “extra” money that comes our way, I will always consider putting it in the kids’ accounts. (Unless, for some reason, we need to replenish our emergency fund, our IRA contributions are coming up, or property taxes are coming up, I usually put some in the kids’ accounts.)

Also, any time there is a new baby, I will not only seed money in the new baby’s account, I will also add some money into the older kids’ accounts. Not as much, of course, but some.

3) Aggressively pay down all other debts. That’s pretty self-explanatory. We paid off our mini-van last year ahead of schedule thanks to a stock grant, and we pay extra on our principal for our mortgage every month. Every now and then, we also send in a fat chunk of a bonus or severance or stock grant to pay down the mortgage principal even more. Our goal is to pay off the mortgage before Cookie Monster starts college. We are very lucky that currently, our mortgage is our only debt. This may change if we have to buy a new car later down the road or if we have to get a bigger house when the kids become teenagers.

4) Save aggressively for our retirement. This may seem strange to include as part of the kids’ education savings, but it makes perfect sense to me. The more we save now, due to the time value of money, the less we will have to put away when we’re older and much closer to retirement. In other words, when the kids are in college, we will not have to be scrambling any more than usual to come up with money both for college AND for retirement. The retirement money (barring some horrible economic downturn AGAIN) will already be there.

5) Have the kids work. My parents paid entirely for my education and as a result, I don’t think I took it very seriously. I have been coddled pretty much all my life. Hapa Papa, on the other hand, had some scholarships and worked his way through college without any substantial help from his family. I would like my kids to have something in between.

My current plan is to have the majority of tuition and board as well as some “fun” money for my kids covered. I will give them a monthly stipend and if they run out, they’re out. If they need more money, they can work for it. Also, Hapa Papa is thinking that some day, he’ll start his own consulting firm and farm out work to the kids. He’ll pay them and yes, they can spend some of that money, but a good portion of that will be forced into their college savings account so that they will also pay for their college in that way.

This, of course, is the highly speculative portion of my plan. The kids obviously cannot work now. (Such slackers! Their fellow Chinese kids are making clothes right now! Lazy bastards.) We have no idea if Hapa Papa will ever open up his own shop. We don’t know if college will even be relevant in the future (although, likely yes). But that is our plan for the moment.

I know that we are very fortunate to have so many options. Many folks do not have enough money after necessities to set aside for their kids (let alone for themselves). I would say in terms of priorities, take care of your daily needs first, then emergency funds, then retirement, then kids. No one will give you a loan for the first three, but the last one, there are plenty available.

Again, when I think of all these resources I have available for both myself and my children, I am overwhelmed with gratefulness and guilt and relief. We always want the best for our children – no matter what our circumstances. So I have no doubt that the folks who cannot provide as much for their kids would OF COURSE, do so if their circumstances allowed it. Ultimately, money is important, but there are plenty of children who grew up without a single financial want who have huge holes in their souls due to other unmet needs.

Hrm. Didn’t mean to get all Hallmark on you there. I just know that because of Hapa Papa’s job, we are able to provide much for our family without too much hardship. It isn’t fair; I’m sorry. My only hope is that we can be generous to others as well as ourselves.