Updated on 02.22.07

Stay At Home Parenting: Is It Worth It?

Trent Hamm

Now that my wife and I are on firm financial footing (and it took much less time than we thought it would take), we are re-evaluating the question of whether or not one of us should be a stay at home parent until our child goes to school.

From a developmental standpoint, our ideal would be that our child goes to his current daycare three days a week while the stay-at-home parent pursues a part-time career. Why? We think that the social development that a child gets from interacting with peers at daycare is quite valuable, but we also feel that the individual loving attention that our child can get from one-on-one time with a parent is invaluable, too.

We’re currently trying to evaluate whether this is viable from a financial standpoint, and here’s the criteria we’re using.

First of all, half (or more) of our salaried income would vanish in an instant. This is obviously the big negative here. Can we survive and continue with our plans if we lose half of our income? This would also require one of us to be attached to the other’s health benefits. My anticipation is that it would be very, very difficult.

However, there are some positive factors to look at that would reduce the impact:

I already have alternate streams of income – you’re looking at one of them. If I were to walk away from my job (because it looks more likely that I would quit my job than my wife would quit hers), I have at least one significant alternate stream of income (this site) and several smaller ones. Likely, I would commit myself to running two more blogs on a dedicated server. I’m not concerned in the least about writing burnout, and my estimate is that given three full days a week to work on blogging (plus late evenings and some weekend time), I could easily make this blog remain at its current level of quality and introduce two more with similar levels of quality (yes, I am a writing savant). Would this be enough supplemental income? I’m not sure.

Our daycare costs would be reduced significantly. Our daycare’s rates are almost at a per-day level, so reducing from five to three days a week scrapes up some extra money.

Our schedules suddenly become much more flexible. If a child is sick or something to that effect, there’s already a parent at home that can take care of the situation. The same is true for any other situation that can only be dealt with during the day. Also, it would be much easier to have homecooked meals, etc. if one person was at home all day, and would also reduce costs (more food prepared at home means less expensive takeout and so forth).

I think the issue that will bring this to a head is the presence of a second child. We are basically committed to having a second child at this point and we both tend to believe that the additional daycare costs and our desire for the flexibility of a stay-at-home parent would result in one of us staying at home.

Are there any other significant considerations we’re missing? Please let us know in the comments.

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  1. Roger says:

    One big plus here is that having a parent at home will give a huge boost to your child. No matter how good the daycare centre, you can’t expect someone earning minimum wage to take the same interest in your child as you do.

    My wife stayed home with our two children, who are now in Kindergarten and Grade 2. They are light-years ahead of their classmates in many areas including reading, math skills, and computer-use abilities.

    Yes, it is a sacrifice. But it is worth it to your kids.

  2. Yes, the potential impact it might have on your marriage.

    I used to be a thoroughly modern gal and my husband became a stay-at-home husband and really quite liked it. He was great at childcare and doing the washing and cooking, but never ironed or cleaned house, so we had to have a cleaner too.

    And he became more and more passive and although he was supposed to be getting his sports therapy massage business going, never did anything to market it.

    After three years of therapy which I undertook because I was going mad trying to be happy in a relationship that was essentially comprised of two female energies, I dragged us all round the world in attempt to “escape the pressures of here” and then realised that it was the dynamics of the relationship that was all wrong.

    I needed to be around a male energy when I came home from work (where I was required to be quite assertive) in order that I could retrieve my female energy again. That energy gradually disappeared from my previously quite macho husband.

    Now it may be different for you two and I really hope that it will be, especially as you already have a fairly successful home / internet business but please think about it carefully.

    Kids are wonderful but you will end up trying to write and constantly getting interupted and then resent them – albeit momentarily!

    Think about someone to come in for a few hours each day so you can have “writing time” without worrying that they are setting the house on fire, strangling the cat or falling in the nearest puddle and drowning.

    Over the top? You try working from home LOL

    Warm regards


  3. Angela says:

    I think that you need to discuss how this will affect how you do housework. There is a tendency for men who stay at home to be considered (by society) to have a enough to do with just looking after the kids and women who stay at home less so. You’re wife may feel differently.

    Also, don’t forget to consider how to respond to other people’s opinions.

  4. D says:

    I stayed home with my 1st 2 children and the difference is huge, from my last child. No one can teach them what you, yourself can.

    Socialization is easily solved with going to parks and other fun activities. Schedule play dates.

    All I can say, is if I had the chance to do it over again- I would struggle with the money issues and enjoy each and every moment. Although, it was the hardest, most stressful position I ever had, the rewards were huge. I miss those days. Don’t let them pass you by.

    Also, in my opinion (hope I don’t get blasted for this) fathers are wonderful caregivers. Most times better than mothers. I find the calm they bring to everyday situations is just amazing. Where as I tend to be riddled with emotion, my husband can shrug things off and move forward. Making things remain small instead of growing.

    Good luck to you and your family.

  5. Erica says:

    No amount of money can replace the day to day experience of caring for your child. You will grow as a person.

    Beware though, it does take some adjusting and constant communication.

    I agree with Nicola about a few hours childminding for writing time.

  6. Moe says:

    My wife just got fired (9 mos pregnant with our second child) so we were forced to have a one income household. Immediately, I removed my daughter from daycare and my wife is taking care of the oldest (3 yrs old) and the baby (3 weeks old).

    The financial impact was huge, but somehow it works well. We save on transportation, lunches, takeout, etc. We seem to be doing pretty well. And the impact it has on my children is fantastic.

    My recommendation: If you can do it, go on with it. The payoff will not come in money, but in the changed lives of the children.

  7. Lee says:

    I concur with D – my husband is a stay at home Dad and he’s wonderful at it. We have two young boys (1 1/2 and 3 1/2) and he has his hands full, but he definitely can balance the stress of child rearing better than I can.

    I agree with Erica also – there is a lot of “adjustment” required in the process, and both parties need to be very flexible. However, I think this is true of any “modern” relationship – equilibrium has to be attained somehow. In our case, while I work full time with a long commute, I still do all of the cooking, shopping, and most of the external-to-the-house chores. My husband has enough to do, and it balances out our workloads more appropriately.

    Go for it! It is well worth it for the well-being of your kids – it’s only a few years, really, and you can always revert to working if you don’t like it!

  8. Chris says:

    When she stops working, she stops donating to social security, her 401k, and her IRA. That may not hurt now, but that will certainly hurt when you retire and need those kinds of savings.

    My own wife is 12 weeks pregnant. And yes, she has left her job – her day job. Instead, she is now selling Mary Kay full time and has worked her way up to Independent Sales Director.

    She still makes a good amount of money. She still contributes to social security and her IRA. But, she sets her own schedule. And, she can even take our future child with her to meet her clients – other women with children of their own. Or, she can hand off our child to my mother who also has a flexible schedule because she too sells Mary Kay.

  9. James' Mom says:

    I love that you are considering staying home. It is so rewarding and worthwhile in both your life and you child’s. Being an at-home mom myself, there are a couple points to consider:

    – Writing time. I feel guilty for writing on my blog like I should instead be playing or educating my child. This is an unavoidable feeling and I’m considering setting up certain times during the day that are writing times so I’m not on the computer more than I should be.

    – Men who stay at-home are almost in an unfair situation. You build a network up with other parents whom stay home (you have to for sanity and for social interaction for both you and your kids). Most at-home parents are female. So when a Dad stays home, it’s a bit awkward for him to make these friendships. People speculate romantic relationships or spouses may get jealous.

    Just things to consider. I think it’s a gift to your child and I’m glad I gave up my IT position at Nike to stay at home. It was such a difficult decision but I never regretted it afterward.

  10. Nathania Johnson says:

    You might consider what (if any) you’ll be saving in fuel costs by not driving back and forth to work – unless you already work at home.

    Are there any tax implications? Would you gain tax deductions from having a home-based business?

    And I think some other commenters are very wise – make sure you know you’re intent for staying at home. My job lets me work from home a certain number of hours a week. But when the kids interrupt me – it gets frustrating.

    Your kids are (will be) younger – and more demanding. So probably you would want to make sure you know why you’re staying home – to run a business or to raise the kids?

  11. Aaron says:

    Have you read Freakonomics? It’s a great book, and one of the topics researched is the extent to which different approaches to parenting affect children’s development. Please refer to the book for supporting info, but the bottom line is this: stay-at-home parenting has no overall effect on a child’s academic development.

  12. 3bean says:

    I’m not going to comment on what’s better for the child, but I will comment that there is a great deal of research surrounding how difficult it is for women re-enter the full-time workforce after not working or working part-time. Not only is it difficult to re-enter, but women typically don’t re-enter on the same salary trajectory that they were prior to the break in full-time employment.

  13. Grant Boston says:

    I agree with 3bean, re-entering the workforce is hard no matter your gender. In your plans you should actively plan to stay in contact or create new contacts, it may cost money to join an association or have a coffee meeting but it is an investment for your future when you want to return to the workforce. It is also a much needed “sanity break” from speaking “toddler” all day long!

  14. Todd says:

    After the birth of my son (first child) last August, my wife stayed home from work for about 12 weeks, after which she went back to work two days a week.

    As I’m a part-owner of the company I work for, I have the flexibility to do whatever I need to do. I stay/work at home with Zachary Monday and Tuesday mornings, and a friend watches him in the afternoons. Wednesday – Friday, Mom stays home with him.

    This is an ideal situation for us. Dad gets plenty of one-on-one time with him–although when he wants attention and I’m trying to do something urgent it gets challenging–not counting evenings and weekends. The friend (a stay-at-home mom) has two children, one of whom is a little older than Zach, so when he starts to “play”, he’ll have built-in friends. Mom gets to be out of the house, productive, and talk to adults. We’re paying the sitter babysitting $$, not day-care $$, so my wife is working for a lot more than just child care.

    I could totally get into being a full-time stay-at-home dad, if I didn’t have the pressure of trying to do my job while staying at home.

    If we had an employee that wanted to try the same thing I’m doing, I’d be thrilled to give him the chance.

  15. Ali says:

    I’ve worked full-time in the past and am now a SAHM with three youngsters. When I first decided to stay at home full-time we had two little children. I crunched the numbers (I was working as an accountant at the time)and found that paying childcare for two children plus all the other expenses involved (commuting, professional clothing, etc) I was already incurring netted me a whopping $2.50 an hour! Obviously, staying home made much more sense for our family financially as well as lifestyle-wise. Staying at home is definitely more challenging and demanding than most full-time jobs–you can’t ever clock out! That said, I would not give up this time with my children unless absolutely necessary. All of these posts have had lots of good advice. Sharing care of your children with your spouse is important to give each other some “time-off” and working together as a couple is vital. We share home responsibilities, too. My husband does some things I don’t like to do, like cooking dinner, and I do some of the things he doesn’t enjoy, like yard work. I highly recommend staying at home with your children to anybody who wants to do it.

  16. Jennifer says:

    I currently am home with my preschooler full time. But for almost a year I worked part-time and had her in childcare for 3 days a week. It was fabulous! I got grown-up thinking time working for a former employer and with good friends. She went to an in-home daycare with a mix of ages and about 10 kids total. We had one day to run errands together and one day for playgroup and just one-on-one time. Then we all enjoyed the weekends with my husband. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

    We moved two years ago and I’m at home full time but also trying to freelance/volunteer when I can. It’s more to stay sane and current in my skills than to earn any money. But, it’s pretty much impossible to find good chunks of time to work when my daughter is around. I’m not always inspired to work when she’s in preschool and in the evenings I’m usually too tired to work and I want to spend some time for myself.

    Something to consider is your personality. Being a full-time parent requires you to be “on” in a completely different way from being in an office. It can be exhausting. And do you have the personality to work from home? I’ve found I really need the structure and sense of belonging I get from going into an office every day. I’m significantly more productive in the office than at home. I’m also not really cut out to be a freelancer but that’s what works right now. It’s turning out to be a really good learning experience.

    Housework is another consideration. You need to remember that now, while you’re both working full-time, you fit in the housework around your jobs. Nobody expects you to do the laundry while you’re at the office. And your daycare probably doesn’t provide a hot dinner for you to bring home with your child. If you stay at home, your primary job is caring for your child. Housework and cooking is a bonus. It’s so easy to think that you’ll be able to get things done since you’re at home anyway. And sometimes you’ll be able to fit-in a lot. Other days you’ll be grateful for the opportunity to comb your hair. Just before you quit, stock the freezer with precooked meals and give your house a spring cleaning like it’s never seen before. Mornings are much easier than afternoons so get as much meal prep done then as you can. Invest in a crock pot and learn to use it.

    I belive that Mom’s Club International allows dads to join. There are 2 dads in the club I’m in. They have branches in most towns and cities. The membership fees are low and they offer playgroups and weekly activities. Also take a good look at the other kids in your neighborhood. Are they the same age as your child? Do they go to child care? Are you friendly with their parents? Our neighborhood has lots of kids, but most of them are in childcare or at school so we’re left to travel to find entertainment. This is very different from how I grew up and makes a big difference in gas and entertainment spending. Also consider your child. Some kids are homebodys. Others thrive on being out and about.

  17. maxconfus says:

    “We think that the social development that a child gets from interacting with peers at daycare is quite valuable”

    I would highly disagree with this statement. The negatives of day care far outweigh the positives. Also this is why there are toddler and parent support groups where you can meet other people with similar aged children to interact and play with, not to mention supervise them yourself.

    Talk to a child development researcher. They will tell you the extreme importance of the first three years of development and its affect on the rest of your child’s life.

  18. Nathan says:

    I, like Brice, am only a year removed from college, just starting in the workforce, and have no plans for immediate family. Similar situations, extremely different opinions. He says that children that are in daycare will only pick up what their peers are doing, then goes on to mention how poorly he sees children behave because of apathetic parents. I agree on both accounts, but I will always believe that parental influence will override any peer influence at such a young age. The key component here is quality parenting, not that they might be exposed to peers behaving badly.

    My parents had me when they were 19/20, so they needed to continue school/work out of necessity, and so I was not raised in a SAH environment. However, my daycare ranged from in home with relatively small number of similar aged kids to a preschool facility. I too have many memories being young and doing things with my parents, traveling and seeing sights in many places, some outside the US. I read and wrote before I attended a day of kindergarten, and to imply that this is only possible in a SAH environment is missing the point. Again, the point is quality care. My parents also spent most of their nonwork time with me, everything from coaching my sports teams to being involved in other clubs.

    I think my case is also unique because I have two younger sisters with a good 5/7 years between us in age. At this point in time, my parents were more financially able to opt to SAH. My mom decided to stay at home for both my sisters, and actually began watching friend children, and began doing in home day care for a couple families. (This wasn’t that hard of a transition from pediatric nursing.) My sisters were, upon entering school for the first time, at the same level I had been, and showed no signs of being further along in development academically or socially. The reason is because in both cases, quality care was given.

    Fast forward ~20 years, and it’s easy to compare standardized test scores, grades, social development, and anything else wanted to use in statistics. I was the valedictorian of my class, and my sisters who are graduating soon are both in the top 10 or so student’s in theirs. Our test scores, grades, comprehension, and general intellectual capabilities are all extremely similar accounting for personalities and interests.

    I agree with Brice completely that having advanced kids, they must be exposed to adults that are going to bring the best out of them. But I disagree that it can only be the parents, and am unsure why his feelings are so strong in the matter. There are many paths to the same place, and quality daycare can be used alongside involved parenting with the same end result as any SAH scenario.

  19. Daisy says:

    I won’t get into all the non-financial reasons I think stay-at-home parenting is better. That’s a nasty can of worms, with both sides getting pretty defensive. I’ll just say that, financially speaking, you won’t lose nearly as much as it seems like at first. My experience was that working outside the home costs *a lot*, sometimes nearly as much money as it appears to bring in. When I quit working outside the home, we lost *more* than half our income, but our standard of living certainly didn’t decrease by that much. It took some creative financial thinking, sure, but not nearly as much as you might expect. You can easily make up the difference in other ways. You do have a tip jar on your blog, yes?

  20. Sandy says:

    When you go down to one income, your child is more likely to qualify for medicaid. Mom may qualify for free reproductive health care, so her annual exams and birth control may be free, and even subsequent children may be born at no hospital/midwife cost. That can be some serious money.

  21. lisa knight says:

    Great post! There is a ton of great advice coming in the comments. There is a lot to consider. Finances, roles, commitment, housework… Even if you discuss all of this up front, trust me there will be conflicts along the way. As long as you can maintain open communication about the situation you should be ok. There is nothing worse than resentment in a marriage. Your wife may resent the extra time you get to spend with your child, you may resent the time your wife gets to spend with adults, she may be unhappy with your housekeeping skills, there are so many factors to consider. I’m sure that you will work it out for what is best for your family!

  22. Sandra says:

    This seems to be an individual thing because some parents are happier and consequently better parents working outside the home. Alternately, others couldn’t bear to work outside the home full time. My Mom always worked outside the home and had some crazy shifts, but I respect her and she inspired me when she went to college and worked at the same time when I was a child. Still I missed her, but I enjoy being home with my children more than she would have. She would have went crazy staying home because she’s a different personality. Not better, just different.
    Financially it can be a challenge, but there are ways you can be home and make money too.

  23. Loretta says:

    Numerous studies in Great Britian have shown that having a parent stay at home provides quantifiable advantages for a child. The studies are not widely publicized here, mostly, I gather, because of political correctness. Having worked full-time, part-time and no-time while my children were young, I can state from personal experience that staying at home is better (as long as, of course, your decision does not cause your family extreme financial hardship). If you are generally a frugal, creative person it can also save you money. Also, though I do believe that children who have a stay-at-home parent are better qualified academically (sometimes remarkably so)upon entrance to kindergarten, there are so many other, “non-academic” advantages which work together to result in a more well-adjusted child and a better child-parent relationship. Most of them come as a result of simply spending a lot of time with a person who loves you very much, whether the two of you are simply folding laundry or taking a walk around the neighborhood. I realize I’m putting forth some sweeping generalizations, but this is what I’ve seen and experienced.

  24. Loretta says:

    One more thing: Using the child’s need for socialization as an argument for day-care just doesn’t hold water with me. Unless you are a phobic, isolative type of personality, you’re going to meet other families on the block, at the park, mommy/daddy and me class, etc. Socialization will take care of itself; it doesn’t have to be regulated, especially for the younger children.

  25. Carmen says:

    maybe this is not an option for you, but what about extended family helping out with childcare? They would also be more than excited to help out – I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and aunt as a kid and hope to have a similar situation when I have kids in a few years.

  26. Wendy says:

    Going from two nearly similar incomes to one greatly reduces your tax liability. This is especially true if congress doesn’t address the AMT impact on middle income families for the current and future tax years. The reduces tax liability won’t make up for my entire lost income, but it definitely keeps the numbers from being a straight 50% of pre-baby income.

  27. Katie B. says:

    “The negatives of day care far outweigh the positives.”

    I completely agree- Back in March a highly publicized study regarding day care and child behavior/development was in the news.

    That said- at the end of the day you can find studies to support either premise- day care is good, day care is bad, etc. It’s a choice that each family has to make on their own.

    My college educated mother stayed home with my brother and I throughout our childhood and I truly could not be more grateful. When I was in first grade I wanted to see what day care was like so I begged and begged to go. My mother signed me up for a week one summer at the local day care that a few of my friends attended and after three days I had had enough. Even as a first grader I knew that these overworked day care workers were not nearly as interested or invested as my mother was. Day care was boring, without challenges, and not nearly as fun as spending time in the back yard or at the park exploring. Nearly all of my friends whose parents worked full time out of the house have expressed to me at one time or another how much they would have rather had a parent at home.

    I understand how difficult it is for most families to take this route, which is just one more reason why I am truly grateful that my parents made (and were able to make) the sacrifices necessary to allow one parent to stay home. The memories of afternoons spent with my mother are priceless.

  28. Meko says:

    “When I first decided to stay at home full-time we had two little children. I crunched the numbers (I was working as an accountant at the time)and found that paying childcare for two children plus all the other expenses involved (commuting, professional clothing, etc) I was already incurring netted me a whopping $2.50 an hour!”

    I don’t understand why families make this calculation — it biases the decision against the woman almost every time. Why not take the overall family salary, subtract the childcare expenses, and go from there? Then add back in any personal satisfaction, future opportunity potential, potential for raises, contributions to retirement funds, etc. and make a decision. Children benefit from seeing their mothers happy and fulfilled at work, too.

    The idea that a woman making $10 an hour should stop working to take a day-care position that pays $7.50 is bizarre to me. And, no, I don’t have kids. Go figure.


  29. vh says:

    While my son was growing up (he just turned 30), I went back & forth between stay-at-home (actually ran a small home-based business) and working. Didn’t seem to make much difference for him, but here’s the difference it made for me:

    Because the stay-at-home business amounted to a giant tax deduction for my corporate lawyer hubby, my Social Security records show year after year of 0 income–even though between the two of us we earned more than $120,000 a year through the 1970s and 80s. When I retire, my Social Security payments will be a little over $800 a month. My current boyfriend quit his job in his 40s to enter what he called “bumhood”–early retirement–and when he started collecting Social Security at age 62, the gummint forked over $1200 a month….to a guy who never earned more than $45,000 a year and hadn’t earned enough to pay income taxes for 15 years before he started collecting.

    Because I hadn’t held a steady job for the 25 years of my marriage, when I divorced the corporate lawyer the best job I could land paid about $20,000 less than others in my field regarded as a living wage. Tho’ I’m doing all right financially now, I’d be doing one heckuva lot better if I’d spent those 25 years in the workforce…and I wouldn’t be looking at having to stay in the harness until age 70.

    Honey…don’t quit your day job–either one of you!

  30. Mardee says:

    I think this is a very personal decision to make. I’m not sure if you’re still thinking about it, since the original post was written back in February and you’ve since bought a house, but obviously there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Whatever you do, don’t let gender be a decision (including what others will think of you for being a SAHD) – fathers have the same capability for being terrific caregivers as moms do.

    Whenever I have a decision to make like this, I always use the old standby – make a list of pros and cons, then weigh the benefits vs. the risks. In many cases, one side will lean more heavily, which makes the decision easier. Other times, it may be closer to the middle.

    I can tell you that I stayed home with my daughter for the first 3 years of her life, then went back to school. I have never regretted that decision, even though I was broke most of those years and living off my savings. The benefits I received from those first 3 years far outweighed any monetary benefit I could have gotten from working.

  31. reulte says:

    I would say — with the reservation of take a good look at future finances and a division of labor — do the stay at home.

    You are so lucky to have this option. My EX-husband, a stay-at-home bum, did no work at all around the house and barely watched the baby. I came home from work to cook dinner, clean, wash dishes from breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner, wash clothes, bath the baby, take the baby outside to play on yard, etc. I came in one day and caught the baby chewing on an electric and, when I pointed it out to my ex, his response was “Wow – glad you got him, that could have ruined my (video-game) score.” I got a nanny within 2 days and a divorce within 2 years.

    Just because caring for your child is hard work, does NOT mean you won’t have to do house work (contrary to what some of the above people are saying). Sharing if fine, but the stay-at-home parent must do an equal share.

    As a single mom, it can get even harder, but IF things work out financially, I will be at my crossover point within 4 years and can seque into a part-time and/or work at home situation where I will be able to spend more time with my (then) 9 year old.

  32. Nicole says:

    This is why I am going to school to be a nurse. I can work on weekends when he doesn’t work. That is 1 less reason for me to be bullied into staying at home.

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