TO HAVE OR TO HOLD
Money, Marriage, and Children
Like many educated professional middle-class couples, Tessa and Richard decided to wait until their careers and finances had stabilized before having children. They met in graduate school, still harboring dreams of becoming a professor and a poet, and lived together five years before getting married. Tessa got her master's degree in history, then tested jobs in the nonprofit and legal fields before choosing, just over a year ago, to become a high school history teacher. Richard transitioned from the art world to Web design and now works as a Web manager for a nonprofit. They were married four years, both in their mid-thirties, when Tessa got pregnant. When she and I spoke on the phone one mid-July morning, their daughter's birth was just two months away.
“I always wanted to have kids,” Tessa tells me. “And we thought a lot about when would be the right time. Eventually we realized things would never feel right. There's never going to be enough money saved up or a good time to take a career break. You just have to jump in and hope you can figure out a way.”
Integrating career, family, and finances proved tricky from the start. While pregnant, Tessa took part in a rigorous yearlong training program designed for adults interested in making a career switch to teaching. She spent her days working in a public school an hour's commute from their house in South Boston and her evenings in class at a local college. A $500-a-month stipend replaced the $40,000 she'd been making working for a women's nonprofit organization; the couple essentially lived off Richard's $70,000 salary.
“Financially, it was a scary time to be cutting back,” Tessa admits,