I recently read two articles that address the long term financial difficulties of being a stay at home parent. Katy Read’s Regrets of a Stay-at-Home Mom presents the view of a now divorced single mother without a full time job, lamenting her choice to stay home and/or work part time 14 years ago. She blames herself, society and pressure from family members for a choice that she now says has crippled her career and financial future, possibly permanently. Jonathan Liu of Geek Dad responded with his own take in Stay-at-Home Parenting Backlash: “Opting In” or “Opting Out?”.
This is a loaded issue for many parents, particularly women. But I think what it emphasizes most is that how you raise your children is not a decision to take lightly but it is still YOUR decision. I tend to lean more towards Geek Dad’s opinion that parenting is a huge sacrifice and only the seriously naïve and deceived among us fail to acknowledge that going in to it. We know it could theoretically cost us millions of dollars (assuming we have the kinds of jobs that would net those high wages anyway). But we are willing to lay all of that down for the sake of our children.
There is nothing wrong with continuing in your career path and sending your kids to daycare, if that is what you really want. I never sought to be a big time career woman. I went to college because I love to learn and I recognized the importance of a college education in both future job possibilities and becoming a well-rounded human being. But I didn’t go into deep debt to do it. I studied English not because I thought it would net me a high paying salary but because I love to read and write and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I knew that if I wasn’t willing to work in a major city and work the tough novice reporter hours I wasn’t going to climb the ladder. So I opted to work low paying jobs, many of them not in my field, in favor of supporting my husband while he went back to school. I could have commuted 2 hours of Philadelphia or 3 hours to New York City, but my quality of life mattered more to me. My work was just my work, it wasn’t my life. I always knew that if we were blessed with children, I would be a stay-at-home mom, if at all possible.
I left my best paying job to date to stay at home with my daughter after she was born. I actually had the opportunity to return to my old job part time when she was about 9 months old and I turned it down. Part of me regrets that now, not because I really wanted to go back to work outside the home, but because of the financial aspect. It would be nice to use my extra income to pay off my husband’s student loans. I’m still considering this a possible option, but my husband is very much against it. He thinks that the benefits of having a parent at home full-time far outweigh the financial sacrifices. For the most part, I agree with him. The only way we even could afford for me to work part-time outside the home is if my mother watched my daughter for free, because day care would wipe out any money I was making anyway. If it was necessary for survival we would do this, but I don’t want to burden my mother unnecessarily.
For some families a balance can be found, with one parent working from home some or all of the time. In other cases both parents working full time and full time daycare are the only option or the preferred option. But any decision needs to be made knowledgeably and consciously.
I wish I was still bringing home a regular paycheck, but I made a conscious sacrifice, one that I hope I don’t look back on in 14 years and regret. As a child of a stay-at-home mom, I have no regrets that my mom was at home with me and my sister. My dad had a good job, so we were lucky, but at the same time we didn’t drive new cars, have cell phones, or go to Disney World. My parents made very careful choices with their money so that we could have everything we needed, some of the things we wanted and still have my mom at home with us. I don’t regret the missed vacations, name brand clothes or expensive toys and gadgets. I will be forever grateful that my mom was there whenever I needed her. I only hope I can do the same for my children.