As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

Choosing to Stay Home With Children

This article was written by in Family and Life. 11 comments.

Since before the recession, an increasing number of mothers say they’d like to work full-time. The Pew Research Center analyzed new data from the U.S. Census Bureau and conducted a survey to discover this and other family financial dynamic trends.

In 2007, 20% of mothers called full-time employment their ideal situation, while by 2012, that number increased to 32%. Over the same period, the percentage of mothers who would like not to work at all decreased from 29% to 20%.

The new report contains a variety of interesting statistics like the above. While just over half of all respondents, including men and women, say that children are better off with a mother who stays home without a job, only 8% believe that a father’s staying home with children has a positive effect. If I were a father, I might take offense that society considers full-time parenting ineffectual or even negative in the development of children.

The report results seem to confirm that most Americans maintain traditional beliefs about parental roles while reluctantly accepting that society has been changing around them.

Pew Research also analyzes the trend of single mothers.

On the topic of single mothers, most Americans (64%) say that this growing trend is a “big problem”; however, the share who feel this way is down from 71% in 2007. Also,
young adults are less concerned than older adults about the trend. About four-in-ten adults under age 30 (42%) view it as a big problem, compared with 65% of those in their 30s and 40s and 74% of adults who are 50 and older.

The public’s opinions about unmarried mothers also differ by party affiliation and race. Republicans (78%) are more likely than Democrats (51%) or independent voters (65%) to say that the growing number of children born to unwed mothers is a big problem. Whites are more likely than non-whites to view it as a big problem (67% vs. 56%). The views of men and women on this issue are the same.

When mothers are the primary income sources in a household with children under the age of 18, 63% of the time, they are single mothers. Otherwise, they are women who earn more than their partners. In total, mothers earn the primary income — or the only income — in 40% of all households with children. That’s a dramatic shift over the past half-century; in 1960, only 10% of households with children consisted of mothers as breadwinners.

New parents are faced with this critical question. Who stays home with children? The household situation could have an important effect on the emotional development of a child, and conscientious parents can find themselves struggling with determining an answer to the question. And when the discussion comes up, statistics offered by surveys such as this Pew Research Study aren’t helpful, because every situation feels unique.

What support do you have?

Having family and close friends nearby helps. With grandparents available to help once in a while, new parents will, in theory, be less stressful as they adjust to life with their first child. Saving the cost of a babysitter is one benefit, but the emotional support from family members, close in both physical and emotional proximity, can make it easier for a couple to decide to be working parents. That’s particularly if the financials determine that both parents need to generate incomes to avoid financial problems due to the increasing cost of raising kids.

Having a wide network of support also helps from a daily expense perspective. Close family and friends can help provide some of the materials you’ll need as new parents as hand-me-downs. It seems that inheriting clothes from family friends or children wearing the same clothes their older siblings wore has fallen out of favor recently. It may because, relatively to incomes, clothing is a lot less expensive now than in prior generations. But cribs, car seats, strollers, and other baby needs are more expensive, and young families can benefit from items that have been used by friends and family.

Do your children have special needs?

Sometimes life doesn’t fit your plans. You may be financially secure enough to raise a typical child on one income, but later determine your child has special needs that change the course of your life. For example, a child with autism may increase expenses more than $25,000 a year, not including what might be covered by insurance. That’s as much as a part-time job might provide, or a full-time salary in some jobs.

At the same time this extra income is needed to cover the expenses that come along with special needs, the demand for being home with children increases. It’s no surprise that parents of children with special needs often adjust their own life goals, becoming advocates for research, cures, or support for those facing the same challenges. It may be the only way for some to handle the financial and emotional requirements of being a parent for a child with special needs.

Is working financially practical?

Life decisions are often about more than just numbers on a spreadsheet, but you can’t make a good decision without thinking about the finances. It’s not enough to just compare the parents’ lowest individual salary with the cost of child-care. Even with this comparison, values come into play. Imagine a spectrum of child-care options spanning from full-day care in an overbooked facility to a live-in nanny who stays with the family for many years. What is the most basic level of child-care that you would consider acceptable?

Compare the cost of the child-care you wish to provide with the cost of losing an income. You can’t do this comparison without considering the full cost of losing an income. It’s more than just the salary. It could include a loss of benefits. It could include a loss of future opportunities. These should be factored in to the decision, even if it might be difficult to come up with a precise value.

The numbers can only help inform decision, not determine it. You could estimate that your household net worth would accumulate $5,000 more each year if one parent chooses to work and pay for child-care rather than staying home and providing his or her own full-time care. That annual $5,000 could be saved in a college fund for the child, adding up to a substantial amount to help pay for education 18 years later. But if $5,000 a year doesn’t make financial survival difficult, parents may choose to forgo the increased net worth in favor of staying home anyway.

How many children do you or will you have?

With more children, costs escalate, as do needs for child-care. If you are relying on both parents’ careers to afford to raise your children, at what point will the increasing child-care needs prevent a family from maintaining several jobs?

What sacrifices can you make to shift your budget?

Having children requires personal sacrifices. Whether it’s no longer partying at clubs every Friday night, putting aside hobbies, or spending less time at the office, children change life’s priorities. The changing priorities should be reflected in your budget or spending habits.

If you’ve been saving money for a vacation, a new child might change the type of vacation you’re planning, or it might inspire to redirect the savings towards a different purpose, like child-care. You may need to delay traveling the world until your children are grown and earning a living on their own. You may not be able to start the business you were planning.

How did or will you decide who stays home to raise your first child, if anyone? How did your priorities and your budget change? What advice could you give to new parents or potential future parents?

Pew Research Center
Photo: Flickr

Published or updated May 29, 2013.

Email Email Print Print
About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

My wife worked part time when m=our children were small. We juggled the hours in such a way that our children were only without us for 2 hours a week. I made a point to attend every occasion my children were involved in.

Reply to this comment

avatar 2 Anonymous

OK; I’m so old I fall into that group that hates non-family support and feels that Mom’s should be Mom’s. My wife did not work until the children were of school age and then worked only part-time to ensure no babysitters were required. However, when our children became adults, times were such that two earners were necessary to live the same lifestyle we had enjoyed so we babysat grandkids while their parents worked full time. We accepted supplies (babies need “stuff”) but no pay, frankly because we enjoyed it. Although my wife was there for a full day I only had about two hours between getting home and the kids being picked up. The Grandma/Grandpa bonds grew very strong over this time and that’s something to be grateful for these days. BTW: Grandson is graduating from HS tonight – 6th in a class of 840 – maybe we helped (?)

Reply to this comment

avatar 3 Anonymous

I’m old school as well. I work 2.5 jobs so my wife can stay at home with our little one (and new one on the way). I’m with Krantcents and SteveDH above. Not for a second do my wife or I regret having her at home to work harder than I do raising our kids. :)

And these studies are always interesting, because they touch on core beliefs. Are men and women different? Why or why not? Should they be? Why or why not? There’s a reason they call these “hot-button” issues. :)

Reply to this comment

avatar 4 Anonymous

I wanted to stay home with my children. It wasn’t something that took much discussion financially. I made the same amount in 2 weeks that he could make by working one extra shift a week. We also knew it would cost more to have kids at daycare.

Reply to this comment

avatar 5 Anonymous

Plenty of women WORK from home or do odd hour, part-time work. :) I’ve worked from home off and on for years.

Reply to this comment

avatar 6 Luke Landes

When I’m working from home, I’m working, at least in theory. I can’t imagine that I’d be able to actually provide care for a child while working from home. I know lots of people do it, but I’m not sure how you can give 100% to either, when both need 100%. I guess it depends on the work. Working for one company that expects 8 hours of work from home is one thing, working for yourself you may have more flexibility, but then you’re not giving 100% to yourself. I don’t know; either way, it’s a sacrifice.

Reply to this comment

avatar 7 Anonymous

We actually both work from home as well as have our three little ones to take care of. Prior to that I worked at an office and my wife stayed home and worked while caring for the children. You have to do what’s right for you, but for us we wanted our wife home with the kids. Ideally I’d be working in an office making enough so that she would not have to work, but that just has not been in the cards for us. What we have works for us. Yes, it can be a bit chaotic at times for us, but it works for us.

Reply to this comment

avatar 8 Anonymous

My wife and I are facing this exact issue right now. We decided that she would stay home for the first year and then we will re-evaluate the situation. My income and benefits far exceed hers so the decision was a little easier. Plus, with the costs of daycare, the income my wife would make would not be worth the sacrifice.

Reply to this comment

avatar 9 qixx

My wife has chosen to be a stay at home Mom. One thing that these studies always seem to leave out is the social and emotional well being of the child vs future earnings potential of the child. I’m not sure how those numbers would turn out. The factors listed are usually only about the parents not the children.

Reply to this comment

avatar 10 Anonymous

Keep in mind that if you are out of the workforce for several years, or more, you may not be able to get more than a minimum wage job, if that. You have to factor that in, and work with a financial advisor to accurately figure out the future income you are giving up.

Reply to this comment

avatar 11 Anonymous

Good post. That Autism statistic is pretty mind blowing. $25,000 a year! Makes me think there are financial motives behind diagnosing an autistic child. You might find this interesting:

Reply to this comment

Leave a Comment

Note: Use your name or a unique handle, not the name of a website or business. No deep links or business URLs are allowed. Spam, including promotional linking to a company website, will be deleted. By submitting your comment you are agreeing to these terms and conditions.