The Reality of Being a New Mom – Work Life Balance

I’ve been debating about writing this post for months now – wavering back and forth because I wasn’t sure if this was the right forum to open up in this way. After all, I am an art therapist and I’m going to be discussing my personal thoughts and experiences. But, I’ve been getting so many emails from young women wanting to be art therapists, asking about the financial and job prospects, that I want to be honest about something that’s rarely talked about in a professional context: work life balance.

Can you support yourself as an art therapist?

Earning 40K a year in the Bay Area is very possible as a single or coupled woman with a roommate/cohabitation situation in a rented apartment. If rent for a 2 bedroom apartment is $1500, your paying $750 out of your take home pay, which is approx $2800/month. If you have student loan debt, you maybe paying up to $1000 per month on that, leaving you with only 50% of your take home pay for transportation, eating out, doing fun things and even saving some for a rainy day. It’s doable.

But, what happens if you want to buy a home? You and your partner decide to buy a home in Fremont (because there’s no way you’d be able to buy one in SF!) for $400 000 – an extremely reasonable price for a home in the Bay Area. How much of a loan will you need to take out? Do you have 20% to put down? That’s 80K. No? Then you’re going to be taking out a jumbo loan (anything over 400K) for the full amount and paying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)…maybe $200 a month on top of you mortgage payment. So, that means your monthly expenses for your home will be approx $2350/month, plus property tax (maybe $5000 a year) = $2700/month. Ouch! That’s about 100% of your take home pay! And that’s not even counting what you owe in student loans! Your partner’s salary would have to make up the difference.

Let’s say your partner’s salary can make up the difference, so you buy the house. And, at some point you decide you want a baby. When you bought your home, was your salary a part of the equation? If so, and your family needs your salary in order to pay for the monthly expenses, who is going to care for your child? If you’re lucky enough to have family that you trust nearby, then maybe you have a solution. But, daycare for an infant can easily be $1000/month. What if you’re blessed with twins (like I was) and would be paying $2000 a month for childcare? Maybe it makes no sense for you to work because the cost of childcare is equal or more than you can earn. But, if you’re not working, how can you justify the amount of schooling and student loans you took out in order to become an art therapist?

I’m in a similar predicament. I’ve grown as a person and my needs and my family’s needs have grown, but my art therapy salary has not. My reality is that it’s actually not worth it to work as an art therapist because what I would spend in childcare obliterates my salary. This is one of the major motivating factors that propelled me into learning new skills that not only could help supplement my income, but so that I can eventually make a career shift – from art therapy into the technology sector.

Now, I have no problem with those who choose to stay and home and do so without any reservations. I wish I was one of those people. I love my family and am willing to sacrifice. But I have to ask myself – why did I spend all this money on an education in something that will not grow with me? If I had this realization 8 years ago I would’ve almost certainly chose another path.

But this is the path I’m on, and I’m clearing the brush to create a new, undefined, but nonetheless fulfilling road for myself. I have no clue where I’m going, or where I’ll end up, and I’ll probably continue with art therapy on a low simmer. Thanks for sticking with me through the process! I’d love to hear how others are faring.

2 Replies to “The Reality of Being a New Mom – Work Life Balance”

  1. Hi Liz!

    Wonderful post. I feel the exact same way being from the New York metro area. In upstate NY the cost of living is a little better so it might be doable but not in the Bay or NY metro areas.

    I soon realized this after getting my masters in art therapy. Art therapy is magical and helpful to so many but the pay doesn’t allow one to buy a house or raise a family. This is why I switched back to my first career. I found I could make more money working part time than working full time as an art therapist. On top of the low pay is a lot of money in conferences and other fees to maintain credentials. Does anyone have solutions? I know you can make more in private practice but it’s hard to find consistent clients.

  2. Hi Melissa!

    I’m not sure what solutions there are out there, really. I recently read a book called, Good Enough is the New Perfect, about the reality of being an educated mother in today’s work environment and basically women in all professions are struggling to find solutions. The point is that everyone needs to find their own solution bc everyone’s comfort levels with the amount of work they do while they have young children is different.

    The other thing I took from that book is that many women built a solid career for themselves before having children. Meaning that if having a private practice is the way to go, it should be built up before having kids. (Believe me, growing a business at the same time as having a young family is extremely hard) And, if you have your career built up before you take time off or reduce your hours, your CV will suffer much less than if you’re still in the beginning stages of your career.

    As it stands right now, I still feel like I’m in the beginning stages of my career and feel torn at the prospect of not continuing to build my skill set. I wonder if my skills will still be relevant if I take a year or five off…and how long it will take to get back to the point I am now.

    I feel relieved to be finally discussing this out loud! We can all benefit from being open about this issue :)

    Good to hear from you!
    – Liz

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