Is It Better for One or Both Parents to Work? – The Verdict Is In

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.

Finding Balance

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!

10 thoughts on “Is It Better for One or Both Parents to Work? – The Verdict Is In

  1. Pingback: Personal Finance Buzz
  2. This is a great synopsis of all the view points! And I agree that all are valid ones and you just have to find what works best with your family. I did want to touch on your question about the pressure of “having all your eggs in one basket” in terms of only having one income. I, actually, feel that it’s the other way around. If we were relying on two incomes and one of us lost our job, we’d be in a lot more trouble. If my husband lost his job tomorrow, I could always go out and work while he searched for another one. We have different skill sets and I feel strongly that one of us would be able to find work. I would not be able to find work at my husband’s income level, but I could find something that would pay the bills at least.

    Of course that being said, my husband does feel some pressure sometimes, but not from me! 🙂

    Also, my 3 yr old goes to a Parent’s Day Out program two days a week from 9am to 2pm. I know many parent’s who work part time during this time. Some have home businesses, others just flexible schedules or part time hours.

    Again, great post. It’s a hot topic and you handled it well. 🙂

    1. Thanks for addressing my curiosity! My wife and I are in nearly identical fields, so even though we are both working right now, our job security kind of moves up and down at the same pace. Scary!

      Parent’s Day Out goes along with what Ellen pointed out. I think it’s a great idea to get a few days to yourself every week – and an excellent way to find that “balance” in your life.

  3. Oh yeah, and thanks for highlighting my comments. Glad I could contribute to the conversation. 🙂

  4. Great to read everyone’s comments, and your thoughts.
    As you said there is no easy answer, for everyone there will be different priorities. The key is to be honest with yourself and know what is and is not working.

    I also want to mention how abysmal the US is in terms of parental leave. Really we are in the bottom of developed countries, it’s ridiculous!

    I’d love to see more options for parents for parental leave after the baby is born. I feel so badly for moms who are forced back into their workplaces so quickly when sometimes they are not ready to go back physically or emotionally. (not true of all mothers, I know some who were already back to work albeit from home or less hours when their babies were days or a week old!)

    In an ideal world parents would get some sort of financial support in the early days instead of having to go on unpaid leave and return within a certain number of days or weeks, and companies would offer flex hours, part time hours, or work from home hours so that new parents can maintain a career AND their sanity.

    1. You’re right – the US does lack in this area, and financial support would be great.

      That’s why I’m a bit proponent of AFLAC insurance products, because they make financial sense with the paid in-paid out comparison once we have a baby. They will help with a lot of the hospital costs and to extend maternity leave.

      A think a lot of workplaces DO have the option to go part time or flexible hours, but a combination of “worker guilt” and financial pressures sends moms back to work early. It’s unfortunate…

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