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Too late to start over?

By Dalene Rowley

The global economy is in the toilet. A close relative of mine is looking at being laid off just before the holidays. My friends whose husbands are contractors were turning work away just six months ago. Now their work–and thus their livelihoods–have slowed to a trickle. I’m sure this Segullah reader isn’t the only one who is taking a cold hard look at what lies ahead and considering changing up the game plan. (In fact, I recently learned that higher ed enrollment rose almost 10 percent locally in recent months.) She would love to hear your suggestions, things you’ve maybe learned the hard way, as well as your success stories.

My husband and I are in our late 30s with four children. I’m a SAHM and my husband works as an aircraft mechanic. Things aren’t going well at work, and his efforts to find a new job these last months have proved fruitless.

A little necessary background: when we were first married, I was finishing up teacher certification, and he was trying to figure out what career he wanted to pursue. He decided he liked aviation and liked taking things apart. He thought becoming an aircraft mechanic seemed like a logical choice. The certificate took less than two years to earn and mechanics were making pretty good money then. He didn’t stay in school long enough to complete an associates degree because he was confident that once he started working he could move up in position and pay. And he thought sitting in a classroom might bore him.

He bounced from job to job – not even aviation related for a while–and I taught at a boarding school for girls for a couple of years until I had a baby and couldn’t commute an hour each way and still take care of her at night. I ended up quitting my teaching job for a secretarial job to stay in town. We managed until our second child was born. My husband then decided we needed a better income, so we moved. And moved again, and moved again. There were many jobs he looked at but they required a bachelors degree. Due to a medical condition, our extra money went to his meds and chipping away at our debt. Once I became a SAHM, that was it for my teaching certificate. I couldn’t afford to recertify.

So here we are again: My husband wants another job, and he is toying with the idea of finishing school. And our youngest isn’t in school himself yet. We are living paycheck to paycheck as it is, and if he doesn’t get overtime it’s spaghetti for dinner at our house every other night. DH asks how bad it would be if he quit work and went to school. It’s not like I could get even close to what he earns now because my degree is worthless without a teaching license, and even then it was never a combination that really worked. We have both made mistakes that we are continuing to pay for, and may well pay for the rest of our lives.

So…does anyone know anyone that was in a similar situation? How does one start over midlife with four kids? It’s one thing to do graduate school and have maybe one or two little ones who don’t understand what they might be missing as far as material comforts. We are not extravagant by any means. Young marrieds who do graduate school have years to pay off their student loans. We don’t have quite as much time.

Any ideas?

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About Dalene Rowley

Began blogging as a legitimate way to avoid housework and to keep a journal of sorts. In her other life she wants to be excellent at a number of things, but in this one she's settling for baking a mean sour cream lemon pie, keeping most of the points on her quilt blocks in line, being a loyal friend and aspiring to moments of goodness as a wife and mother.

30 thoughts on “Too late to start over?”

  1. You have a lot of issues to work through. From what I have read you have some conflicting goals. I just don't see how your husband can quit working, go to school full time and still keep the lights on. Both of you need to be decisive in making a realistic plan to support the family. You may not get everything you want. Are you able to contact LDS Employment Services? They may or may not be helpful. I see this kind of thing all the time in my employment calling. The solution to this probably won't be easy and you are going to have to make some hard choices.

    I also highly recommend checking out the book 48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller. It is very uplifting and could help ease some of the fear you have.

    By the way, have you ever looked into welding? I know that in some parts of the country there are shortages of skilled welders and they will sometimes pay for your training. I understand that if you are the best, you can make a decent living.

  2. This is what I would do in your situation: I'd bite the bullet and commit to 3-4 years of poverty so that he could get a degree in a lucrative field–engineering, nursing, pharmacy, etc. Have him go to school full-time somewhere where you can live in campus housing, take out loans, and maybe you can work a little on the side. (I was an RA for student family housing and that more than covered our rent.) To be frank, the economy is so crummy that he's likely to have spotty work for the next few years anyway, so you might as well spend that time with him in school.

    Yes, you will be poor for a few years and, yes, you will end up with some debt, but for us what it meant was a 169$/mo student loan payment for the rest of our lives in exchange for my husband's earning capacity more than doubling for the rest of our lives.

  3. My uncle went back to school just before their fourth child was born. Their oldest was 13, I think. Anyway, he had just kind of drifted from job to job and finally, he decided to go back to school. I think he was 38? 39? Well, he graduated last year and is now a Physician's Assistant. He makes great money, works close to their home, and the family is really happy.

    This spring, my husband is going to start a 2 year EMBA (executive MBA) program. Luckily, his job is stable (they won't even let you get the degree unless you are working full time. That's the whole point of an Executive degree, though.) and so it should be okay. However, that means a HUGE student loan –and we just finished paying off our student loans last year. Sigh. Anyway, we have four children as well and it's scary to me to think we'll have more debt. Again. But it feels like the right thing to do, so we'll see.

    I don't think starting over mid-life is a bad thing. If you approach it with loads and loads of prayer, I'm sure you'll be guided to the right program or degree that will not only benefit your family in the long-term, but also your husband's interests. My only advice? Choose the program or degree first, and then find the school. Sometimes people pay too much for their education –like…ummmm…us. Yeah. See, you can get a quality Bachelor's Degree from a community college –not everyone HAS to go to Harvard, know what I'm sayin'? Look at local community colleges, and universities first. Also, see if you can apply for pell grant's!
    Good luck! I hope it works out well for all involved.

  4. We've made some mistakes too. Paid too much for Dick's graduate school (still paying too much), had to take out a loan to get out of our first house, etc. It's disheartening for me sometimes, because we were trying to follow the counsel of the Brethren (to get educated, to buy a house w/in our means), but I also think most of the mistakes we made were in interpreting the Brethren's counsel the way we wanted it to be. –Going to a fancy school, buying when we didn't understand everything, etc.

    It would be great if we could all start over, but I think the most important thing (as the commenters have said), is to pray and make really good decisions/goals/plans from here on out. Go to the cheapest accredited school you can find. Have hubs do some job-shadowing so he can be sure he'll like the next career, etc.

    (Incidentally, I have a friend who finished the aviations mechanics training in FL a couple years ago, and he's making very good money in NY. They've moved around a bit, and I think he's working for a wind turbine company or something, but I know they're doing pretty well now. Could your husband polish/finish up the training he has?)

    Good luck!

  5. These type of situations are not easy. You definately are not alone in choosing between a multitude of seemingly impossible choices. Just yesturday I found these quotes on a blog-
    "pray for wind and row for shore"

    "You must do the things you think you cannot do." – Eleanor Roosevelt

    "It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." – Franklin D. Roosevelt

    My only advice is to talk to your bishop. If things get really bad it's nice to know the church has your back.

  6. Your situation sounds a lot like my sil and bil. He has a certificate in aviation electronics and has lost his job four times in the past six years, two of those times for months at a time. (Ever since 9-11 when the airline industry has struggled.) He's always the first to get laid off because he's always the newest employee. They are in their late 40's and have six kids. He has no training, experience, or education to do anything else. Right now he's working at Walmart and she's working at a call center to try to make ends meet.

    I know they've toyed with the idea of him going back to school, and I think that's what it will probably end up being. They know that his career field is just too unstable. Sil's degree is not usable for a career either.

  7. My husband quit a really well-paying job because he hated it so badly. Unfortunately he had nothing else in store. SO we prayed and fasted and prayed some more. He actually was strongly considering going back to school and becoming a P.A. but I simply didn't know how it would work out (we have six kids). Fotunately he ended up getting a great new job that he loves (so far!) two weeks ago. Our old house has been for sale for ten months on top of it all. But we finally got an offer last week.

    I'm not saying that your husband shouldn't go to school. Only that the Lord works on a completely different timeframe. Also, it seems that we have to be at the end of our rope, then it unravells and we're hanging on by the last thread before relief comes. But the Lord will never abandon us, even though his touch feels very light at times. I have a very firm testimony of this.

    Don't be afraid to let people know your situation. My husband didn't want to discuss his unemployment with anyone, but once we had to I felt such love and sympathy from people. It was just a relief not to suffer in silence anymore.

    Good luck!

  8. We are asking the same questions right now too. We are young and only have one child, but my husband works in the film industry– sometimes there's work, sometimes there's not. Just last night we started seriously discussing the possibility of graduate school so he could be a professor.

    Sorry I don't have advice, but sometimes it's nice to know that other people understand how you feel.

  9. The same situation will not yield the same answers for everyone. I would study it out intensely. I like Julie M. Smith's answer. With the economy in such bad shape, going to school is a good option. But it is not the only answer. Again, study it out, pray, fast and have faith.

  10. I don't have time to skim over other comments right now, so I'm going to amen Tiffany's fast & pray recommendation. Regarding education, if it's the right answer but you still feel hesitant, someone once said something to the effect of, "You're going to get older whether you further your education or not. You may as well do it and be doing something that works better for you."

    The Lord will bless and sustain you as you follow his guidance.

  11. Looking a long way back, I don't remember how many kids I had, three or four at least, we moved from the close in suburbs to a far out suburb of the city where my husband works. This seemed like a really good idea because everything was less expensive out there. It was possible to get a lot for you money in terms of housing and other things.

    Unfortunately housing is only part of the picture. My husband's teaching pool dried up, as no one wanted to drive that far. The people out there did not have as much interest in the arts. Thus they would obviously not be willing to pay as much as the ones he lost. Times got worse and when the collective contract was renegotiated a wage freeze was put in place. The commute was long and expensive. We had to drive long distances to everything. Anything we saved by moving far out for lower costs was totally eaten up and then some.

    I remember how disheartening it was when a representative from the electric company knocked on our door and said he was there to turn off our power.

    What we did was hold on. I can't really say what turned things around. But they didn't turn the electricity off. I guess we worked something out. I guess we adjusted our spending and our expectations. We probably called our creditors and worked out whatever we could. My husband joined a car pool. We may actually have gotten along with one car for a while. It seemed then as now that the crisis just went away.

    I think if we hold on and don't do anything to make a crisis worse we make the adjustments that need to be made and the new situation rather being a crisis become the status quo. I think this ability to make lemonade out of lemons is one of the tender mercies God gave humankind.

  12. Would you be willing to share what area of the country you live in? What the right approach might be really can vary based on where you're living it at right now — and staying local is always a good idea if possible, because it's expensive to move.

    In general, I will also agree with Julie — health care and engineering are the fields where your husband is most likely to be able to get the quickest, cheapest, best education to move into something with a livable wage starting out. For engineering, you might want to steer clear of specialties that rely on commercial construction projects (or maybe not — maybe there will be a construction boom right as he is graduating. I don't know for sure — and it also depends on what are of the country you are in).

    I work for a tech college. One thing that I'd recommend is HVAC (assuming you can find a good program). There can be some good money in that and it's also a field that lends itself to small business ownership or co-ownership down the road. There are also major shortages of machinists in many parts of the country. Again: the key is to find a school with a good reputation and good connections to local industry (and thus good job placement).

    One thing to consider is that if he goes the associates degree route (and you can for some tech fields like HVAC) is to see if he can find a program that lends itself to going and getting a bachelors degree. That means that a public college is probably a better idea than a private (with just a couple of exceptions).

    Feel free to e-mail me at william AT motleyvision DOT org if your husband is interested in the tech college route. I'm no expert, but I'd be happy to provide whatever help I can.

  13. As a fellow teacher, you can re-certify on the job. Most districts/states have a program that allow you to teach (lowest tenure) until you earn your credits to re- certify. Usually about a year. Then you resume your previous tenure track. So if there is an option for you to go back to work, contact your state's Education Department and your district of choice and see what your options are. Good luck!

  14. Let me add, and I suppose this is a more difficult or unnecessary route these days, I cut my boy,s and my husband,s hair. I made my girls clothes. When they were all very young I cut up old clothes and made little ones out of them. I'm not a great seamstress, but one noticed that my drapes and curtains were home made either.

    I was better at saving money than at earning it though I tried that as well.

  15. Just another idea: to save a lot of money on housing, you could try to find a job as an apartment manager and have you or your husband do repair and maintenance part time. That way, you would always have a roof over your head.

  16. It's not too late. We're back in school again with 3 children and the oldest is 9. If things aren't working, change them, and that might mean going to school.

    It is a little weird for us to be back in school though, because we're in family housing and I'm surrounded by people with little children. It's also hard to be back on a really tight budget again (we were tight before, but when you're living on loans, every penny counts).

    Good luck. It's hard to uproot everything.

  17. This may not be a popular suggestion, but while you are trying to figure things out, see if you qualify for WIC–a food supplement program for Woman, Infants and Children. Also there are housing aids if you have to move. Those resources are available to help people. Don't let your pride get in the way of feeding your family. Also, has your husband filed for unemployment benefits? Those resources can help you while figuring out what to do.

  18. just make sure you're not going to graduate school to get a PhD in the humanities, because baby I can tell you there ain't no jobs when you get out. Do careful research into what fields are hiring & growing, and get an advanced degree in something marketable. To just echo what Julie M. Smith said. It would be worse to come out on the other side deeper in debt & facing a glutted job market.

  19. Many school districts, especially rural ones, are hurting for teachers. They may allow you to work without your certification while you re-certify. Often, there are state-extension schools or community colleges in those rural locations that have programs that might fit with your husband's job desires. The cost of living is often less imposing as well.

    I agree, it's never easy to go back to school, but it's imperative. It will never be easy and will probably get harder the farther away it gets put off. My ward has a significant portion of student family housing. It's great to see families with older children (often teenagers) going back to school to improve their family's outlook.

  20. I agree with wm morris. Voc/tech schools may be the way to go in terms of bang for your buck.
    And the kids are only going to be more expensive the bigger they get. School debt, to me, is not really debt (credit cards are debt, you know?). Especially in a program that you know has a high placement rate. Student loans are almost not loans at all, meaning the interest on them is low. I think by the time I was paying off mine the interest was 1% due to consistently making payments on time (every now and then they'd reduce it). Now, I did pay that loan off over 11 years. But I think I took about 2 years off from paying when I had babies, moved to new locations, etc.
    Best of luck to you!

  21. My parents immigrated to this country speaking very little English, gave birth to 3 daughters in 5 years, both worked multiple jobs (at one point my father was a stereotyped dishwasher and my mother did menial labor as well), and at 'midpoint' my mother returned to school at night (learning to be a computer programmer) while my father continued working full-time and was also a student. Now as a physician, I reflect on the tremendous sacrifices they made on our behalf. We didn't have much growing up but we certainly had their love. They did have the help of their parents very intermittently. We did not have support from LDS church members as my parents were not and are not LDS. What I learned from them was true sacrifice. You can do it! I may not offer much in terms of a formal plan, but as a person of courage, I offer you support and insight that your children will thank you in the end for making the tough choices now for future outcomes.

  22. Your husband finishing school will never be regretted. There are a lot of options out there including, UPS who offers full medical and dental benefits for part time employees with tuition reimbursement as well. Home Depot and Lowes offer similar programs. As for you, many schools will hire on what is called a "preliminary certification". You have the job while you are updating your license.

    We have had our fair share of job changes and moves as well. I have spent many hours on my knees wondering how Heavenly Father had entrusted me with these precious kids. I can say looking back, that my kids have gleaned more from how we've handled challenges than they ever would have gleaned from the ideal childhood I had hoped for them. Pray for guidance, pray for faith, pray for your husband and love him. As others have said, don't be afraid to reach out for help. My husband also didn't want to open up about our situation. Once we did, we learned how much everyone around us cared and were sincerely looking for opportunities for him.

    Good Luck, you are in my prayers!

  23. Harlene, you made a great point, about companies that help with school. my husband started working at a company like that mainly because it was just part time, we got full benifits, and they had tution reimbursement. Now 7 yrs later he is working for them full time and he's going back to school again, this time for his MBA, he'll be done next September. He chose to go to a school that is geared towards working adults. He goes once a week in the evening and while it's still ALOT of work it has been worth it. And he's found talking to the other people in his classes, most of them choose that type of school because they could still work full time while going to school.

  24. Carina is right – going to school is imperative. And, as elizabeth-w pointed out, if you're going to have loans, student loans are the best kind to have (not only low interest rates, but many can have deferred payments until the schooling is finished). There are many schools geared towards working adults (I'm parital to Argosy – http://www.argosy.edu/ – which has VERY flexible schedules in its 19 campuses across the U.S., as well as online classes). These schools allow for people to have jobs and work on their degrees on their own time.

    Best wishes, and hang in there! You can do it!

  25. I am the oldest of 10 kids. My dad went back to school just before the birth of the 9th. He had been a teacher and decided that he was not going to be able to continue to support our family on a teacher's salary. My parents were fortunate that they had lived in CA where house values were high so that helped them be able to afford to move and buy a house. My dad worked FULL TIME and went to school FULL time so that he was able to graduate from chiropractic college without a huge amount of student loans. Having experienced this in my life, I would only suggest this alternative (working & school full time) if you are certain it is the route that the Lord has chosen for you. In our family only the first 2 or 3 kids have childhood memories of our dad. The kids younger than that missed out on him because he was almost never home. But almost worse than that was the fact that after 5 years back in college he never truly re-engaged in our family. He was so used to being busy and gone all of the time, it was very difficult and time-consuming for him to establish a practice, and things never got back to normal. I'm all for going back to college and incurring a reasonable amount of debt seeking an education that you know will provide a good living for your family and enable you to pay off that debt. I would just encourage both of you to do everything you can to come out at the other end without your kids feeling like they've lost one of their parents…

  26. Our best friends bit the bullet and he went back to grad school at age 38. It was a 6-year commitment, including the pre-requisites and the 4-year program. They moved out of their large home into a small, 3-bedroom condo, with three children in tow. They gave up much. But, they felt it was right for their family. I think that is the bottom line…it is the RIGHT thing for your family. Here are a few things I know they have done over the last 5 1/2 years (he is graduating in May!) to help the situation:

    * They religiously met together monthly, as a couple, to work through finances, and both were committed to the changes they agreed upon. Seriously, this was scheduled on the calendar.
    * She did as much free-lance work in her former profession as was possible. Have you ever considered in-home tutoring? Running a preschool?
    * Everything was cut back to the basics. Even their then-8-year-old understood that they would just have to do with less.

    Good luck!

  27. When Courtney died eleven months after Jessica died, leaving us with one surviving child, my wife felt unemployed and went back to school. First she got her nurses aid (which takes less than six weeks), then her BSRN, then we had Robin, who died, then we moved to DFW so she could start a CRNA program, we had Rachel (named after the Rachel who took seven years …) who is now eight.

    It was difficult and hard and without God pushing us it would not have happened. But I'm 52 and it wasn't that long ago I was still old by the standards of most people who post here.

    Was it hard on our surviving child? Yes, but she endured with the rest of us. Hard on Rachel, yes, but she tests more than a standard deviation better than the target for fourth grade (and, as the only kid in the school who jumped a grade, is the shortest and youngest kid there by a margin).

    It is possible.

  28. When we lived in married student housing in Michigan, there were families with school age children in our complex, some in the ward, some who weren't LDS. The schools were good, and the courtyards of student housing foster community. It's not easy being poor with kids doing undergrad, but it is less easy to be poor without a way out. Your children might share some of the sacrifices, but they will share the benefits of stability for your family.

  29. My dad went back to school at the age of 45 with 9 children (7 still at home). He graduated with a bachelor's degree at the top of his class. The time will pass whether or not your husband uses it to get an education. I recommend the education route 100%. my husband and I both have degrees, and were among the first in our family's to obtain them. Our education has been such a blessing to us. An employment specialist once said, "You can suffer a little now, or you can suffer for the rest of your life." Good luck–you can do it….& say lots of prayers too! =)


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