7 Things to Consider Before Becoming a Stay-at-Home Parent

by Chris Birk on 8 September 2011 8 comments
Photo: tienvijftien

A couple friends have recently cast off the shackles of the working world to embrace the role of stay-at-home parent.

Walking away from any full-time salary in this economy is a tough decision. Scores of parents haven't had the luxury of choice because of layoffs, downsizing, and the overall fiscal turmoil.

So far, the decision is proving a rewarding one for our friends, but they certainly debated the merits and quality-of-life considerations long before taking the plunge. Here's a look at some of the major fiscal, social, and familial factors they took into account. (See also: Why Stay-at-Home Dads Are Good for Families via Parenting Squad)

1. The Single Salary Budget

It's the obvious starting (and possibly ending) point. The most important question surrounding becoming a stay-at-home parent is whether your family can truly afford living on one salary. Before becoming a stay-at-home parent, make sure to adequately plan for the reduction in income. Make sure that your family is able to maintain the same quality of life they are used to while also having adequate income to save for retirement. Honest budgeting and realistic expectations regarding necessities and wants are key.

2. Having a Safety Net

If the employed spouse becomes injured, terminated, or laid off, will your family be able to support itself until your spouse finds work again? Unless your family is able to support itself for six months without a salary, becoming a stay-at-home parent may not be a good option. A sudden job loss could leave your family in a tough financial spot.

3. Adequate Communication

While one parent is working and the other is staying at home, it is very easy for resentment to build between spouses. One or both may feel taken advantage of, and it is often common for the stay-at-home spouse to feel neglected. Before you decide to stay-at-home, it's a good idea to thoroughly discuss how you will manage the change and how you plan on keeping the lines of communication open. Also plan to make several changes to accommodate the different schedules and remain flexible.

4. Actual Savings

While you may be saving money on child care and gas by choosing to stay at home with the kids, you may spend more money on utilities, food, and activities. Trying to entertain children at home may also prove to be more expensive as you may have to purchase new toys or plan for daily outside activities. Actually sit down and calculate the current expenses you have at the office and those you can expect to have while staying at home.

5. Social Outlets

Staying at home instead of going to the office can bring about strong feelings of isolation and lacking social connections. Before becoming a stay-at-home parent, make plans for maintaining an adequate social life. Also keep in mind that having to create a social life outside of the office can be more expensive. Instead of being able to have lunches in the meeting room with coworkers to fulfill social needs, you may now have to enroll in enrichment activities or plan to eat out more.

6. Career Prospects

While most parents choose to become stay-at-home parents during their childen's younger years, many desire to return to the working world once their children are older. Being out of the workforce for numerous years can decrease the likelihood of securing a job in the future, and parents who choose to stay home need to consider whether they would be comfortable about being in a lower position or not obtaining one at all in the future.

7. The Effects on Children

While many parents believe that staying at home with their children can be more beneficial for their children, it can actually be detrimental. Day care provides children with a great way to learn to be social and how to function well in group settings. When children are kept at home, they can be deprived of socialization unless a parent sets up frequent social experiences such as play dates or trips to the park.

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Guest's picture
Brie R.

For anyone considering becoming a stay-at-home parent, I'd also recommend giving it a trial run first by finding a job that allows you a more flexible schedule, like part-time or set your own hours. That way, you can slowly settle into your new role instead of jumping in and being overwhelmed. And you might find that staying at home and having a part-time job is the right balance for you. I started working as a part-time freelance writer last summer and absolutely love my job (I work for www.FlexJobs.com and my role has gradually transitioned into more of a full-time position over the year). A bunch of my coworkers are parents who work either full or part-time from home, so they are able to maintain their careers AND spend more time with their family.

Guest's picture
Guest

This article is spot on, but I'd suggest readers consider two more things: 1) how to allocate housework duties so that neither parent ends up resentful, and 2) budgeting for retirement savings during the time one parent stays at home.

I am also a big believer in dads having equal opportunity to stay home. My husband was home with our kids for a year during a career transition, and it made a huge difference in the quality of his relationship with them.

Guest's picture

My wife is a stay-at-home mom. It's something that we had discussed and agreed upon even before we got engaged. So the transition was pretty easy, as, from the very beginning of our 'financial marriage' we made sure to budget and plan as if her income wasn't there. Then, when it wasn't, we were pretty well OK. Though it has gotten more and more squeezed over the past couple of years simply for the fact that raises haven't happened and health care costs have gone up higher than I had ever anticipated. Still, we don't regret our decision at all!

Guest's picture
Kathy

Not only do you really need to plan for retirement as a stay at home parent. You must investigate what to do if you become dissabled. If you have not paid into Social Security for the last 10 years, you just may be out of luck as I found out to late. You must have made the majority of payments in the last 10 years not the first years. Yes you can self pay when you do your annual taxes. Wishing you better luck than I have had. Resurch and plan carefully.

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Elah

I agree with most everything in your post. The first six points my husband and I worked through when we made the decision for me to become a stay-at-home mom 13 years ago. At first, I experienced tremendous difficulty adjusting to the isolation, but in time, I discovered new peer groups. I would also like to add that the rewards extravagantly outweigh the drawbacks. I began this path unsure if I was truly suited for it, and 13 years later, I KNOW that I wouldn't want any other person (aside from my husband) to have as much influence in my children's lives than I. I am the best person suited for this job, as is each parent who makes the decision be the number one influencer and leader of their children. The one item upon which I disagree: daycare isn't truly a beneficial place for children. There aren't enough adults to go around, so competition is fierce, and nothing is more educational for a child than a mother or father reading to and interacting with her or his child. As for learning to behave in a group setting, the family is the optimal structure for that type of learning, unless by "learning how to behave in a group" you mean "survival of the fittest," rather than learning compassion, courtesy, respect, which are best taught by parents. At least, this has been my observation. My sister works in a daycare, and while she does her job well, and her heart is full of love for her kids, she can never provide for these children what their own parents can provide. Now that walking through life beside my eldest is nearly over, I wonder if I will find any other work as deeply fulfilling or gratifying as seeing my baby become a beautiful adult, and I'm so grateful that I stuck with it even when times were tough. Especially that I stuck with it when times were tough.

Guest's picture
Guest

My husband and I discussed this 19 years ago. I quit my job and have enjoyed raising my children. The day we decided, I gave all my concerns to God and asked Him to
take care of us. He has. At times it was difficult, but we managed.

My resolve also was to not be a housewife, but be my children's primary teacher.
I worked with them in all aspects of their education, never relying on their teachers.

I am very thankful to God and my husband to be able to have been an at home mom and raise wonderful children.

Guest's picture
Taryn

Could you offer any research or evidence for that last sweeping claim that day care kids are better socialized and kids with a stay at home parent are experiencing a "detrimental" effect? I hear people claim this all the time, but I've yet to see any convincing data on it. And, of course, we all know socially adept kids who were raised by a stay at home parent and shy kids who were raised at dare care (and vice versa). I would think personality plays a huge role in this, most likely the major role.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have to say I COMPLETELY DISAGREE with the food costing more when you're a SAHP. I've never heard anyone say that, only the complete opposite. When you're home you cook at home 10 times more than when you work full time! Cooking at home means money saved!!!! And business meetings and socializing at lunch? Socialize before or after lunch or have someone over for lunch. So much cheaper.

Also, children who stay home with a parent are not unsocialized. Very rare does a parent stay home all the time! I know I go to a playgroup and a playground and at least 2 walks a day, every single day! I find children who are raised at home much more well-balanced then any daycare child. The daycare children I see at the school are usually the ones in trouble at school probably due to neglect.

And lastly, well this article is great, what about the fact that a lot of times, there is no choice but to stay home!!! Working full time $1200.... Daycare was $900... so $300 (plus extra gas and extra food costs as we had take out more) was all I made... and that was with ****1**** kid at home. Why would I miss my child's life to work my butt off for next to no money.