Updated on 09.18.14

Daycare vs. Stay-At-Home Parenting

Trent Hamm

This week, The Simple Dollar attempts to address challenging questions in personal finance by looking at both sides of the story and figuring out some of the factors you need to look at to make a decision.

Yesterday, in response to a discussion about the financial costs of a two year old child, the following comment was left, which resulted in the beginnings of a debate about the value of daycare, the value of both parents being employed, and so on:

It’s unfortunate that you send your kids to daycare. These are the prime growing years for a child. How viable is it to have your wife work at home or not work at all?

When a person becomes a parent and they look at that child for the first time, they want that child to have every great opportunity in the world: a great education, a healthy upbringing with strong values, and so on. Unfortunately, for most families, difficult choices have to be made. Do you send your child to daycare and focus on earning money, or do you stay at home with the child to maximize their personal fulfillment? It’s not an easy question, so let’s look at both sides of it.


Many modern families find themselves in a financial situation where they both must work to provide a good home for their children. This isn’t the 1950s any more – house prices have grown at a rate much higher than inflation, just for starters. As a result, many people are in financial situations where both parents have to work.

Beyond that, a quality daycare center can be a very enriching experience for your child. A good center can provide many activities, social interactions, and experiences that simply can’t be done in a home environment because of expense of the materials and the startup time involved. For example, the daycare center that I take my children to has no televisions anywhere and a schedule of activities for the children each day that, quite honestly, I couldn’t match in a home environment. The primary employees are paid strong wages (they have “assistants” that are paid minimum wage who primarily just set up and take down activities and occasionally assist with wrangling larger groups of children) and they genuinely care for the children. The adult-to-child ratio never exceeds 1 to 4, either. It’s expensive, yes, but the experience is a good one for my children.

I’ll be the first one to say that a daycare where they plop children in front of a television all day is not a good one, but a quality daycare center can enrich your child and enable you to get things done.

Stay At Home!

The argument for a stay-at-home situation is obvious: no matter how good a daycare center is, it doesn’t match the love and nurturing care that a parent can provide for their child. Workers at daycare centers are employees – not parents – and they don’t bring genuine one-on-one attention and love to the child that a parent can bring.

Not only that, the actual financial loss due to having a stay-at-home parent usually aren’t as much as you think. You’re eliminating the cost of daycare, the cost of transportation to work, the cost of clothing for work, the cost of eating out with and entertaining coworkers, and some home costs as well, since a stay-at-home parent can cook meals.

Adding the two together makes a very compelling case for putting your career on pause for a while to give your child the very best.

My Take

I live in a home where both parents work, but we both wish we could be a stay-at-home parent at least part of the time. In fact, with the birth of our second child, we came very close to making that leap, but backed away from it after some analysis.

The real reason is that we feel our children benefit on the whole from their time at daycare, particularly our two year old son. We spend quite a bit of money on daycare for our children (it’s literally the best in our area), and the environment is one that we feel very happy with, as described above. Our son’s language skills are off the charts for children his age (he can largely speak in complete sentences – and always expresses complete ideas – at age two) and he often exhibits learning that we simply didn’t teach him. Plus, we largely devote our evenings and weekends to spending time with him and his sister, so they get a full helping of loving and nurturing care.

My feeling is that if you can afford a daycare that meets or exceeds the standards you would set at home, then daycare is a reasonable option. However, if you’re working a low-wage job where you can only afford a very low-cost daycare, it’s probably beneficial for both you and your child to look at being a stay-at-home parent, particularly if there is additional income at home.

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  1. Mark says:


    Great take. We have 2 kids under the age of 2. We pulled our son from day care at age 1 and he was watched at home by my mother-in-law. We recently re-enrolled him in day care and he has really grown in just a short time.

    However, we would not send him to a day care that was not of VERY HIGH QUALITY. If we did not have that choice then my kids would be at home right now.

  2. Johanna says:

    When considering the financial implications of one parent staying at home, don’t forget that when that parent returns to the workforce (when the children start school, or college, or whatever), she (let’s face it, it’s nearly always “she”) will earn less than she otherwise would, due to the lost years of experience and possibly other factors.

  3. Pinyo says:

    My wife and I will be going through a similar analysis soon. The cost/benefits analysis will be different for each person.

    We agree that one of the key attractor for day care is the social skills development.

    One thing I did not see in your post is discussion about the cost of workforce re-entry if one parent decided to stay home.

  4. Frank says:

    Sounds like you have a great system and you should stick with it.

    I knew someone who went to work after having a child and spent so much on day care that she was only clearing like $100 a week by working full time. That’s obviously not a wise move.

    I must admit I don’t understand the big debate. Your kids will go to school some day, not many people do home schooling, so they are just being better prepared for that anyway.

  5. I grew up without seeing my parents around since both were busy working.

    I’m sure my language communication skills improved through day care education and socializing, but I missed out on the interaction I could have had with my parents at an early age.

    Thankfully my grandparents were around during my pre-school years.


  6. Katie says:

    The sexism in the comment was amazing. Obviously, it’s someone who has not been reading your blog long or he would know that your household conversations often revolve around you staying home.

    And usually I’m not jealous of your Des Moines lifestyle, but seeing the cost of daycare yesterday did finally cause a little jealousy. The “big city” can come no where close to matching that number.

  7. Sheila says:

    My daughter has been in an after-school care since she was in kindergarten and attends all day during the summer months. She loves it and it’s ideal for us since we have no other children in the area where we live. We are on a farm and the closest neighbor is 1/4 mile away and he’s single. If she didn’t have the daycare, she’d never get any unstructured time with other children and I feel that time is very important to her development.

    And she is involved in many more activities through the daycare than I could offer if I were a stay-at-home mom.

  8. Big Red says:

    I’m a mom, and did the SAHM thing until my kids were 2 and 3.5 years old. Then returned to work full time, as we’d always intended (I had both kids while getting my PhD, he finished when the younger one was 4).

    My opinion is that it is a family choice based on a plethora of factors–finances, desire for adult companionship and recognition of things in addition to being a parent, mental health, kids’ needs. For me, the ideal situation would have been a part-time job, but adjunct professorships don’t pay much (more like a hobby than a real vocation), and there were no part-time lab positions in our area.

    The full-time career experience paid off a few years later, after hubby’s post-doc ended and he was looking for full-time employment. We were able to stay afloat (although our savings took a hit) for a couple of years on my salary alone while he looked for full-time work. This is a reality in today’s workplace–there may be a time when the “main breadwinner” is not able to work; bills keep coming, the kids grow and eat more, and the mortgage has to be paid regardless of your situation.

  9. Norman MIller says:

    Staying at home with the child to maximize their personal fulfillment? How many studies would you have to read to realize that most kids stay at home fulfillment comes from the TV?

    Send your child to a day care of VERY HIGH QUALITY, there are schlock outfits in any business, do business with reputable companies.

    Key attractor the social skills development? You bet! Categorically these kids are better developed socially upon entering public school.

    People need to get beyond the money trade-off, if it ends up costing you cash in this trade-off, you are getting social skills in exchange. On that first day of Kindergarten you will be paid back in full.

    Both of my kids have a leg up because of daycare. My younger daughter, I had thought would end up shy and reserved: She’s doing great!

    Don’t debate the issue anymore, just do it.

  10. elizabeth says:

    There are many things that one can do with children on your own though if they are not in daycare. And special attention can be paid to any areas that are not on-track. There are story times at the library and trips to the fire station, the police station, learning about food at the grocery store. I think there is nothing comparable to having a parent stay home.

    Something to think about in daycare is that all teachers are not created equal. Check with the teachers every time a teacher changes and when the child moves to a different room. Sometimes personality and age can change the situation in a moment. It must be evaluated continually.

    I for one plan to stay home no matter what the cost. If it means a smaller house or an older car (or no car for me), then I will make the sacrifice. The reason housing prices are so high is because people are willing to work two jobs to pay for them. If people stopped the trend (and scaled back) two incomes would not be a necessity.

  11. RNA says:

    One of the benefits of working for oneself (especially if you have a proven record of bringing in income from side jobs as is the case with Trent) is the ability to squirrel away more money in tax-free retirement accounts such as SEP IRAs ($45K limit in 2007 versus $15.5/$20.5K limit for 401Ks). Of course, this may be offset by the increased cost of taxes for owning your own business. Also, you are able to pay spouse and children for working for you, and make additional tax-free contributions to Simple 401K accounts in their names.

    Always check first with your accountant before contributing any money to these tax-free accounts (we’ve found the rules pretty complex when trying to tax-shelter our consulting income), but they can be great ways for the self-employed to save more.

  12. Samantha says:

    I am a mom of a 11-yr old and a 14-yr old, both of whom were in daycare when they were young.

    I have seen several benefits of their being in daycare:

    1. Because there is “snack time”, “nap time” etc. my children have learned that they can’t always have what they want exactly when they want it. I followed through on this at home, and so they never cried or screamed in a store because I wouldn’t buy them anything, or because I wouldn’t give them a cookie.

    2. Because daycare has to be organized for dealing with more than one child, my children have learned to patiently wait their turn.

    3. Because activities couldn’t start until all the children were listening to the instructions from their caregiver, my children have learned to pay attention (or at least be quiet so others can pay attention).

    4. Colds and flu spread like wildfire in daycare as it does in schools. But being exposed to so many during the daycare years really builds up a child’s immune system. My children hardly ever miss school due to illness.

    On every report card, my children receive comments along the lines of “pleasure to have in class” and “good student.”

    When I was finally able to stay home, I volunteered a lot in the children’s classrooms. I could really see the difference between my child’s demeanor and some of other children (not that my child was the only one behaving, but my child was the one I focused on the most). I have often wondered whether those other children had ever been in an organized environment.

    (And I also strongly agree with Johanna’s comment above. Now that the kids are a bit older, I am looking to add to our family income once again.)

  13. Monica says:

    I don’t have kids and don’t plan to, but I have seen people doing other options than a) one parent stay home full time, or b) put kid in daycare Monday to Friday. For example:

    1) Grandparents care for child during the day. This has the advantage of loving, personal care by someone who already loves the child and wants to be part of their life. I don’t recommend imposing on them, but some grandparents would love to do this. If all week is too much, perhaps this could be combined with one parent only working part-time.

    2) Both parents work half time. Equals one full time salary, and both parents get to spend lots of time with the child(ren). I think this is a great solution, but it can be hard to find half time professional positions (or job sharing options).

    3) Parents work different shifts, so there’s always one parent home to care for the child(ren). The problem with this is that the parents don’t see much of each other.

    4) If you’re earning enough money, there is the option of an au pair or nanny.

    5) If the worry is that the kids would miss out on education and interaction and activities, why not sign them up for a nursery school. Maybe two mornings a week or so. Or set up a play group or something.

    6) One parent works from home, and makes alternative arrangements (babysitters, grandparents) when he/she has meetings or something.

    7) One parent works full time, the other works half time, and the kid is in daycare half time. However, I know that many daycares only accept kids full time. This would probably be easier with one of those in-home daycares.

  14. Writers Coin says:

    I really appreciate how detached you are when you write about your family this way. It’s incredibly useful and insightful. It’s obvious you care so much for them and not pouring on the mushiness really helps.

  15. Norman MIller says:

    You said “I think there is nothing comparable to having a parent stay home”.

    This in spite of the fact that daycare regularly providestrips to the library and the fire station, the police station, learning about food at the grocery store.

    This in spite of the fact that you have things to do at home, a lot of things: Laundry, grocery shopping, meal planning and preparation, all vital things important to a household.

    Give the child a chance to socialize apart from you just a few days a week. Give yourself some freedom to pursue some other pursuit.

    It is about quality time, not quantity. Full time stay at home always degrades into propping little Billy in front of the tube, quality child care can’t do that.

  16. Having read a wealth of studies in the difference between letting someone outside of family raise a child, and those which are raised by their parents; I can’t stand the thought of day care. I know you’ve mentioned wanting to being a stay at home dad before, Trent. I hope that it works out for you and your family :)

  17. Louise says:

    I almost responded to this guy yesterday to let him know that you’ve already covered this topic in depth at least once (easily found under “best of”). I’m kind of disappointed to see this made into its own post.

    I’m also not loving this format of “A or B? A! B! My take!” I know there are no straight answers in personal finance, but I get little to nothing out of this formula. I feel like it takes the core of your blog (this is what I think/do and why) and adds boring obvious statements to make it formulaic and bland. One of the things I usually enjoy about your posts is that they are organized and clear without being the dull kind of formulaic. I guess it kind of fells like you are dumbing down issues that you’ve mostly already covered. Between the overwhelming book posts last month and the AB formula, I’m just not getting as much out of this as I used to.

  18. Louise says:

    *feels* like you are dumbing down issues


  19. Jay Cee says:

    I only glanced at each comments–and I’m glad I didn’t see any of the irritating, “I don’t want someone else raising my child” argument (which has always sounding vaguely finger-pointing at the rest of the folks who do utilize childcare centers)

    My bottom line: I attended mostly family (home) daycares from 6 weeks to 11 years, and I swear by my positive, loving, and fun experiences there.

    I don’t have kids yet, but I feel open to BOTH the one-parent-stay-at-home arrangement and the both-parents-work option. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

    Shame on that presumptive, narrow-minded (and yes, SEXIST) original commentator.

  20. Jay Cee says:

    I didn’t submit my first reply fast enough, I guess.

    “Modern Worker” has basically said the thing that makes me cringe: that kids in daycare aren’t actually “raised by their parents.”

    So, you don’t know me or numerous other kids who went to daycare, but you presume to know that our parents didn’t, in fact, raise us? Hmmph.

  21. Tiffany says:

    I love my high quality daycare centre, but I am SO thankful I live in Canada (land of the 1 year maternity leave.) I was hardly capable of parenting sucessfully in the first year, let alone managing work. Now ds is in daycare 4 days per week and we are both completely happy with the arrangement.

    Daycare is also important to us because ds is an only child, but he’s learning to share and deal with other kids at the centre.

  22. Elizabeth says:

    The stay-at-home vs. daycare issue is one that obviously invokes strong opinions. As a stay-at-home mom and homeschooler, I have no shortage of strong opinions on the matter. And all of those opions come boiling to the surface when I read comments like those left by Normal Miller who said “Full time stay-at-home always degrades into propping little Billy in front of the tube.”

    I beg your pardon, but EXCUSE ME? My children were raised TV-free and Game-Boy-free and computer-free. I NEVER ONCE resorted to propping my children in front of anything. My children are now 15 and 13. We have a TV and watch occasionally, especially movies and documentaries rented from Netflix. And we have computers which they use for educational, and occasionally recreational, purposes. Still no Game Boys or Wiis or the like. And no propping.

    As strong a proponent as I am of children being raised at home by one full-time parent or two part-time parents, I honestly believe that there is no one right solution to the question. Any time we make a decision to choose one path we are also choosing to not follow other available paths. Each option has advantages and disadvantages.

    When making the choice to stay at home, I knew I was choosing, in a sense, a dead-end career. No pay, no sick leave, no promotion potential, and worst of all, planned obsolesence. In fact, the better I performed my duties the more assuredly my job would end. I’ve loved every minute of it and have not a single regret!

    I have no doubt that there are many children at home who might be better served by being in a healthy day-care situation. Simply being at home is not enough; neglect at home is still neglect. Equally, I have no doubt that there are many children in day-care who would be much better served by being at home with a full-time parent. A paid employee will never be able to provide the level of care and depth of love that a loving, involved parent can.

    I think that really it comes down to this — if one or other parent has a burning desire to be at home, then financial circumstances would have to be absolutely dire for both the parents and the children to be better served by a day-care/work arrangement. If both parents are on career tracks and leaving employment would lead to any level of resentment or regret, then high-quality day-care and high-quality family-time parenting is an ideal solution.

    In the end no one benefits from arguments about who loves their children more or doing a better job of serving their children’s best interests.

  23. Rob in Madrid says:

    Wow, I don’t even have kids and I’m impressed with the quality of comments here. When we were first married in our peer group SAHMs were unusual (we’re childless). To save on daycare costs most worked opposite shifts with family filling in the overlap. In most cases the father worked afternoons or weekends and the mother worked days.

    Fast forward 23 years it seems we return to Canada that most people we run into are one income families with (obvouisly)the Mom not working. Maybe it’s because our families all attend a well to do churches where SAHM are considered the expected norm that I don’t see two working parents often. I’m not quite sure how they do it. Southern Ontario is not a cheap place to live anymore. Usually I ask how they can afford to live on one income. Obviously they are doing something right, I figure I can pick up a few frugal living tips from them.

    In general the most common thing is for the Mom to stay at home for the early years and then slowly move into the working world as the kids aged. Needless to say most of them end up working in the pink ghetto.

    In Germany there is strong (and I mean strong) social pressure for the Mom not to work. As a consequence most couples are childless. In Spain almost every family is a two income family. Low wages and extremely high house prices mean most can’t live on one wage.

  24. Michael says:

    I’d recommend splitting the difference. We have two children under the age of 2 right now and my wife is staying at home with them until they are about 3 or 4 years old. (Probably closer to 4). This way the children get the benefit of having a stay at home parent early in their lives, yet when they get close to the age where they will go to school, both parents can work and the children can get used to the idea of being away from home for the day etc.

  25. Krisha says:

    We are a dual-income home, and both of my boys are in a good daycare/preschool. I wanted them to have structure and activities that would help them developmentally, while exposing them to other cultures and even other skin colors! (College was the first time I was around people of ANY color other than caucasian).

    And I also wanted to have a career. Yep, I said it. I love my kids but I love my job. I love the adult interaction and the satisfaction I receive from it.

    What I find most annoying about this debate is that everyone says, “It’s a personal choice” while slipping in judgments. You want to stay at home? Great! Going back to work? Great! Your kid should be safe, happy and loved…and everyone else should BACK OFF. Anything you do with regards to your child can be enhanced by attentive parenting. I taught for a few years…and guess what? The kids that struggled were those whose parents were tuned out, whether they stayed at home or not.

    p.s. Love your site…the topics are always helpful and interesting!

  26. Chris says:

    Both of my parents worked full time. It’s a little more complicated than other situations being that they were both teachers and my father had to work through the summer (being an Ag. teacher in Louisiana requires that). I went to a sitter during the day, then my parents spent quality time with me in the afternoons. They got off of work at 2:30 and was always home by 3. Now, I am the oldest of 5 children, and by the time the 5th child came along, my mother was able to take off an entire year from teaching if she wished. She did this, and though she loved being home with her children (we all also caught Chicken Pox that year), she hated not working. In fact with 5 children and a full time job, she got a masters. My parents now have 3 in college and we all remember those times we spent with our parents growing up. I don’t think it would have been the same if our parents weren’t teachers because we got to spend all summer with our mother and big chunks with my father also. All of us just went to a regular sitter. There were no daycares in our small town at the time. Because my parents spent extra time with us, we were well prepared for school. Now, I’m just talking about the first 3. The youngest 2 went to Pre-school, and they have both had problems in school, and my mother and us older children have to help them for them to keep up.

    I think it just depends on your situation as to what path you should take, but as long as you spend some quality time with your children, and help them to start their education early, I think that either way you go, your children will be fine. I plan on having my children in daycare when the time comes for me to make that decision. Best of luck to all of you parents!

  27. Kim says:

    I have been a stay at home mom or work from home mom for over eight years and am expecting our 4th child. It is very difficult financially to do this on 1 income, even in the more affordable midwest. Before our first child was born we invested in rental property to have extra income and learned to live without, practicing extreme frugality as we both wanted a stay at home parent. Amy Dacycyn’s Tightwad gazette was a second Bible at that time.

    As our family grew and our children’s need changed we realized we wanted and needed more income in order to give them experiences that would be enriching( I’m not talking Disney World, something more like scouts, dance class, music lessons etc.)

    We looked for work opportunities that would allow me to work from home and or evenings so the time and cash spent in childcare would be minimal. My husband teaches and I am self empolyed so we are able to synch our schedules, with me doing more work during the times that he is off.

    I guess my point is that there is far more than 1 right way and if you keep trying you can find something that works for your Family. I think it’s best for me to be at home with my children. I love being available to volunteer in their classsrooms and to be here when they get on and off of the bus. At the same time the older ones understand that it takes money to make our household run and the best way to acquire it is to earn it.

    As for the comments on children’s behvaior and tv watching etc, my experience has been that the poorly behaved children behave that way because they are not parented, and have minimal expectations placed on them, daycae or no daycare. And no. I’m not a prop my kid in front of the tv kind of mom. I wouldn’t have worked so darn hard to be able to spend the amount of time I do with them to throw it away on sometnig as asinine as television!

  28. T says:

    Wow, thanks for spending an entire post on my comment — I didn’t want this though. I said what I said because I find it crazy in today’s society that people such as yourself send BABIES (ie. NEWBORNS) to daycare! How you can actually let this happen is beyond me. I understand that at two years of age, this scenario is a little easier to understand, but the comment was made because you’re sending a BABY to daycare.

    How does your wife feel about this? I think most mothers want their newborn child to be with them during the most important year(s) of their lives. After this, yes, maybe daycare is viable. But to “drop” them off for the sake of your family having more earning power is ridiculous. I think this is part of America’s downfall with kids. Am I the only one that sees the craziness in kids today?!?

  29. Jasmine says:

    This article brought up some good points, nice to see the brighter side of daycare written out too. Going to a great daycare can also provide a jumpstart on education.

    Having a parent stay at home could be very beneficial too, but I think the downsides to that are there’s a lot of pressure on the sole-income earner. What if they lost their job, want a career change, etc? To be honest, I wouldn’t want to deal with that additional stress. Also, staying at home can take a toll on many due to lack of social interaction with their peers at work, and difficulties when/if they decide to re-enter the workplace.

    What about both parents working part time?

    I know some families where there are multiple children and almost the entirety of one income goes to pay childcare. In this situation that person should stay at home. Then there will be savings of daycare, prepared meals, etc.

  30. Barb says:

    We have two children (now 7 and 5) and both have been in day care 3 days a week since they were 10 months old. Overall, day care has been a great experience. They have long-term friends, have done very well socially — Kindergarten has been an easy transition for both of them — and my 7-year-old has been asking to go to afterschool care 5 days a week to be with his friends. (I’m still hanging on to those 2 days with them, though :-)

    As with any parenting choice, you don’t really know if you are doing the right thing until they are grown, but so far, we have been happy with the day care choice. (BTW, financially, it would have been a huge hit for either of us to quit working.)

  31. Monica says:

    T, yes I thought it was unusual too. At my workplace most mothers take about a year off. Fortunately my province has very generous maternity/paternity/parental/adoption leave benefits ( http://www.hg.org/articles/article_1219.html ).

  32. Jay Cee says:


    You make it sound automatically criminal for a baby/newborn to be in paid childcare? Why is it so automatically bad or unfathomable to you?

    That’s unfair—to claim that newborns in care are part of a “downfall” (as opposed to their cared-for-at-home peers). Also unfair to claim that kids who experienced paid daycare before age two have some sort of “craziness” in them, as a result.

    Perhaps I misunderstand a fuller argument you’re trying to make.

  33. leslie says:

    I chose to stay at home after the birth of my oldest child (who is in Kindergarden now). I had a good job and made more than enough money to make it “worth” staying at work after child care costs. I was very good at what I did and well respected in the industry. However, my job regularly required 10+ hour days as does my husbands. And by regularly, I mean most days. I simply could not imagine what my family life would be like if we were constantly calling each other debating who was going to pick up the kids, stop at the grocery store, make dinner etc. There was already a fair amount of stress in our lives with two people working and no kids. I chose to stay home not so much because I wanted to be at home with my kids all the time but because I didn’t want my family to have that frantic lifestyle. My husband makes more money than I did so it was logical for me to stay home instead of him (although in many ways he is better suited for it than I am).

    Now, I might have made a different decision if I had been passionate about my job. I certainly liked what I did well enough and I liked being well connected and valued. However, without the passion for what I did the sacrifices and stress that would have become daily issues for us with both parents working were not worth it. Obviously, if my husbands income was not sufficient for us to live on then the choices would have been different.

    I too was concerned about socialization for my son. I thought for a long time that he was going to be an only child (he does have a younger sister now) and so put him in a church preschool that had a social and not an academic focus starting at 18 months. He went 3.5 hours one day a week the first year, 2 days a week the second, 3 days a week the third and fourth years. He is excelling in kindergarden both socially and academically. I plan to enroll my daughter there starting at age two (they dropped the 18 month program 2 years ago).

    I plan to start working again at some point but not in the field that I left. I will most likely have to start over and will not be making anywhere close to the kind of money I was making before. I know about all the financial downsides to the decisions that my husband and I have made but for me the lifestyle benefits are worth it. We will be fine in retirement and we have plenty of solid financial plans should disasters of various kinds strike (insurance, savings accounts etc). There are a lot of people that would point out that I could be really screwed in a divorce but I feel confident of the solidity of our marriage and chose to move forward based on that. We don’t live lavishly, have a big house, drive new cars or take many vacations. However, we are all healthy and seem reasonably content and have low stress levels. And that is worth everything to me.

  34. cami says:

    @T I think perhaps you’re assuming a flexibility in the system that doesn’t exist for many people. I know quite a few mothers who don’t particularly want to drop off a six- or eight- week old baby, but haven’t been given a whole lot of flexibility from their employer. The truth is IMO that we’ve become such a “productivity” driven society, that we would let a good worker go if they tried to take anything above the minimum off.

  35. Jenn says:

    I have noticed that when I read people online talking about their decisions to stay home, it all sounds very noble, like each day with their children is just full of enriching activities and mother-love. However, the real world SAHMs I know (and I know many) are women who pretty much don’t really want to work or have any skills and use staying home with kids as an excuse to not get a job. Some of them openly say this to me when we get to be good enough friends. I had one lady tell me she better get pregnant soon because her husband was bugging her to get back to work! I was appalled.

    Maybe I just live in a bad area, but the kids usually watch a ton of TV and the families are barely scraping by financially with no retirement savings or extras. The kids often also seem a little bored.

    I have thought about staying home before but I think my part-time work situation is good for us financially and my son just loves school! As someone else said, it helps if you have a good program in your area.

  36. Ron says:

    I have three kids and none of them ever spent time in daycare. It was always incomprehensible to me that the most precious thing in my life would be taught the values, beliefs, and social skills of someone who was there until someone offered them 25 cents more per hour.

    My children are 14, 13, and 8 now. The two oldest have scored well enough on college entrance exams to get in. The 8 year old fascinates people with his grasp of the English language.

    My stay at home wife regularly took them to the library, to museums, and to the theater. Did they watch some TV? Yes, of course, mostly PBS. Are they harmed? Heck no.

    There isn’t one solution to everyone’s problem of generating income and taking care of their children. I just made the commitment to myself and to my unborn children that my wife and I were going to raise them, not some hourly worker.

    If daycare provides such a jump start, show me the evidence in standardized test scores. I don’t see it.

    The whole social interaction argument is a farce. My kids are as well developed socially as any in daycare, perhaps better.

    Brian Tracy says it best: The important thing is QUALITY of time at work, but QUANTITY of time at home.

    Kids need parents, not money, and not more friends.

  37. Rob in Madrid says:

    T perhaps the problem could be solved by adopting a decent maternity leave. I’m told that America doesn’t have one. Seems odd that up till recent you had a congress and senate that were “pro family” and they never got around to legislating one.

  38. Mark says:

    Every generation of parent has had to make sacrifices and do what works best for their situation. Many people now find that they cannot afford to live on a single income. While in many parts of the country it may be possible to be “frugal” and live on one income, there are other parts (East/West Coast) where a single income would have to be substantial to afford a low-middle class lifestyle. Therefore parents are left with no choice but to send kids to day care to be able to afford an acceptable quality of life. Ron – please do not judge people for doing what they have to do.

  39. MVP says:

    @Elizabeth, T and Ron, Thank you for commenting. After all the comments about how “beneficial” day care is to a child’s development (an excuse and a load of crap) I was waiting to read something from folks who knew what they were talking about regarding being a stay-at-home parent. Any parent who props their kid in front of a TV shouldn’t be a parent. Those of you who think it’s fine to put your kid in daycare when they’re merely months old and totally dependent on and bonded to only you seriously have no business having children!

    Sure, there are “high quality” daycare options out there. But mistakes still are made, and are you honestly willing to risk your kid’s life so you can have career satisfaction, live in a fancy home and drive an expensive car? Sure, I’m generalizing, but that’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? Look, if you’re going to go to the trouble of having a child, why not follow through on your responsibility and actually BE a parent?

  40. Mark says:

    MVP, That is not constructive discussion, that is just flat out BASHING of other readers. This is a very PERSONAL decision that families make every single day. Each situation has its own advantages and disadvantages, that is exactly what Trent was trying to say here. What works for one person may not work for another. Please do not come on here and generalize a point and insult people.

    My wife and I agonized over this decision a great deal, ultimately deciding that part-time day care was best for OUR situation. I have no problem with a SAHP situation either. If this decision is a hard one for you, then you are a good parent, because you are trying to do what is RIGHT for YOUR family.

  41. Emma says:

    I am in awe over the sheer stupidity of so many of the comments on this post. So, I am not going to respond to any of them.

    However, to Trent, I would like to remind you that there are many ways for children to grow, and learn and socialize and daycare is not the only way. Very few “stay at home parents” literally “stay at home” all day.

  42. Tiffany says:

    MVP, I thought your comments were extremely uncalled for. I know that you *think* most daycare parents just want to earn another six figures, but there is so much more to it than that. For example, I’m a single mother attending university full time.

  43. DivaJean says:

    It’s sad what this discussion has evolved into. It’s just so wrong for anyone to espouse that they know the perfect answer to anyone’s life choices.

    I could just imagine what some of the posters here would think about me and my family. I have posted before that my kids have a stay at home mom and a working mom currently- but it wasn’t always that way. Our eldest 2 kidlets were in daycare thru necessity. We simply could not afford health care out of pocket for one of us to not work. Once my place of employment changed its rules on domestic partner coverage, we made plans for her to become a stay at home mom- it’s now been over a year and a half since she’s been home.

    However, we are now having our 3rd child screened for early intervention daycare for speech and occupational therapy concerns. This is not standard daycare- but more of a program that will be able to focus on issues we’ve noticed in her development. Our second child had similar issues and the care as well as the supportive recommendations they gave us in parenting were beyond belief in how they helped us in raising our 2nd child. No amount of reading or quantity of time spent in these circumstances would have given us the direct channel to help and progression in our child’s developmental concerns.

    Daycare is certainly not a failing of parents- sometimes it is a supportive tool in parenting as screening for learning and developmental issues.

  44. MS says:

    One factor that has been barely touched on is the parents’ desires for staying at home.

    If someone loves the parenting life and isn’t always envying the people back at the office, he’s going to be a good/effective teacher/parent to the children at home. Staying at home for these children will be the better choice if it’s an option.

    On the other hand, if someone is staying at home when her talents and desires are more suited for the workplace, then there will be less of the bonding that the stay-at-homers claim as a benefit. A quality day care program would be a better choice for them.

  45. Jay Cee says:

    I notice a theme among the strong “right” comments here (as opposed to the “left”): that only one option is correct–boycotting use of paid daycare.

    On the other hand, the more gentle “left” comments don’t point to either situation and declare it bad. The lefty comments I see here sound more respectful and understanding of the differences among families.

  46. J-Rock says:

    Jay Cee,

    Please don’t drag this into your view of political sides. This is simply parents and adults debating the decisions regarding their most prized possessions.

    And if you really must view life solely through politics, I advise you to pay attention to both sides. The following was hardly a ‘respectful and understanding’ lefty comment:

    Full time stay at home always degrades into propping little Billy in front of the tube, quality child care can’t do that.

  47. Mark says:

    @Jay Cee, I agree 100%. The pro-SAHP camp has been much more harsh than the “pro-choice” camp. LOL.

    @MS, this was exactly our case. My wife determined that the SAHM situation was not right for her. She felt she could contribute much more to our children’s lives by being happy and working than unhappy and staying home, and so the decision was made that she would work.

  48. Jilse says:

    I have seen both sides of this debate. I have worked in a daycare for three years prior to have my children. And now I’ve been a SAHM for three years. I also have my degree in Child Development. Here’s my input.

    As a teacher I can honestly say I loved my job, I loved the kids, and I do miss it sometimes. A good quality daycare facility is a fantastic thing. However they are few and far between. In fact most Daycares are not high quality. On the whole the average daycare is low quality at best. I know this isn’t just in our area, but the country as a whole.

    Daycare teachers make very low wages, this leads to high turnover rates because the teachers are always looking for a job that pays better. They are not always in it for the kids, but instead for something to pay the bills for that month. In our area to work at a Daycare you need only 12 units of college, roughly one semester. So not only are the teachers not getting paid well, but they also are not very educated for the most part. Plus the costs of running a high quality daycare, while still keeping the rates affordable for the parents, is harder and harder. Something usually suffers.

    On the otherhand now that I am a SAHM I can see the wonders of that. It isn’t just sit at home and let my girl’s veg in front of the TV all day. We go to storytimes at the local library once a week, we have a playgroup that my girls have been in since my eldest was 6 months old, we plan trips to the zoo, the museum, the farm etc. We also have swimming in the summer, and various other classes that we enjoy during the week. We don’t need the TV to keep us busy.

    For me it comes down to being able to watch my children blossom under my care. We do painting together, we have picnics outside. I can watch my 10 month old take her first steps. If one of them is sick I am right there for them immediately and I don’t have to worry about missing work or finding a person to watch them.

    And I do believe that parents are the best teacher a child could ever have. I know firsthand that they are only little for such a short period of time and I don’t want to miss any of it. These three years have flown by, and it’s been really just a blink of an eye, and I’ve been right there with my daughter every step of the way. For others they may choose the daycare path, but for me this is where I want to be.

    It’s a choice that every family has to make and I can see the pro’s and con’s of each. But it’s a personal decision and it your family is thriving under the decision that you have made then that is all that really matters.

  49. guinness416 says:

    Rob in Madrid, great comment. As others above have noted, the maternity leave here in Canada makes what might (might not!) be a wrenching decision, leaving a very young baby in daycare, obsolete. I read the comments on this and the “can’t follow my dreams work provides health insurance” and am glad I live in Toronto.

  50. Samantha says:

    @Mark and @Tiffany: Thank you.

    There are SO many benefits and drawbacks for either option a family chooses on this issue, and each family must decide which option has the better benefits vs. drawback ratio FOR THEIR FAMILY. This includes the point MS made about if a parent actually WANTS to stay home. And there are some of us for whom there is no choice (we are laid off from work, or can’t make ends meet without a 2nd income, for example).

    Whatever decision a person makes (or is forced to make) on this issue, should not be a reason to bash them. We should be glad to hear their family’s reasons for their choices, and how those choices turned out for their families. And be sure that whatever decision is made by ANY family is going to be the uniquely right one for them, no matter what anyone else may think about it.

    Those of us who have already made our decisions and have seen the results of those decision have every right to share that here. Maybe my personal experience will figure out in someone else’s decision. Isn’t that what this whole blog is about? Trent’s knowledge and personal experiences shared to helps us in making our own decisions?

    BTW, this week I made my first foray into finance boards and blogs. Most of the online places I visit are friends- and moms-oriented.

  51. V says:

    I am a stay at home Mom and as a result feel very strongly about this issue. I grew up as an only child with both parents working. I did not see them often because of their work schedules. I also was not able to participate in after school activites because there was no one to take me or pick me up and my parents were too tired to be involved. Consequently, I made a firm commitment to not place my children in daycare. My children interact with me, other kids in the neighborhood, kids at my Mom’s Group, etc. The idea of having children to only see them for two or three hours a day baffles me. I mean really, what’s the point? My husband and I have made many sacrifices for me to stay at home and I would’t do anything different even when factoring in loss of future income, etc. In my experience, most of the women I know work because they don’t want to make any sacrifices when it comes to giving up expensive cars, vacations and the like. The old cliche about being on your deathbed and wishing you spent more time at work is true! My Mom recently passed away and never once talked about work! The time you have with your children when they are young is short you have the rest of your life to work and increase your income.

  52. Mark says:


    I think there is a huge difference between using day care and having two parents working long hours at stressful jobs. I agree, the latter is not an ideal situation at all. Our situation works nicely because my wife is a teacher, which means her schedule allows her to get home earlier than I do, which makes day care a LOT more feasible.

    Since my wife and I both work, I make a big effort to limit the amount of overtime I work, etc. so I can be home in the evening with my kids before bed. That is very important to me.

  53. Stephanie says:

    I’m a work at home mom, and I think the choice between staying at home and working at home is highly personal. Make good choices about daycare and your kids will be fine if you prefer to work outside the home. Remember to do things with your kids beyond dropping them in front of the television if you stay at home.

    One advantage many at home parents take advantage of these days is that it is possible to work at home. It means you have a little less time for playing with your kids and doing things (depending on your work schedule), but so long as there is some flexibility you can do quite well and not entirely sacrifice your career.

    I also love that more dads are choosing to stay home with their kids now while their wives work. Two of my brothers-in-law do that now. It has become more acceptable for the parent who wants to stay at home to do so now, rather than simply defaulting to the mother.

    Is having one parent stay at home, even with the possibility of working at home, for every family? No. I wouldn’t trade it personally but I know a lot of people who would be simply miserable being at home all the time with their kids, even though they love them and do a lot of things with them when they’re not at work. A parent who isn’t happy at home isn’t going to be the best of parents.

    In other words, just do what works best for your family and for you as a person. It’s no one else’s business.

  54. Meg says:

    It may be cost effective for one parent to stay home if you’re only analyzing the next 1 or even 2 years, but over the long term the lost income and income earning potential of the parent who gives up his/her career is decidedly a negative financial impact on the family.

    Of course it’s not all about money–it’s about the well-being of the family. I for one think (and studies often show) that it’s often in the best interest of all parties for both parents to work.

    Children benefit from early socialization and a variety of outside influences besides just one parent. Children also benefit later in life as their working parents are more able/willing to let them grow up, give them more independence and responsibility, etc.

    The primary wage earner benefits from having shared financial and earning responsibility, giving each parent more flexibility in their careers. He/she doesn’t have to shoulder the burden alone and both parents relate more as peers when they both work (studies show men respect women less when they don’t work or quit work, even if they appreciate the service their wives provide them).

    The would-be stay at home parent benefits from the self-esteem and empowerment that comes from being a contributing member of society, earning money, and having social interactions, activities, challenges, intellectual stimulations, etc. in the real world.

    Many SAH parents (moms obviously) are depressed because of lack of intellectual stimulation and meaningful work, as well as from an increase in housework (which is causally correlated with decreased happiness in both men and women). Studies show that the most important factor in kids’ well-being is having a happy mother–whether she works or stays home.

  55. leslie says:

    “The would-be stay at home parent benefits from the self-esteem and empowerment that comes from being a contributing member of society, earning money, and having social interactions, activities, challenges, intellectual stimulations, etc. in the real world.”

    I am a SAHM and I believe that I am a contributing member of society and last time I checked I lived in the real world.

    Listen…no one way is better than the other. There are advantages to both a SAHP and to both parents working. There are studies that show both ways are “better” and you can find all sorts of support out there for which ever option (of the many, many options) your family chooses. The reality is no option is best for every family out there. Each family has unique situations that makes various options better for each one of them…and often what is better for each family changes over time.

    What would be really helpful is if everyone would stop feeling the need to lord their choice as morally superior over everyone that made other choices. The reality is that most of us probably aren’t perfectly happy with the choice we made at every single moment but it was the best one we had at the time.

  56. Megan says:

    On a slight tack… Research suggests that there are TWO most important times for a parent to be home with their child. Ages 0-3 AND during the JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL years. The age 12-14 is a time of major social decision. During that time most children will chos or be pushed into the group that they will stay with through high school. Even though your junior high schooler doesn’t need you to dress them, clean them, etc… they DO need you to be there when they want to approach tough subjects like drugs, sex, ethics.

  57. RedMolly says:

    I’m a stay-at-home mom who also homeschools (!) her six- and eight-year-old sons and works nearly full-time as a freelance writer and editor.

    It breaks my heart to see the negativity expressed toward both parents who stay at home with their children and parents who send their children to daycare, either because they have to for financial reasons or because they are able to pursue challenging and rewarding careers. No one is qualified to judge any other family’s situation; but all families should be equally vested in pursuing pro-family policies at both the governmental and corporate level. Quality child care, generous parental leave policies, wage and benefit programs that allow parents (whether single or married) to provide children with the advantages they deserve–these should be things we can pull together on, not things that drive parents into opposing camps.

    That said, the primary reason we homeschool is because of the overwhelmingly negative effect of the “socialization” we saw our children receiving when they were enrolled in daycare and classroom school. We’re striving to raise our sons in a non-consumerist, non-sexist, non-homophobic and nonviolent environment, and we saw them bringing home nothing but reinforcement of these anti-family values until we made the choice to bring them home and facilitate their education ourselves. Are they isolated and socially backward? Hardly–in fact, they probably enjoy a more diverse social group as homeschoolers than they would in the Portland public school system. But we are able to do our job as parents and filter–or at least help our sons cope with–the negative influences while promoting the positive ones.

    (Oh yeah, and as you could probably guess–our family doesn’t watch TV at all. Except for football, which seems to bore our children. We are, however, devotees of both Lego.com and the local nickel arcade. Nothing like a good first-person shooter to reinforce those nonviolent family values.)

  58. Smart. Healthy. Rich. says:

    While there certainly are tangible benefits of having your child in day-care, such as increased socialization, I feel that they are far out-weighed by the benefit of staying home with your child during the day. The early years are a very important time in the development of your child, so would you rather that most of their time be spent with a parent, or at a day-care center (even if it is a top-notch one)?

    I realize that this is not feasible for everyone, but after the birth of our first child 5 weeks ago, we feel extremely lucky that my wife is able to stay home with him during the day to take care of him. He may not get quite the same social aspect as he would in day-care, but that just means that once he’s a little older, we’ll have to make a point of scheduling regular play dates with children his age. If you’re family can afford to have one parent stay home, I’d say go for it!

  59. Michelle says:

    I would just like to second what the other SAHPs have said, as a SAHM, my kids do not spend much time in front of the TV, we go to playgroups, community classes, fieldtrips, you name it. My daughter is extremely well socialized, and is not deficient in any area.

    My husband and I live in Southern California, and we’ve made sacrifices so that I can stay home with our kids. The big thing is that we rent rather than buying a house. We’ve made it a priority for one of us to stay home. That’s what it comes down to, priorities. If staying home is a priority then you make whatever sacrifices are nessecary.

    I do have to say, I honestly don’t want to work. I’m much happier staying at home then I would be working. And that’s me. We have a very low stress lifestyle (and I would like to say, that my husband has less stress with me staying home, because he doesn’t have to worry about things at home while he’s at work, he knows I’m here to take care of it) and I like low stress. For some people I’m sure it would be extremely boring, but I find it to be very nice.

  60. JR says:

    Experts -I need your suggestions:

    My wife and I are planning on having our first kid next year. We both are college educated and have decent paying jobs. My mother-in-law has volunteered to babbysit our kids.

    I need advice on the following:

    – After what age should I plan on using a daycare for my child? I do want the kid to socialize with other kids and other positive aspects that a day care provides.

    – How long would you suggest that my wife stay at home (not work) after our first child is born?

    Your advice will be much appreciated!

  61. S. Stanworth says:

    I find this whole discussion fascinating. I stayed home 18 months with our oldest (much to my and my family and friends’ astonishment) and for four months with our second. We had a great daycare situation with teachers who had advanced degrees and loved the kids. But we moved to another state in part because as our kids approached age 10, we decided that as kids get older and don’t want/can’t go to daycare, they can get into a lot more trouble after school and that one of us needed to be available full time at that time. (Don’t even get into the sports practices, etc.). I have several times planned to go back to work and then run into the reality of scheduling today. But part of staying at home for me involves volunteering at school and hauling other folks’ kids — heck, folks did that stuff when I was working; it’s our turn. But I guess what I’m getting at is that it has always fascinated me that people seem to be so focused on the first few years and parents need to be around for a lot longer. I’ve been on both sides and frankly, it’s a personal decision and everyone has to decide what is best for them and for their kids.

  62. Deaksus says:

    If you think that an infant benefits from being in daycare, you are kidding yourself. I really enjoy your blog, but every time you mention that your children are in full-time daycare (especially when you recently let it drop that your brand new baby is already spending her days with paid employees), it makes me re-evaluate how great your financial turnaround is. It simply has come at too high of a price.

  63. Rob in Madrid says:

    The best situation is where the stay at home parent (as noted usually the mother) can do both, earn an income and stay at home (have a friend over here who does that a dress maker) The worse situation is the Women who spends years getting an advanced degree goes into a job she loves but when the maternity clock starts to click discovers that her career choice and motherhood conflict (ie job that requires travel and long hours) I mention this because of a friend who was in that exact situation, she felt she was lied to. She said everything changes when your pregnant. She does work but not at the same job. She also had several friends who’ve gotten Phds from Harvard only to drop out when motherhood came calling. Unfortunately motherhood and carers are generally incompatible. It’s something mothers need to talk to there daughters about. Why spend a fortune getting a degree only to trade the fast track for the mommy track. Thankfully us men don’t have that problem. For us it’s bye honey I’m off to kill some tyrannosaurus Rex for dinner :)

    For those interested the WSJ has a blog dedicated to that very issue


  64. Rob in Madrid says:

    I’ve been emailing my niece about this very issue as she is facing this very delima as they plan on starting a family in the next year or two. Here’s what she wrote

    “I agree, Its easy to blame daycare for your child having problems, but when you look at it, they are still with you for the other 16 hours a day, and weekends and holidays.

    To afford one parent to stay home in Waterloo region, one of you MUST be: a tradesmen, a doctor, a teacher, or work for the city, or be really lucky.

    Both our Mediocre jobs won’t account for it, but we have accepted that and are just figuring out what will work.”


    “Robb applied for a new job within his co. today. Its more technical, which would benefit him, and challenge him, but he isn’t sure how qualified he is. He goes back to classes in Jan.

    Our good friends, one is a psychologist, she is 7 months pregnant. he does engineering, but since her pay is double his, he will be staying home with the kids. She will still take the full year, and he will only get 2 weeks, but as soon as she goes back he is quitting. (he isn’t a huge fan of working to begin with, and keeps talking about opening his own business, he just doesnt know what yet, we will see how long that idea lasts)

    honestly, of all the people I know, 80% of the situations both parents work, and the kids go to daycare 3-4 days a week, and then a grandparent gets them 1-2 days. Cuts costs and keeps the family close (like us with omi and opa)”

    Well said, not every family is in a position to give a fulltime wage. In America you add healthcare and it really muddys the water.

  65. jan says:

    Oh Trent, so many comments refer to money making work being lost if a parent stays home. The work of raising children is just that, work. It is the most valuable job a parent can have. I was born before the 50s and remember when everyone’s mom (dad) was home and the houses up and down the street were open for kids to visit. Not now. When we “set” women free we took from them as much as we gave. Keeping a home and caring for children needs to become a valued job again so folks can do it without feeling they have lost something. Day care is day care, sorry folks.

  66. A.M.B,A. says:

    Please stop using “it’s not the 1950’s anymore and TWO incomes are needed today” line. Usually middle class and lower middle class women of the 50’s worked outside of the home WHEN their last child entered school. There was no organized daycare or preschool. If you were fortunate to have grandmother/aunt live with or nearby or if you had a family business where a child could be with you, that woman worked. My mother worked outside of the home when her last child entered school. Her peers did also. Many made extra income selling Tupperware, etc. when their kids were preschool age. My parents did have to sacrifice during those early parenting years. The 1950’s one-income-family-forever was a scene from an upper-middle class to wealthy families. That was the man who was fortunate to have a college/professional degree, which in turn, allowed his family to have the “country club” lifestyle that we saw on TV and in the movies. TWO incomes are not needed today IF a family clearly differentiates between their wants and needs. We have been a one income family for 6 years now. And yes, we have less toys, less travel, a very old car, etc. compared to our two-income neighbors. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.


  67. Cheryl says:

    I am a speech-language pathologist and cannot even BEGIN to describe the number of children that I see with speech and/or language delays because a parent thought it was a good idea to keep a child exclusively at home. Child interaction with only parents and a few siblings frequently results in poor speech production, language delays, and poor social skills. One of the first things we do when encountering children like this is recommend that the parent place the child in a daycare or preschool for at least 2 days a week. Unless the family is large and the other siblings REQUIRE the child to do things for him/herself, these children are frequently immature/delayed (because everyone else does things for them) or have inappropriate or immature social skills, which usually results in the child being an “outcast” once s/he enters school. Also, many parents do not realize that Kindergarten is the new 1st grade. The kids are not just learning colors and letters anymore. Kindergarten is an academic setting, and many of these stay-at-home children are not prepared to read and write. I 100% support staying at home with your child, but for the child’s sake, parents have GOT to put their children in an outside setting at least 2 days a week. We are not perfect or able to provide all of our child’s needs, whether we like it or not. Most of the time, the child’s same-age peers are the best teachers.

    I commend you for realizing the importance of placing your child in a very academic and enriching daycare setting. Babysitting is NOT the answer, but a language-rich environment will result in exceptional development.

  68. Mark says:


    Our 2 kids spend 3 days per week at home with Grandma and 2 days per week at a day care center. We LOVE the current set-up. They spend most of their time at home with people that care deeply for them, and a few days a week they get that structure and social aspect from day care. It also allows grandma to be a big part of their lives.

    My wife just decided that staying home was not for her. I think they are better off with a happy working mother than a miserable SAHM. It works for us. Good luck to you.

  69. Anonymous says:

    Interesting discussion. I’m glad to see that (for the most part) people recognize that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation.

    I am a family/child researcher and it always makes me smile when I see people argue that the research is clear about something or other. Especially when I feel confident that most of their knowledge of the research comes from the NY Times or some such source. I mean I read a lot about health, but I’m no doctor (well, not a medical doctor, anyway)! The research literature covers hundreds of studies of thousands of families and makes generalizations so findings may or may not match your personal experience.

    One thing to consider – middle class kids often don’t get an added benefit from being in child care which is why many of you say your kids look the same when some have been in care and some stayed home. This is b/c MC parents are the ones who read parenting magazines, search out educational experiences and have the social capital to create fulfilling lives for themselves and enriching environments for their kids.

    Low-income families, however, often (generalizations, remember?) have financial, educational, or other constraints and so their kids can really benefit from quality care. And the parents often benefit, too, but we won’t get into that.

    Further, for those who try to argue that child care providers are “raising” kids, the research (and many of the comments here) show overwhelming evidence that the home and parents are the single greatest influences on a child.

    Finally, to the person who asked for advice, I’ll give my opinion. Since you seem to have a choice I am going to assume you are MC and I will give you the advice I give to my friends who seek my advice. You need to make sure your children are safe and happy. Provide them with diverse and educational experiences. And do what makes you comfortable, b/c a guilt-ridden or bored or stressed parent will do way more harm than the average child care setting ever could.

  70. KarenFLA says:

    For me day care was the best option, I would have used it even if I did not work. My kids were only in high quality day care and they learned a lot, not only scholastically, but also from the interaction with the other children. My eldest daughter, now a college professor, went to a wonderful center where they spent quality time with the kids and took them on lots of trips-to the zoo, to the beach. She learned how to do many things I did not know how to do myself. She was loved by the staff and came home happy every day. If I had stayed home with her, she could have not had the quality time. Let’s face it, when you are home with a child you are cleaning up after the child, running errands, cooking dinner, cleaning up the house, doing laundry, etc. You are not spending that work day doing quality things all day with your child. We moved and my two younger children also went to a quality day care where they were taught to read and do arithmetic at an early age. They both were reading and doing arithmetic on a 2nd grade level when they entered kindergarten. They also had confidence and leadership skills from getting along with others. Again, the school took them on trips and taught them things I would have never thought to teach them. Because I was not stressed out all day taking care of the children, I was able to be a better, more patient parent at night. I know my temperament and I have stayed at home during holiday periods with the kids and it is very taxing.
    A comment was made about the lost income because the mother starts at a lower level, having lost time. There is also the matter of pension benefits. I am receiving a pension and medical benefits because I worked long enough with the same employer to build up the time to be eligible. If I had stayed home with my three children, that never would have happened. This has a major impact on my husband’s and my quality of life and will for the rest of our lives. I have a friend my age who is pay $1000 a month just for her own medical benefits as she will not quality for Medicare for another two years. She does not have a pension, only her own savings as she took off to stay home with her children.

  71. zid says:

    i don’t have children yet but i observed how my cousins were growing up. the one growing up with SAHM are afraid of other people and hardly mixed with other children, while the one in day care had no problem mixing around with other children AND adults.

  72. J says:

    A response to Monica:

    > 1) Grandparents care for child during the day.

    This would be a wonderful option, but it makes a lot of implicit assumptions. In our particular case, both grandparents live a considerable distance away, and in locations that my wife or I do not want to reside in for various reasons.

    Also, by the time (grand)kids roll around, it’s entirely possible that one or more grandparents may be ill, caring for the other, or passed away. This is more and more common as people wait to have kids later. Not to mention that grandparents may not be retired yet, and may still be working themselves!

    > 2) Both parents work half time.

    Generally, half-time (professional) positions provide no health benefits, you generally need to be full time to get them. So while the money coming in may be equal, you have no medical care or you have to get it privately. There are exceptions to this rule, but both parents need to find these exceptional positions.

    Political note: If we didn’t need to worry about health insurance from our employer this *could* be better. But that’s an entirely different debate.

    > 3) Parents work different shifts

    As you mentioned, the parents don’t see one another. One thing children do is stress a marriage, since they cost money, add frustration and take considerable time. Of course, they add joy and can be tremendously rewarding, but if I never saw my wife as my “girlfriend” sometimes, the marriage would definitely suffer.

    I recall a “60 minutes” episode years ago where the parents were doing this to “make ends meet”. But it turned out that they were LOSING money doing it — and it turned out the family could be better off with the mother at home — they had been doing it for YEARS and the lady cried, since the marriage was on the rocks, the kids never saw their dad, etc.

    > 4) If you’re earning enough money, there is the
    > option of an au pair or nanny.

    For us, this breakeven point comes at 3 kids. We have discussed it, but keep in mind that an au pair is typically a young girl who has little experience with children, and with the world. Nannies can come with more experience and (maybe) some accreditation.

    Not to mention that you may need to pay health benefits for the nanny, in addition to vacations, etc.

    > 5) If the worry is that the kids would miss out > on education and interaction and activities, why > not sign them up for a nursery school.

    Generally, at 2, people start doing this.

    > 6) One parent works from home, and makes
    > alternative arrangements (babysitters,
    > grandparents) when he/she has meetings or
    > something.

    Since you don’t have (young) kids, I’ll tell you that they are a full-time job. This MAY be an option when the kids go to school, but 2 year olds DO NOT get “mommy has a conference call”, or “I can’t spend time with you right now”. Unless the work was entirely rote, anything that requires concentration is extremely difficult to accomplish with a infant/toddler around (if it wasn’t, we would just bring our kids to work with us :) )

    > 7) One parent works full time, the other works
    > half time, and the kid is in daycare half time. > However, I know that many daycares only accept
    > kids full time. This would probably be easier
    > with one of those in-home daycares.

    Oftentimes, half-time daycare is not half-price daycare. For example, full-time could cost, say $1000/mo, but half-time would be $900.

    Not to mention that you need to find a job to keep the family income level up, not to mention keep in your chosen profession, which differs considerably based on what that profession might be. And generally as you work your way from menial to highly-qualified professional, the part-time option exists less and less.

  73. Nicole says:

    This comment is not in regards to staying at home vs. daycare but more how such a choice affects our future financial wellbeing. There have been a couple comments that state something to the effect of “Having two incomes is more flexible” in that if one loses his/her job, they can still be ok.

    Actually, I have read a few articles that basically make the case for the opposite. If you have a lifestyle that requires both parents to work and one of them loses their jobs or needs/wants to quite, there is no one to take up the slack. If one parent is at home, that person can get a job while the other person regroups and figures things out. While this job may not pay as much as the lost job, it is an alternative.

    If both parents are working it isn’t easy to take a second job to make ends meet while the first changes careers. The only way that having two working parents could be more flexible is if you were saving pretty much all of one of the parent’s income, in which case you might consider one parent staying home anyway.

    Living on one paren’t income forces you to live a more frugal lifestyle

  74. Kim says:

    As a former daycare employee, I can tell you that there is a big unwritten rule for babies. Babies never have first moments at daycare. They never say their first word, they never crawl or walk for the first time. They never roll over. They never call the daycare employee mama. They never poop in the potty for the first time at school. Parents stay shielded from those events. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to watch out the window for a parent. I had to be sure to be holding their child, so that the baby wasn’t crawling (or whatever) when the parent arrived. I also can’t tell you how many times I had to wait days and days (occasionally weeks) for the parent to come in all excited because their little one FINALLY crawled. I don’t know about you, but I want a front row seat for the development of my children. Not a fabricated version of how it all went down. I’ve stayed home with all three of my kids. I know them as people. They are not lumps of clay that need to be molded into “well socialized” sheep. They are individuals with unique needs and personalities. We watch some TV (Dora, not always PBS), so what! She likes it and she learns spanish! When we watch it, we snuggle on the couch. Sometimes we eat lunch at 10:30 in the morning. If she’s hungry, I meet her needs. I don’t make her wait hungry till the prescribed lunch time. At three, my youngest can make a great PB and J. Her favorite field trip is to the grocery store to see her Grandma at work. She loves to spray our homemade/nontoxic cleaner on any surface of the house when she helps me clean. She loves to jump in a pile of towels straight out of the dryer. Our days aren’t filled with an endless stream of productive carefully planned educational activities. Our days are filled with love and togetherness and the joys of playing together at her pace. When she is tired she gets downtime. When she is ready for action, we jump in the leaves or head to the park. I would challenge anyone to find a better curriculum for a three year old than a really busy ant hill on a sunny afternoon. Small children don’t need endless structure and programming. They need time, space, and a loving parent close by. Education happens when a child is engaged in an activity that captivated their interest. It’s not about having a room that is “properly equipped”. My children did not learn less because they used watercolor paints at the kitchen table instead of an easel and tempra paints. I want my children close by me. I just can’t fathom how Trent and his wife could feel that a daycare center has more to offer their children than they do. How sad it must be to be a parent that feels that he has less to offer his child than an institution.

  75. Dan says:

    “no matter how good a daycare center is, it doesn’t match the love and nurturing care that a parent can provide for their child.”

    Yea right…

    I know plenty of kids who are narrowly avoiding a life of crime _because_ their parents are chosing to let the daycare “raise them”.

    Being able to breed is different then being a good parent.

  76. LC says:


    We are also planning children in a few years. We will likely use a combination of grandma and daycare. To answer your question though, I think that a preschool program (at age 3-4 for a few hours a week) is sufficient to prepare children for school, and daycare isn’t needed.

    One thing you may not have thought of… some companies have a day care spending account where you can save for day care expenses (including in home care by a family member) tax free. We plan to use this and pay my MIL. There is also a dependent care tax credit that you should take advantage of.

    I’m sure all the day care providers appreciated the comment that putting children in day care is “risking their life.”

  77. KoryO says:

    Ok, I *knew* I shouldn’t have read this, but….

    I am a SAHM, by choice, even. Why? It’s not that I can’t or won’t hold down a job, like Jenn insultingly posted above (you don’t think I HAVE a job, chasing after a toddler, simply because I’m not getting paid???) I worked my a$$ off until I was in my late 30’s, racked up a small pension and nice deferred comp/retirement account balances first. Betcha my retirement, even with this time off, is better funded and more secure than hers. I made sure to do that because I knew that someday I might want, or need, the option to stay home with a kidlet for a few years.

    Around here, it’s a definite need for me to stay home. I’m glad so many of you have high quality child care, but where I live, you practically have to beg to get on the vacancy list, oh, about two months before conception if you want a place for an infant. That’s just to get ANY spot….even at Jim’s Tackle and Kiddie Kare Korral, where it’s been 4 days since the last kid did a header offa the monkey bars!

    Putting him with some unlicensed provider doing heaven knows what when I’m working simply isn’t an option for me. Call me chicken, but I wasn’t going to risk the health and safety of most precious little critter on the planet that way.

    Not to mention that along with my sweetie’s high pay comes an expectation that he will work 10 to sometimes 12 hours a day….and that’s in a good week….and someone needs to be with the little guy, so here I am.

    Yep, it will probably hurt my career, but not as much as it did moving to this small town from the big city so my sweetie could find a decent job. But you know what? THERE ARE NO GUARANTEES ANYWAY! Telemarketers, tax preparers and engineers sure didn’t count on outsourcing to India. You could get hit by a bus or get a disease and be unable to work in your current career. (Keep in mind that you are four times more likely to be disabled and can’t work than you are to die before the age of 65…..yes, dahlink, it could happen to you even if you eat right and get your exercise….I worked in a pension fund with disability benefits, I know what I’m talking about here.)

    Stay flexible, and make the most of your current opportunities. If staying at home is the best option for you and your family, great! If working and putting your kidlet in a high quality day care is an option you are comfortable with and can pull off, terrific! But don’t assume that what works for you works everywhere under all conditions like some of the posters here.

    Now, excuse me….me and the boy are gonna watch some “Meerkat Manor”. Yep. TV. I’m sure some of you think it’s child abuse, or further proof that SAHM’s are lazy and don’t do “enriching” activities with their kids. I admit it, I’m selfish….I just love to hear him crack up when he sees an extreme meerkat closeup, especially of the baby meerkats. He won’t remember these moments, but I’ll never forget them. And I’m not gonna apologize for that one damn bit.

  78. Bill says:

    This is my biggest disagreement with this article.

    1950s-style are still affordable.

    It’s just that people want to live in houses two or three times the size of the house 1950s families lived in.

    Plenty of families of that era did just fine in a 3 bedroom, 2 or 1 bath, sub-1000 sq. ft. home.

    I grew up in a huge (6,000 sq. ft.) barn of a home, and know what it cost my family in time and money.

    Which is why my family of 4 lives cheaply in a home less than 1,500 sq. ft.

    If you want the 4,500 sq. ft. McMansion, you’re going to have to pay a heavy price for it.

    Trent wrote:

    This isn’t the 1950s any more – house prices have grown at a rate much higher than inflation, just for starters.

  79. Ron says:

    Wow, this is a great article for my family as we are currently awaiting the birth of our first child within the next few days. I appreciate the honesty and candor discussions but this is decision that my wife and I have struggled with making.
    While it is true that this is not the 1950’s and people do live much higher than their means, I believe people are also missing the cost of education, not for our children, but for the parents. Most parents, who have graduated college, have college debts that are close to the cost of our parent’s mortgage.
    Should women have to make decisions at 19 or 20 years old “If I go to college and I want children, will I stay home or go back to work”? Absolutely not!!! These decisions are very complex and I believe people merely judge people who send their children to day-care as “bad or selfish” parents.
    My belief, just because you are a stay-at-home parent, does not mean you are spending “quality” time with your children. You can send your children to a “day-care” and still take the time each evening or weekend to spend just as much quality time with your children as someone who stays at home.
    I am sure we will continue to struggle with this decision over the next few months, my wife is a teacher and her school has graciously given her 5 months off. She does truly have the best job, in at 8am, out at 3pm and off during the summer.

    This is truly one of the hardest decisions we have had to make!!!

  80. Ro says:

    This is an interesting discussion. I think that one thing that parents need to do is to be honest with themsleves. If they are working to fund retirment accounts, be honest about it. If they are working to live in a decent house, be honest about it. If they are working to keep the lights on, be honest about it. The only “socialization” an infant needs is to be securely attached to its parents, in particular its mother. Toddlers need to socialization of being with their parents in everyday life. Preschoolers can benefit from being in quality preschool program a few mornings each week. But infants don’t need sociazation and toddlers don’t need an endless list of one activity after another. I’ve seen the quality vs. quantity issue raised in this thread. I don’t think that plopping your child in front of the television all day is ever appropriate. However I have noticed that several posters talk about how if you are home with your child you are doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. Well, if you are *out* of the home, these things still have to get done, and it takes away from the little time you have with your child. Secondly, it is important for your kids to see you do these things and when they are old enough to join in…even toddlers can drop a few pieces of clothing in the hamper or stir soup, with careful supervision. These activities are just as much “quality” as any, if not more.

    I am a SAHM and we have made many many sacrifices for this to work. We are in the lower level of middle class and it’s been a challenge, but worth it to be able to stay at home. And no, our retirement is not fully funded. We hope to make up when I restart my career. I know it will never be at the level it would have if I’d not stayed home, but to us, it’s worth it.

  81. Sarah says:

    What most people fail to see is the flexibility of having one parent stay at home. With a one-income family, if that person loses their job there are TWO people to go into the workforce and make up for it. Sad to say but in two-income households most people simply cannot afford to live without both incomes. So, when one of those people loses their job, they are up a creek.

    That being said it is judgmental to determine that one group is a worse off parent.

  82. Sarah says:

    One quick side note–my husband is finishing a PhD in Ed Leadership and the research does seem to indicate that lower class families benefit GREATLY from day-cares, pre-K, etc. (However, middle class families not as much) We have to remember that this is generalizing the entire population, but that is what studies show.

    And good grief, if you see any parent who is miserable, (SAHP or working parent), obviously something is amiss in their family and it probably isn’t simply the fact that they work or stay at home.

    By the way, as a SAHM I would like to say that I would LOVE a day when all I did was, ‘stay at home.’ Please. The benefits for me are that I get to be the boss of my day, who I socialize with, and how much time I spend with my kid, (and yes we use a baby-sitter sometimes), etc.

    Maybe I’m just power hungry, (joking), but I never found a job that let me do all that. Please let me know if you all find one–I’d love to look into it b/c I sure do also love money.

  83. elizabeth says:

    @ kim

  84. elizabeth says:

    sorry the rest did not post.

    I just said that I agree with the “nothing happens first rule.” I worked in a day care for 2 years (a very well established Atlanta day care and preschool). I said before you just have to know the teachers well if you are going to go with daycare.

    Now I am a nanny. I love what I do. I don’t lie. My boss was upfront that I would have some firsts and she would have others. It was simply a fact of life that she realized. Even if you are a SAHP you won’t get ever first, but you will get more than you would if you were not a SAHP.

  85. Abby says:

    I’m hesitant to post anything because I have very strong feelings about this. Having worked in a daycare, been a working mom (2 incomes) and now a stay-at-home mom, I am offended by the attitude that ALL sah kids watch tv all day long. We watch specific shows and my daughter’s vocab has grown strongly because of it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t spend time with her in other ways.
    The other thing about staying home is the option of homeschool, and there are some parents who choose this route for many varied reasons.
    I chose to stay home because I hated working in daycare. Even in the best daycares, it’s other people’s kids. I spent all day playing with other people’s children while someone else took care of mine. I thought it was a fair trade for me to stay home. Now I get to be with my own, AND I watch other people’s kids.
    As for “socialization” what few people realize is that children CANNOT be “socialized” before the age of three. No sharing, no playing “together” none of that. There is plenty of child development research out there that proves this. There really is no point in taking your infant to a daycare for socialization. They are self-centered, and for good reason. They have very individual needs, and the BEST person to take care of those needs is mom or dad. But you gotta do what you gotta do.
    If our culture wasn’t so selfish and self-centered, maybe our kids would get the best of us, rather than the second best of other people.

  86. Gayle says:

    My husband and I are both working professionals and, 25 years ago, we made the decision to continue our careers and arrange for high-quality daycare for our only daughter, combined with regular care by loving grandmothers.

    Twenty-five years later, we’ve JUST learned the following:

    The first year-and-a-half to two years of a child’s life are crucial with respect to “attachment.” It is imperative that the child have a single primary caregiver who cares for them at least 30 percent of the time throughout that period of time.

    My husband and I were both actively involved in our daughter’s care (both together and separately), and we were successful in ensuring that she was constantly surrounded and cared for by people who treated her with kindness, respect and love, and who ensured that she had positive opportunities for social and intellectual development.

    Although she was raised by the proverbial loving “village,” however, I cannot honestly say that throughout the first year-and-a-half of her life any ONE person consistently cared for her 30 percent of the time.

    As a result, for the past 10 years she has struggled terribly with an attachment disorder. Not only will the treatment last years and cost a fortune, but she has endured terrible personal suffering as a result.

    It was very important to us to make a wise decision in with respect to her care, and all options were open to us. After giving the matter a great deal of thought, we truly believed we were making the right decision with respect to combining work, daycare and the care of loving family members — and we still got it wrong.

    If I had it to do over again, I would absolutely have stayed with her for the first year-and-a-half of her life and made sure she had the consistency of a single primary caregiver.

    Good luck to all you young parents!

  87. Lou says:


    There is a lot of emotion in this section of comments.

    How hard it is for me to read about parents who put their children in daycare. And while I am sure the decision was agonized over, debated, and possibly even prayed over…the end result is the same: The baby/child spends more time at daycare than at home.

    How could this possibly be best?

    No matter how “good” or “high-quality” a daycare is, it is still only a *substitute* for Mama. Those bragging rights don’t matter to a child that just desires to be with a parent.

    I agree with Abby…. our kids deserve the best of us!

  88. Tyler says:

    My wife’s dream was to stay at home with her kids. I’m glad that I can make this a reality (not without sacrifice, though).

  89. Kate says:

    If you don’t have a good career, then by all means stay home.
    A happy parent is a happy kid.

  90. Zena. says:

    A question wonder by many a parents, to say the least is whether or not a child should be placed into care or brought up with there mother as the main care giver.
    The social developmental factors involved in this debate would ultimately agree, with sending a child away from the home and family on the basis of higher chances of creating multiple attachments, to not only peers, but nursery workers and assistants. Therefore helping the child become more confident and independent.
    However, this would also mean a less strong relationship with there main caregiver, – a theory produced by Bowlbys evolution theory. Robertson and Robertson, proved that daycares may permantly affect the relationship between infant and mother. Although this could be classed as a biased experiment, as it was only tested by one child.
    On a negative side, due to the ratio of children to adults in day-care, infants may fight for attention, which could make them selfless and selfish in the future.
    Conversely day-care is good for intellectual development in reading and math skills, although it is proven that one on one teaching increases the baby’s knowledge.

    Anderson proved that children entering daycares, at an early age performed better on cognitive tests compared to children whom entered later, or not at all.
    Also, if a child doesn’t have a secure attachment, (safe base) they may be less willing to explore the new, unfamiliar environment of a nursery.
    Dilalla showed that the more daycare a child has the less socially they behave, by being proven to be less likely to share and help others.
    However, what ever your opinion is on daycares it ultimately comes down to the quality and successfulness of the nursery or day-care you use.

  91. Lawilli says:

    I have been reading these posts today as I am placing my daughter in daycare for the first time next week and will be returning to the workforce.

    I am a product of daycare as are my three sisters. My mother and father both worked fulltime all of my life. I am a college professor, and all three of my sisters are professionals: one is a microbiologist, one is an accountant and one is a highschool teacher. Both of my parents are also college educated. It is my opinion whether or not your children are in daycare or whether they stay at home with you it depends on the QUALITY of the care given. My mother and father did spend quality time with us when they came home from work. I found my parents to be invaluable when we were growing up. They were always available to help with homework. I was very lucky and I contribute my success in life to my parents. It is from my parents I learned organization, accountability, time and money management. I do not think I would possess these skills had my parents not worked. I could spend all day recounting how I was always so proud of my parents when they were able to visit us at school and talk about their profession on careers day or how my mother was able to set up tours for my classroom of the courthouse (she was in the law profession).

    I am certain had my parents not been professional people, I would not have read the books I read growing up or been able to travel the world and learn about different cultures first hand.

    Ultimately, it is up to the parent to decide what is best for their child, but I strongly believe I would be doing my daughter a disservice if she does not get to know me for who I am now, my passions, etc…

    For me choosing to stay at home I will rob my daughter of the wonderful opportunities I was given.

  92. Stephen says:

    What a joke. The parents here are actually defending daycare as better then their own parenting! Amazing. Seriously stop and think about that – having a kid so that you can put them in daycare for all the numerous advantages? The self justification here is off the charts. It doesn’t matter how great the daycare is – it’s not a loving parent.
    Daycare is a necessity in situations, not the preferable option.

  93. Sarah says:

    My husband and I have 8 month old twins. We went back and forth before they were born and during my leave trying to decide what would be the best thing to do. In the end we opted to split our schedules and keep them at home while maintaining our dual incomes. I work 10a-5p and he works 1a-9a. We each take no full lunch break (by choice) and so are able to be home with our boys as much as possible.
    It means that during the week we see each other for just a few minutes each morning but we both have weekends free to enjoy together.
    I went to daycare as a child and have turned out fine but I want to keep my children home and in our arms, not in the questionable arms of a “licensed child care provider”. They will keep them alive. We give them a life!

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