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stay at home parenting is costly

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The costs of being a stay at home parent are very real, and it is not something to be entered into lightly. When a man decides to stay at home to look after his offspring, he is of course sacrificing his current earning potential. Should he later decide to return to the workforce, after several years without gainful employment, he’s unlikely to be entering on the salary he would have made if he hadn’t left. It might not even be the inflation adjusted amount that he left on. His lifetime earnings potential is likely to be irreparably damaged, and he won’t have had much money himself in the meantime.

But, people make financially reckless decisions all the time. The decision to have children itself isn’t likely to pay off in monetary terms, but apparently, some people really like their children and want to spend all day with them. It takes all sorts ;) . No, really, the decision to stay at home with your kids can be enabled by your finances, but money shouldn’t be the main driver. If you can’t stand the thought of it, then it doesn’t matter whether you can afford to or not, you shouldn’t do it. On the other hand, if you really, really want to you only need make sure that you can afford an acceptable lifestyle on one income before making a decision.

If you have decided to become a stay at home parent, you should give some consideration to how you’ll cope financially in all potential circumstances. You might end up separating from your partner. They might end up dead. What will happen if you become disabled and can no longer look after the children? How will you have enough money for retirement, regardless of whether you reach that state single or married?

I think that you need to accept that financially speaking you will as a family be worse off especially in the long run and that whichever partner stays at home will bear the brunt of this financial penalty.

Sure, I don’t have any children, but I’ve got eyes. It’s painfully obvious to me that regardless of the cause, giving up your biggest income stream is likely to diminish your finances. Does that mean that I think being a stay at home parent is a poor choice? No. It does depend on the individual, and it needn’t be the end of your days of generating income. But don’t pretend that it’s cheaper, because in the long run, it isn’t. Make a choice with open eyes, work out how to mitigate the downsides, and then own it, enjoy it and don’t criticise people for making different choices.

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13 comments for “stay at home parenting is costly”

  1. Right on, sister!

    In the U.S., another thing that happens is that the stay-at-home parent gets shorted on Social Security. Raising children is not regarded here as productive work, and so you get no monetary reward of any sort for that kind of useless activity.

    If I retired today, my SS would be about $550 a month less than my ex-husband’s and about $300 a month less than that of the ex-boyfriend who retired at the age of 50. To qualify for a SS payment that will go a reasonable way toward supporting me (but far from all the way!), I would have to work till age 70. Assuming I live that long.

    It’s not that spending a large chunk of your wage-slave years raising kids is a bad thing. To the contrary…that we have few parents at home is one of the causes of the manifold social ills that afflict our kids and young adults. It’s just that you’d better be darn sure that if you divorce (the divorce rate is still around 50% here…) or if your spouse dies some provision has been made to support you–for the entirety of your life. Just going back to work at the age of 45 or so won’t make it.

    Posted by Funny about Money | May 6, 2008, 1:27 pm
  2. It’s a sad world when the value of a stay-at-home parent can be argued away.

    “The work of a stay-at-home mother has an annual monetary value of $138,095, up 3 percent from last year, according to a survey out today.”

    Very few people make more working, but they still try. The divorce rate has created a fear of divorce that continues to burden our society with dual-income families - which are only making our nation poorer.

    Posted by Curt | May 6, 2008, 2:32 pm
  3. I have no doubt that stay at home parents provide valuable benefits to their families. It would simply be a mistake to think that this choice is without adverse financial effects. If you’ve decided to be a stay at home parent, you can and should seek to mitigate against them.

    Every choice has an upside, and a downside - it’s sensible to reduce the downside and increase the upside wherever you can.

    Posted by plonkee | May 6, 2008, 3:03 pm
  4. Absolutely. I think it’s especially important to be honest with yourself about all aspects of staying at home. Losing the momentum of your career often seems lost in planning that I see other potential stay-at-home parents doing. And honestly wanting to stay at home is really important also. I don’t want to, don’t want to be forced to, and honestly find it pretty annoying that I often feel like people assume that finances are the only reason not to stay home with your kids. If you are not suited to it, your kids are better off that way.

    Posted by Caro | May 6, 2008, 5:10 pm
  5. “If you can’t stand the thought of it, then it doesn’t matter whether you can afford to or not, you shouldn’t do it.”

    I agree with that, and with Caro, above. I sometimes feel guilty that I do not want to spend all of my time at home with my beautiful little girl. People do throw around the idea that obviously everybody should do it if they can at ALL afford to. My ideal is to work at least part-time and spend evenings and weekends with my family.

    Why is that so bad? I think full-time stay-at-home parenting is LABOR that should be PAID well. I will show my love to my kids by hiring a fabulous nanny that will do fun things with them while we’re at work, and change a few of the diapers to break up the monotony for us. I think dividing up the home labor a bit is great for everybody. I mean, how many peanut butter sandwiches do you really have to personally make for your kids to be a good parent?

    Posted by Sofia | May 6, 2008, 8:42 pm
  6. As a stay at home parent, I find this brief amount of time tremendously rewarding. We can afford to live on one income, and insurance and wills are necessary if you have kids, regardless of whether or not both parents are employed. Besides, the time I spend with my son is something I consider a luxury, not a method of economizing.

    A few things I think about when it comes to remaining marketable in the job market.
    -How long is the parent planning on being out of the work force? There’s a big difference between 2 and 18 years.
    -Is the parent keeping in touch with work contacts? Lunch, email, phone calls are all valuable in maintaining bridges.
    -Keeping up to speed with news, technology, and changes in a given industry are always useful.
    -Finding a way to work part time or as a volunteer are ways to get fresh,new experiences on your resume.

    In all, you might lose out on Social Security, but I’m not counting on that for retirement.

    Another point is that I have a lot of flexible time which allows me to focus on our diets. I like cooking, and do so daily. If my husband and I both worked, food would be a much lower priority, and our diets would suffer. The long-term effects of eating healthy, organic, homemade food saves on medical care as we age, and has helped make my son an adventurous eater who is as likely to eat chocolate as quinoa :-)

    Posted by MetaMommy | May 6, 2008, 9:55 pm
  7. One more quick note before I close this window. I wanted to say that I agree completely with MetaMommy. There are really good ways to stay in touch with your career and LOTS and lots of benefits to staying home if it’s something you want to do. I especially love the part about helping to create a healthy environment for your children. So don’t get me wrong, I admire and respect stay at home parents, especially the ones who do as plonkee says:

    “…own it, enjoy it and don’t criticise people for making different choices.”

    Posted by Caro | May 7, 2008, 3:58 am
  8. @Sofia:
    Knowing yourself is half the battle. I find that it’s one size never really fits all, especially when it comes to parenting.

    Those are excellent ideas for making yourself marketable to future employers, and you’re right that everyone with children should have a will and insurance (as should most people without).

    I also agree about the benefits, and also that it’s not necessarily just about the money if you don’t want to be a stay at home parent.

    Posted by plonkee | May 7, 2008, 11:32 am
  9. People want a big standard of living and it takes two parents to pay for that standard.

    If you can reduce your standard of living to the basics, one parent can stay home.

    I hate to see when parents are “married for the ir mortgage and all the toys they bought”

    The kids suffer because the parents want all the toys.

    And yes.. I work out of my home, and see my kids as much as they want.!

    Posted by Monty Loree | May 7, 2008, 3:10 pm
  10. @Monty Loree:Undoubtedly for the majority of middle class couples, it is possible to allow one parent to stay at home. Just because something is possible, doesn’t mean that it is automatically desirable.There’s no *right* answer to this question, and all choices have implications. If it’s possible to do so, mitigating against those implications is a good idea.

    Posted by plonkee | May 7, 2008, 4:05 pm
  11. It’s all about choices…
    I do hate to see the upper class kids have no parents while they’re growing up. I did that for a few years and then realized that it’s better to spend the time with the kids.

    I’m sure our generation will learn over the next 20 years the pros and cons of the “two parent working” lifestyle. It’s relatively new in the scheme of things.


    Posted by Monty Loree | May 7, 2008, 4:07 pm
  12. Here is the good book explaining the common misconception that dual-income families are financially better off.

    The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke

    Posted by Curt | May 8, 2008, 6:57 am

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