Monday, June 2, 2008

Should One Parent Stay Home After Your Child Is Born?

So you’ve recently had a baby (or maybe even multiples) and now you need to decide if one parent will stay home with your child, or will both parents work, or can you make some other arrangement? This is a decision that most every couple with kids must face at sometime or another, how do you decide?

There are those people that will try to judge you as a parent without really knowing your circumstances, who will make statements such as “you shouldn’t have had kids if you couldn’t afford for one parent to stay home with them to raise them” and “a women’s place is in the home”. If these are beliefs held in your household, maybe you have already made your decision, but you should at least consider a few things before carving this in stone. For most families, they will at least need to consider if both parents need to work or not, even if money isn’t an issue.

We made a few different decisions in this area; you might even say that our choices evolved over time. When our oldest daughter was born, my wife worked part-time and we were lucky enough that Oma was with our oldest when my wife worked. When our youngest daughter was born (you need to keep in mind that there is 17 months age difference between our kids) was born, my wife stayed home until the youngest entered kindergarten (this was at 3 in our part of Germany). Then my wife started to work part time. She has done a few different things but all have considered self-employment, which means that there was no tax with-holding by an employer. There is a certain amount of money that can be earned by a spouse that allows them to still be covered under the primary income earner’s healthcare coverage, but once that threshold has been crossed, every cent that your spouse earns now basically goes to pay for their own healthcare coverage needs, so there isn’t any additional take home pay earned until your spouse’s pay exceeds the cost of paying for the health insurance. My wife was totally de-motivated to think that in the one bracket she was basically working to pay for health insurance coverage, and we didn’t want her to work the number of hours necessary to be able to pay for her coverage based on her earnings. We decided that my wife would keep her earnings under the threshold where she would have to pay for health insurance and that kids and her could be covered under my policy. We were recently surprised to find out that we owe a substantial amount of taxes because of my wife’s self-employment status. Without going too much into the taxation issue, it seems that as much as half the money she earned was being taxed at 50% or more, which gives you another thing to consider if both parents should work and if so under what conditions?

While you might not feel that you have a choice about one parent staying home or not, you might feel that financially both parents need to work, this is something that should be discussed between both parents. This is one discussion that needs to happen for a variety of reasons. If this decision is made without any discussion and input by both parents, one parent might come to resent it later, causing strain on the couple’s relationship and the family as a whole. Because this is such a big thing with such wide-reaching ramifications, both parents need to be in agreement with this decision. Also, there are some couples where the father stays home, where the couple rotated who stayed home, and where both parents reduced their working hours for a period of time, so the mother doesn’t have to always be the primary care giver.

Without further adieu, here are some things that you’ll want to consider in your decision about both parents working…

  • Stay at Home Mom vs. Working Mom. There seems to be a battle within the world of women where one group kind of resents while envying the other. Working mothers often feel guilty for not being with their kid (s), that they are some how neglecting their responsibilities as a mother. They can also feel that someone else is raising their kid (s). Stay at home mothers can sometimes develop self-esteem problems, feeling that there is more to life than taking care of their kids and that they’re somehow missing out. They can also feel that they aren’t contributing to society. While at one level, stay at home mothers know that they’re doing something important, at another level they often forget this and can feel trapped by the house and the kids.

  • What about the career of both parents? Between the two of you, who has better career possibilities, if they continue working? Is one of you willing to put their career on hold to stay at home for a while? Will it hurt the career of one (or both) of the parents to stay at home for a while? Because there can be a lot of resentment by a parent that stays at home if this isn’t discussed, This really needs to be properly considered.

  • How much is child care going to cost? Day care and baby sitters can be very expensive and it likely that this will eat a big chunk of the income brought in by both working parents, these costs can make staying home much more attractive (financially at least). You’ll also want to consider that day cares and sitter will often not take your kid (s) when they’re ill, which can be quite often when they’re young, so you’ll need to make arrangements for these situations. Day cares and sitters take vacation and can get sick, which can leave you in a tough situation more often than you might think.

  • Will you need to keep two cars in order for both parents to work? If one parent staying home means that you can get down to one car, means that you eliminate the money associated with the second car for; monthly car payments/lease, car repairs, insurance, fuel (not to be overlooked considering our current high gas prices), normal maintenance, and so on. You’ll also need to remember that just because one parent stays at home doesn’t necessarily mean that you can or will get rid of one car. You might find that the parent staying at home does need their own car. By giving up your second car, you are giving up some flexibility and you might find that you don’t save that much on fuel costs, if the one spouse has to take and pick up the other work, this means that you have only moved the fuel expense from one vehicle to another, not realizing any net savings in this area. By driving the one vehicle the same distance at was being covered by two, now means that there will be more wear and tear (more maintenance and repairs) needed because of more use and you could easily exceed the mileage restrictions on your vehicle’s lease.

  • Two working parents will need a wardrobe for two working parents. While the types of clothes needed depend upon the type of work that you do, in general there aren’t too many jobs where you can get by wearing the same clothes to the office as you do at home, this means additional cost to figure into your calculations and considerations. The wardrobe of the second parent may even need to be dry-cleaned or require special care. By one parent staying home, you might be able to save the money that you would ordinarily have needed to spend on a special wardrobe.

  • What will your health insurance costs be? Depending upon the working conditions of the second parent, it is likely that there will now be health insurance costs associated with the fact that they’re now working. These costs can be very large and the total amount spent on healthcare coverage will be less, with one working parent and the whole family covered under this policy, than needing two policies because of two working parents.

  • What tax issues to you need to consider? With a second parent working, there is a good chance the couple’s income will move into higher tax bracket than with only one working parent. This means that less money is coming in that from the second income because it is now being taxed at a higher rate. You might find that after you consider in change in tax brackets, that there really isn’t so much more actual money coming in from the second parent working!

  • As a stay at home parent, you can spend a lot of quality time with your kid (s). It is hard to put a price tag on all the memories. There are unique memories at all times of you children’s lives, not just when they’re an infant or toddler, and you can be there for a lot of those memories. There is a difference to the dynamic of the relationship between the stay at home parent and a working one. Often, the stay at home parent will have a closer relationship to their children than they might have if they worked. Having more time to spend with your kids means that you can have more of an impact on the values they develop and how they’re raised in general. You can also avoid having your own version of that Harry Chapin song “The Cats in the Cradle”.

  • The stay at home parent can avoid some of those unpleasant things from the working world. They don’t have a time clock to deal with (although being a parent is a 24/7/365 job that doesn’t end at 5pm). They don’t have to worry about office politics and gossip). They avoid doing those administrative requirements that leave you scratching your head as to “why do you have to do this again?” It isn’t so easy to send unruly bosses and clients to their room when they have gotten on your nerves.

  • Maybe there are there some creative solutions that you haven’t thought of. A stay at home parent might be able to start their own business. They might also be able to do a variety of work online, at hours that fit into their schedule. We have a friend that runs her own day care, which has allowed her to stay home with her kids.

  • Have you given the financials enough consideration? After considering the items that I have mentioned above, you might find that the little bit extra coming in from the second working parent is not worth it, you may actually be losing money because of it.

  • Make a decision for yourselves. You’ll want to consider all the things above, but it would be great if you could make a decision that you want and that you’re happy with rather than letting the circumstances dictate your decision. Hopefully you know your priorities and what is important to you; it would be good if your decision can incorporate this.

Take the time to decide if it makes senses for both parents to work and make a decision that you both parents can live with. Is there anything else you think needs to be considered in this decision? How did you decide if one parent would stay home or not? If you liked this article, please consider subscribing to the blog via RSS or email, share it on or on Digg and pass it on to anyone that you think might appreciate it. Thank you. :)

On Deck…

I’ll be publishing posts about…

  • The next in my series of weight loss strategies
  • My next Spotlight on the web.
  • More on productivity, web 2.0, social networking, family, parenting, health, and other things that you can use.

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