The grass, being always greener on the other side of the fence, led me at many times throughout my career to feeling envious of stay-at-home-moms in my neighborhood. I went back and forth weighing the pros and cons of quitting my executive career and taking on the luxurious role of the suburban stay-at-home-mom. There are many considerations to evaluate to be sure that you are prepared for that leap from employee to stay-at-home-parent. I find it easiest to break down the decision into it’s parts.
First, lets look at it based on an income perspective. For some people, it is a simple decision. For some people, it is not even close to being an option. And for some, there are substantial lifestyle changes to think about. In the case of a couple where there is a sales executive earning $300,000 annually and a spouse who is a office administrator earning $40,000, there is not a significant financial risk for the lesser earning spouse to stay home. In homes with many children and an income that barely affords food, shelter, medical costs and transportation, the decision is easy, because it really is not an option. Where it becomes a more complicated decision is when both parents have made it far enough in their careers so there is a substantial income loss if either person stops earning money. This circumstance forces the parents to look at other considerations to make a sound decision. Two things to think about here: First, from my experience, when the parenting and appointment driving etc becomes less “shared,” the parent continuing to earn income is likely to focus more energy on the job and earn more. Second, there is no way to calculate the value of what you gain in terms of the benefits.
Second, let’s consider the benefits to the family of having a parent at home. There are benefits, to be certain. However, it is important to avoid thinking the average stay at home parent will suddenly send allot more time with the kids. School goes every day until at least 3pm in most parts of the country. And after school, there are often activities. So, maybe there is an extra 1 to 1 1/2 hours of potential additional interaction with the kids per day. Giving up 9 hours per day at the office might only free up 1 1/2 hours with the kids. In our case, we gained no time at home with our daughters, since they were typically not home until around 7 after their various sports practices. So, when thinking about time with the kids, be careful not to over estimate the benefit.
Another thing to evaluate are the benefits of being available all of the time to your family. This is usually a big win for everyone involved. When the kids need to get to the doctor, you can just take them. If groceries are needed, they can be grabbed on the way to pick everyone up from school. Everything is easier if there is someone at home managing the day to day.
And finally, a question that can not be ignored. Are you prepared to not have co-workers every day and not get regular feedback, assuring you that your work makes a difference. This can often be a difficult piece of the transition. As you make your plans to stay at home, it is worth lining up some casual responsibilities outside the house once your new lifestyle begins. Maybe volunteer for a school board role or something like that. I struggled with my transition at first. I was actually frustrated because the only feedback I got every day involved how I make bad grilled cheese sandwiches and buy the wrong kind of milk. Then I signed up for too many things outside the house. It took some time before I got a sense of balance.
It is never easy to make a decision that impacts family income. Will you feel like you aren’t earning your keep? Will you feel like you can’t buy new underwear? Could you really give up that 15 to 20 year investment in career advancement? Will you find friends? Will your kids value your presence? Here is the great thing. You can always go back and work somewhere else. Nothing is forever. And your kids probably won’t be home forever either.