Anyone with small children knows what a huge challenge working and raising kids can be. Each hour you spend away from your kids is one you’ll never get back, and the financial costs of paying for childcare can be high enough to wipe out most of your wages to boot. And for a lot of parents, the costs that come with working aren’t even close to worth it.
I was 29 years old by the time I was pregnant with my first child — and thus, well into my working years. I had a steady job in an in-demand industry where I would probably never have to worry about being laid off or downsized. But on the flip side, I didn’t make a ton of money – only around $36,000 for a job that required 40 hours of work per week or more.
Weighing the Costs of Staying Home
Based on the price-shopping we had done already, we knew that full-time childcare for our newborn would run around $125 per week. At that price point, the cost of full-time daycare for one child would consume more than 25% of my take-home pay.
Plus, working in my specific job and industry meant dealing with some other expenses I couldn’t quite escape. Buying and maintaining a business wardrobe became rather costly – with suits, sweaters, dresses, and shoes needing to be replaced all the time. Plus, I drove back and forth to work each day, which meant we needed a second car and the gas to power it. Lastly, our busy and hectic lifestyle left us relying on conveniences all the time – conveniences that cost money.
So for a while, we wondered if I should quit my job and just stay home with our newborn. If I were a stay-at-home-mom, we reasoned, we could avoid the costs of daycare altogether and save money in nearly every area of our lives.
Since I’d be home, I could plan meals and make them from scratch. Since I wouldn’t need to report to work every day, I could stop buying expensive businesswear and suits. And maybe, just maybe, we could even become a one-car family.
All of those savings would add up, we argued, maybe to the point where they made up for the wages I’d lose from leaving my job.
Still, something kept nagging at the 29-year-old me – and that something was the future. Sure, the 29-year-old me might not make a lot of money after paying for childcare, but daycare isn’t forever.
What would happen when my kids went off to school? Because of the unique nature of my job, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get it back several years down the line if I left. And just like anyone else, I knew it might be difficult to find a new job after spending five to eight years outside of the workplace.
Plus, I worried how we would ever get ahead with one income – and about the stress my husband would endure as our household’s sole provider. I wanted to be the best mother I could be, yes — but I had other goals, too, for both myself and my family.
I wanted to be able to pay for our children’s college education. I wanted our family to travel together. I wanted to save enough money that we wouldn’t have to struggle like so many other parents we knew. And while I didn’t want to spoil my children, I never wanted them to go without, either.
This was a scenario I hadn’t encountered before, and I wrestled between what my family wanted today – and what we might want more in the future.
And I must admit; every day was a struggle at first. The thought of leaving my job absolutely terrified me, and so did the idea of a “future me” having to start a brand-new career in my mid to late 30s.
Then again, the idea of leaving my children in childcare all day made me want to puke.
But I couldn’t have it both ways, and I knew it. So, I had to choose. And in the end, that’s exactly what I did. I chose work.
Choosing Work, and Making the Best of It
The years when my children were babies are almost a blur now. Two years after my first child was born, I had a second daughter at age 31. Having two children in childcare meant that the numbers were even fuzzier than they were before. Still, I knew it was the right decision – even if my take-home pay was paltry at the time.
Sometime after our second daughter was born, my husband and I found the time to launch a business on the side as well. That meant working even more hours – nights and weekends – to get everything off the ground.
And in 2012, I was able to quit my full-time job and work on my freelance endeavors and side business full-time. Yet, I continued to enroll my children to daycare so I could put in a full work-week like we planned. Anyone who works at home with toddlers running around is an absolute saint in my eyes, because there is no way I could do it.
But once I started working on my business at home, some things did get easier. Instead of hurrying home each day after work, I could leisurely pick up my kids from daycare when I was done. And instead of working nights and weekends at an office away from home, I could pour extra hours into my business at home while my kids were in bed.
It wasn’t always easy, but I was making it work. And in the end, I can honestly say I’m glad I went through it and chose not to stay at home with my kids.
Why? Because the future I worried about so much is finally here.
Say Hello to the ‘Future Me’
Later this year, my youngest daughter will start kindergarten and join her older sister for a full day at school. The bus will pick them up at the end of the driveway at around 8:10 a.m., only to drop them back off at home at around 4 p.m.
All of a sudden, I’m that “future me” I worried so much about – the one I knew would be out searching for a job after years on the sidelines, and feeling like I had lost it all. If I had been a stay-at-home-mom all this time, I would be absolutely lost at this moment. But because I continued to work, I know exactly where I am and where I’m going.
Plus, the fact that I worked all along meant my husband and I were able to pay off debts and really start saving for the future. Because I worked, we have well over five figures saved for our children’s college educations, despite the fact they’re only 5 and 7 years old. Because I worked, I have my own small business and a portfolio so thick I can give any potential client 100 excellent samples of my work at the drop of a hat. Because I worked, we were able to build a huge nest egg for retirement, have been able to take vacations fairly often, and never had to worry about how, or when, our bills would get paid.
Is it harsh to crave all those things over spending the first five years at home with my children? Maybe. But I feel that way nonetheless.
Making Peace with My Decision
Now that my kids are growing up, I long for the days when I could cradle their small bodies within my arms. I miss the simplicity of caring for a child who only wants love, food, and shelter. And, truth be told, there are times when I’m sad that working full-time meant missing out on so much.
But when I look at where we are now as a family, almost all of that guilt fades away. Instead of a mom who’s desperate to reinvent herself, my children have a mother who knew who she was all along. And instead of a lifestyle scraped together with one income, we have a financially fruitful future to look forward to – one where my kids are already a step ahead.
The right answer is different for everyone, but I’m glad I resisted the urge to stay home even though daycare costs were high and time was at a premium. If I had to do things over, I hope I would have the courage to make the same decision again. It wasn’t an easy decision for us to make, but I feel confident that it was the right one.
As of today, the 36-year-old woman I’ve become is not scared or the least bit worried about our future. Instead, she is eternally grateful for the wisdom of a 29-year-old who knew more about her future than she could have possibly realized. Above all else, she knew herself.
How did you decide whether to have one parent stay at home? Do you regret your decision to go back to work or stay home with your kids?