Fear is the enemy. Let it pass over and through you. But then sit down accept that your options are limited.
For the first time in my life, money is keeping me up at night. This fall, my daughters entered private school1, and it’s crushing our family budget. Where previously there was wiggle room, now there’s none.
This is stress I wasn’t expecting. We didn’t make this financial commitment lightly. We planned, we budgeted, we decided that this was how we’d like to spend this money. That, for our family, this was the right way to spend this money.
We made the right decision, but I wasn’t expecting the opportunity cost stress. Things I was probably never going to do anyway, now I can’t. I was never going to quit my job to learn how to be a farmer, but now I’m really never going to do it. Quitting to become a high school civics teacher? Not gonna happen anytime soon. And while I’d never rage-quit my job, I’ve always made sure that I had enough of a buffer that if I needed to, I could. That buffer is much smaller now.
This is the paragraph where I acknowledge my privilege. I’m an affluent heterosexual white cis male in my mid-thirties, living in the United States of America. I started the game of life on Easy Mode, and I’m probably going to be OK. I have more than most, and I wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to dismiss these words with “suck it up” or “you brought this on yourself.” My only hope is that in sharing my individual fears and feelings, I might find some commonality and empathy with my fellow humans.
I’m worried that I can’t provide for my family. I’m worried that I’m going to give my kids a taste of something great and then have to take it away. I’m worried that this stress will trickle into my home life and that I’ll be a worse dad in the moment because I’m consumed with worry over providing for the long term.
I spend most of my day away from my family in order to earn a living to provide for them. I work hard during the day, but if I worked harder I’d probably make more money. But, it’d be at the expense of seeing my family even less, and being more exhausted when I do. If I had the choice, I’d spend as much of my day with my daughters as they’d let me.
What’s the balance? I like spending time with my family. My job is not my life, I work hard at my job to provide for my life with my wife and kids. When are things “good enough” and when are things worth the sacrifice for a greater long-term gain? I don’t have any answers, but spend a lot of time thinking about it.
Sometimes, after a drink or two with another parent, we’ll talk about our dark, secret shame: that we occasionally ponder what life would be like if a catastrophic event instantly killed our families. What would a life without commitments and responsibilities look like? Knowing what we know now, how easy would it be to provide for just yourself? But, most importantly how empty that “easy” life would feel.2
I know I can’t provide my family everything. I know my kids are resilient; that “good enough” probably is. I know that unconditional love from their mother and me dwarfs in importance any material or experiential resource I can provide them. But it’s my job to provide as many of, and the best of, those things that I can.
I’m always going to stress over providing the best for my family, but I should try to harness that stress for good. I know that providing materially for my family should not overwhelm providing them love. I know that if I’m constantly worried about losing something, I can’t appreciate it in the moment. I will try to trust my choices, know that I’ll act responsibly, but that most of the world is beyond my control. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate good material things while I’m in a position to enjoy them.
If I lost my job, all my money, and my house burned down, I’d find a way to feed my family, clothe them, and put a roof over their heads. As long as I can still hug my wife and kids at night, I’ll be OK. But, sometimes in the stress of our current life, I forget these basics and need a reminder.
- This piece is not meant to argue the merits of public vs. private schools. This was the right choice for my family at this time. Your choice of school for your family (if you are privileged enough to have a choice) is not wrong because it’s different than mine. ↩
- In my Darkest Timeline, after my family’s death I would enter a catatonic clinical depression, likely be institutionalized, then emerge into a hermetic life with a bicycle, a library card, and a refrigerator full of soylent. ↩