This is a guest post from Erin Wetzel. She is a artist who lives in Tacoma WA (that’s her drawing). She homeschools her daughter. You can connect with her on instagram @ekwetzel.  

I’m going to go ahead and confess: we use food stamps.

It’s not fun living right above the poverty line. I’m ashamed that we can’t afford our basic needs. I’m tired of not having a phone and cutting my own hair and making all our meals at home. I’m tired of carefully asking the grandparents at Christmas if, instead of buying new toys, they’d help us pay for Phoebe’s ballet lessons.

Before we were parents, Matt and I lived humbly, squirreling away savings, until we bought our house in 2010. It was a short sale. The week we found out we were closing was the same week we found out we were pregnant. Then, when I was 7 months pregnant, I was laid off. I figured: why not give this stay-at-home-mom thing a try?

At the time, Matt’s job covered our basic needs. We paid our midwife in cash. Our mortgage was manageable; we’d intentionally chosen a home we could afford on one salary. Matt worked as much overtime as he could get. Things were tight, but we got by.

If there was something we needed around the house, I would go thrifting to find it. I loved thrifting, and people loved the things I found, so I started selling vintage clothes online to supplement our income. As my shop’s popularity grew, it became unsustainable, so I stopped. If I was going to spend this much time time pursuing something, I knew I had to be more intentional.

That’s when I started waking up before dawn to paint. Over the next couple years, as my artwork became more popular, I thought that I might be able to make real money doing it.

Then Matt’s job told him he had to stop working overtime, and we could no longer afford our bills. That’s when we started accepting food stamps. Things were so tight. I wasn’t selling many paintings. After a few emergencies, we tapped out our savings. We needed money fast, if we were going to pay the mortgage, so Matt took an extra job, working for minimum wage, 5 nights a week, at a sorting center. It sucked.

We needed a different way.

Penelope offered Matt career counseling. When we got on the phone with her, it was a reality shock. She told us we were impractical idealists and that we needed to make sacrifices, unless we wanted our daughter to end up suffering for our bad decisions.

Penelope said, “You guys are dreamers. Erin, your head is in the clouds. And, Matt, you’re the kind of guy that is loyal and dependable. That means Erin comes up with the ideal of how your lives should be, and, Matt, you help her make it a reality. But none of this is practical. You need to make more money. Matt, you probably need to be working two jobs…two good jobs…in order to support your family’s needs.”

We thought about her words, and I spoke up, “Well, can’t I help out, by working part-time as an artist?”

Penelope told me to ask other artists how they made it work.

I emailed several friends, asking them how they made a living from their craft. They all told me different versions of the same story: it’s really hard; the image of their lives that they present online is put-together, because nobody wants to hear about hardships, but, behind the scenes, they are barely making rent money while pouring a ridiculous amount of time into their crafts. Plus, their marriages take a huge toll.

No. Making money from art was not going to fix our biggest problems.

Then a series of unfortunate events hit us: my car died, the lights blew out in half our house, I needed a root canal, and Phoebe had a medical emergency. We did not have it together. I broke down and spilled my heart out on Instagram. Our community and family swelled around us in support.

Matt quit his night job so he could spend more time looking for a better full-time job. He went on a couple interviews. We felt like it was just a matter of time before he would find the right fit. I sold a series of commissions that gave us a boost through the New Year. We were making ends meet.

Maybe I was in denial, but, when Matt was laid off a few weeks ago, I got excited. I thought this was our big opportunity. We could start a business from home. Matt could be his own boss, and we could take the reins of our destiny! I felt like it was a foolproof idea: either the business would be a success, or it would be a great addition to his resume, that could help him get a better job working for someone else.

Before we lost health insurance, I slipped into my nurse practioner’s office for one last check up. After the pap smear, my nurse told me I was very fertile. Right at that moment. We’ve been trying to get pregnant for years, so once I got home, we had sex. The next day, we had sex, again.

I thought, “How poetic would that be, to turn this negative event into an amazing new adventure?! We could tell our baby: ‘If Papa was never laid off, Mama would have never gone to see the nurse that day, and we wouldn’t have known it was the right time to get pregnant.’”

I was a day late for my period. The excitement was mounting. I took a pregnancy test, and it was negative. I took one the next day: negative, again.

Then, last night, I got my period. I spent the evening numbing my feelings with lots of chocolate and TV.

This morning, in the kitchen, I asked Matt what he thought about working from home. He said the more he thought about it, the less it seemed like a good idea. He’s an ISTJ, after all. He’d be happier working for someone else. I wasn’t disappointed. He’d been mulling it over, and it was a relief to finally have an answer. Besides, I believe that accepting Matt the way he is might be the best way to show that I trust him to take care of our needs. He needs that support.

Today, Phoebe was out with Grammy. Matt was running errands. Once I had the house to myself, I started working on my portrait commissions.

I like to make art because it helps people notice beauty in their everyday lives, and I think that makes their lives better. And, on some level, I probably focus on other people, because I get overwhelmed when I think about my own life, my desires and needs, my fears.

After I put my paintings on the mantle to dry, I had an extra hour on my hands. So I sat at the table. Not pregnant. No business venture to help my husband with.

I considered updating my website, so I wrote in my journal: “What do I want people to do when they go to my website?” That made me ask myself: “What do I want?” And I realized: I don’t know. I don’t know what I want. I was paralyzed. All of a sudden, I started crying. I was so sad.

I don’t know if I was crying over the lost chance to get pregnant or the insecurity of Matt being out of work or the knowledge that there’s nothing I can do to help him support our family. Or maybe I was crying because, in that quiet moment, I was forced to face myself, who I am and what I need, and all I could feel was the weight of all my inadequacies.

When Matt came home, I asked him to read what I’d written while I finished dinner. When he got to the end, he came into the kitchen and looked at me with sad, kind eyes. “What did you think?’ I asked him.

“It was very…raw.”

“Yeah,” I said.

He didn’t have anything left to say, so he gave me a hug. It was a good hug; and, for tonight, that was enough.

82 replies
  1. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    My husband & I are in a similar situation financially except we don’t have a baby. It seems like every time we decide to try for one something big financially goes wrong. Most recently- we need a new water heater. I’m just wondering how you found the courage to try for a 2nd baby when you’re barely scraping by? Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Amanda –

      You’re right: it takes a lot of courage to have a kid.

      One thing that helped me find courage is debunking the myth that kids are expensive. Babies aren’t really that expensive until they get older. Well…babies CAN be expensive, but they don’t HAVE to be. We chose to use a midwife instead of give birth at a hospital (SO. MUCH. CHEAPER….and also better for the overall birth experience, in most cases. I ‘m happy to provide to with resources, if you are interested). We asked for cloth diapers at our baby shower. And Phoebe wore hand-me-downs. The only other things we needed were a carseat and a way to babywear. We never even used a stroller (although you can find used ones everywhere). Babies don’t need toys; they’ll end up just preferring whatever you have around the house, anyways. If you breastfeed, you don’t need to worry about formula, and if you stay-at-home, there is no need for a pump or bottles. When your baby starts to eat solid foods around 6 months, you don’t need fancy baby foods; just give the kid what you’re already eating.

      I’d also really like to direct you to this post I wrote right before Phoebe was born. I hope something in it speaks to you: http://ekwetzel.com/2011/the-way-things-are/

      <3 Erin

      • billie
        billie says:

        yup.
        Ignore the Babies R Us & Target ads with 8 pages of “baby must-haves”. Ask some wise/frugal friends what you really need and go with that. Find some good thrift shops/garage sales & get cute stuff that someone else’s baby only used/wore for a month and you’ll be good to go. :)

  2. Jenn Gold
    Jenn Gold says:

    Erin, This is the best guest post you have ever written. I know you generally get a hard time on here but I was moved to tears because you really are awesome.

    Your voice is so clear. You write very well abt your life and I think ppl will identify with or at least understand what you’re saying.

    Don’t Quit either! One broekn dream after the other… but pls persist. Continue to figure out what you need to do to get to where you’d like. Perhaps, different skillsets?

    God bless you. This post inspired me.

    @ Penelope, are you mentoring (writing and blogging) your guest posters now?? They have been doing really good.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Jenn Gold – Oh thank you so much. It is so rewarding to me to hear that my words have a meaningful affect on others. If my life can help others, then it’s worth sharing, even if there are people who don’t really understand.

      The reason Penelope makes a great writing mentor is because, when your writing is total shit, she tells you it is and explains why. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent her something that didn’t get published. I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve emailed her just to talk about my life and she has encouraged me to turn it into a post. But I can tell you that, when I do a search in my gmail for her email address, 51 conversations come up, and the longest one is 17 emails long.

      Penelope totally didn’t ask me to plug her new course, but I’m going to anyways. Any writer would be lucky to have her as a mentor. Penelope might not have 51 email conversations with you, but you can at least talk to her from March 8 – March 11.

      The course is called How to Write About Your Life.

      Here is the link: http://www.quistic.com/seminar/how-to-write-about-your-life

  3. Fatcat
    Fatcat says:

    This is the kind of story that most people hide on the internet, the reality of life. Sometimes it’s very hard. I appreciate the courage it took to put it out there.

  4. Hillary
    Hillary says:

    My heart goes out to you. We’ve had our share of financial hardships.

    I don’t find where this post has anything to do with homeschooling. If you hadn’t prefaced with that info, it isn’t mentioned. I had different expectations for this post just based on the title. Maybe more about how you afford curriculum/books/experiences for your daughter despite many financial hardships.

    I hope there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for you all soon. Best of luck to you.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      The most expensive part of homeschooling is to have a stay at home parent.

      Everyone talks about not being able to afford it. But the truth is that even when you’re in Erin’s position (which is where I’ve been before minus the food-stamps because I’m too proud and afraid to prove the immigrant stereotype even though I was a naturalized citizen at 16) you realize that this is too important and that you’ll do anything to figure it out.

      • Erin
        Erin says:

        Karelys – I geek out over your posts. Thanks for commenting on mine.

        Yeah…the food stamps were never a solution for us, just a safety net. Which is what they’re there for, right?? But I have to keep reminding myself that.

        I have a friend who refuses to use food stamps and her kids are sometimes hungry. She gets sick of people treating her like she poor. Sometimes the people who need help the most are the ones who refuse it.

        Why do we shame people when they go through these rough patches??

        <3 Erin

        • Gretchen
          Gretchen says:

          also, I wouldn’t “shame” you…but these “rough patches” are self-made…do you think I wouldn’t love to be an “artist” and paint or write all day while hanging out with my kid? I very much would…but I’m a responsible adult with a family, not 22, single and finding myself

        • Pirate Jo
          Pirate Jo says:

          When someone is ALREADY on food stamps and trying to have another kid, it is not “going through a rough patch.”

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        “this is too important and that you’ll do anything to figure it out”

        Is it, though? The almost six figures I earn per year that I wouldn’t earn if I was homeschooling probably will do more for my kid than me homeschooling her would…

        There’s a lot of enrichment that can happen outside of school. I do see school as part babysitting, part social club, part learning some things alright…and it’s worth it to send her there so I can work. I could not imagine living like the people in this post. Just could not.

        • Gretchen
          Gretchen says:

          Sorry…looks like I am having a conversation with myself here…but, just in case, I’ll add something: I don’t mean to sound mean. I checked our your blog, Erin, and it is touching. I had to think about things and came to feel like, well, everyone is at a different place on their journey. (That’s such a cliche, but true…) and I guess I’ve backburnered any artistic ambitions or am too concerned about being not only financially solvent but financially successful to give in to pursuing my “dreams” and so it’s hard for me to face or understand other adults with kids who make a different choice.

  5. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    Erin, What a lovely post, I wish we could hang out together.

    My husband is an ISTJ too (I am ISFP). He is the rock that keeps my life together. His career started very slowly ( he is quiet and not showy) but now in mid-life he is doing better than ever. It took a while to find an employer that appreciated his dedication and consistency. I hope your husband’s path may be similar because it means the fruits of his labors will come in due time.

    Being on food stamps is okay, that is what it is there for. I’ve known a few people on food stamps, there are cultural differences between being poor and ignorant, and being poor and aware. And you my dear are poor and aware, not such a bad thing. In my opinion, your daughter will probably grow up to be a very driven person, and since she has you to guide her, she will pursue positive ambitions.

  6. sarah faulkner
    sarah faulkner says:

    Totally have been there. Food stamps and all. :) Everything worked out for us in the end. And I was thankful we had a government to help out when needed. Looking back to 8 years ago, it was totally worth it to raise my kids, and suffer. Tacoma is an expensive place to live, but hang in there, it will eventually get better.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      sarah faulkner – Thank you for the encouraging words. And I’ve totally been enjoying your posts. It’s encouraging to hear from someone that’s been through this, that things will work out.

      If you’re on social media, look me up and say “hi.” I’m “ekwetzel” on twitter & instagram.

      <3 Erin

  7. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Totally absorbing read. I love a good personal story, warts & all.

    Looking back on my life, the times I was in tears most were the times I was undergoing the most personal growth. Somehow when it all got to be too much, there would be nothing to it but to cry, and that release often seemed to give me what I needed to keep going & push through.

    All the best for the next chapter or your life.

  8. Trilby
    Trilby says:

    What made your vintage clothing shop unsustainable? It sounds like you were having some success with this. I’m curious about why you gave it up?

    Also, would it be possible for you to take a part-time job while your husband searches for a better second job? Babysitting or providing childcare might be a way for you to contribute to the family income without sacrificing your homeschooling efforts/time with your daughter.

    Penelope – do you feel like Erin listened to your advice?

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Trilby (& also Amy & maybe a few others asked about this) –

      Why was my vintage clothing shop unsustainable?

      When I only had 5-10 orders a week, it was exciting and fun to sell vintage clothes.

      When my business grew, my home was swimming in bags of clothes and I had 12 personal shopping customers and spent hours assigning correct labels and weights to packages. I was miserable, because I haaaate this kind of monotonous work. And I was only making, maybe $2.50/hour.

      I’ve tried different stay-at-home jobs: childcare (ironically, so stressful for me taking care of other people’s kids), technical freelance writing (I was abysmal at it). I thought about working nights or weekends. When I started waking up before dawn to paint, it was during a time when we didn’t *need* my income, and my paintings were so successful so fast, I decided to stick with it.

      The bigger issue is this, though: it took me awhile to accept that my role is not to provide money, but to take care of the home. That is what my family needs from me.

      I price my art at a rate that makes me happy to do it, keeping in mind that any time I take to make art is time that takes away from my family or free time. And people pay my rates. It’s affirming and exhilarating and meaningful to me.

      And it’s an effective fall back plan! The month the shit it the fan for us, I did an art sale, sold 8 commissions, and that’s what paid our mortgage that month!

      It might seem like painting is “play,” but the truth is: because I enjoy it, I am able to dedicate myself to it in a sustainable way and make more money from it, in the long run.

      But, at the end of the day, I can’t stop painting, and I will make art even if nobody is paying me, even if I have to wake up before dawn to do it, even if I have to do it while Phoebe paints with me, smudging both our paintings with her little fingers. Why? Because I am an artist. It’s what makes me breathe.

      • Trilby
        Trilby says:

        Thank you, Erin. When I read your post, it seemed to me that the thrifting was a more viable and reliable option than painting. Your response clarifies that that wasn’t the case.

        For what it’s worth, my intent in my later comment was not to shame you for using food stamps. Everybody struggles at times.

        I believe that it’s important to have safety nets like food stamps to support people when they need it. I also think it’s important to keep focusing on ways to get above the net, because when you’re already in the net and things take a turn for the worst, where do you fall? There are too many stories of people who fall through the cracks because there was nothing left to catch them, and I hate for that to happen to anybody, especially children.

        I personally need more of a buffer between my kids and the safety net and would sacrifice the things that I’m passionate about in order to maintain that. Because I sleep better knowing the net is there for me to fall into, not out of, if needed. But I get that not everyone feels the same way.

        Kudos to you for placing more value on time with your daughter than on material things. I hope it all works out for your family.

  9. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Erin,

    I have a soft spot for artists and creative types, I really do since I am raising two for sure. My spouse and I know a very wealthy artist who travels with celebrities and is living every artists’ dream life, and then we know lots of poor struggling artists who refuse to do anything else but be poor and be artists because it feels inauthentic for them to do something else to supplement their income. Then I met a really smart business savvy artist who commissions paintings, has a commercial graphic arts business, and teaches art to children in his studio. He is doing pretty well.

    My observations for artists are the same as my observations for musicians, they end up teaching lessons in their homes to help make an income, because only a small percentage end up being successful + making lots of money from it. One of the things I am doing while unschooling is teaching all the different ways someone can do something within their passion and still make a living off of it.

    If you lived near me, and you offered art lessons in your home for homeschoolers I would sign up. Just a thought and may require an initial investment upfront that you will recoup selling art supplies to your students.

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      Elizabeth, Will you say more about this:

      ” One of the things I am doing while unschooling is teaching all the different ways someone can do something within their passionand still make a living off of it.”

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        I’m not sure I understand what to clarify?

        I’m thinking Gen Z when I made the statement. So if a kid says they want to be a chef or a cook, I think of all the different ways they could do that without it just meaning a chef in a restaurant kitchen. It could mean food scientist or chemical engineer etc… not just the traditional path or the most obvious jobs.

        • Amy A
          Amy A says:

          Elizabeth, Oh, okay. Thanks.I like this kind of thinking. I was thinking you had a side biz doing this.

          • Elizabeth
            Elizabeth says:

            I totally could, I’m like a match-maker except for careers. ;) I just like helping people out for right now. Maybe when the youngest gets a bit older I could be like a career counselor for unschoolers/homeschoolers. I have such a depth and breadth of knowledge in this area and it is fun for me.

          • Amy A
            Amy A says:

            Elizabeth, I want to be a relationship matchmaker! I love your idea of specializing for homeschoolers/unschoolers.I hope you start a blog soon.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Elizabeth –

      Funny… I organized a weekly homeschooling meetup (that met the first time on the day Matt was laid off…so I suspended the meetup until we got Life figured out)….anyways… As a part of the homeschooling meetup, I was going to lead the kids in an “art day” once a month, and a “music day” once a month. But I never thought about doing additional classes and charging for it. :) Thanks for the idea! I’ll file it away.

      Over the past couple years, I have networked and formed relationships with a LOT of professional artists. As a result, I have a lot of knowledge on how to make an art career work, and I know how to talk and network with artists, I just don’t have the time to pursue an art career for myself. *However* I have started consulting for artists and other people who need advice on how to take their art to the next level, and I’m currently working with Cassie on a HUGELY awesome super-secret project that I probably shouldn’t say any more about. But. Anyways. While Matt has been out of work, I have been very busy working, and I cannot wait to share more when the time is right. So stay tuned.

      ;) Erin

      • Jana
        Jana says:

        Out of curiosity, is this meetup still a thing you do? I’m a local, which is why I ask.

        Thank you for your lovely post!

        • Erin
          Erin says:

          Jana –

          I suspended it when Matt got laid off (so we could get our bearings), but I should be starting it up again, soon. Send me your info & I’ll keep you in the loop! I’m hello (at) ekwetzel (dot) com.

          ^_^ Erin

  10. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    I love your commitment to living your life with contentment and beauty, and your commitment to raising your daughter in a way that will help her to see that too.

    My life (and my personality) is so opposite of yours, and yet, I am the tiniest bit envious of your spirit.

    I think every parent wants their child to have everything, even the things they cannot provide. So you want to give your daughter ballet and a garden and a household that isn’t tense because of budget constraints, but you don’t really know how you’ll do it.

    I want to free my son from an obsession with temporal needs, and to not define his worth by his success, but I don’t really know how I’ll do that.

    I think that’s why in homeschooling, church and life community is so important. Even so, its easier for me to give from a position of strength than it is to receive from a position of weakness.

  11. Kimberly Rotter
    Kimberly Rotter says:

    No nurse practitioner or any other person can tell you when you’re “very fertile.” How on earth did she come to this prophetic conclusion? A urine test, not a pelvic exam, can tell you when ovulation is imminent. And at that point, you have the same odds of conception as anyone else of similar age and health. That NP was a moron and gave you false hope based in fantasy, and should be reported to the licensing board or her employer.

    • heather bathon
      heather bathon says:

      Whoa, harsh dude. It would not be easy to become a nurse practitioner while also being a moron – there are at least a few demanding IQ hoops to jump through on the way to earning that degree. The NP was probably referring to a change in cervical mucus, which becomes noticeably more viscous when approaching ovulation.

      In any case, Erin, I’m sorry you didn’t become pregnant when you had hoped to. Good luck in the future.

      I enjoyed your post very much. It strikes me that you and your husband are in a spot financially that many excellent people have been in, are in and will be in as long as there are humans. That is, figuring out what works for you. Keep at it! If being wealthy while pursuing our passions was easy, we’d all be doing it.

      Heather

      • lizmomomof5
        lizmomomof5 says:

        Of course she could have an idea that she was at her most fertile point.during the pap she could see the positioning of her cervix(high vs low) the texture (firm vs soft) as well as the open or close of the cervical os in addition to the mucus are all indcators of being fertile. If she was getting a pap you can believe the NP saw all these plus had an idea of where Erin was in her cycle

  12. The Realist
    The Realist says:

    your idealism seems very selfish. it’s clear you can’t afford to get pregnant and live the life of an artist while homeschooling your kids. you’re going to have to make some sacrifices. maybe you should get a 9-5 job that pays to lighten the load on your poor husband.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      Realists and Idealists will probably never see eye to eye, right? Both have merits and I prefer crossing both boundaries to take visionary risks, like unschooling, while crossing back to realism when assessing what works and what doesn’t. Being a skeptic I appreciate realism, but I also love idealism in terms of what ‘could be’ and am willing to take a certain amount of risk to see it come to fruition.

      What we are given here is a snapshot into her life and is by no means an all-encompassing measure of who Erin is, which means I can’t possibly call her selfish for wanting to dream big.

    • Jennifa
      Jennifa says:

      I am glad you brought this up The Realist. You are expressing what many people fear and keeps them from pursing a life of their dreams to begin with, and that is the judgement of others.

      But isn’t this what makes people so miserable? Living lives other deem respectable while suffocating themselves?

      It sounds like you have made some sacrifices that you feel are not appreciated, has it made you miserable?

      • Gretchen
        Gretchen says:

        I don’t fear the judgement of others. I fear not being able to pay my mortgage, feed my kid, send her to college and retire without being a burden on her.

        • Erin
          Erin says:

          Gretchen –

          I have these fears, too. Oh my God, I have these fears.

          My whole life I worked hard and saved money and lived within my means. I have never been rich, but I’ve been careful.

          But here’s the rub: I was the *perfect* student, and I played by all the rules, and where did it get me? Nowhere. Traditional education did not lead to success or happiness for me, professionally. I’ve had to “unschool myself” in order to break out of the toxic mindset I learned in public school. It’s been a hard transition, and I’ve made lots of mistakes, and I am not confident. I’m scared constantly that I will not be enough.

          But I’m willing to fight to give my kid a better life than I had.

          So if that means that I have to sacrifice in order to give my kid a better education, then I’ll do it. And I *believe* in homeschooling and unschooling and passion-centerred learning. I want my kid to have opportunities I never had. I want her to find her voice and know what she wants out of life. I don’t want public school to hold her back.

          We each have a story. We each bring baggage to the table. We are each trying to do what’s best for our kids.

          I come to you with open hands: let’s support each other as we try to do our best.

          <3 Erin

          • Brooke
            Brooke says:

            Erin,
            While reading your post and all the comments, I kept thinking back to the years I was a single mom of one and worked full time. I worked in order to provide for my child without having to rely on the government. I married when my son was 10 and am fortunate to be a stay at home mom to him and my daughter, whom I homeschool.
            I say all that to clarify my next statement: I really believe you are doing the right thing. If I could go back, I would spend more time with my son rather than focusing on the financial aspect so much. Money Does Not replace the time a parent spends with a child. I’m fortunate my husband makes good money for our family, but it doesn’t provide those things a child misses out on when a parent isn’t there. Certainly, as a society we want to discourage welfare generations. However, a mother staying home with her child while her husband works and has their income supplemented by government aide – society benefits from what that child is receiving. That child is receiving so much more than my son did when he spend so much time in childcare and without me while I was working.

    • heather bathon
      heather bathon says:

      Dear Realist,

      You’re leveling an interesting accusation at Erin and one which bears some examining. On one hand it’s a fair enough observation, in that many people who pursue a passion could be viewed as placing an unfair burden on others – someone has to keep the lights on, pay for food etc. In Erin’s case, you’re attributing all the idealism to her and all the pragmatism to her ‘poor husband’.

      What if you changed your perspective and saw these two positions as not being mutually exclusive? What would happen if you saw Erin’s idealism as a guiding principle that determines what is practical? For her, that is. For her family. For her life.

      I’m assuming of course, that Erin and her husband are two adults working together to create a meaningful life for each of them. I’m not assuming that Erin is some harridan, stomping out the dreams of those around her, to get her way.

      Heather

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      After we kids and my mom moved on, my dad worked for 20 years while his second wife stayed home alone (no kids left to raise), doing not much. When he wasn’t working he did their errand-running, cooking and cleaning.

      He was happy as hell to go home to his best friend every day. The thought didn’t even occur to him that she should be doing her ‘fair share.’ Being around each other was the greatest gift to him.

      That’s where it is at. That is love. That is appreciation of a good relationship in this crazy world. What an inspiration.

  13. Amy
    Amy says:

    You are my (grown) children’s age. I will freely admit I do not understand you at all (or them, very much either). I’m not judging, I see you are struggling and I am sorry. I just don’t understand.

    Especially this line – it just baffles me COMPLETELY:
    As my shop’s popularity grew, it became unsustainable, so I stopped.

    Isn’t that an answer right there? Isn’t it something you could try again? Maybe raise your prices? Maybe tweak or refine it a bit? It GREW – it WORKED. Money was coming in. You can do it from home. What is the downside to this?

    Again, I am sorry for your struggles.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Oh. I was thinking that was the most understandable part. Inventory costs and time costs, the time spent shopping and the time running the store, the time spent building relationships, the time spent on STORE and not ART or FAMILY.

      Homeschooling takes time. Running a business takes time. Having a marriage takes time. Running a household takes time. Having an infant also takes time.

      I used to be poor in money but rich in time. I still try to be as un-busy as possible, because being too busy is hard on my oldest son and my husband. But everything is a trade off.

    • UnschoolingMama
      UnschoolingMama says:

      I understand completely how the business became unsustainable as it grew.

      In my case, I started a home preschool to help support my family and let me stay home with my kids. As my preschool became popular, I found I was spending way too much time emailing prospective parents, giving tours and interviews outside of hours, and so on. The things that made my program popular to begin with–organic, home cooked meals, my willingness to conference with current parents whenever and for however long, creative projects for the kids… Yes, unsustainable I understand. Especially when the business was meant to be a part time thing, and then you find you’re working much, much more than full time hours and your priorities have taken backseat.

      There are ways to scale back. Take only a few number of orders per month. I have seen etsy shops close periodically. You could open the shop to sell items you’ve collected slowly for several months, then close again to slowky gather the next batch.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Amy ^_^ Thank you for commenting. I address some of your concerns in a reply to Trilby (I think it’s still awaiting moderation).

      If you have any follow-up questions for me, don’t hesitate to ask.

      <3 Erin

  14. Susan
    Susan says:

    This was a really moving piece that unravels how financially things can slip away.

    I think I’m a practical idealist. I take huge risks and sometimes have lost money, respect and jobs in the process. But some of those risks have also afforded huge opportunities like getting travel books published by refusing to believe I had to go through the usual A, B, and C dues.

    That being said, I am very confused why you would try for a 2nd without income or health insurance?? Wouldn’t that just make your situation spiral? How would you dig yourself out? What if you had twins? Or a special needs child?

    Why don’t you go back to thrifting?

    Why not teach an art class at night?

    It’s one thing to be an idealist. It’s another to pretend the reality around you isn’t what it is or that your decisions won’t effect your child and husband.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      Time with kids, family, art is wonderful, but does the financial pressure at point supersede these joys? If things get so dire that it is hard to have a proper food budget, the stress of handling finances for survival will infuse everything. Maybe at that point school instead of homeschool is a viable alternative – take some of the stress out of life, getting some job to stay head over water? Return to homeschooling when the better job has been found so one parent can stay home?

      • mh
        mh says:

        I don’t know how Erin would answer that, but around here, tossing the kids into a school situation would be more disruptive and stressful for the family than practically any level of poverty. In the past, we have given up the cable, the second car, all dry cleaning, all restaurant meals, all fresh meat, and all club memberships when times got tight. Hard times don’t last forever. Sacrificing your child to the boredom, compliance, and daily coercion of a school environment is asking the child to pay too high a price for temporary poverty.

        • Elizabeth
          Elizabeth says:

          mh, couldn’t have said that any better.

          Yes, tough times are temporary.

          Redrock, Erin has a young daughter, I think she said she was 3 in her last post here. Daycare for most people in poverty is more expensive than whatever income they could bring in. Again, this is just a temporary situation and her husband shouldn’t have any problems finding another job soon with as hard of a worker as he is.

          Wouldn’t you rather have a loving mother stay at home with her child and collect food stamps than have the mom work some temporary job and hand the kid off to strangers? Isn’t this what safety nets are designed for?

          I am so happy Erin has good family around to help out and friends who can support her. Erin you can do this! It is only one moment in time.

          • Trilby
            Trilby says:

            I agree with Redrock on this except that I don’t think the trade off is between homeschooling and earning an income. Lots of people earn money from home while raising their kids.

            What I don’t understand is the idea that it’s ok to rely on food stamps to support a passion or chase a dream. Food stamps are a safety net, not a hammock. If Erin can’t feed her kid, I think she needs to make that her focus for now. And if painting isn’t going to help Erin put food on the table, maybe it should take a place on the back burner until she’s in a better place financially.

          • Elizabeth
            Elizabeth says:

            Trillby,

            Do you only object to the use of food stamps? Did you read the part where they were doing ok on her spouse’s income and then he lost both of his jobs? Penelope’s advice was for her husband to get two good paying jobs and that is what they need to focus on. So… why are others saying she is selfish for taking food stamps when they need them temporarily? How can you possibly call it a hammock vs a safety net? Walk a mile…

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          Actually I should have made clear that this was a more general question triggered by Erins post. I dont know her situation well enough to make a more specific, situation adapted comment.

          • Trilby
            Trilby says:

            Elizabeth,

            I don’t object to Erin’s use of food stamps. The point I was trying to make is that if her family is in a position to need food stamps, maybe it is time to take a break from following her passion (painting) and focus on ways to generate income to support her family until her husband can get a better second job. Erin writes that Penelope told them they need to make sacrifices. Perhaps going back to selling thrift items or looking for other work she can do from home would help them in the short term. She can always return to painting later.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Hi Susan –

      You;ll have to forgive me…my brain is getting tired from answering comments tonight. I think I address your concerns in my long comment at the bottom of all the comments, as well as in the post directed at Trilby about the vintage clothing shop. If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to ask.

      ^_^ Erin

  15. tamara
    tamara says:

    Wow. I get it. We homeschool our two boys, well, I homeschool and my husband works from home as a web/graphic designer. It’s very tough and there isn’t a week that goes by where the credit card is not used for food. I am an artist and have grand ideas of doing it for a living. I just recently quit my part time job so my husband could have more time for his work. It’s tough not making money and I just don’t have the time to commit to art enough to make money with it but that’s my dream and I will not give it up. Someday it’ll happen…

    This is a wonderful post and thanks so much for sharing. It is raw, and it hurts because I feel it. Knowing we shouldn’t go out today and buy bananas because we don’t have the cash sucks. But these sacrifices are worth it so we can home educate our children. I wouldn’t change that.

    I’m off to visit Erin’s blog. :)

  16. Amy A
    Amy A says:

    Well, you have something not all of us have: parents who care and who your kid is willing to hang out with (and a caring partner, I might add). I wonder if you guys could live with your parents. If the relationships are healthy, that would be living the dream, to me, while raising kids.

    Unless my kid was tween age+ (they were personally-invested), I would skip the paid classes until I had the cash. But if grandparents insisted on gifts (nice problem to have), then I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to inform them, “We don’t need stuff, but activities for my kid which we can’t afford would be really appeciated. From here on out.”

    I strongly believe every family should be able to have a parent stay home with their kids. I want this to be culturally-acceptable–no matter what the financial situation is. Sometimes I fear ‘someone’ will take away my right to homeschool, force me to work full time, and pass my kids on to strangers; I hate being afraid of that and have to make a conscious effort to tap into my trust in Life to let the fear go.

    Everyone needs food. So anyone who needs food stamps should be able get them. (Just research what specifically our government throws money at and no one will again feel badly about accepting measly food stamps.)

    I am way too self-aware, practical and realistic about all that it takes to raise a child (especially emotionally and the energy level required) to be romantic about making babies. But I never want families to not be able to have (more) children if they want them. It is hard to hear complaints about something people had absolute power to choose or not (raising more kids, for example), but we don’t have to listen to those complaints if we don’t want to.

    I think it is a great idea for you to put your energy into supporting your husband find a good job. Once he is set, then you could do side work if you want. Being scattered usually means chasing ones tail–especially when parenting kids at the same time. One person needs to be the stable home presence.

    If you don’t already, I would sit down with your spouse and get an action plan set up, figuring out what each of you will be working on each day towards the goals. Of course, first agreeing on the goals.

    Also, come up with about three feeling/being goals you each want during this time (ex. Strength, freedom, ease) and keep those front and center in all you do. This helps, believe it or not.

    I love Abraham Hicks and Byron Katie. So if you’re open, listen to them on youtube. I do whenever I need a boost.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Amy A – I love everything about your comment. I love the way you think. I love your awareness and fair-minded handling of each issue you discuss.

      It really helped that Matt was already looking for new work. He had a resume and cover letter ready, and already had a couple job interviews under his belt. After taking a moment to recoil from being punched in the face by the layoff, we set goals to move forward.

      Not a day goes by that I am not thankful for the help we have from Matt’s mom & the other grandparents. Yes: they insist on gifts at Christmas, and I try to steer them towards experiences/classes instead of toys (that inevitably lose interest after 2 seconds). My parents live across the country and Matt’s dad is down in California, while Matt’s mom lives in-town and is very invested in our lives. I think that Matt’s mom is so dedicated to helping out because she was a single mom from the time Matt was 5 years old, and didn’t remarry until after Matt and I met. In a way, I think spending time with Phoebe is like her second chance at experiencing a relationship with a young child in a way that she simply could not afford to when Matt was growing up and she was struggling to make ends meet.

      So: yes. We have help. But it’s not as simple as one little snapshot of an involved grandmother. There is a whole history of struggle and sacrifice that is part of the story of our relationship with Matt’s mom. And Matt had a lot of issues to work through, doubting his ability to be a good father because his dad was gone for most of his life. But aren’t we all a big mix of crazy circumstances? We can’t control what life throws at us, but we can use our experiences to make us into better people.

  17. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Yikes.

    I haven’t read the comments yet, but I don’t think this is a situation in which you should even be considering getting pregnant right now.

    This reads as a series of very bad decisions. I can’t see how anyone should be at home with their child and not working in a situation like this.

    Maybe I’m reading this wrong but this whole thing reads really really selfish. Life is doing things you don’t want to do to get things you want.

    I don’t see the value in this post. Sorry.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Depends on the type of parenting, I suppose.

      A groovy, blissed-out couple who can surrender control and dwell on their blessings is going to do fine with a new baby in these circumstances.

      This is a first-world problem: timing the babies perfectly. Babies multiply the love. Have them.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      Jessica,

      Haven’t you ever had a friend in life who romanticized everything? A tragedy becomes something good? It doesn’t make sense to practical people, but they are the dreamers and you can’t force them to comply. I have a hard time not wanting to fix these situations for people, but my best friend growing up was this way. “Life is crashing around me so why not have a baby???” I don’t know how, but life always works out for these people that I have known that have done this. I just go with the flow offer some logical perspective and be supportive.

  18. mh
    mh says:

    Erin, I think the best thing about your post is you’ve got grandparents in the picture. That says a lot for the long term stability of your situation and your relationships.

  19. Kim
    Kim says:

    I’m a single homeschooling mom. My husband made a series of disappearances (leaving to go to the grocery store then not showing up for months). In the end, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, asked me for a divorce and went to live with his parents overseas. I haven’t heard from him since except through his lawyer.

    It’s good to know that there are many faces to this homeschool thing and that it’s not just for put-together families that always, somehow, make it through.

    I’ve never thought of homeschooling as a luxury and it’s unbelievably encouraging to know that there are those out there willing to weather the storm in order to do it.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      Kim, do a guest post I beg you! Use a different name if people being douche canoes scare you. POR FAVOR!!!

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Kim – Thanks for your comment. It’s so good to be able to bond with others who have to sacrifice in order to make things work.

      <3 Erin

    • Amy A
      Amy A says:

      Homeschooling, being with our own children, is not a luxury!

      Right on! Thank you.

      Fellow single h.s. mom here. I bet you feel the same as I do: I dont see it as sacrificing. I am just dedicated to the people I brought into this world and to my own dignity.

      Being there for our kids is not a luxury. Or a sacrifice.

  20. Erin
    Erin says:

    Hi guys.

    Thank you so much for reading my post and for engaging with about my life and experiences. I have not been absent. I have been reading all your words and ruminating on them. Penelope-willing, I hope to post an in-depth follow-up post about how and why we make the decisions we do, but, in the meantime, I wanted to go ahead and respond to a lot of questions that you have (I will go through the comments shortly).

    Overall, I look at this writing as a slice of a moment in my life. This post was about SHOWING, not telling. I know I am not perfect. I know I make mistakes. But, to me, when I read these words I see someone who is trying to accept the reality of a hard situation and make the best of it.

    What Matt needed was for me to trust him. Too often, I see spouses bickering. I see wives trying to micro-manage their husbands and tell them what to do, instead of supporting them for who they are and being content with the life that they have chosen for themselves. Matt and I are partners and we confer with each other and support each other, but we have separate roles. Matt’s job is to provide financially. My job is to take care of the home, the food, and Miss Phoebe. My art is not a job. It is what I do in my free time because it makes me feel alive.

    Because I do not work outside the home, I am able to do SO MUCH to reduce expenses for our family. The work of a homemaker is constantly undervalued in our culture. I am not sitting at home twiddling my thumbs. I am boiling chicken bones to make my own stock. I make my own yogurt and kombucha and sauerkraut. In the summer, I pick blackberries and blueberries that grow wild in local parks and freeze them for the winter. I spend an hour in the fields at our local farm, picking kale and chard and spices (because that’s free, for CSA farm members). I am not spending money on childcare. I am not spending money on cleaners. I am not spending money on landscapers. I do it all.

    And I’m happy to do it, because it’s what our family needs.

    Because this post explores my emotional breakdown, I don’t go into much depth about Matt’s job situation. Matt had a good job that slowly got worse, then it got really really bad really fast. He’s been looking for new work for months, he just got laid off before he could find the right fit for a new job.

    One more thing before I address individual comments: the pregnancy issue. I was honestly shocked that so many of you had a problem with us trying to get pregnant. Every mentor I know in Real Life has shared with us this wisdom: Matt’s job slump is a temporary situation, but children are a long term joy. Frankly, this is an attitude I share. I have PCOS. It was difficult to conceive Phoebe, and it has been difficult to conceive #2. I’m in my thirties. I’m not going to put our family trajectory on hold just because we are between jobs. My sister (who is ten years older than me) spent her thirties waiting for the right time to have a kid, and, if wasn’t for expensive fertility treatments, she would have lost her chance. She still regrets not being able to have a second child, because she waited too long. I do not want her story to be mine.

    Again, thank you for being here and welcoming me into your time, your thoughts, and your hearts.

    <3 Erin

    • billie
      billie says:

      I realized I should probably explain. ;) Mostly it’s because of this:
      “Matt’s job slump is a temporary situation, but children are a long term joy.”
      and this:
      “Because I do not work outside the home, I am able to do SO MUCH to reduce expenses for our family. The work of a homemaker is constantly undervalued in our culture.”
      and most definitely for this:
      “What Matt needed was for me to trust him. Too often, I see spouses bickering. I see wives trying to micro-manage their husbands and tell them what to do, instead of supporting them for who they are and being content with the life that they have chosen for themselves. Matt and I are partners and we confer with each other and support each other, but we have separate roles.”

      My husband and I are both creatives; I married him knowing we would probably always have less money than most (but still be in the top 5% richest people in the world but that’s another topic). And I was okay with that. We have 4 kids and each time I got pregnant it seemed like the “wrong” time, mostly because of job losses/businesses folding. Those times passed, but the kids are still here multiplying our happiness. :)
      I respect your decision to support your husband – that was probably the hardest thing for me when times got real hard, to give up control and give love and grow trust instead. Needless to say our marriage and life is so, so much better now for my decision to do that then.

      I pray good things for your journey.

  21. Maria
    Maria says:

    I wasn’t really sure what to think about this post, and it took some time for me to craft my response. I’m naturally a loving and empathetic person, but am also a realist.

    I was confused by the title of the article “HS is not just for the rich”. Actually, the majority of people (as per federal stats) that homeschool are not “rich”. People at or above 200% of the poverty line are very unlikely to homeschool; homeschooling is most prominent within the group of parents that are “at” the poverty line “to” 200% of it. The ratio of homeschooling parents below the poverty line is nearly non-existent. My follow up question to the title is, who are you trying to keep up with that you perceive as “rich”? To say that homeschooling is something that primarily rich folks do is just inaccurate.

    You begin your story saying that you are ashamed, but I’m struggling to sympathize. It sounds like you have several great options available to you, but none are good enough (including re-opening a store that was previously successful; if it was too much, options could include only doing it part time when your husband is home, or designating x amount of time during the week/weekend for it, etc), taking on a pt position, take Financial Peace University, or – as we have done – reducing our expenses to significantly below our income. This wasn’t easy by any means, and big sacrafices were made to get there, but we did it. I realize that this article is just a snippit into your story, and that there is likely much more. I’m only responding to what was shared and how it was shared.

    As mothers, we all make sacrafices and decisions based on unique circumstances., but we all deal with the consequences of those decisions, right? Working moms may (not always!) feel guilt; SAHM’s may (not always!) have to abide by strict budgets if living on only one income. I do not judge the working mom or the SAHM mom. The point is – we all have choices – and for that we are blessed. Not everyone in the world has that option available.

    Much love and best of luck.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Maria –

      Thank you for your thoughtfulness.

      Guilt is something I struggle with all the time, no matter what. For me, naming the feeling of guilt or shame (or whatever) is the first step in understanding and externalizing it, and moving on from it.

      Yeah, this post is a confessional, an openhearted expression of my feelings and fears while I was at my low-point after Matt got laid off. I feel it is important to put these feelings into words, not just for myself, but also to help others who are experiencing the same situation or feelings and yet do not know how to talk about it. That’s a big motivation for me in writing: words put footprints in the ground for us to put our thoughts into. Words help us understand ourselves, face our fears, and grow. That’s why it’s important to me not to sugar-coat this low point. It is important to me to be authentic and just let the words stand for themselves.

      Penelope selected the title, but I think it works. This is a window into a very real struggle people can face when they make the decision to homeschool. We are not rich. We will not be rich. I will stay home and not work so that I can take care of the home and Phoebe and her education. Part of the point here is that I can’t pour the hours that would be needed to establish a significant income, no matter what the field is. Maybe if I had started establishing a career from home before I had a kid, that would be an option. But that’s not our life. And sometimes that’s hard for me to accept. It’s hard for me to accept myself. Some days I want to say: fuck it, I want a job; I want to have money and feel important and not have to eat beans and rice all the time. Some days I am full of doubts.

      But then I look at my kid and I take a deep breath and I know: it’s not even a choice…I will be with my kid. Matt feels the same way. This value guides us, and we will do everything in our power to make it a reality.

      I really encourage you to read some of the other follow-up comments I left here, especially the comment I left at the very end (right before your comment) and the one addressed to Trilby , about why my shop didn’t work out.

      <3 Erin

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        Erin, sending hugs and prayers your way. Babies were meant to be had by the young, and sometimes those lives aren’t perfectly figured out yet. My husband and I had our first three kids while in college or graduate school. It worked out just fine. Yes, I am a stay at home mom, but I have always wanted to be known as a creative and loving wife and mother. Kudos to you for writing and creating art.

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