When my husband and I were first married, together we made just enough money to pay our rent and meet our obligations.
It was okay, because we had no debt.
And I looked forward to building my career in communications...
Then I found myself pregnant.
As new parents, we juggled odd working hours in our entry-level jobs.
I loved my job at a monthly business newspaper, but I felt like I was only working to pay the babysitter. We talked about me quitting a lot, but on paper it was a ridiculous idea.
The clincher came when my daughter turned one and she began calling my babysitter “Mommy.”
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Enough was enough.
We agreed that I would freelance at home, providing the same sort of production services I performed at work, and for a while it was okay.
We made ends meet with my husband’s salary, combined with both of us getting gigs on the side.
When I embarked on my Stay at Home Adventure in 1996, I was already an anomaly. Statistics Canada reports that the number of two income families has nearly doubled in the last 40 years.
It’s not just because of feminism: higher mortgages, higher taxes, ever-climbing gas prices, the rising cost of food and transport, and basic services of all kinds are mucho expensive.
While I would never discourage anyone from staying home with their kids, I have a few words of advice.
Tips for the Stay at Home Parent
Avoid as much debt as you can, and pay it back quickly.
Interest rates have been low for a long time, making lines of credit and other forms of debt convenient and accessible. Gone are the 1980s, when 22% interest rates kept my parents from borrowing unless it was an absolute necessity.
But on the other hand, remember that our debt is a result of our life choices—which I contend weren’t necessarily wrong—we simply took risks and lost the entrepreneurial gamble.
If I had it to do over again, I would borrow less (where possible) and I would go back to work much sooner, so that I could apply that revenue stream to my debt.
But such a decision would have required having my children closer together, and changing other lifestyle choices that we were actually happy with at the time.
Find a way to save for retirement, even if it’s small.
Today, a dependable company pension is rare (or is sometimes withdrawn, like the recent experience of former Sears employees) and therefore governments expect people to save for their own retirement.
But all our money went to the basics until recently, particularly since our working lives were mostly entrepreneurial.
While you’re at home, keep your foot in the door.
Is there a way you can keep connected to the professional world you currently inhabit, or the one you want to inhabit later? Do you have accreditations that you could maintain?
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But some folks are excellent home-based business owners, and if you are one of them, I encourage you to go for it. The juggle will be worth it in the end.
Don’t stay out of the workforce for too long.
The longer you’re out, the harder it is to get back in.
This leaves you vulnerable if things go wrong in your relationship…
But even if you have a great marriage, you will have no sense of financial independence or autonomy as the years go by. It’s a helpless feeling.
Make a long-range plan.
When your children are very young and into the grade school years, you are governed by their moment by moment needs, and the daily routine takes on an immediacy that drives out all thoughts of the future.
You probably don’t even think about what life will be like when they are in high school, university, and beyond—when I was in my twenties, it didn’t occur to me to think about middle age. But here it is.
Children grow up. You will have another 30 or 40 years to live, God willing, after your kids are out the door. What do you want that time to be like? Even if you change your mind later, you should think about it now.
Expect reinvention, regardless of your choices.
My mother came to visit me one day, after our second child was in school and we were contemplating a third. She cried at my kitchen table, because she felt she had wasted her life. “I quit my job and followed your father to the middle of nowhere.”
(Of course, this choice made sense at the time. His new job offer was worth more than what Mom and Dad had previously earned together, he at an appliance repair shop, she at a photo lab.)
Still, fast forward 35 years, and the results were setting in.
“All I did was raise kids and then I sat at home,” she lamented. “Now I have nothing to show for it. No independence, no money of my own. It’s your father’s money, not mine.”
In tears, she begged me to get a job, because she watched me following in her footsteps, and she didn’t want me to be in the same position. For her, it was too late to change. I tried to reassure her that things would be different for me, but it took several years before I fully appreciated her point of view.
But everyone needs a second, or even a third act.
Today, no one gets a job out of college, stays there for 40 years and retires at 65 with a pension. We are living longer, healthier lives in a volatile marketplace.
Life is about change, and change is good, even when it’s hard.
A word about guilt
Like four-fifths of the country, you will likely remain a dual income family when your children come along. And if so, don’t worry too much about the mean voice in your head who makes you feel guilty because you’re not spending enough time with your kids. If you’re a working parent, you will miss things. (Single parents deal with this every day.)
Many people have commented that I wouldn’t have the wonderful relationship I have with my kids if I hadn’t stayed home with them.
Maybe...My kids have told me how much they appreciated my choices.
But...maybe not. I think they would have been wonderful, anyway.
I’ve known plenty of kids who lived with two working parents (or a single parent) and are now fine, resourceful, independent adults.
What really matters is your priorities. Do you put your family first in all your decisions? If you put their best interests first, I believe things will turn out fine.
A seasonal position only
The parent who chooses to keep the home fires burning sacrifices personal and financial development, in exchange for enjoying irretrievable months and years with their children.
But you need to remember that it is a contract position. It’s not permanent.
Every few years, the money media attempts to calculate how much a stay-at-home parent is worth. For the last ten years or so, the figure has hovered around $117,000.
It’s an ironic pat on the back, because no one pays you to do it—you pay for the privilege of doing it.
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