Leaving to be a Stay-At-Home Parent

Kendra writes in:

My husband and I are expecting our first child in February. Currently, we’re in great financial shape: we’ve been saving our money quite diligently over the last few years, bought a house with a large down payment, and have a large emergency fund and several CDs.

Given that and given the desire we both have to homeschool our children, I’ve made the decision with the full support of my husband to quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom.

We don’t think our standard of living will be impacted much from this move since we already spend far less than we earn and our expenses will go down even more when I leave my job in January, but we’re still nervous about this big step. Do you have any suggestions or a list of things to think about during this transition?

Kendra and her husband have come to a difficult decision, one that my wife and I carefully considered before I chose to become a full-time writer (which gave us the flexibility that we were really looking for and sorely needed).

Here are eight pieces of advice I would give to any person in Kendra’s situation who is considering or about to make the transition to stay-at-home parenting.

Making the Transition to Being a Stay-at-Home Parent

1. Have a very healthy cash reserve

It is very, very hard to project what your actual costs will be like after all of these changes. You can make some educated guesses, but you’re likely forgetting something or retaining some costs that will go away.

The best thing you can do financially to prepare for the abundance of changes coming your way is to simply build up a large cash reserve, then tap it only as you need it. Focus on surviving on just one salary – only use the cash reserve if you absolutely have to use it, because it’s not a recurring source of income.

2. Adopt frugal tactics for your child – and invest in some items up front

By this, I don’t mean go out and buy a mountain of disposable diapers. Instead, look for opportunities to genuinely reduce the long term costs of having a baby. Invest in cloth diapers, for example, and avoid the repeated costs of disposables. Breastfeed if you can – it’s almost always the better nutritional choice for the baby and is substantially cheaper than formula. When your child gets older, make your own baby food by pureeing food you would eat (like steamed vegetables) instead of buying tons of little jars. For things like clothes, toys, bibs, and crib sheets, hit a yard sale or a consignment shop – most stuff for babies and toddlers aren’t used much at all and you can save a bundle by buying these items used.

Here’s a visual guide to some of these tactics.

3. Practice frugality now instead of later

Your life is going to undergo many changes in a few months, so now is the time to practice some more frugal habits so that they’re commonplace when other changes arrive. Focus on eating at home more and master the art of cooking at home while there’s plenty of time to learn. Do some basic energy efficiency tasks around your home to reduce the brunt of your energy bill.

You can also look at bigger things. Perhaps you’re now in a position where selling one car is reasonable – that would eliminate the cost of insurance and upkeep on one vehicle, after all.

4. Make expectations clear up front

You may each have different expectations of how life will be after the transition. Sit down and talk about every aspect of the change in advance. It may be that the employed partner will expect dinner to be cooked every night, while the other partner expects cooking sharing to continue. It may be that the employed partner expects to not be awakened by night-time baby needs on work nights, while the stay-at-home partner thinks such tasks should alternate.

Talk about these issues and every other expectation that you have for how things will go in the new era. It’s far, far better to discuss these concerns rationally and openly in advance than to be unpleasantly surprised by your partner’s behavior after the transition.

5. Don’t isolate the child – or yourself

After the child’s birth, you’ll eventually start adopting some daily routines for yourself. Don’t let these routines result in isolation for you and the baby. You both need social contact.

Seek out local stay-at-home parenting groups and look into joining them. Groups like this exist in most communities, giving stay-at-home parents a social outlet as well as providing social opportunities for the child. Look into other opportunities available in your community as well, such as story time at the local library.

Such activities will help you to build a social network that will guide you through both the good times and the bad times of being a stay-at-home parent and will help you in many, many ways along the way.

6. Maintain connections with people in your previous career

The choice to be a stay-at-home parent is often a temporary one, with parents planning on returning to the work force once their child reaches a certain age. In order to make that transition back easier, keep in contact with people in your field and keep at least somewhat up-to-date with what’s happening with those people. Contact them somewhat regularly, sending information about what you’re up to and also passing along anything useful to them that you may have.

Maintaining these relationships will give you a foot in the door should you decide to return to your earlier career path.

7. Don’t rule out opportunities you may be able to do in your spare time

You may find yourself with empty hours as a stay-at-home parent, where the child is napping or engaged in other activities. During those times, you may want to consider some consulting opportunities if they’re available to you in your career path, or perhaps look at other activities you can do in your spare time.

Other options include starting a blog (which can earn you a bit of money and also help you keep your writing skills fresh), sharpening your work-related skills, keeping up on relevant reading, or simply focusing on improving yourself.

8. When either one of you are feeling troubled by any aspect of the situation, COMMUNICATE

This is key. There will come times after the birth of your child where one or both of you will feel things that are troubling you. Don’t let those feelings brew into something worse – instead, get them out there in the open and discuss them.

It is very easy for a child to introduce sand into the figurative Vaseline of a good marriage, and that sand can bring about all kinds of unhealthy consequences – arguments, hidden resentment, unnecessary guilt-related spending, and so on. Don’t let that happen. Discuss those things which are bothering you in an open fashion and your entire family will be better off for it.

Good luck to you and your family, Kendra!