My wife had a baby 3 months ago. She has $160,000 in student loans — and just asked for my ‘blessing’ to work part time

My wife and I had our first baby 3 months ago. As a breadwinner, my wife returned to work after 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Our savings are a little low and she is now asking for my blessings to work part time.

This worries me for a number of reasons. We’re doing pretty well, making about $ 200,000 between the two of us, but my wife makes about 60% of our income. If she worked part time (she suggests 30 hours a week) it would cost us about $ 30,000 per year.

Losing $ 30,000 a year limits our ability to save for our child’s education, save for retirement, and take vacations. We currently have 100% childcare between two groups of grandparents who both like to watch after their first grandchild.

“Losing $ 30,000 a year will limit our ability to save for our child’s education, save for retirement, and go on vacation.”

We are both 31 years old, but my wife just finished her professional studies in 2018 and has therefore only been working for two years. She now has a PhD that came with significant opportunity costs.

Not only did she give up her job in those four years, she also has about $ 160,000 in student loans and 401 (k) contributions in the past two years only. Our previous plan was to use the public student loan program.

She currently meets all the criteria, but if she worked part-time she would no longer meet the criteria. After adding up all of our bills and utilities (including my own $ 45,000 student loan), we have approximately $ 6,000 per month, excluding food and entertainment.

The biggest expense is our mortgage which is around $ 3,000 per month. We built a house in 2019. At the insistence of my wife (and my willing complicity), this house is in the best school district in the region, even though the house is 10% above our budget.

“When we both finished school and both got jobs with our degrees, I finally felt that we could both enjoy our lives.”

Before we signed, we had an open conversation about the commitment. She expressed a desire to work part-time beforehand. I said her new home would limit her flexibility to work part time until she paid off her student loan. That was fine with her at the time, of course.

While she was in school, I worked 50 to 60 hours a week in a stressful leadership position while doing my Masters online in the evenings. By the time we both finished school and both got jobs with our degrees, I finally felt like we could both enjoy our lives.

So far it has worked very well. I felt like we were living comfortably while making sure we were saving money to hopefully retire at a decent age and help our child avoid student loans. My wife generally leaves me to make all financial decisions.

I want her to be happy and I don’t want her to be angry with me. While I know we can technically afford it, I don’t think it makes financial sense to work part-time. I can’t help but feel like I’m pulling the rug out from under me. What do you advise?

The husband

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Dear husband,

Before I seriously answer your letter, I have a confession. I saw the subject line of your email and thought, ‘Oh boy. This man’s wife has just given birth and wants to take care of her baby, ”and then I actually read your letter. I receive so many letters from people who, frankly, are so deeply immersed in their own resentments and unfulfilled expectations that they often fail to see the other person’s point of view and / or their own attitude from the outside. Your letter is different, however.

You both agreed to a financial agreement prior to your marriage, and I agree that you should both stick to it – for now (I’ll come back to that later). You laid out your plans while you were at work, and your wife went to college, and you decided together as a 50/50 partner to buy a house. 30 hours per week is considered full-time under the Public Loans Program if you meet your employer’s definition of full-time or work at least 30 hours per week, whichever is greater.

You both agreed to a financial agreement prior to your marriage, and I agree that you should both stick to it – for now.

Of course, giving up a career and / or going part-time is a burden and decision borne mainly by women. They become full-time or part-time carers far more than their husbands. It is their careers that see success, and that is one of the many reasons the US has gender pay inequalities. Men argue to keep their careers because they mostly earn more than their wives, but they usually earn more precisely because of these structural inequalities burned into the system.

I would like to make this very clear: the work-life balance is unfairly distorted towards women, even if progress has been made in many companies on paid paternity leave. Working women still do most of the housework. This will take generations to work your way out of the family system. Corporate America is hardly much better: women are paid less than men and more likely than men. “ineligible tasks,Or tasks that are beneficial to the organization but do not lead to career advancement.

“Your wife carried another human for 9 months.”

But the problem here, as you set out in your letter, is a domestic one. You worked and studied for a Masters while your wife was studying for her PhD. You did this based on a plan that you had jointly agreed to. That is, your wife carried another human for nine months and gave birth to your child, something that you never have to do and that in your wildest imagination can never be imagined. You should look at your finances and agree to reconsider your arrangement.

Marriage – hell, life! – is full of difficult compromises. Some concessions that seem unfair today won’t seem so unfair in 10 or 50 years. It’s about balancing the principle with practicality, the familiarity of a couple with a child with the strangers of a couple before they started a family, fiscal health with mental health. Having a child, raising a family, and working hard to keep a marriage going has innumerable physical and emotional consequences.

Some concessions that seem unfair today won’t seem so unfair in 10 or 50 years.

Twelve weeks after having a baby is not a long time. From a friend who has been through it more than once: “I was crazy for at least six months. Check with her employer to see if she can negotiate full-time part-time work in the next three to six months. That way, she can sit back gently, but not lose everything she worked so hard for, that is, an amazing career in the future. Plus, 30 hours a week doesn’t sound like part-time to me. “

Your letter doesn’t contain a bad actor, just two people trying to get through the next 18 years as best they can. I think you should be careful when making big changes to your financial plan. One last word of caution from my married friend who is a mom and has chosen to work full time. “Working part time, especially when a new mom is around, is a mug game. She will end up doing full-time for part-time employment, plagued by feelings of guilt from the new mother. The only person who will win is their employer. “

“I work in the same apartment as my child.”

Another mother of one daughter had this slightly different attitude: “I had no idea how I would feel at work before I had it, and I was fortunate that my plan roughly matched reality. After four and a half months I’m back part-time because we need the money. I am the bigger earner and our money gives us the extra we need. I can’t imagine going back all day. I work in the same apartment as my child and it is still difficult not to be with her, even for a few hours a day. “

Talk about what you’ve agreed on, what you can afford, and agree to revisit in a year, two, and / or five years. Her wish – “I want her to be happy and I don’t want her to upset me” – is understandable. You love each other. You want to do the best for your marriage, your family, but you also both need to listen to your needs and, hopefully, meet them. We haven’t always met our needs at the same time, especially those of us who juggle life to raise families. That goes for both of you.

You can survive on your wife’s plan. Find a middle ground before taking drastic steps. You can both afford to have this conversation. It will be a challenge and it is a luxury too.

(This story was republished for Equal Pay Day on March 23, 2021.)

You can email The Moneyist at [email protected] with any financial or ethical questions.

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