This week, Maggie chats with freelance writer and author, Emily Guy Birken, about how Emily pivoted her career goals after having her first child. We also talk about the career systems that need to change in order to make the workforce more accessible for working families.
In this episode, we talk about how Emily pivoted her career goals after having her first child. We also talk about the career systems that need to change in order to make the workforce more accessible for working families. If you think you might pivot your career or if you plan on being a working parent someday, this episode is for you.
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Emily Guy Birken is a former educator, lifelong money nerd, and a Plutus Award-winning freelance writer who specializes in the scientific research behind irrational money behaviors. Her background in education allows her to make complex financial topics relatable and easily understood by the layperson. Her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Kiplinger’s, MSN Money, and The Washington Post online. She is the author of four books on personal finance: The 5 Years Before You Retire, Choose Your Retirement, Making Social Security Work for You, and End Financial Stress Now. Emily lives in Milwaukee with her family.
To join the Money Circle Community, visit www.maggiegermano.com/moneycircle.
To learn more about Maggie and her coaching and speaking services, visit www.maggiegermano.com.
The theme music is called Escaping Light by Aaron Sprinkle. The podcast artwork design is by Maggie’s dear husband, Dan Rader.
Maggie Germano 0:07
Thanks for listening to the money circle Podcast. I am your host, Maggie Germano and I’m a financial coach for women. I’m passionate about helping women improve their relationship with money so that they can take better control of their futures. Part of that journey is making personal finance education more accessible and less judgmental, which is why this podcast exists. Each week we’ll discuss a new financial topic to help you explore how you can make a difference in your own financial life or in society as a whole. If you’re interested in diving deeper into issues like income inequality, debt or money, shame, check out my new money circle community. In this safe feminist space women gathered to talk about money without fear of being judged or shamed. We will break down shame and build community and safety for everyone so that you can find the support you need to gain control over your finances. Visit Maggiegermano.com/moneycircle to learn more and to join the community today. I can’t wait to see you there.
Hey there, and thanks for listening. I’m your host Maggie Germano. And this week, I’m chatting with Emily Guy Birken, who is a former educator, a lifelong money nerd and a plutus award winning freelance writer who specializes in the scientific research behind irrational money behaviors. In this episode, we talk about how Emily pivoted her career goals after having her first child. And we also talked about the career systems that need to change in order to make the workforce more accessible to working families. If you think you might pivot your career in the future, or if you plan on being a working parent someday, this episode is for you. Enjoy.
Okay, welcome, Emily. Thanks so much for being here today.
Emily Guy Birken 2:01
Thank you for having me.
Maggie Germano 2:03
So there might be a lot of folks out there listening who might not know who you are what you do. So why don’t you tell us what that is.
Emily Guy Birken 2:12
So I am a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, I’ve been writing for various parts of the financial blogosphere, for nearly 10 years now. I’m also the author of four books on personal finance. The five years before you retire was my first book. And my most recent book was and financial stress now. And then in addition to that, I also offer money coaching services. And I’m actually doing that for free during the pandemic. So anyone who’s listening who is concerned about how they’re going to make ends meet, you can feel free to schedule a free 15 minute call with me on my website, Emily guy Birkin calm. And I can help you figure out how to be a little less stressed about money during this pandemic.
Maggie Germano 3:00
That’s great. That’s so generous of you.
Emily Guy Birken 3:03
It’s one of my favorite things to do. I actually am one of those really weird people who I kind of enjoy thinking about how to make money work. And knowing that, that it’s really just a matter of allocating things correctly. I think of it kind of like Tetris. So if you just allocate things in a way that will relieve your stress, it’s it’s really, really rewarding. And because it’s not my financial stress, I’m not, I’m able to see like, Oh, you got a space right there in a way that if you’re close to it, you you just it’s very difficult to see. And so I’m very glad to be able to help people with that, particularly at this moment in time.
Maggie Germano 3:47
Yeah, that’s great. And I I’m right with you there as a financial coach myself, I really enjoy being the one who obviously I care about my clients, but I’m not emotionally connected or emotionally triggered by the things that are going on in their lives in a way that they might be. So being able to be objective and look at like the actual numbers and make suggestions and find solutions there. It’s really fun.
Emily Guy Birken 4:15
Mm hmm. Definitely.
Maggie Germano 4:17
So how did you find yourself in this line of work?
Emily Guy Birken 4:21
So I’m actually an English teacher by by training. And by training and and work experience. I don’t have a background in finance specifically. I back in 2005 2006, I got my master’s in English education from OSU. And as of 2006, I started teaching high school English. At the time, I was living in Columbus, Ohio, and my husband worked for Honda. And so we were there for for several years and in 2010 I was expecting our first child, he was due September 7, he came a week early came August 31. And my husband’s in part because of the baby realize that the work life balance he was having at Honda was not going to be sustainable with a with the new family. So he started looking for jobs elsewhere. And as an engineer, there’s relatively few number of places, maybe about a dozen to two dozen around the United States where he can do the specific things that that he’s been trained for. So he got a job with Caterpillar out of Lafayette, Indiana. So we moved that, that summer after I finished up my my school year, because of when the baby was due, I knew that I was not going to get a teaching job that year. Even though Pregnancy Discrimination is against the law, no one was going to hire me to immediately take maternity leave, and I you know, can’t blame them for that. So the original plan was I was going to take a year off to take care of the baby and then go right back to teaching added to the craziness that was going on. We’ve tried, we sold two houses in our lives, and we have chosen the exact wrong moment to sell them both times. So we put our house on the market just after the first time homebuyer credit expired. So our house in Columbus stayed on the market for 11 months. So we went from two jobs to one or two incomes to one, two people to three, and two mortgages or one mortgage to two all at once. So I wanted to find a way to keep a little bit of money coming in to you know, help with the mortgage. Also, I was hoping to avoid putting my student loans on forbearance. And so my my son was born at the end of August. And as about October, November, I was looking for some writing gigs because I’ve always been a writer. And that was something I thought I could do from home pretty easily.
One of the first sites that hired me was a personal finance site. And it was one of those like, oh, I’ve always been kind of a money geek. I really like like looking into finances. I like playing with my own finances. I spend two hours a week on my own finances. So I think I can do this. And I also grew up with a parent, my father was a financial planner. So I grew up in the industry and kind of just taking in his, you know, sententious say about money.
And that that site, loved my work and pass my name along to friends. And within a couple of months, I was pretty much exclusively writing for personal finance sites, which felt very weird as a English teacher. Someone who had double majored in English literature with an emphasis in creative writing, and French literature. But as I kept going, I found that I just really really enjoyed the the challenge of writing about money, not only because I enjoyed the the, like nitty gritty details of finance, that’s something I’ve always enjoyed. But I also really liked using what I had learned, as someone who did creative writing what I learned as a teacher and applying that to personal finance, because it was it was very similar to teaching in that I’m trying to make something that’s esoteric for my audience, resonate with them. And I similarly want to use humor and anecdotes and other things to make things really feel applicable to the people I’m talking to. And so I feel like everything leading up to this really shaped me to be a good personal finance writer.
Maggie Germano 9:12
That’s really great. And that’s so funny that you didn’t set out to write about personal finance, it just kind of happened and then you liked it enough and you had enough of your own background, just personal information and education around finance, that you were good at it. Especially good enough to then be referred to other sources and keep doing that. I just that’s it’s fun and exciting how that kind of thing works out on accident.
Emily Guy Birken 9:40
Yeah, it’s very much made me feel like that, that john lennon quote, you know, life is what happens while you’re making us busy making other plans. Because that was not at all my expectation, my intention and early on I had thought I’d write about parenting, education, travel, you know, those sorts of things and so it never occurred to me that my interest in money was something that I could write about.
Maggie Germano 10:07
Yeah, that’s kind of how I ended up becoming a financial coach. It was like I was, I knew I didn’t want to do my job anymore. I wanted to find something different to do. And as I was kind of searching for what that might be, I fell into the personal finance side of things of like, people were asking me lots of advice around money, or I was meeting a lot of people who were struggling with money, and it was like, Oh, this is something I’ve just always kind of enjoyed learning about and doing for myself, um, people need it. So like, let’s try it out. So that was an accident, too.
Emily Guy Birken 10:42
Maggie Germano 10:44
So when we first were going back and forth on Twitter, I think it was last week, the thing that I was asking about was around women’s experiences with becoming a parent and their, you know, experiences with whether it was discrimination at the workplace or pay discrimination or needing to step away and having a financial impact of becoming a parent. And when you responded to me, you were saying, you know how important it ended up being for you to have a job that you could do from home to be able to balance kind of that that family and that work life? So could you talk a little bit more about why that was important to you what and what kind of, like, pushed you to stick with that too, and unnecessarily go back to teaching.
Emily Guy Birken 11:35
Yeah, so it was I really loved being a teacher. But I did not love the circumstances under which I taught I had 155 students per year, often with six different preps, if it’s six different classes, not generally never more than three, perhaps two years, I was in two different buildings. And every year, I never had my own my own room. And every single year, there was the possibility that I was going to get laid off because they didn’t have enough funding. And one of the things that I had naively assumed was that an English teacher because English is required through grade 12, was safe. Um, and that is not the case. So and then, on top of that, I felt very strongly that it was my job to teach my students how to write. And I ended up my, in my head, the minimum of writing experience they needed was five essays for me and I doing three to four essays per year with 155 students was just overwhelming. I was working 60, maybe 70 hour weeks, I would often grade all weekends, it was overwhelming. So when we got to Lafayette, I had the baby. Originally, I was thinking like, Okay, I’m gonna go back to teaching it clear became clear to me very quickly, that I could either be a mom, or I could be a teacher, I could not do both at the same time, at least, not only not well, but badly I would do both very badly. And that was unacceptable to me. So this was not easy. That that first year, as over over time, I realized how little I’m missed. I mean, I missed the classroom, but I how little I missed the career. And that’s, you know, even with being a zombie and and being sleepless with a my, my eldest did not sleep for the first 18 months of his life, he was just awake straight. Even with the stress of that I was so much less stress than I was as a teacher, I realized that it was untenable for me to return to the classroom. And so I made the decision I was going to since the freelancing was going well, I had intended it just as a way to keep a little bit of money coming in, but I kept getting more clients. I decided to stick with it. My husband’s is he’s an engineer, he’s got kind of an engineering mindset. And for him, he could not wrap his head around the idea that me freelancing was a viable option. And so we thought about it quite a bit. For the first three years that I was a freelancer because he very much wanted me to get my teaching certificate in Indiana and return to teaching. And I kept saying to him, like I I can’t be a good parents and it was it stressful, stressful situation. But it was one of those I absolutely knew that that I was making the right decision not only for myself, but for our family that I was able to just say like, I appreciate that you’re concerned about how much money I can make, I appreciate that you’re worried about this, but I need you to trust that I got this. And when I was offered my first book in 2013, the way that it worked for me to get the book deal was my publisher, came up with a an idea for a book in house that’s not unusual from for some publishing houses. And then they went looking for a writer, and my editor was familiar with my work online and thought that I would be a good fit for the project. And it was it worked out great. So that was, and that was three years in that was 2013. I started in 2010. That was when my husband was able to kind of finally let go of his fear that this was going to crumble under my feet at any moment.
Maggie Germano 16:08
Wow, yeah. But I mean, I know, as a self employed person, myself, that is scary and stressful on its own, as someone who’s also expecting their first child, that also, I assume, is scary and stressful. So to add, then the like, the disagreement around what made sense, in terms of your career, and your family finances, I’m sure that on top of all of that was difficult to manage and navigate.
Emily Guy Birken 16:38
It was, it was a tough time for us. It was so in some ways, like I feel even more strongly about my my writing career, because I was I was in it alone. I mean, like my, my parents were proud of me and, and and all that, but they were kind of at a remove. But just because I knew that I was doing the right thing, and just kind of pressed on even with my husband feeling very anxious and kind of putting his anxieties on me, makes me feel in some ways, even more proud of the career that I built. I totally get where he’s coming from with his anxieties. And it was one of those things, I also recognized that they were not rational, and there was nothing I could do to make him feel comfortable. And so he needed to either, you know, get on board or or get out of the way.
Maggie Germano 17:33
Yeah, so how did you I mean, you said that you, you’ve thought about it a lot over the course of a couple of years. And then once you got that book deal, he started feeling more comfortable and kind of accepting this as a career path. But how did you kind of navigate that while it was happening?
Emily Guy Birken 17:53
Um, well, one of the things that I consistently would kind of point out to him is the fact that like, we needed someone to be the primary caregiver for our son. So we were living in Indiana, which we moved there while I was when I was seven months pregnant. My family is in Baltimore. My at the time, my dad was in Iowa, so he was a little closer, but still, you know, it’s not like he was down the street. His family was in the DC area and North Carolina. And we didn’t know anyone, when we moved. And so to start, it was like, Look, we need someone who can drop everything and take care of the kids, or what kid kids I my second son was born in 2013. And so like that kind of for a little bit was like, Okay, okay, but maybe when they’re a little older. And so that was part of what kind of made him feel a little more comfortable, where it was, like, Look, I’m continuing to work on this, this career, we need me to be the point person for parenting because we need someone to be the point person. And so this is this is how it’s going to have to be like, if I were to go back to the classroom, I would be taking unpaid days off, because I’m sure that I would use up my paid days off, you know, for whatever, you know, the kids needed and things like that. So for right now, this is what makes most sense, because I can fit my writing around the kids schedule. And that I think, kind of helped him turn a corner like it was for a few years, it was not now about going back to the classroom. And when he finally realized it was like not ever was what we had, I had finally kind of gotten to a point where he trusted that my career was viable.
Maggie Germano 19:56
Now that’s great. So it sounds like communication is Important for that, which I feel like is always the case.
Emily Guy Birken 20:03
Maggie Germano 20:03
Yeah. And yeah, the the difficulty in our society too, with like childcare and daycare options, just how expensive things are and how they’re, it’s either you make enough money to put your kid in daycare full time, and both people are working, or you have to figure out something else and or something in between, like you did, where you’re still working, but you’re able to be at home and be that primary caregiver. It’s, it’s nice to hear that you were able to be creative with what that was gonna look like for you.
Emily Guy Birken 20:39
Yeah, yeah, it’s, um, when I was still teaching like that, you know, there, our school had a fairly young population of teachers. So every year that someone was taking maternity leave. And I remember that my very first year of teaching, talking to someone who’s taking maternity leave, and she was like, Yeah, I’ve been saving up my sick leave for several years, so that I can take this maternity leave paid. And I was like, you have to do what now. And seeing how little support there is for working parents. Even in education, which is theoretically and often touted as a career that is well suited to parenthood. Because you’re you’re you’re at school, the same time your kids are at school, he also gets get the same time off, like, same weekend, same holidays, same summer break. But the complete lack of scaffolding for providing for maternity leave, and the need for parental leave other than, you know, recovering from the baby. And even then the woman who I was talking to, was just saving up so she gets six weeks. So having to come back into the classroom six weeks out from from having a baby in my second or third year of teaching. Another woman in the English department had a baby, who was born with some pretty serious health problems that they had no idea of until the baby was born. And so she ended up having to take, I think it ended up being like eight months, but that included the summer, but six months of leave. And we had teachers donating their time, their sick time, accumulated sick time to her so that she could take that time paid. And it was just this is insane. This, you know, her child needs her. And why is it not just a given that she’s paid for this time off? Because you know, children are like, we’re in the business of children like this is what we do. Like if school districts can’t say like, yeah, obviously, you need to take the time off to take care of your child. So they’re healthy enough so we can teach them eventually. It just kind of boggled my mind. And that was part of the cost benefit analysis that I like it was, you know, it wasn’t like doing pros and cons lists on piece of paper. But in my head, going on the back of my head was recognizing that I needed the flexibility to be able to like, oh, my goodness, my kid woke up throwing up and with a fever, I need to keep them home, I need to stay home with him without having to like, Oh, I need a lesson plan to put together for my sub. Like, I don’t need that, that stress, it’s too much. And even that that’s, you know, relatively minor. That’s what teachers have to do anytime they take a day off. But then on top of that add like, well, this is the end of my sick days, if I get the flu, if my kid gets the flu, I’m taking unpaid days off. I didn’t need that I needed to be able to have more control over my schedule. And I really wish that that were possible for people in every industry, not just people who are working for themselves.
Maggie Germano 24:13
Yeah, I agree with you so much. And it’s just like, amazing. Even just like hearing you amazing in a bad way. Like hearing you describe that, you know, being a teacher is supposed to be this family friendly career and you’ll you know, have all this extra space for your family. And that’s the opposite of what I hear from anyone I know who’s a teacher with just like how much additional work goes into it how emotionally and physically draining it can be in so many ways. And then on top of that, not having the support from your employer, or your district even, you know, to be able to take time off to feel safe taking time off and not have to just burn out and leave the The Career completely is really sad.
Emily Guy Birken 25:04
Yeah, it’s, I think it’s something like 50% of teachers leave within five years. Wow. And I’m one of them. You know, I made it four years, I had intended that to be my career. And the particular district I taught in was, I think, one of the not great ones, is more likely to chew up and spit out young teachers. But I don’t know, this, this is, you know, just based a little bit on things that I’ve spoken to other people speaking to the veteran teachers who, who had stayed for many, many, many years, talking about how they’d had a breakdown around year five or six and, and things like that. And how they just kind of ended up making a devil’s bargain to like, you know, what, I’ll just get through it until I retire. And, you know, that is not at all what we want of our teachers, we want our teachers to be the the idealistic, you know, excited to work with kids, like really psyched to, you know, get in and talk about the Odyssey, and Romeo and Juliet, and do all of these things with the kids. So, rather than being treated as if education is like a factory filling cans with peaches, like, that’s what it felt like, often, it’s just like, oh, we’re gonna, you know, allocate these resources to be as efficient as possible, which is why I ended up in six classes in six different classrooms, you know, in two different buildings. A, for several years like that, that’s because they’re like, Okay, well, if we just move, you know, peg A into slot B, rather than, like, what’s going to make this teacher the most effective for her students. And that’s not just the district that I taught in, that’s a problem I see across education all together. But that’s also something that I see in corporate America with the way that my husband who has worked in corporate jobs his entire career is like, and the way that you know, other friends who have worked in various corporate positions is, instead of looking at this as like, this is a person who, you know, can be most effective if they are, you know, feeling supported feeling like they can take a sick day feeling like they can take parental leave, feeling like they’re listened to, rather than like, you know, you’re a malfunctioning robot. If you don’t do any of you do any of those things.
Maggie Germano 27:31
Yeah, I was just gonna use that robot comment to have like, we’re not machines, we’re not robots, we can’t just like produce, produce, produce, produce, produce until we die. It’s like, we get sick, we want to take time off, we need to take time off, it is better for productivity, if, if that’s all you know, businesses care about. And it’s better for health and not having to take as much sick time because you’re able to take care of yourself and take downtime. And yeah, just the idea that we’ve just become more and more focused on productivity and what we’re able to create and how quickly we can create it rather than how we are actually surviving, as we keep going within our careers and within our families. And, like you were saying, like the children that were able to produce within the school system, and if it’s serving them, and if it’s serving the teachers, and it’s just, we should really should be thinking about it more holistically, rather than just the output side.
Emily Guy Birken 28:31
Mm hmm. Well, and it’s, it’s something where, like, we’ve internalized this as Americans. So I have, like, my most consistent internal monologue is that I’m lazy, which when I tell people that they laugh, they’re like, you’ve written four books. I’m like, Yeah, but the most recent one was 2017. And they’re like, Oh, come on. So and that’s, that’s something that is that internalized sense of, like, I’m only as good as what I produce, which we have had this is this is part of like, the American view of ourselves is that, you know, we are we and even the, like, we talked about, like, Oh, I want my kids to grow up to be productive members of society, you know, without thinking about that phrase, like, what does that mean? Why, why do they have to be productive? And so that’s something that one of the reasons why I have been very glad to have this second chance career of being a writer is that it is kind of helped me to understand that my usual rhythms is I tend to be like, super productive than crash, and then super productive and then crash. And that’s been true of me my entire life. And I always kind of thought of my super productive days should be normal. And if I’m anything less than, like, you know, I wrote five articles today. That’s like a high slack today. Whereas it’s a you know, 10 years in To this career, I realized No, this is my my normal ebb and flow. And you know, no one’s complaining, like I manage this career all this time, lots and lots of different clients and all of that. So maybe just take this as my process. And I have made a career for myself where it’s okay. And it doesn’t matter if I need to, like take a random Thursday off, because I wrote a lot on Wednesday. Whereas that’s not something you can do in normal jobs. Now, obviously, with teaching, you got to show up every day, like you know. But even then having like, you know, super hands on activities with the kids one day with, it takes a lot out of me. And then the next day, I have, you know, silent reading and you know, other things, that’s where I can work one on one with kids, maybe, but not necessarily keep track of like multiple groups doing things, stuff like that. So that’s something that I feel like, we really struggle with as as a society is understanding the flow of productivity and understanding the fact that meeting people where they are is going to be most effective and getting them to do the work that works for them.
Maggie Germano 31:20
All of that resonates so much for me, I mean, even just that same background voice of like, you’re being lazy, you’re not doing enough, like I have the same problem. I was working with a business coach this year. And she would always point out whenever I said the word lazy, she would always be like, so that, again, like we’ve talked about this, you looked at the proof, you’re not lazy. There’s no like that. What kind of unrealistic expectation and productivity level are you actually trying to reach. And the funny part is that like, I also don’t want to work all the time, I’m not a workaholic. I live in the DC area. So I’m around a lot of Workaholics. People love to work here. And they honestly like live to work sometimes. And I have no interest in that. And I never have and so that that desire really conflicts with this pressure society as an American of like, how often I need to be working, how hard I need to be working, the hustle, the grind, all those kinds of things. And so that’s something that’s been on my mind a lot, and I talk about it a lot. And just, I mean, even something earlier, you said about being productive, like that’s subjective. What does that even mean? It’s gonna be different for everybody. So it’s an impossible standard to set and meet.
Emily Guy Birken 32:45
Yeah, well, and then the intersection of it with, with parenting. Because you get these these two sides of like you. We require new parents to return to work after six weeks. And there is this sense of like, you know, you have to do that, or else you know, you’re you’re lazy, or you know that the idea that getting more than six weeks of maternity leave is is is indulgent. unless you happen to be wealthy, in which case, like, why would you let your child be raised by someone else. And so and so you’re wrong and in any direction. So if you’re someone who is like, I love this baby more than life itself, but I need adult interaction, then you’re shamed for not wanting to stay home with your child. And if you are anything other than independently wealthy, and you you want to stay home with your child, you’re like, what can you afford that I mean, really, you know, don’t have children you can’t afford to take care of. And it’s, it’s this catch 22 because no matter what happens, you can’t win. And then the idea of productivity as well. Like, there’s the sense that, you know, I see a lot of people like when talking about mom staying home, in particular, after they had been working, there may be this expectation of like, Oh, well, you know, you need to make sure the house is completely clean, you need to make sure you’re you’re you’re teaching your children the ABCs as of like three months old, and and all of these impossible things, you have a gourmet meal on the on the table. You know, if you’re not Donna Reed, then you’re wasting your time staying home with your kids. I even felt that way. That first year, I really struggled with my eldest with breastfeeding. And so early on, I felt like, you know, if I’m not able to breastfeed him, why am I staying home with him because anyone could take care of him. And I should be out producing. Which is ridiculous. And I know some of this had to do with just the postpartum weirdness of hormones and emotions and everything, but a lot of it like why was that even in my head for my postpartum have emotions to play on? Why was I thinking that that there was something wrong with me for wanting to slowly enjoy my child, you know, slowly take each day as it came. take naps, because, again, the child did not sleep. And you know, just kind of watch TV while while I tried to nurse him and things like that I felt guilty because you know, I’m a 30 something woman, I should be doing something with my time as if taking care of my child wasn’t doing something.
Maggie Germano 35:34
Right. I just read something earlier that was like, is basically like advice for the first year of your child’s life. And one of them was like, you don’t actually have to do anything while your baby’s napping. You also need downtime. Like Don’t forget that I’m like, Oh, I know, I’m gonna struggle with that. I just know it. But I think the takeaway from what you were just saying was, you’re gonna get judgment, no matter what you do. And you’re gonna feel guilty no matter what you do. So you might as well do what is right for you.
Emily Guy Birken 36:07
Yes, absolutely. That Um, so I found out this little factoid. And it really helped me kind of contextualize Parenthood. So when you’re standing on the North Pole, any direction you walk is south, just because the way the the the poles work. So when you’re a parent, any decision you make is wrong. It’s the same thing. And so, and that actually kind of helped me let go of finding the right choice. Because someone was going to judge me no matter what I did. I also with my eldest, who was not a good sleeper, I had decided ahead of time, we would not go sleep, my husband and I are both deep sleepers. And I was like, This is dangerous. All I know is that it causes SIDS, no co sleeping. And then I had a baby who would not sleep unless he was skin to skin with me. And so I did quite a bit of research, I spoke to my lactation consultants who was phenomenal in helping me find it like she was like I cannot because she was through the hospital, she’s like, I cannot give you advice towards this. However, if you happen to look up these resources, they may help you make a decision. And so that was the like the trial by fire for me about letting go of the sense of having to do something the right way. Because doing it the right way would have would have been more dangerous for my child, because none of us would have gotten any sleep, he would have been crying all night, it would have been made have made himself sick, and we would have been sick with with just not being not getting any sleep. So that’s something that’s he, I think each parent needs to come to, by themselves that that sense of like, I need to do what’s right for me, and what I wish our society was better about. You know, instead of saying, like you’re on your own, you chose to have a kid. If our society was was like others that gave you time off, to take care of your children, that, you know, allowed you that kind of slow time to get used to yourself, as a parent get used to your child, that would do a lot to help us not feel so wrong when we make decisions. Because instead of seeing it as like, Oh, I’m doing this thing as one individual, like, Oh, this is something that parents do. This is you know, one way parents handle this, instead of like, I have to reinvent the wheel with everything.
Maggie Germano 38:45
Right. And I feel like that will help get rid of a lot of shame to have like, I’m doing it wrong, nobody else has had to make this decision, or in you like realizing you’re able to have the flexibility to change your plan with cosleeping. And with career to like, you don’t have to do something just because you had decided to do it originally. But knowing that other people are going through the same decisions and having these same conflicting experiences, I feel like can can make it feel less shameful, less lonely, probably better for everyone’s mental health to to realize that.
Emily Guy Birken 39:22
Yeah, absolutely. by isolating parents, that’s, and that’s basically the way our society handles it. You know, some of it has to do with just the fact that we’re so focused on the nuclear family instead of on, you know, larger, you know, extended family. And some of that is just, you know, it’s the 21st century we move away to get jobs. You know, with the specific specialty that my husband has, like he there’s no jobs where he grew up. Oh, but you know, there’s also the sense of like you’re on your own even to the point where like, You get people being busy bodies like calling the cops on a parent who let a child sleep for 10 minutes in the car where they run into the pharmacy. Instead of being like, Hey, I’ll keep an eye on your kid while you run in, you know, which is actually helpful. You know, and having this be something that we see as a society as our responsibility. And that’s, that’s the thing that really frustrates me about how our work is set up to disincentivize us to have children. Because we don’t as a society see children as our responsibility. And that is really short sighted. I mean, for one thing, you know, imagine if everyone chose not to have kids, because, you know, like, oh, having children is a choice. Okay, so no one chooses to have kids? Well, things are really dystopic really quick, if that’s the case, I mean, they made a whole movie about it called children of men, nobody had I mean, nobody can have kids in that one. But, and that’s the, the short sightedness of it, where it’s like continue to put the the burden on the individual parents to make these choices to raise their kids, you are making it so much more difficult to enjoy Parenthood. And again, I think some of that has to do with this American sense of like, you know, if you want happiness, you have to earn it. So like, if you want to enjoy having kids, then you have to earn a lot of money so that you can make it easier for yourself rather than like, you know, children are a joy, and everyone has a right to in experience that joy, whether or not they’ve got, you know, a million dollar net worth.
Maggie Germano 41:47
Yeah, absolutely. I totally agree. And it’s funny what you’re saying, with like, if people just chose not to have kids, I’m seeing a lot of panicky headlines right now that there’s gonna be like a baby bust because of COVID. And like all these people, either who already have kids and have been stuck at home trying to work and raise them at the exact same time and homeschool and do all that they’re going to decide not to have more children, because they’re too overwhelmed and seeing how this is going. And then other folks who, maybe they’ve lost their jobs, maybe they’ve had to use their savings, because there is not a safety net in the US really, that’s reliable. You know, we’re, as of today’s recording, still waiting on whether or not Congress is going to pass another relief bill for for COVID. And so it’s you know, people are already panicking about this idea that there’s not going to be as many babies coming up next year or the year after. And it’s like, well, why aren’t we doing something about that, then? Where are we making society more friendly towards family, we talk about how important family values are, and why the nuclear family is so important and how, you know, we have to, like maintain that. And at the same time, we’re like talking out of both sides of our mouths where it’s like, but Oh, but you can’t get paid family leave and paid sick leave. And childcare is completely unaffordable. You just have to deal with it by yourself.
Emily Guy Birken 43:12
It reminds me of how a lot of like grocery chains in particular what they put out these ads that like oh are our workers are essential workers, you are heroes. And like the ads were lovely, but they weren’t giving hazard pay to these people who are working in grocery stores and risking their lives. Like you know what, screw the the ads, like we don’t need it. capes are the word hero or like anything, you just pay them that shows that we really value the people doing this work. But that for whatever reason, this is this is how we are set up. We’re like, Oh, we like to pay lip service. We really, you know, like Mother’s Day is most important day of the year. And like my being a mom is the most important job in the world. Like great Can Can we make it easier to do that job? No, and it wouldn’t be worthwhile. It’s not worthwhile, it’s not a horrible struggle. And that’s that’s something that is really frustrating, particularly about our, the way our society is set up. And I don’t I honestly don’t know, what it will take to make changes to that sort of thing. Because we we really like to put the idea of being a mother on a pedestal. And if we actually acknowledge how much work it is how expensive it is because you know, when women take time off to to work like that is that’s a brain drain. That’s that that’s a cost to workplaces, like, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I was a pretty damn good teacher. And so like the debt is a loss that I’m not you know, doing the one on one education anymore and So that’s the sort of thing where it’s like, wait, we look at this as an individual costs, like the individual costs that, you know what I gave up when I was giving up that that regular salary. That took me several years to recreate as a freelancer. But we’re not looking at the societal costs, it’s as if it’s free to society when it is not.
Maggie Germano 45:27
Right, like people are, are leaving industries. There are less teachers or teachers, even just when you were describing that teachers burnout after like, five years, I’m like, How many? When when do we run out of teachers eventually? Or when do people just decide not to become teachers anymore? And that’s a huge loss to the society as a whole. But then yeah, like you said, industries, as women or other parents are leaving the workforce, you have to replace those people, you have to train those people, you’re losing skills, you’re losing valuable team members. And so that’s hurting the economy. But then there’s also people who, when you leave the workforce, you can’t save as much money for retirement or any money retirement. So then when you get to retirement age, if you don’t have enough money to support yourself, what happens then in terms of you relying on social services, or having to turn to family who might not be able to afford to support you too. And it’s just this, it just touches? So many of us. And I think we’ve, we’ve become so individualistic to event, it’s like, oh, that’s your problem?
Emily Guy Birken 46:39
Yeah, yeah, we, we want individual solutions to systemic problems. And that, that just that doesn’t work. I mean, I was able to figure out an individual solution to this systemic problem. And I know other people who have been able to cobble things together. But that doesn’t make like, I’m very proud of my career. And I’m glad things went the way that they did, I think I’m happier writing than I would be, if I were teaching, at least under the circumstances that I taught, you know, if I had better teaching circumstances, if I had 60 students instead of 155, a year, and a more supportive administration, and, you know, didn’t have fear of the axe for my job every year, and, you know, so on and so on, and so on. But that doesn’t mean that my career like the way the trajectory that I did, this is some sort of triumph. It’s like making it work in a broken system. And rather than, like, you know, I’m always happy to talk to people who ask about becoming a freelancer. And I’m always happy to provide suggestions and things like that for people who want to be freelancers. But at the same time, like, this is not a solution. This is how this is a band aid for an individual. And if everyone chose to free, it’s the same thing as if everyone chose to have babies, things would fall apart. We need nine to five jobs, we need to have like programs that are like companies and organizations set up with people who work for them. You know, a lot of times one of the things that really frustrates me about the personal finance community is they will like you know, nine to five is just terrible. You’re giving your time away to other people. I’m like, Yeah, no, nine to five works for a lot of people. You know, I have the specific mindset where being a freelancer works for me. But you know, there’s nothing wrong with someone who’s like, I like going to somewhere where they are, they’re my employer, they handle like sending the my my taxes to the IRS, they give me a paycheck every two weeks, like there’s nothing wrong with that that is a perfectly valid way of setting things up. Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur. But it’s this system is not set up in a way to make that sustainable, because we are so prising both like the individual, you know, the rugged individualism of Americans. And then also we put so much effort on like making sure corporations and companies can do whatever they want.
Maggie Germano 49:15
Yes, all of that, all of what you just said. So and I really like the distinction that you made about how the freelancing or the self employment lifestyle is not for everybody. And that nine to five jobs are perfectly fine for so many people. That’s something I tried to make really clear to. Because I’ll have people coming to me being like, I really hate my job. How should I start my own business? And I’m like, Well, what is it that you want to do? Like, I don’t know, I just want to like my own boss. And I’m like, Yeah, I don’t know about that. And it’s hard to stomach being self employed. It’s it can be incredibly stressful. It’s like in the beginning of the conversation with your husband and that anger It around that uncertainty with the income. That’s not for everybody. And another problem in our society is we don’t have health insurance that is not tied to an employer that’s very reliable and affordable. So that’s just literally not an option for a lot of people to work for yourself.
So what advice would you give to someone if they were a new parent, and they were in the workforce, and they’re trying to figure out like, balancing kind of the two, whether or not they wanted to become self employed? themselves? What kind of advice would you give people who are kind of in the middle of that struggle?
Emily Guy Birken 50:40
So I think the main thing is to make the best choices you can with the information you have at the time. Like, there’s a lot of like 2020 regrets, you know, the, and I mean that as envision year, specify, you know, but like, they say, hindsight is 2020.
And what, what I think works best is if you know, as options come up, look at them as, as they come up, and try to make make the best choice you can. The other thing to remember is that you don’t want to take a permanent solution to a temporary problem. So, a lot of times, people will be like, Oh, my goodness, I’m overwhelmed. I usually love my job, but my child won’t sleep, I can’t, I can’t handle it, I think I’m going to quit my job and just stay home with the baby. And the thing to remember is like, okay, your child’s not sleeping right now. And believe me, I get it, where it feels like I’m never going to get a full night’s sleep again until they go to college, and maybe not even then. And so it’s very easy to be like I got to do whatever I have to do to get more sleep right now. The thing to remember is your kids are not going to stay in the same phase where they are right now. And it will go by much quicker than you can anticipate. Even though right now it feels like forever. So don’t go for that nuclear option. Don’t go for the like the permanent solution, you’re done with the workplace, done with that particular company, whatever it is, when the problem is temporary. Now there’s some some problems that are going to be permanent, that you know, someone needs to be available for the kids during normal business hours is a permanent solution or permanent problem in my family because we don’t live near other family members. We don’t you know, we set down roots at this point. But there’s very few people we can count on to say like, Can you pick up the kids, I’m in the middle of a meeting, and then my husband’s doing something and we can’t do this. So like that was a permanent problem. But temporary problems like your kids not sleeping like you know, your your spouse is traveling for work. And you’re not sure how to do that. That’s where you’ve come up with the temporary solutions. That’s where you asked for like, Hey, can I go down to part time just for six months? Can I you know, those sorts of things. And that’s a really good way of looking at any issues that are coming up, particularly when you have a new kid when you have a new baby. It’s both this bizarre sense of like, I have always done this, there was never a time before there was baby. You know, baby has always been awake, baby has always been crying. There was never a time when I was well rested, there never will be a time when I’m really well rested. So there’s that that sense. And then there’s also like, Oh my goodness, I can’t believe how big they gotten a week of like time passing really, really quickly. So it’s very hard to step back and look at things objectively and think is this a problem that I’m going to still be having in six months? Is this a problem that will still be there in a year? Or is this something that if I can get some sort of temporary relief, I can get through it till we get to the next phase and teething which is just going to be even better.
Maggie Germano 54:01
That’s really fantastic advice. Because I think it is so easy to forget, like if you quit your job, the job, you loved the job, you work so hard for the job, you’ve moved up in and really made a name for yourself and you quit, you know, not because you necessarily wanted to long term but because you’re just so overwhelmed. You can’t figure out what else to do. You might regret that later and really have a hard time I know women have a hard time getting back into the workforce after taking time off and you lose out on a lot of income and a lot of retirement savings and being able to pay off debt and all those things that are important. So yeah, I love what you said about like what are the other options of going to part time Have I know now with just like the ability to work remotely like being able to work from home on certain days if if you have to like pick up a kid or take the morning off or whatever. And I know a lot of that also is reliant on our employers being flexible and allowing people to do things like that. And hopefully that will continue happening over time. But yeah, I think that’s important, like just trying to find other solutions before you pull the plug.
Emily Guy Birken 55:13
Yes, yeah, it’s so we tend to have very binary all or nothing sort of thinking. And it’s, it’s helpful to, you know, but there’s that meme of a little girl going, why not both? And that’s, that’s something to think about is like, you can have both, maybe not all at once. And, you know, just coming up with creative ways to do that. And, yeah, it does depend on your employer. But that’s the sort of thing where if you go to them, in the same way, when you ask for a raise, or you are up for promotion, you like, hey, I’ve done X, Y, and Z for you guys. And I think that that, you know, should translate into, you know, a raise or promotion, or in this case, like, I’ve done XYZ, things are chaotic at home right now, can I step back a little bit, you know, go to part time, or only worked four days a week, or, you know, any number of things, you know, work remotely most of the time. And that can kind of buy you the time, you need to get back on track. Because, you know, it is a huge life changing event to have a kid. It is just monumentally everything changes. I mean, I remember the first week after my son came home, there was a point where I was like, well, this has been fun, but one of the real grownups coming to you don’t take care of them. And then going, like, Oh, wait, this is it, I this is this, I signed up for this, this is what’s going on for the rest of my life. And like, it’s not that I didn’t, you know, I wasn’t enjoying being a mom, although there are times when I wasn’t, it was just a matter of like, I it was so outside the realm of anything I had experienced before. I had this thought, repeatedly, when I was pregnant, like, this is the most unique universal experience I’ve ever had. Um, you know, everyone has been through pregnancy in one direction or another. And so like, there is absolutely nothing unique about what’s going on. And yet at the same time, it feels so singular, because it is so weird. And, and so that is kind of what ends up happening with early early parenthood too. And, you know, I am finding, you know, my kids are nine and six now. And so like similar type things where like, this is universal and unique at the same time. And it’s important to like, be able to be like, step back and be like, I can do this, I got this human beings have been doing this for millennia.
Maggie Germano 57:48
Yeah, that’s an important piece to remember to, like, you’ll figure it out. My mom said something like that to me the other day, she’s like, You’re stronger than you think. It’ll be okay. Okay, thanks.
So, we’ve touched on a lot related to what we need to change society, and just kind of how we think and the pressure we put on each other and ourselves. But are there any other like policy changes, certain implementations that we haven’t touched on that you think are really important, whether it’s at a, you know, legislative level, or just within companies that you think would make the workforce much safer and happier for for families.
Emily Guy Birken 58:33
So two things we need to have. And I’m glad to see companies individually are starting to offer this, but they’re still offering it on the white collar side. You know, this is you’re seeing this in like, tech companies and things like that, but the two things we absolutely have to have, we have to have parental leave of at least six months. That’s just a given. And we need to have sick leave that’s mandated. And this is, in particular, like I’m thinking for, you know, the the white collar workers, the people who do have, you know, the office jobs are more likely to be able to use parental leave. And they’re also more likely to have a bit of a cushion to be able to take unpaid leave if they need to. It’s the people who are working waitressing jobs, the people who are working in grocery stores, the people who are working multiple part time jobs, trying to cobble things together, who have no access to parental leave. If they do, it’s they get six weeks through the FMLA. And it’s unpaid. And all it does is promises that they they don’t lose their job. And that doesn’t even cover every company. So or every type of job. I mean, if you if you’re working certain types of part time job, your job is not guaranteed. So that’s something that we absolutely have to have. And then as for the sick leave, same thing like we need to be able to have people take time off when they’re feeling ill. And that’s not just a, you know, a health standpoint, which we’re seeing right now with COVID-19. You know, the problem of like saying, like you can’t take time off for being sick is a good way to get super spreaders. But it’s also a family issue. Because you will often get people who can’t take time off because their kids are sick. And so they’ll give their kids Tylenol to get them daycare, just so the fevers down enough so they can go to daycare, and that that’s not acceptable either. We need to be able to get sick, we need to be able to maybe work from home sometimes or you know, know that our income is not going to take a hit because someone in the family is sick.
Maggie Germano 1:00:43
Yeah, I’m totally with you on that. And it when you’re like, saying it all, it seems like common sense. Like, of course, we should have this, all these other countries in the world have this, why don’t we have this and it just would be better for everybody, everyone will benefit when we have that option when everybody has that option so that we aren’t all getting sick so that people aren’t worried about losing their jobs. And, you know, putting families at risk with like illness or loss of income. So I’m on board with those as well. Is there anything else that, you know, we’ve covered a lot, but is there anything else that we haven’t touched on? That you want to make sure folks take away today?
Emily Guy Birken 1:01:31
I think the important thing is for people who don’t have kids to get on board with recognizing how important family leave is for everyone. And so, you know, that’s one of those things you will sometimes see and it’s something that I feel like is just ginned up in the media of like, you know, parents versus non parents and, and because it’s not something that I’ve experienced in any of my work environments. But again, like I’m one person, you know, sample size of one, it’s but the thing that I would really like to see in the same way that you are more likely to take the word of someone who was not directly affected by it. For for non parents to be also engaging in these conversations. And not just because this is a societal issue, and it affects us all. Because whether or not you have kids, the kids were being born today are going to be the adults of tomorrow, and you need them to be healthy, you need them to be educated, you need them to be ready. Excuse me. But also because if we start prioritizing parental leave, that means we can also prioritize family leave. So you know, people who need to take care of a parent with Alzheimer’s, you know, need to take time off so they can find the right facility or caretaker for their ailing aging parents. Or, you know, if you need to help sibling who is going through any kind of illness or other problem, we need to make it clear that families are not here to work for corporations, corporations should be working for us, they are working for our families, because that’s the whole point of it. I mean, there’s the cliche of like, no one on their deathbed wishes they spend more time in the office. But we don’t live that as a society. We don’t live that cliche, we are very much of the idea that like you know, I’ll work Work, work, work, work, family, later, or whatever. And so if, as a society, you know, parents and non parents are all looking at this as a way to all improve our experience, at work at home with family, then we are going to be in a much better place to not only be able to demand these changes, but also support each other through tough times.
Maggie Germano 1:04:05
Yeah, I totally agree. And I think you’re absolutely right. So thank you for sharing that. And hopefully that will inspire folks without kids to realize why this is part this is important for them to so how can folks get in touch with you or follow your work?
Emily Guy Birken 1:04:23
So I’m on Twitter quite a bit. My handle is @EmilyguyBirken. You can also find me on Facebook under @authorEmilyguyBirken. And then my website is EmilyguyBirken.com. So just for triple threat there
Maggie Germano 1:04:43
Perfect. And I will link all of that in the show notes too. And I’ll link to your books too so folks can check those out. But thank you so much for for coming on and having this conversation. I obviously I could talk about this all day. I mean, it’s not just because I’m going to be in a parent soon, but I’m very passionate about these issues just generally. So I really appreciate the opportunity to chat with you about it.
Emily Guy Birken 1:05:07
Well, yeah, thank you for having me. And and Mazel Tov on the new baby.
Maggie Germano 1:05:12
Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you so much for listening to the money circle podcast this week. If you like the conversations we’re having here and you’d like to go even deeper, join the new money circle community. In this safe intersectional feminist space. We’ll break down money, shame and build community and safety for everyone so that you can find the support you need to gain control over your finances. Visit Maggiegermano.com/moneycircle to learn more and to join. If you’d like to get more connected with me, subscribe to my weekly newsletter at Maggiegermano.com/subscribe. To learn more about my financial coaching services, my speaking and workshop offerings or just to read my blog visit Maggiegermano.com. You can also follow me on instagram and twitter @MaggieGermano. I look forward to hearing from you. Bye bye
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