When my son said I was “lazy” because all I do is work, it broke my heart. My husband has been a stay-at-home dad for the past 9 years while I have been the sole earner for our family of 5. My kids see daddy cooking, mowing the yard, cleaning the pool, going to the store, helping with homework, and taking them to their activities. I am lazy because I go to work.
In this two-part series, we share our experiences having a stay-at-home parent. In Part 1, I share the pros and cons (both financially and otherwise) from my perspective as a working mom.
Decision to Live off One Income
My husband has been a stay-at-home dad for the past 9 years. During internship, I became pregnant with our first child. We had just moved to a new state where I was lucky to have my best friend from childhood nearby, but otherwise we didn’t have any family support.
My husband found a job working nights so one of us could always be home with the baby. This worked out great for a year, but we were both exhausted and never saw each other – this schedule was not sustainable.
After internship, we moved again for my two-year fellowship. My baby was 1-year-old. He was in the height of the stranger anxiety phase, and our economy was in the height of the recession.
My husband was offered a job, but the pay would have been just enough to cover daycare. It didn’t make sense to put our baby or us through that stress of starting daycare or my husband starting a new job, especially when we were expecting to have to move again soon. We decided that my husband would stay at home for the 2 years. To make this work financially, we kept our expenses to a minimum and made paying off our debt a priority.
Time flew by and 2 years turned into 5 years. Just as my oldest entered school, I became pregnant with my second child. We now have a 2-year-old, 4-year-old, and 10-year-old.
Why doesn’t my husband work part-time? Just today we looked into the cost for childcare. Part-time (5 hours a day) for my 4-year-old would be $205 a week after a subsidy we would get from the state. That would be $820 for just one potty-trained child part-time a month at the discounted price. Combine that will childcare costs for a toddler and after school care or summer camp for our 10-year-old. He’d be working just to pay for childcare.
“Mommy is Lazy, All She Does is Work”
I was raised by a single mother. Until recently, I never truly understood everything she did for me. She worked long, hard hours just for us to get by. I remember asking her to stay home with us and didn’t understand why she couldn’t. I also remember being mad and resentful because we were always the last kids to be picked up from summer camp or afterschool care; I didn’t understand how hard it was for her to leave work on time. She raised two kids alone.
I am fortunate to have a husband. The benefit of him being a stay-at-home dad is that there is always a parent at home. We have never paid someone to care for our children. The downside of this is that neither of us gets a break.
Reminding myself how I didn’t understand how hard my mother worked for me helps me cope when my own children lack appreciation for my contribution to our family. “I love daddy more than I love you because daddy stays home with me,” my son has said to me. Hearing this (multiple times) is heart breaking.
The other day, I couldn’t wait to make it home for dinner to be with my kids. But as we sat at the table my oldest child mentioned that he thought I was “lazy” because “all you do is work.” Wow. This is what it’s like to be a working mom.
A Typical Day for Me:
|5:00||Awake before everyone else and work on The Debt Shrink|
|6:20||Kids get up, I breastfeed the baby*|
|6:40||Get ready for work|
|7:00||Leave for work|
|12:15||30 min lunch (if I don’t have a mandatory meeting, I have to decide between eating, walking, or catching up on work so I can leave on time)|
|4:00||End of workday (I rush to leave so I can make it home in time for son to get to practice)|
|4:30||I set the table and eat dinner with family (if I make it home in time)|
|5:00||Husband takes son to practice; I clean up after dinner, breastfeed, spend time with the babies, and work on The Debt Shrink|
|7:00||Husband and son return home; Son gets in shower; I get babies ready for bed, read them stories, and tuck them in|
|7:30||I get to bathe!!!|
|8:00||Work on The Debt Shrink|
|9:00||Oldest is read a story before he goes to bed|
|??:??||I’m exhausted! Time for bed|
*I recently stopped breastfeeding, but replaced it with more cuddle time with my 2 year-old.
On the weekends, I watch the kids while my husband goes to the grocery store, does yard work, and cleans the pool (his only break from the kids). It is usually a rush to get this done in the mornings before birthday parties, playdates, and other events.
I also contribute around the house. I am the one who does the organizing, decluttering, filing, budgeting and keeping track of finances, scheduling all activities, appointments, and playdates, and of course the years of breastfeeding.
I would love time to exercise or hang out with friends. But that would mean leaving my husband with the kids yet again. I know this time with them is precious, so I will continue to do my best now and hope that one day they’ll realize all I’ve done for them.
Pros and Cons of Having a Stay-at-Home Spouse
I don’t worry about my kids while I am at work
I don’t have to take time off work if a child is sick
Homework is done by the time I arrive home
House is kept clean
Dinner is ready when I get off work
Financially, I don’t have to pay for childcare, tutor, housekeeper, pool boy, lawn service, or car maintenance
In addition to not having any income, we are also missing out on contributions to my husband’s retirement and social security (SS). This will have long-term and significant impact on our finances for the rest of our lives.
In Can we afford to be a single income family? Apathy Ends points out that the years of missed salary growth and investment growth should also be considered when considering the long-term financial impact.
As Financial Ducks in a Row recommends in The Value of a Stay at Home Parent, we do have a spousal IRA for my husband. I also have the max life insurance on him I could get from my work, but that would only be enough to cover 1 year of childcare. He’s been out of work for so long that if something were to happen to him, I don’t know how much if any SS survivor benefits my children would receive. His lack of benefits would leave us devastated both emotionally and financially.
Need a large emergency savings
If I am furloughed, laid off, or become sick or injured, we have zero money coming in. My family needs more of an emergency fund than we would if we had two earners.
Having only one income also affects my savings goals. Paying off my mortgage is my top priority because if I become unable to work, I have the peace of mind knowing that my kids will always have a roof over their heads.
The Pressure to Work Even if Unable
Being the sole earner is a lot of pressure.
While on maternity leave with my second child, I had to take Leave Without Pay (I live in the USA where there are no maternity benefits). Time off work after the 6-8 weeks for “period of incapacitation” is infuriatingly considered “bonding time” rather than a need for the body to heal while you are also breastfeeding every 3 hours. This was a very challenging time for us financially. But I developed a serious infection and could not have returned to work early if I had wanted.
When I was pregnant with my third child, I became so ill that I was unable to walk or see clearly. After being released from the hospital and doctors unable to help me, I felt that I couldn’t spend the rest of my pregnancy out of work. My husband drove me to work everyday and I used a wheelchair or walker. I did this until my doctor insisted I return to the hospital, where I stayed for the remainder of my pregnancy. My son was born prematurely and spent weeks in the NICU.
If my husband had an income, there’s no question that I would not have been working in the condition I was in. Luckily, the baby and I both recovered well.
Guilt about Taking Time for Myself
I have friends who meet up for brunch or happy hour. I am jealous. Because my husband is with the kids all day and needs a break, I feel guilty about taking any time for myself, even if it’s to exercise. Going to work is my “break.” If I do go out, I take the kids with me.
Because I have to request time off work months in advance, I miss all my kids’ awards ceremonies, field trips, holiday concerts, school parades, and teacher conferences. I’ve never even taken my daughter to gymnastics. My husband is lucky – he is there for all their special moments. But I am lazy, all I do is work.
Were my husband and I both working outside the home, we would take turns allowing each other time for ourselves, time with friends, time off for kids’ events. We would more equally share the burdens of earning and parenting. But with one spouse working outside the home, I carry the brunt of the burden of earning while he does more at home. Neither of us feels that we get a break.
That being said, the ability to have one spouse at home with our children is invaluable. Our kids will only be young for a very small fraction of our lifetime. It’s worth the sacrifices of time and money to give them the best start possible.
In Part 2, my husband shares what it’s like for him as a stay-at-home dad of three.
How would your life change if your spouse became a stay-at-home parent?