The Type of Stay-At-Home Parent You Are Makes All The Difference

A lot of families make the conscious decision to have one parent stay at home with the children while they’re young while the other one heads off to work in order to earn money for the family.

This setup can work really well. Some families thrive with this setup, discovering that they have plenty of money to take care of their needs while also living a very fulfilling family life.

It also can turn into a complete disaster. The stay-at-home parent is stressed out and the finances remain very problematic.

The difference, from my own experience and from what I’ve observed in many other families, is the type of stay-at-home parent you have. If you want this to work, you’ve got to approach it from the right attitude.

To put it simply, the successful stay-at-home parents that I’ve seen take on the role of a very efficient home economist as well, while the working parent supports the stay-at-home parent in that role.

Let me walk you through what I’m talking about.

If a family chooses to transition from two working parents to one working parent, they’re going to have to deal with a loss in wages. At the same time, the family is going to be incurring some new expenses thanks to the child.

A family cannot continue their patterns of the past if income is going down and expenses are going up. It’s not going to work.

The solution that does work is for the stay-at-home parent to take on the additional role of home economist. That means that the stay-at-home parent utilizes gaps throughout the day to take on tasks that save the family money.

When the child naps, the stay-at-home parent needs to not “de-stress” by relaxing. That parent needs to “de-stress” by working on a frugal task. The same is true when the child is engaged in individual play. There are many frugal projects that a stay-at-home parent can engage in while the child is napping or playing individually and, for this to succeed, those projects need to be carried off successfully.

What projects? Making a meal plan. Writing a grocery list. Preparing meals in advance. Making homemade laundry detergent. Making sure your purchases are energy efficient. Negotiating for better rates on your cell phone and other bills. Working on small money-earning projects.

This isn’t that different than a professional job. When one project is on standby at work, most employees don’t just stop there. They move on to another project. This really needs to happen at home, too.

“But what about the child?” It’s good for a child to play on their own sometimes. It’s healthy for their mind to be creative on their own, find ways to entertain themselves, and learn about themselves. Yes, the parent should be involved some of the time, but not all of the time. Your child needs some solo time.

Ideally, a stay-at-home parent can find another parent or two and engage in a “trade-off” system so that one day a week, each parent takes care of all of the children of both households so that the other can take care of tasks.

This doesn’t mean that all of these burdens lie on the stay-at-home parent. When the other parent returns home from work, that parent needs to take over the child care responsibilities for a while or take care of some of the money-saving tasks for a while. Both the person working at home and the person working outside the home have put in a full day at this point, so neither one should feel that it’s okay to relax while the other person is still on duty. If you’re going to relax, relax together with the child.

This is the recipe for success for stay-at-home parents. If you stray from it, several bad things happen. For one, the working parent often feels overburdened, as though they’re carrying more of the family load while the other parent just plays with the child all day. For another, the finances suffer because these money-saving tasks aren’t getting done.

Just like other aspects of marriage and parenting, stay-at-home parenting is a partnership. The stay-at-home parent needs to treat it with seriousness and focus, while the other parent needs to respect the effort of the stay-at-home parent and pitch in after work. Without those two ingredients, the necessary financial and familial benefits won’t appear.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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