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- Before COVID, my wife made a comfortable salary but was unhappy, while I was happy freelancing.
- We realized we needed to make a change to build the life we wanted, so we left Paris and moved to the country.
- My wife got pregnant with our son and became a full-time parent, and it’s been great for us.
This essay is part of “Home Ec: The Economics of Stay-at-home Parenting,” a series from Personal Finance Insider about the financial reality of staying home with your kids.
As a queer person, one of the things you have to do all the time (aside from constantly coming out to people and drinking a lot of iced coffee) is make up your own rules for life. It might be disrupting society’s expectations about how you look or sound, it might be dedicating your life to activism and to advocating for your community, or it might be a total deconstruction and reconstruction of what it means to have a family.
Growing up queer, I didn’t think that having kids was an option for me. Even adoption for LGBTQ+ people wasn’t possible in the UK, where I’m from, until 2002, and legislation to protect queer couples from being discriminated against wasn’t introduced until 2010.
But, over time, things got better and rules got rewritten. More opportunities were available, and I met an amazing woman with whom it made sense to go on the crazy adventure to becoming a parent.
The pandemic shifted our perspective and plans
Before the pandemic, my wife was in a comfortable job in sales, earning a good wage, and with prospects to move up the career ladder. And she was pretty miserable.
I, in contrast, had decided to jack in my permanent contract, become a full-time freelance teacher, writer, and translator and — despite some months earning very little indeed — I loved my job.
We were living in a small, expensive flat in Paris, both country people at heart but city dwellers in reality. I wouldn’t say that we were madly money driven, but I was working hard on networking to build my business, and annual salary increases and bonuses were an expected part of my wife’s pay.
As for so many of us, March 2020 signalled a complete shift in gear, and I don’t just mean we learned to keep sourdough cultures alive. Whereas before we could both bear the city because we were out and about a lot seeing friends, eating out, and going to events, suddenly we found ourselves cooped up in our tiny flat, allowed out for a maximum of one hour per day, and the government had closed all the parks.
It was during one of my daily stomps around our concrete jungle that some thoughts struck me — why stay here if we’re unhappy? Why should my wife labor on in a job she hates? If we want a family, what are we waiting for? Would it be so bad if the higher earner in our couple changed direction and refocused herself on what really makes her happy? It might be time to start questioning society’s version of a “normal” path once more.
We radically redesigned our life
There was a lot to consider as we kicked off this journey. First question: Would she carry the baby, or would I? I am younger, a freelancer, maybe more traditionally “feminine” than my wife, but it was her who had the strong desire to carry and give birth to our child.
It struck us, when we told friends and family, how many people were surprised by our decision. To be honest, there was something a little gratifying about that. It made people stop and think. It forced many to question their assumptions about us. It put them in a position of self-reflection that anyone who lives outside of traditional monogamous cis-heterosexual relationships has to be in almost all the time.
The next big consideration was money. What would happen to us if my wife stopped working? We live in France and maternity leave is minimal compared to many European countries (16 weeks) and at the time we started out on our journey there was no provision for a second female parent to take leave (the law has subsequently been corrected — I got 21 days parental leave).
In order to be able to afford to give up her job and dedicate her time and energy to being a full-time parent, we decided to make a radical shift and move somewhere cheaper. We have landed in the southwest of France, away from our friends but much much closer to the sea and the mountains that we love. Our son is six months old and my wife stays home with him while I work in his bedroom.
Giving up a stable income was worth it for the life we have now
This shift — to give up stable work, move house, change the focus of our careers — is something that a lot of people post-pandemic will recognize. A lot of us have gone through a stage of reckoning, working out what’s important to us and what will bring us more in line with how we want to live our lives.
We’ve learned that we need enough money to keep a roof over our heads, but do we really need much more than that? Additionally, I think that, as queer people, that effort to live more authentically is nothing new. A lot of people thought we were mad, moving too fast, naive about how much of a struggle everything would be. There are times when things feel hard and we have certainly had to make sacrifices, but all our changes felt pretty natural. We are used to confounding expectations and going against the grain. It is how queer people have always had to live — making things up as we go and trying to disrupt social expectations.
Despite our rent having gone down, things are still tight. We had to make the choice between having a baby or saving for a deposit for a home. Our savings haven’t yet recovered from the fertility treatment we had in Spain in order to conceive our son, but I’d choose him and be a renter any day.
We are also far more careful about budgeting now that we’re living on a single, fluctuating income. We’ve gotten good at upcycling furniture our neighbours might be chucking out, meal planning and prep is a weekly family ritual, and our travel plans are focused on the local delights that we can find around us.
Before COVID and before our move, we were focused much more on consumption, on spending, on things. Losing out on income has meant gaining focus on the quality of things we can bring into our lives more than the quantity.
One day my wife will go back to work, but for now the focus is on our baby, and about making his first few months as full of love and silliness as possible. Working from home also gives me the chance to participate as much as possible in his day. We are aware that the fact we’re often all together is a huge privilege not every family enjoys, but we’ve made choices that have allowed it to be our reality.
We are making friends in our new region and settling into something that resembles “normality.” However, we know how hard we have worked and are working to make authentic lives for ourselves that our gorgeous son can be proud of. We don’t have a lot of money but we are happy with the life we have created for him. We know we can teach him, from experience, that answering the call to be your truer self reaps wondrous rewards.