When schools resumed remotely in September, Erin and her husband Jesse had to decide which parent would stay home with their two kids. Erin, a paralegal, had been in her dream job for less than a year and really didn’t want to leave, but Jesse, an order-fulfillment specialist, made more money — even if Erin dropped down to part-time hours, the two didn’t see a way to make it work. Five months later, the couple reflects on how they made the difficult decision that Erin would be the one to quit.
Erin: In July 2019, I started working as a paralegal for the public defender’s office. I cried when I found out I got the job. It was what I had wanted to do my entire life. I found out I was pregnant again in October 2019. While I was on maternity leave, COVID hit. When my older son’s day care closed, I was out for another 12 weeks. And then my employer told me, basically, “Come back to work now, or we’re going to fire you.” I did and was able to find full-time day care for both of my sons. Then when school opened part-time in September, I had to make the decision: quit my job or go to work those two days a week that my son is physically in school.
Jesse: It was a pretty short conversation. We might have talked a bit about me leaving my job, but I was making more money at the time — $18 an hour.
Erin: A part of me wanted Jesse to be the one to stay home. But financially it didn’t make sense since I made $14 an hour and I couldn’t work remotely. As a part-time option, my job could only give me 14 hours a week, which wasn’t even enough to pay for my baby’s day care. I cried. I finally had found something I was happy doing, and then it’s just, like, taken away.
Jesse: At first, I was kind of against her quitting. But we really didn’t have any other choice. It was either me or her. She was still nursing, and she has a better education than I do. She went to college and stuff like that; I’ve only graduated from high school. So it was just a little better for her to be teaching our older son remotely and staying home with the baby.
Erin: Of the two of us, I’m more patient. My son is your typical 5-year-old: He’s off the walls. The youngest one is just learning to be mobile, and he goes everywhere. It’s a lot chasing them around all day. I’m able to deal without being totally frustrated and angry all day. Not that Jesse would be, but I just think I’m better at it. I didn’t mean to say he wasn’t capable with the kids. But he just gets more frustrated when both of them are crying or whatever. I think that’s the case with most men.
Jesse: She’s definitely more patient with the kids. I don’t want to say I would just tolerate being around the kids — I would do the best I could. But I definitely feel like I need to provide. It’s kind of old-school; the wife stays home with the kids, and the husband provides for the family. But I got laid off from my warehouse job in October.
Erin: Thankfully, Jesse got another job in December. But it took months to receive any of his unemployment checks for when he was out of work. We were surviving off $200 a week until he got back pay and started getting paid in his new job. Before Christmas, we were struggling to pay for food and were two months behind in rent. We were basically one check away from not having enough to feed to our kids.
Jesse: I worried about having to live in a car or the kids going hungry. I’m trying to work as much as I can to make up for the lost wages, but I feel bad leaving Erin at home with the kids. Especially now that it’s cold out, there’s not much they can do.
Erin: Every day, I think about how I wish I could work. It’s not Jesse’s fault that he gets to leave the house every day. But I miss adult interaction. I miss that drive in to work and the drive home, where it’s just nice and peaceful in the car.
Jesse: Staying home would start driving me a bit crazy. I don’t want to call it babysitting because they’re my children, but I don’t want to sit around and watch cartoons. Though I know there’s always stuff to do: I could fold laundry, I could do dishes. I don’t mind working. Erin’s a strong woman, and she can handle it. At the same time, I’m sure she’d like to feel fulfilled by doing a job she likes.
Erin: The self-esteem kind of goes out the window. You feel like, What am I here for? To pop out the children and then take care of them?