Last week, I asked you – my loyal readers, to weigh in on an important issue facing any new parents. The question was simple – “Is It Better for One or Both Parents to Work?” The answer was anything but straightforward.
Your comments debated both sides of the issue, and brought up viewpoints I hadn’t considered. As promised, I’ve featured most of your wonderful comments here and added my own thoughts.
Please consider reading more from those folks who left comments, with my personal thanks to all of them! I’ve placed links to their websites with their name.
The Financial Question
The issue of personal finance is probably at the top of the list when considering a stay-at-home arrangement. After all, it’s difficult to get by in life if you’re not making more than you spend.
The main consideration in this area is whether the additional money from a second income is worth:
- The effort of a second parent working a full-time job (less time at home, and as Mama Bird (MB) mentions – having to run around from errand to errand outside of work hours).
- Daycare expenses. Ellen, who grabbed the #1 comment spot, talked a little bit about the substantial costs that come with having someone else watch your children. Jason also added that the income his wife was bringing in was an even wash with the daycare costs.
- The additional tax burden.
- Health insurance considerations (Jason shared that his wife’s employer was providing all of the family’s health needs, and they needed to replace that with a new system).
- And, as Mama Bird points out – additional costs in eating out, fuel, work clothes, etc.
Mama Bird also points out an easy test she performed – together with her spouse, she simply banked her income and used it to buy one-time baby expenses. This is the simplest way to figure out if you can survive at all on one income, and an awesome way to save up a lot of “baby money” at the same time!
That’s much harder than the “pleasure” of going the other way – from one income to two as Kelly is considering. They’ve been living on one income since their children were born, and have done so successfully.
Of course, it’s rarely all or nothing. Ellen points out that many stay-at-home parents can easily handle a work-from-home job that brings in some side income without all of the additional expenses noted above.
An interesting viewpoint only few of you touched on indirectly is the idea of “placing your eggs in one basket.” When is that much pressure for income on one member of the family too much? And in times of economic crisis, when many jobs are no longer safe, is it considered too big of a gamble to rely on one source of sustenance?
The Career Question
Kathryn Katz began the discussion about the emotional needs of the parents, and the fulfillment that her career brought her personally. My comment back to her reiterated my viewpoint about her situation – building resentment against your family for “keeping you” from your career is the worst thing you can do (which she is not!).
Kelly, who started having kids at a young age, is now finding fulfillment and a little extra income through non-traditional approaches, like blogging (I certainly feel fulfilled!).
To Julie, working also brings a sense of fulfillment, not to mention the independence she gets from making her own income.
The Child Welfare Question
Any debate involving kids will of course eventually focus on the welfare of the child (isn’t that the whole point of this discussion? It was for me!).
Although all of us have financial and career considerations, many consider family to be priority #1, and do everything else they do for that one purpose.
Kathryn made an interesting observation about a one-income family, and one rarely talked about. She didn’t get to know her father until her late teens, because he was out working so much to support the non-working spouse and the kids.
Green Panda agrees – she says there’s more flexibility if both parents work, and bonus points is other family members (like grandparents) are involved in bringing up the kids.
Ellen made a point about one of the more obvious and sentimental considerations – missing all of your child’s “firsts” – everything from the steps to the sicknesses.
With many tough questions in life, the answer is never black and white, but somewhere in the gray. A lot of you gave helpful suggestions on how to achieve this balance while considering a stay-at-home situation.
As Baker from Man vs. Debt pointed out, neither answer to this question is superior to the other. In their own situation, they have adjusted their work arrangements based on other life circumstances as they prepare for their move to Australia.
One of my favorite suggestions came from Ellen, who contributed the idea of part-time daycare, and part-time work. This is great for those budgets that require just a “little bit more” to break even, and allows the stay-at-home parent to continue experiencing the social and personal achievement aspects of the workplace, but on a reduced scale.
Don’t think that “part-time” means bad. I’ve seen many high-level professionals achieve this arrangement with success.
Matt Jabs wrote about staying home as long as possible after the baby is born. This “extended maternity leave” is a good alternative for those parents that are pretty sure about their intent to go back to work after birth, but allows a long acclimation period to their new family member.
Another of my favorite comments came from Julie, who wrote about being able to see her baby at least two times every day! Finding a day care at (or near) your workplace can be a fantastic way to maintain that important family connection to some extent without sacrificing your day job.
So Many Things to Consider
When I started the debate last week, I expected to learn a lot of different viewpoints from everyone, but didn’t expect a clear-cut answer in the end. I was correct on both counts.
A decision of this magnitude has an effect on (and is affected by) every other part of your life – financially, emotionally, in relationships, commitment-wise, family values, life goals and priorities.
No two situations are the same, and what works for some of you may be the last thing from ideal for others.
I hope that we’ve all learned something from one another, as I know I have. Thank you all for sharing!