What No One Tells You About Backsliding

Photo courtesy of Alvimann @ mourgeFile

Photo courtesy of Alvimann @ mourgeFile

If you grew up in or around a religious family or community, chances are you are familiar with the concept of backsliding. For those of you that didn’t, it means going back to wrong and sinful ways or naughty habits, like smoking, or eating pork rinds and Ben & Jerry’s at midnight. Basically, it’s a bad thing and something you should avoid at all costs.

A year ago this month my husband got laid off from his corporate job. The day he walked in the door with his termination papers I couldn’t think—I was terrified. My parents had come to visit and we were going out to dinner later that evening. I agonized about making it through the night with that secret between us and them. I couldn’t imagine how we would tell our daughter.

As shocked as we were that day, we shouldn’t have been. We had suspected for a year or two that it was coming. I work in Human Resources and have managed reductions-in-force or layoffs at various times in my career. I saw the signs (and it opened up my mind, I saw the signs—sorry, digression):

1- There wasn’t enough work to keep my husband busy 40 hours per week.
2- He was the last person hired into his position.
3- He had a prior boss who wasn’t paying attention.

My husband’s job loss hacked our income nearly in half, and the reality of that and the domino affect I knew it would have kept me up many nights. Of course this was before I’d learned about “taking a knee,” so the hours between midnight and 3:00 a.m. were torture.

And Then…

Something unexpected happened. We realized my husband finally had a reason to leave the corporate environment he’d loathed for years and the opportunity to focus on his illustration business full-time. He got a generous severance package since he’d worked for the company for eleven years, which is a lot more than the thousands of people got who went the way of the unemployed before him. And unemployment benefits would be available after his severance ran out.

Even with this drastic life change ahead of us, it was my husband’s face when he responded to the question, “So, what do you do?” that made losing his job seem worth it. “I’m a full-time illustrator,” he would say, his head held a little higher and welcoming the questions that usually followed. Once he was out of what he called the “soul crushing” corporate world, he became a new person. He had joy in his life again. He smiled more.

But there was no doubt about it: We were at a crossroads.

Photo courtesy of mxruben @ mourgeFile

Photo courtesy of mxruben @ mourgeFile

About four weeks after his termination date, we received a letter from our realtor. She said housing inventory was low in our area and asked if we knew of anyone who wanted to sell. We called her because we knew we wouldn’t be able to stay in our house for long on my salary alone.

Just the year before we had contemplated walking away from our house because we were underwater by a sickening amount (having bought at the height of the market in 2008). Selling, even if we only got out even, was a step up from our original plan. After talking with our realtor, we decided to sell.

Our house sold within six weeks. We didn’t come out even. We had to pay to get out of our house. Not a lot, but our savings took a hit and we had no money for a down payment for a smaller, more affordable house. Ultimately it didn’t matter because we made the decision to leave home ownership behind and backslide into the world of renting.

I know renting is commonplace for millions of people. For some, based on where they live, owning a home has never been or will be an option. But it was awkward when we shared our plan with our friends and family because we lived in a state where only a small percentage of people floated in the boat we were about to board.

Survey Says…
When we told people, many of them said we were making a big mistake. “Owning a home is an investment. It’s the American dream and what everyone strives for,” they said.

That may have been true at some point, for some people. But those arguments didn’t work as well with couples like us who bought homes just a few months before the crash of 2008. It simply wasn’t true for those of us who saw our money, real and make-believe in the way of inflated equity, vanish.

It’s hard to buy into that message when you have to write a check to get out of your home, even after home prices across the country have rebounded since the day we saw it all disappear.

But we did it anyway.

We know that may seem juvenile when today many people our age (early and mid-forties) usually leave their homes to move up to bigger ones.

Some might say that we didn’t make a choice, that our hand was forced. That’s partially true—my husband’s job loss and a seller’s market gave us a push. But it wasn’t a push down three flights of stairs to a painful death (and shared mailboxes). It gave us the push we needed to live our life the way we wanted to, not the way we had to.

To some, it may have seemed like we were backsliding from the American way, the path all grownups are supposed to blindly plod down.

But what no one ever tells you about backsliding is that sometimes it’s a good choice. Sometimes it’s even the best choice.

Backsliding into renting freed us from something that had become a burden, and had driven my husband to take and stay in a job that bound him in what felt to him like a five layers of full-body Spanx. It also provided us with an opportunity to model wrestling with these soul-searching life choices to our tween daughter.

So yes, we’re backsliders, but we’re okay with that. We’ve enjoyed this regressive ride, free of the pressures and stress of homeownership, and full of the joy of living an authentic life of our own choosing.

We’ll see you at the pool this summer…the one we’re not responsible for cleaning.

What sort of life changes have you gone through, and how were they received by friends and family? What made you push forward even if people thought you were crazy? Or did you change your mind when they waved the straightjacket in front of you? Did you regret your decision, and why or why not?

15 thoughts on “What No One Tells You About Backsliding

  1. I’ve taken backsliding to a fine art over the years (lost our house to foreclosure after that same 2008 bubble burst, lost a couple of jobs, etc.), but I don’t regret any of our back/side/hop steps at all. It’s all an adventure. Sometimes a sucky one, but totally worth every moment. Congratulations on doing what’s best for you and yours. Just wanted to say I love your blog and look forward to your posts in my inbox! Great writing. 🙂

    1. Hi Kristen! I’m glad to hear I’m in good company on my backsliding journey, but am sorry to hear you had similar kind of housing/employment issues we did. It’s a horrible experience to have shared with so many people, but I will say it’s taken the sting and stigma out of being home and job losers (?? not really, right!). And all that crap just makes you a stronger person, I believe. There isn’t a person around who couldn’t use a dose of character strength.

      And thanks for your thoughts on my blog/writing…that means a ton to me!

  2. This post was inspirational for me! My husband and I are currently going through somewhat the same thing. After about 12 years in the military, he was tossed because his command were corrupt and took the word over a proven liar (still a bit peeved and working on my forgiveness on that bit). Thankfully it’s been a blessing in disguise, even if we had to survive off a meager budget for several months. As I tell it, we had to take the dirt road to get to the highway. He now has a job that pays triple what he was making with better benefits, he loves his new job, is a happier person to be around (and may eventually work through his PTSD), He no longer has to deploy (Yay!!!), and it allows me to continue being a SAHM, which is something really important to me. The only downside is the moving, and giving up the house we worked so hard to make a home. We have decisions to make. Keep the house and make it an investment property, or sell, and will we rent or buy in our new town? Our savings is gone, but the paychecks are thankfully coming in, so we have what we need to get started. As far as backsliding, mine is in my writing… As in, I’m not getting done what needs to be done, because I have so many other worries right now. And don’t get me started about the group I was trying to help lead…

    I really love reading your posts! So far they have all resonated with me, and lifted my spirits! Thank you for that <3

    1. So glad to hear that, Amy! I love your take on your situation: “We had to take the dirt road to get to the highway.” Some of those unplanned, rough-road detours let us see things we might never have if we’d gone along cruising down the smooth, paved, heavily traveled super highways. Sure, you get dirty backroading it, but like my husband and I used to say about our daughter when she was a toddler and came home filthy from playing outside at daycare, “She had a good day.” And I’m so glad you like reading my posts…makes me happy to know they’re having an impact!

  3. In a little over six months back in the early 1980’s I went from being married and owning a four-bedroom home to being single and homeless and living with relatives. The good part of all that was that it got my attention focused on God in a way it had never been. Once I gave it to Him, He pulled me back up out of the depths to a position where I’m now very comfortably retired with income and investment portfolio that keep the wolf well away from the door. GOD IS GOOD.

    1. Wow, David—those are some major life changes you’ve dealt with. The ability to find the strength to get through, no matter the source, is something to be truly grateful for. So glad to hear things have turned out well for you—yeah for victories, big and small!

  4. I’m backslidden – in the religious sense. I don’t know why I felt the need to share that. It would seem I’m more than proud of the fact. Blessings 😉

  5. I think it’s obvious you’ve hit on a topic near and dear to a lot of people. I have to say, though, that there’s something to be said for simplifying. Many people don’t understand that the so-called “American Dream” can be an awful burden to maintain, and the stress is not worth it.

    Backsliding in the religious sense, now there’s something I think we’re all guilty of from time to time. Always striving for better and failing again and again. I guess the trick there is to just keep trying. We don’t always appreciate or understand how good things can be until we’ve seen the down side, so I guess it all serves a purpose in the bigger picture.

    1. Lynda, you got it right when you said most people don’t understand the burden and stress that comes with chasing the “American Dream.” What we realized is that we had hopped on that hamster wheel without taking the time to figure out if it was best for us. We did it unconsciously—it’s just what grownups did. But it’s not right for every grownup, and choosing a different path doesn’t make us any less grown up, although it does make us feel more conscious. We’re like Chris Martin (lead singer of Cold Play) and Gwyneth Paltrow who’ve recently split up—we’ve “consciously uncoupled” from the American Dream, and have no regrets.

  6. I left my corpo-job.. and from total comfort and no worries about rent or expenses, I’m in the living from payslip to payslip boat once again, with many things I used to be able to have for the taking now just plain unobtainable without a large amount of forward planning & saving… BUT it’s worth it. Just as you say, I prefer to be free… Living an authentic life is worth a bit of stress around the edges.. and also worth the incomprehension of many people I know and love!

    1. Here, here! Good for you, Sara! I’m still in my corpo job, but I enjoy it, so that’s something. Not as much as writing of course, but mama’s gotta bring home the bacon. And like you said, no matter the sacrifice, if you’re living a true life, it’s worth it.

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