Is this a happy money story?

FullSizeRender-4There are many great reasons to choose to stay home with your kids. Achieving better personal finances, however, is generally not one of them. Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett has calculated that professional women lose 37 percent of their earning power, on average, by taking 3 or more years out of the workforce. To put some numbers on it: a 37 percent haircut on $100,000 takes you down to $63,000.

This is quite a hit. If your partner earns a spectacular amount of money, this wouldn’t matter. But in most families, that is not the case. And in some families, the female partner is better equipped to earn a good salary. So if she chooses to stay home, the family is making an even more consequential financial move.

The personal finance world is chock full of advice, and sometimes tough judgment, on people’s financial choices. Just try floating the idea of buying a new (not used) car. And yet when I read through the various literature while writing All the Money in the World a few years ago, I was surprised at how few personal finance gurus mentioned this topic — even though in terms of potential impact on long-term savings this dwarfs using or not using coupons.

Maybe people do not want to go there. It is a can of worms. The issue of short-term vs. long-term finances also complicates things. Childcare costs a lot, which may make it look like a short-term wash, though if you stay in the workforce, in general your salary will rise and your childcare costs will fall. Like choosing to go to college, this probably should not be a point-in-time calculation. But in any case, I was reminded of the widespread acceptance of this decision as I was reading Redbook’s May issue, which had a story on “How to be happier in money and marriage.”

The last profile chronicled the lives of an Iowa couple, Beth and Scott, who met as theology students. Beth was “an academic star, a much better scholar than me,” said Scott, and so they planned to “let her career dictate where we moved, and I’d do a larger share of the child care.” Beth got her dream job as a professor in Montana. But after their daughter was born, she decided that “leaving the baby every day, even for a few hours, was hard.” When she was pregnant with her second child, she told her husband that he needed to find a way to support the family. This came at an awkward time, as his dissertation was foundering. Beth responded by sending him job postings that, as he put it “no one was going to actually give me.”

Eventually Scott realized he could take a chaplain residency and someday get a job doing that. Of course, that meant they had to relocate and, with young kids, live on intern wages for a year. Having a normal professional life was stressful for Scott. An all-staff outing to a restaurant where he would need to spend $9 on an entree was happening while their family food budget for the week was $35.

But the profile portrays this as having a happy ending, because eventually they relocated again when he got a job at a hospital in Iowa. And though “finances are still tight,” they are “not as tight as they were.” They are living on one income, spending wisely so they can do a few things (like sign their daughter up for dance lessons).

In general, professors earn more than chaplains, though it is not an order of magnitude more. According to some Googling, a chaplain in the healthcare system where he works earns about $60,000. The average salary for a professor at the institution where she worked was $70,000 for 9 months (annualized, this would be like a $90,000 year-round salary – though not all professors wind up getting funding for summer work).

So is this a happy money story? The dollar figures may not matter much if either party is miserable. I am glad the family is happy, though I keep thinking that if Scott had planned to have a more chill life with less earning pressure on him and more time with his kids, then his wife’s decision to turn their lives upside down definitely had the effect of forcing him back into a traditional masculine role that he may not have wanted. It is an interesting thought experiment to try reversing the genders in this story, and then noting one’s reaction. A young couple moves so he can take a job as a tenure-track professor. She is still finishing up her dissertation, but making slow progress because she’s mostly staying home with their young daughter. Then, as she is expecting their second kid, he announces that he is done with this earning a paycheck thing, and she needs to figure out a way to support the family as soon as possible. It seems jarring. We could imagine her disorientation, and that she might not be very happy about what just happened, even if he sent her online job ads and talked about being proud of her for rising to the occasion.

In any case, I think that this is a complicated tale. A couple flirts with non-traditional roles for very practical reasons. But, like all of us, they live in the world as it is, where non-traditional roles are still seen as transgressive — the bad mom away from her kids during the day, the husband who must not be manly enough, because if he was, he would be supporting his family so his wife didn’t have to work. We all absorb these messages, and so the common feeling of missing your kids while you’re at work becomes a crisis, not a chance to say wow, isn’t it great that my awesome husband has this? And since mom staying home with the kids is seen as the way of the world, this doesn’t spark quite the backlash that other financial decisions would. Indeed, you might get to be profiled as a financial success.

I am curious what others think of how personal finance literature treats the decision to stay home.

59 thoughts on “Is this a happy money story?

    1. @sh – whoa. I was perfectly fine with the idea of not marginalizing stay-at-home parents (which is where I thought that essay was going) — but getting a tax credit of 150% of the median income seems designed to punish families where the second earner decides to work. I think he is confusing issues here.

  1. It was important to my husband that someone stay home with our children, and since he was older than I was and I had more earning potential over my career, we decided he would be the one to stay home. However, since we knew this is what we wanted we spent 2-3 years paying off debt and making it feasible for us to live on one income. That’s usually my beef with stories like these is that the couple makes this decision after the fact instead of being more purposefully when they’re both working. Now that my daughters are in school more regularly my husband is building up his side business as a home handyman – which he can do around the girl’s schedules. It is hard to be part of this gender reversal – there are things that I am still in charge of that really I feel should be his job; plus people do have some interesting comments at time.

    1. @Alissa- I think this mindfulness and planning is key. What was interesting about the Redbook story is that it sounded like this young couple had been making a very mindful decision based on their earning capacity — but then went hightailing it back to traditional gender roles after parenthood became a reality. It is not surprising, I suppose. As you note, people have all sorts of interesting assumptions and comments when things do not match the norm.

    2. People do have comments! When my husband asked his manager for a flexible schedule (compressed work week – 4 days) his manager (who had no children) spent a lot of time trying to convince him it would just be better to hire a nanny and have both of us work full time 😉

  2. I love my work. I definitely enjoy the lifestyle that my income affords our family. Many of my children’s friends moms are stay at home moms. I respect the choice, but several of them are not happy in their choice. They feel constricted and at a financial disadvantage. I know this is not the story with all SAHMs, but I know several that feel this way, but feel like they have to stay home. I’ve fielded the, “I just can’t leave my child at daycare,” comments, but when I talk about how much I like to work, how happy and fulfilled I am, the tone changes. It becomes more, “I hope to go back to work when the kids go to school.” (Of course not all, never all) I am usually quick to point out that if they are choosing to stay home, and are sure that’s what they want it’s a perfect time to complete a degree or education or training….

    1. “I respect the choice, but several of them are not happy in their choice. They feel constricted and at a financial disadvantage.”

      I have to ask the obvious: then why is she doing it? As a grown woman in modern-day America, she has choices. I searched my mind when I read this and literally could only think of two stay at home moms I know who do not also have some type of income-producing side gig that they’re passionate about. And most of my friend are also homeschooling, so it isn’t that they have large blocks of time during the day sans kids. The SAHM who is “just” a mom is an extinct species in my opinion.

      1. I would not say that the “just mom” SAHM is extinct. Maybe it’s a rural South thing, but there is substantial social pressure to do just that. I know of several and those are the ones that seem most unhappy with their choice. If they had a “side gig” I think they would be happier.

      2. I’ll agree with Jennie here — I live in the mid-South and I know lots of SAHMs with no side gig and several of them are pretty miserable. The decision to stay home seems to be based solely on the short-term calculation of “child care for two kids > wife’s current salary.”

      3. @Carrie- this was one of the most interesting findings from the Redbook survey I worked on (which hopefully will come out soon so I can write more about it!) There has been a huge move to side gigs. It’s a push-and-pull issue: stagnant male incomes, and then the availability of the on-demand economy makes it easier to turn time into money in some way that isn’t a full time job.

  3. We’ve done all combinations (I work, he works, we both work), though I guess we haven’t done “nobody works” except when I was on mat leave (that was a fun time though!).

    I wonder if this particular couple’s issue would have been solved by a longer maternity leave, like a year or more (paid or not). Personally, it was much easier for me to go back to work when kid #2 was 18 months, than with kid #1 at 5 months.

    At 18 months, I felt like she would really benefit MORE from daycare than being home with either of her introvert parents all day.

    I know someone who quit her job as a surgeon to stay home, and her husband is in a far less lucrative (and unstable) field. She is really happy at home, but the financial aspect is fascinating to me.

    1. I’m still working through this (I have a 7 month old at home and we are both working full time). I think your comments about longer maternity leave are spot on. I went back at 3 months, which in the planning phase seemed like an enormous amount of time to stay home. And I was eager to get back to work. But in reality, I wasn’t ready and she wasn’t ready. Physically I think I was still recovering (even though it was an easy birth!), emotionally and breastfeeding-wise I still needed to be close to her a lot, and it was also hard on baby girl as a 3 month old to be exposed to daycare germs. (It’s amazing how much more resilient she is at 7 months). My company doesn’t allow a part time transition back, but I think that would have been ideal for me. Because especially in those early months back, I had many desperate moments of: I need more time with my baby girl! This isn’t working! I’m wasting her babyhood spending time at work!

      Honestly, I still have those feelings sometimes. I am still considering the part-time option. Thankfully I have a supportive husband who keeps me grounded and focused. But I guess I’m just agreeing overall with your comments on most of us needing a longer maternity leave.

    2. ARC: I completely agree there is a need for a longer maternity-leave option! It is fascinating how we are all so different. Some women are absolutely ready to get out of the house and get back to work after 5-6 weeks. Some need longer… I found the idea of leaving my baby absolutely terrifying (the thinking part was worse than the actual “doing” part – I went back to work 12 weeks after my first child was born, and while I was agonizing over it endlessly, it all worked out ). When the kids get to be around 1 – it is like a switch is flipped in the depths of my brain, and I am emotionally ready to be separate from them and to get back into working full-time. With my second and third child and went back to work after 15 and 18 months, respectively… it worked much better for me. I don’t know what is actually better for the kids, since 1-2 year-olds tend to have stranger anxiety and it might be harder for them to get used to going to daycare (it took about 2 weeks before my younger kids stopped screaming at drop-off). Some workplaces allow up to 1 year leave-of-absence, but there are no guarantees that the job will still be there. I do wish there were more options… A one-size-fits-all parental leave policy (whether it is 6 weeks or 3 years) is not going to work here.

      1. My company recently made some changes to their mat leave policy – they made the entire 20 weeks unpaid (at first it was 12 paid + optional 8 unpaid), and you can take some part of that (maybe 8 weeks) either all at once, or piecemeal, or later (split into 2 large chunks). You can also use some of it to come back part-time for a while and then transition to full time. Great changes, but for me, even the generous (for the US) 20 weeks didn’t feel like “enough”.

  4. Wow, very interesting. Although, one of my first thoughts was post partum depression. How did she go from being a professor in her dream job, to not wanting to leave her child for more than a few hours? Especially when they had made a plan to follow her career earlier on. It seems so jarring– which having a child/children can be, but wow. and I wonder how strong the gender role pressures affected these decisions.
    I am glad they made it work.

    1. Because for some women, everything changes when they have a baby. I think for some women, leaving their young infant behind for several hours a day just feels wrong. It doesn’t mean they’re depressed or that they lack ambition. I’m one of those women who could never even use a babysitter until my child was well into toddlerhood. I don’t know why women differ in this way, but I had a strong need to be near my baby. I know I sacrificed financially because of this choice, but I don’t regret that.

      1. Carrie, I think you are right on. I had a dream corporate job before having my kids, but when they came I found so much more fulfillment and joy taking care of them than I ever felt at work. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I wonder what I’m doing (usually during a diaper blowout or while cleaning up Candyland for the 18th time in a day). But there are so many moments of happiness being with my kids that I can’t imagine missing if I had farmed them out and kept working. I feel very lucky to have a husband who can support our family and truly feel that no career is more important than this.

        1. @Michelle- These things as either/or. I get a lot of contentment from my work and from my children too. That’s pretty much the theme of this blog. There is plenty of time for both.

          1. I wonder, Laura, how much of your contentment comes from having a career that you “own” (that also feels meaningful). Working for a company, today, can sometimes feel as though you are investing in building something for someone else. Given that people change jobs and careers so frequently these days, I think there is sometimes a question of why someone would make such a big sacrifice (going back to work before they feel ready) when they may not reap the rewards of their efforts (sure, they stay in the labor force and can transition to another job more easily, but do they really get to “take” all of the capital they’ve built in their current work?).
            When my first was born, I left my job. I did so because, even though I liked that job, I saw little opportunity to reap the rewards of further investment and so it seemed like it was time to move on. After taking a year off, I went back to school to pursue a phd. (I’m not sure this was a smart financial move, but at least I am investing in myself and can take my efforts with me as I move on from here).
            For my friends who run their own companies, I see great value in working while raising babies/small children. For some of my other friends who work in their middle-management corporate jobs, I often wonder what they will get out of all of their work five-ten years in the future. Will it have been “worth” it to work full time through their children’s childhoods? (and by the way, I feel equally concerned about the men I know who are toiling away in middle management jobs).

            This is why I think the financial calculation is even more complex than you’ve presented it. It is not simply a matter of maximizing lifetime earning potential, but of investing in one’s own transferable career capital. If you’re working for yourself, then this is an easy calculation to make. However, if you are working for someone else, then it might be that in fact taking a pay cut is worthwhile if it offers an opportunity to “own” your career down the line. Because, in my mind, actual earnings (above a threshold) matter less than long term stability, flexibility and growth potential. You can always adjust spending to accommodate an income loss (above a threshold, of course), but you cant’ get back years of working for someone else rather than investing in yourself.

            In addition, there is the issue of “meaningfulness”. If your work feels meaningful in its own right (because you are helping people, or developing something new or contributing to an important cause) then the effort spent at work can feel worthwhile, no matter how much you make and what personal sacrifices you make. However, if you’re work is, at the end of the day, contributing to profit generation for the company, or increasing billable hours for partners, then perhaps it feels less worthwhile to make a personal sacrifice, no matter the pay.

            Call me a jaded millennial, but these are the sorts of calculations/considerations I am making as I navigate the career/child care choices I have/am facing.

      2. An interesting question would also be what if I Dad feels the same way about leaving their child? What would a couple do if both the Mom and the Dad suddenly want to be a full-time stay at home parent?

        1. Then I suppose that, being adults who are married, they would work this out.

          But let’s get real. Does anyone know a dad who feels this way? Most men, even the best dads, are not as affected by the birth of their children as their wives are. Their instincts generally tell them to nurture and protect the family and provide financially, whereas moms generally want to breastfeed and cuddle and count baby toes.
          Men and women are different. Equals, but different. I don’t think we can ignore biology. My husband changes a lot of diapers, but he never smells the poo until the diaper is open. LOL. I am the one who wakes *just before* the baby vomits. And so on. Hormonally and biologically we’re different. I think that more men than ever are waking up to the mistakes their dads made in not being as hands-on with childrearing, and that’s great.
          Another consideration is breastfeeding. The stats show that higher income, educated women are more likely to breastfeed, giving their baby an IQ boost and lifelong health advantages, yet most workplaces make frequent pumping nearly impossible, and pumping itself is hard and typically leads to earlier weaning due to dropping supply.

          1. I don’t agree. My husband is by far the more hands on with baby/toddlers. My strengths lie in school age and beyond. Had my career awarded the opportunity he would gladly have stayed home. I pumped and worked. I love my children and enjoy my time with them, but I love my work too. Being able to have a career I love has produced the best outcome for our family.

      3. @Carrie- I think Byrd and ARC raise an interesting point about longer maternity leaves. Some people who feel they can’t do it at 3 months could do it at, say, 12 months. That would be difficult for a lot of businesses to accommodate, but an academic institution has people go on sabbatical for a year so they are familiar with the concept.

      4. +1 to this. I am one of those women whose career priority shifted when I had my first child and it totally caught me off-guard. I spent my entire time after mat leave with #1 figuring out how I could stay home.

        I did make it happen after baby #2, and it was really great, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat, except the financial stress of going to 50% income and shift from essentially equal parenting to un-equal parenting was not cool for us.

        I like my job a lot and find it fun and challenging but it’s definitely a lower priority than making sure I have the home/personal life I want. But I definitely do like having the financial flexibility and less stress that 2 incomes provides.

        1. People can plan but you can have a change of heart. The important thing is to make another well-though out plan before acting.

          I am another primary breadwinner, now sole breadwinner, for whom priorities really shifted after having my first child. At first, going back to work, after 5 months of leave, was incredibly emotionally difficult. I did not have postpartum depression — far from it, it was the happiest time of my life. And I had always been ambitious. I returned part-time, and felt only partially mentally present at work.

          At some point, when my daughter was 18 months, I realized my attitude was the worst of both worlds — denying her time by working and making her financial future less steady by not working the hell out of the hours I was present.

          Eventually, I regained my career traction, and am on a good work path and enjoy most of my work (an advantage of seniority).

          However, my kids are 6 and 8, and I still feel the pull to be with them more. This really can’t be attributed to cultural forces — not certainly in the way it’s done in this post. I don’t want to be home because of ingrained notions of motherhood. I want to be home more because there is so much more joy and love at home than work. My husband, who first scaled back his job and then left to spend more time at home, also feels this. Some of our fiercest disagreements are over who gets to spend more time at home with the kids.

          It’s too easy and pat to attribute Beth’s change of heart to cultural narrative. However, her actions are something else. You have to plan much more before leaving the work force.

  5. My husband was lucky enough to be able to take ten weeks paid paternity leave after I finished up my twelve week maternity leave. I found it so interesting that I never felt uncomfortable taking the baby out during those months. It felt perfectly normal.

    He said he always felt that people assumed he was unemployed which why he was home with the baby. Because the general assumption seemed to be that the only reason a man would be home from work with an infant would be because he couldn’t find a job. Sad, but true.

  6. I guess what rubs me the wrong way about that story is that work is optional for the wife but mandatory for the husband? So yes, they are reverting to those traditional gender roles.

    I guess I’ve never thought of work as optional. My mom has always been the primary earner and my dad has been self-employed (with good and bad years). I can’t imagine saying to my husband, ‘You know how we built our life on the assumption that we would both work? About that, I’ve changed my mind, it’s all on you, babes’.

    No kids yet but I can’t imagine changing course so dramatically particularly after the blood, sweat and tears of building an academic career.

    1. yes, I think that was such a big part of my shock too, in reading this– I can’t, so you have to. It just seemed as if the wife had become a completely new person at the birth of her child. I think one of the overwhelming feelings I had after I had my daughter was how much I was still the same person. I thought I would feel slightly different after becoming a mom, but like all things we do not all experience things the same way.

    2. I read this article too, and one sentence jumped out at me. At one point Beth said (roughly paraphrased) “my mom stayed home with us growing up and I always thought I would do that too.”

      I find that explains a lot, although maybe she didn’t realize that until after she had children. I have a friend who’s mother stayed home with them growing up, and she seems frustrated now with the idea that she has to work instead of staying home with her child. I grew up with a mother who worked full time and always expected that I would also work.

  7. After reading the comments here, I wonder how much of the couple’s decision to revert to traditional roles has to do with a reaction to extreme stress. Having children is stressful – I’m not saying in a negative way, but there are lots of changes and new things to figure out and pressures – and it’s pretty normal to turn to the familiar when you’re under stress. It’s a way of reducing decision making and cognitive load, or at least seeming to – I definitely don’t think the result of this couple’s decision was less stress, but I can kind of squint and maybe see how it could seem like it.

    I ended up staying home because my career (public libraries) was pretty incompatible with small children and no family support and a husband with incredibly unreliable hours (and who’s gone for months at a time) and frequent moves (every 1-3 years). I could have made it work, but chose to change careers instead – which is not the same thing as staying home, but definitely has reduced my earnings. It’s been 6 years (!) and they’re just now starting to come back close to where they were when I started as a librarian (not where they were when I left). And that’s really not much. But the potential is there, and I would have hit an earnings ceiling because the frequent moves limited my advancement possibilities – and now I don’t have that ceiling. But if I had any choice, I think it would be to stay put and have a more linear, traditional career path.

  8. It’s interesting to me how no one has really mentioned this, but it seems that this Redbook couple made a really poor financial — and possibly personal — decision to switch roles. One of the things that I feel is emphasized on this blog (moreso than others) is the “flexibility” of the job — in ADDITION to the “paycheck”.

    She was a professor. As was pointed out, that’s a 9-month gig (if you lay out summers, and most of the time, it’s completely optional). And even when she’s working, it’s NOT like it’s a traditional 9-to-5. She could structure her classroom hours and her office hours so she has increased blocks of time that she could be at home with the baby — or have hubby bring the baby to her (if it was an unusually long commute) — so she could have extra bonding time with the baby.

    Instead, they ripped dad away from the baby and threw him in a full-time workforce for much less pay, putting their financial lives in a worse position, too. (Chaplains are also “on call” 24/7 — unlike any professors I’ve heard of.)

    My wife is a professor — and I am jealous of her flexible schedule. She gets paid 12 months of the year, but only has to work 9. That would likely be worth it even if the numbers were reversed: he made $70K and she “only” made $60K.

    I grew up in a very “traditional” home, with my father as the main (and often only) breadwinner. So when I married, I always wanted to have a job that would allow the same for my wife — and I [partially] delayed getting married until then. But I am not bull-headed enough to say that if she had wanted to be the major/only breadwinner that I would have balked at even the thought. It would be her CHOICE, though. My goal was to give her that option.

    I think this couple made that decision and then [she] had a knee-jerk reaction once the child was born. He went with it, which I have to commend him for, but I think he should have pushed back harder and had them both consider ALL of the options. Her employment was not only the best fiscally, it was the best lifestyle-wise, too. I think they really did a disservice to themselves.

    1. @Eric J – thank you for this. I agree that the original set-up had a lot going for it financially, and in terms of lifestyle. All it required is that they be comfortable with non-traditional roles. But apparently that proved hard, and so they put themselves in a probably tougher situation with less going for it (but it is traditional roles!)

    2. Good points on the flexibility of being a professor. The chain of events really has me scratching my head wondering if there wasn’t more going on in the background. Problems at the school, with other faulty, or maybe even the realization that possibly she just did not want to be a professor and used parenthood as her get out of school card? These comments are just as fun as Laura” post!

      1. I also wonder if there was more going on in the background. I’ve been a graduate student for the past five years and I’ve been in two different departments in that time. One was lovely, well managed, collegial, collaborative, etc. The professors were all very happy (even though many worked long hours — professors in competitive academic departments may have flexibility, but they usually work more than a standard 40 hours work week, not less). The department also had lots of resources because it was in a business school. The other department was the opposite — poorly managed, hierarchical, with no collaboration or collegiality at all. A number of professors in this department left, but a few stayed on because they had spouses with jobs that couldn’t easily be transferred. So, they were fairly miserable and felt unappreciated and underpaid (this was not a business school). The point is, perhaps Beth’s department was horrible and she hated going to work. Though professors work fairly independently, they are not immune from office politics or even manipulative class scheduling (yes, professors who caused the administration trouble in my department often got stuck with the 8 am MWF class slot, while others got their requests to have TTh classes). Once you are in a terrible department, it can be easy to get down on the entire academic bureaucracy and decide you want out.

        Or, on the other side, perhaps she was getting close to the tenure decision point and knew she wouldn’t get it. Lots of people get ousted from academia at that time in their career. Some move on to lesser schools, but if she had decided she didn’t really like research pressure at that point, AND she wanted to be home more with the kids, I can see how she might decide to opt out of this career track she had been on.

        I agree with others who have commented on the fact that it seems unfair to throw the earning responsibility on her husband, BUT, she might feel like she’s put in her time supporting the family and it is his turn now. This is the case in my family. My husband has been very clear that he is waiting for me to finish my degree so that I can become the primary earner and then he plans to step back some (or maybe entirely — he loves the idea of being a stay-at-home dad).

        1. My husband wishes he could stay home with the kids : )
          he purely works for a paycheck, luckily its a decent one. I work too, my benefits are good but its just a job. I would love to have a career and that has been my struggle before, and now, after kids. I want to work, but I want to make a difference with what I do and I really crave a sense of accomplishment.

  9. I guess in a way I am lucky. My husband enjoys being at home. While he works a traditional 40 hour job, he does “sick kid” duty and often he is the one at home while I am working. I am the primary earner, but we manage to play to our strengths. He’s great at baths and bed times and I am great with serious talks and problem solving. In a lot of ways, our roles are reversed even though we both work.

    1. Jennie Evans, this comment makes me smile. What a great example of team work, isn’t that one of the benefits of having a good partner : )
      you are lucky, but even better- you know you are, and that is priceless!

  10. I can identify with the couple in the Redbook story. When we first started having kids, my husband was working in a ministry job and I needed to keep working for benefits. Shortly after our first was born my husband decided to go back to school and so I continued to work mostly full time and he worked part time as well. I never planned to be a full-time working mom but found myself in a growing career. It was hard for me to be away from my babies, especially when they were little, but more so I struggled with the social narrative that the woman “should” be the one at home. I also struggled with the lack of friends who were in the same situation as I was. When my husband graduated with a ministry degree we had two little ones and me giving up my professional career to stay at home wasn’t financially doable. So my husband became the stay-at-home parent, I was able to be more at peace knowing my babies were with my husband and he was doing a great job. I also had flexibility with my work that allowed me to work at home some during the early months with each child and to reduce my hours in the first months after 6 week maternity leave. 9 years later and with my fourth child now 18 months I am grateful to have a career I really enjoy, financial stability, and a beautiful family life. Its not easy…life never is, but it is good.

    There were many points where i wanted to pull the “I’m not supporting us anymore…you go back to work” card, but I never felt like that would be fair. My husband and I had to work through ( and still do) division of labor, how we are feeling about our roles, and get creative about getting each others needs met. As a family with non-traditional roles, there are definitely challenges, especially as it relates to play dates (does he hang out with other women?) and school involvement (no, he’s not the Room Mom, rather the Room Parent). The journey our family has taken to get here has been a long one, but right now it feels like its working well, for which I’m grateful.

    1. Also, I wanted to let you know I really appreciate your blog and the discussion you have here. I don’t often post, but look forward to reading regularly. Also loved hearing you on SortaAwesome podcast recently!

  11. I understand Beth’s change in heart, but cannot agree with the decision that she made. Marriages are supposed to be about compromise. Scott’s whole life got turned upside down because she changed her priorities.

    I went through something similar after having my kids. The plan was always for me to be the breadwinner (with my graduate degree). My husband supported me during school, working hard in a factory with his high school education. After having children, I arrived at a similar epiphany that work was all wrong for me and I wanted more of a focus on my family. But here’s the thing – see all of the “I” in my previous sentence. Those desires were all about me. My family needs me to work. We have debt and there are still student loans to repay from my advanced education. Instead of just shifting everything to my husband, we (together) created a new plan for our lives. We are going to semi-retire (both of us) in about six years, once our finances are fixed.

    In the meantime, we’re making the best of our situation. The little ones go to daycare three days per week – with one day at home with Daddy and one day for me to work from home (Grandma helps and I make up some of that day’s time at night or on the weekend).

    Ultimately, I think Beth and Scott could have reached a better, more-balanced solution with a some long-term planning.

  12. I think if this were framed as a typical personal finance story the end would go more like this: Beth has second baby, the couple adopts a radically frugal lifestyle and she retires early. It’s always okay to quit your job – even if it makes no financial sense – if you are “retiring early”. In that case, people would be lining up to see how they only spent $35 each week on groceries rather than lamenting that… man… it must be tough to get by on $35 per week on groceries.

    I also wonder if there wasn’t more going on with the job thing than is presented in the article. Like there was a really bad fit at the school or she was denied (or didn’t think she would get) tenure.

    I, too, had a hard time returning to work after my 2nd kid was born and it had 95% to do with the fact that I needed a career change. I couldn’t quit after #1 because my DH was a grad student at the time, but once he had a good job, the calculus was much different. I wasn’t just quitting to be a SAHM (I actually still work remotely for my old employers on a project basis) but to explore other career options. Had I loved my job, it would have been a different story.

    I also agree with ARC and others who mention that limited maternity time can be tough on some people. Now that my littlest is 18-months-old and will go to preschool in the fall, I’m looking forward to building my business, which is NOT something I would have said a year ago.

    1. So true about “retiring early” 🙂 Also, the frugality aspect of it is such a personal thing – whether you want to take on that challenge of living on one income and doing without things you wouldn’t have given a second thought to if both partners were earning. I’m guessing some people are more inclined to that kind of lifestyle.

  13. Other people mentioned longer maternity leave, and I think that is a big part of it. It’s funny, though–I almost never see 6 month maternity leave mentioned as an option. A cobbled-together 12 weeks, often with some unpaid time in there, is the current norm in the US, but many people say they would be happier with a full year (which I believe Canada and the UK get, with pay). I think six months would be reasonable and more feasible for most businesses, especially if working from home was an option for part of that. It also seems to me (although I don’t have children yet) that the hormones have calmed down a bit and it’s much easier to drop a six-month-old off at daycare.

    I also think daycare is another part of the issue–they should be better, more available (one thing I hear from friends is how difficult it is to get an infant into daycare), and more affordable.

    I mentioned this in reply to another comment above, but I read the same story and noticed that Beth said something along the lines of “my mother stayed home with us so I always thought I would stay home with my kids.” I think that’s an important point–if your kids grow up with a parent at home, they may expect to not work if they are women or feel the pressure to earn more to support a wife and kids if they are men. I have a friend whose mother stayed home with her and her siblings and she seems frustrated with having to work. I grew up with two parents who worked full time and just expected that I would, too.

  14. Its an interesting story of a family making things work, but quite dubious as a personal finance success story. While yes, I do understand that anyone can have a change of heart after any major life event (I refuse to limit this to “motherhood changes everything!”) I also wonder how much cultural pressure led to these decisions. I agree that if roles were reversed, many would not see Scott in a positive light for basically forcing a career change and life change on her.
    I agree with the comment above about the potential of flexibility in Beth’s job and whether or not she was taking full advantage of it. Is this another instance of quitting too soon, when everything is in flux, and not waiting for life to settle down?
    I am really disappointed by the comments above about “farming out” kids.

    1. eh, I suppose some people who have not used daycare, nannies, or pre-schools may see childcare in a negative light. I would have to guess that would be a cultural view. But as someone who has had to use day-care, I could tell that commenter that my children are better off for having that experience and those care givers in their lives. In fact their pre-school day care is so much more diverse and educational than any situation at home would have been. And I did stay home for 2 yrs. Hooray for the mom or dad that can stay home with their family. And Hooray for the working 2 parent families that choose good quality care for their children.

      1. +1 to this. Toddler daycare is the best thing that I never knew we needed for our girls. (Not to mention #2 was entirely potty trained at daycare 6 months before I was even going to think about it!) I suspect a lot of people don’t know what they’re missing when it comes to high quality group care.

        I remember reading an article about Denmark, where it is expected that you send your toddler to group childcare even if you don’t work – that culturally they recognize parents need a break for a few hours a day and kids do well in such a setting, too.

        1. @ARC – I always marvel when I hear or see someone refer to “baby prison.” If prison were like the daycare we sent our oldest to, people would be scrambling to get in, and employers would be lining up to hire people on the way out.
          The only similarity between the childcare center and actual prison is probably the cost.

          1. I think the perception comes from the fact that there is so much low-quality childcare, or the really good childcare is $$$$. When I checked 3 years ago, infant care (< 1 year old) at the center we sent our older child to as a toddler was $2500 per month for ONE KID. I can see how most people wouldn't be able to afford that and would have to choose something with lower quality.

            We pay less than that now for 2 kids in full time Montessori school. It would be super cool if we could get something like public school for daycare – where everyone was guaranteed a spot, low-to-no cost and a bar for quality.

  15. As for the story above, I understand the desire to stay home. I felt it. It was painful leaving to go to work, but I also know the draw of my career. I didn’t become a new person when I had a child (and ultimately 3 of them), I became 2 conflicting halves at times, but I was still the same person. What works for one doesn’t work for another. We live on the cusp of a wonderful time when traditional roles do not always have to apply. I am blessed to live in such a setting where my partner is ready and able to diaper and feed and read the story for the 10th time. I’m the mom who enjoys reading novels with my children and discussing them. I’m the one who has “the talk” even with my sons. My husband remembers tooth fairy money and who hates tomatoes. I’m the disciplinarian and the blow out birthday extravaganza person. I don’t feel like I “farmed” any one out and at this stage am (almost) oblivious to the “mommy guilt” I once wore like a badge on my tailored power suit lapel. My children are becoming fantastic young adults who I am excited to know and who I think will be leaders in the world! Parenting as a team is about just, that being a team. If one member is feeling miserable, the team doesn’t function. While I think her leave could have been better planned, if this worked for them; it worked for them. It’s not my reality or my team.

    1. ‘My children are becoming fantastic young adults who I am excited to know and who I think will be leaders in the world! ‘ Amen to that!
      Isn’t that the main goal? to raise responsible, interesting, kind people who will make a difference in the future? That’s half my battle daily- what do I let go and chalk up to childhood, and what do I break down and explain and enforce to my 3 & 5 yr old. I feel like my mind is constantly spinning.

      1. I’ll be honest I was never the best at the little baby/kid stuff. I hugged and loved and did what needed to be done, but born with the patience to read Goodnight Moon a hundred times I was not! (This may be why I started reading CS Lewis to them when they were 4)But I can not tell you how amazing it is when they make a decision based on principles you have taught them. When you see them in action or receive a compliment on something they have done that you had no idea about. I learned a long time ago, i am not a perfect mom, but I am the one they got. Trying to live up to someone else’s expectations of what motherhood should be was making me miserable. So enjoy those babies. Go with your gut and I promise if you are happy they will be too!

        1. Yes, yes, yes! it is those outer expectations that can put so much pressure on a mother who ,already has her own expectations on how she is going to be a mother. Go with your gut is such good advice!

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