dad and daughterWhen it comes to parenting, you want what’s best for the kids. No question. You watch what they eat, you bandage up their boo-boos, you tuck them in and you take care of them like no other. So when the question of whether or not to become a stay-at-home parent comes up, there’s a lot to consider.

Income and education are key things to take into account, but what about the less obvious considerations? How do you feel about watching one or more children all day? How do you feel about cutting back your financial contribution to the household? What will you do to ensure that developmental milestones are being met?

We’ll take a hard look at the sacrifices you’ll make as a stay-at-home parent, and what you have to gain – not to mention what the balance of both means for you and your family.

Sacrifices

Pay

The most obvious of sacrifices you’ll make is a paycheck. Whether you’re just backing off to part time or you’re walking away from the workplace altogether, you’d be crazy not to consider the financial adjustment that’s required.

Let’s say you’ve got a decent job and you bring home as much money from work as your significant other. Now let’s say you stop working, cold turkey. What does that mean for the two of you?

For one, you just cut your income by half. Second, and this is obvious, you’re now living on one income. The implications are complicated enough if it’s just you and your significant other, but what happens when you throw kids into the mix?

Your lifestyle will need some adjusting, and you’ll have to find ways to cut back on things like dining out and entertainment. The good news is, you’re not the first family to make a change in income. Budget-conscious families just like yours love sharing their knowledge on ways to cut back. From recipe sharing on Pinterest, to making minor home repairs without calling on outside help, navigating the world of income adjustment is well-traveled territory.

When considering the income you’ll give up by staying at home, you have to also consider sources of income that are either deferred or non-monetary in nature – namely your 401(k), insurance and stock. Our financial planner told my wife and I, “Even if you bring home one dollar in your paycheck after day care, investments and withholdings, you’re still making money.”

By that, he means that if your net income after daycare, stock allowances, insurance plans, profit sharing, IRAs and 401(k)s is more than $0, you have to think long and hard about the future benefits and liability you’re giving up by dropping all of those benefits as a whole. His recommendation instead was to drop back to part time, keep the benefits and make work something you do on the side. In our case, it’s easier said than done.

Day Care and All That Comes with It

These days, day care is much more than just a place to dump your kids while you’re off at work. From an early age, kids are held up against milestones and curricula that are designed to help parents assess their child’s progress, as well as help their little guy or girl get along in the world.

However, that developmental supervision and encouragement doesn’t come without a cost. The cost of day care in America eats away at income at an alarming rate. According to the Center for American Progress, the annual cost of child care for an infant in a child care center is higher than a year’s tuition at the average four-year public college in most states. Child care cost is such an important issue that President Obama named American child care “a national economic priority for all of us.”

The question of acting as your child’s care provider shouldn’t be, “Can we afford not to?” or, “Will they get the education and development they need?” The better question is, “Am I able to satisfy those educational and developmental needs?”

Once again, the Internet is an invaluable resource for parents taking child care on themselves. You can find a curriculum to follow online. You might even be able to find a local playgroup to give your child an opportunity to interact with his or her peers on a social level.

Sanity

Make no mistake: It’s hard work caring for a child from the time he or she wakes until it’s time for pajamas.

All kids are hard work. Some are harder than others, sure, but even well-behaved ones have off days. Watching one, two or three all day is enough to wear anyone down. You might sacrifice your sanity, but you’ll definitely sacrifice any days off. Kids don’t take sick days, and neither will you.

Benefits

There are clear sacrifices to staying home to rear their rears, but there are some unbelievable benefits too.

Savings

Without the specter of day care looming over your head, the pressure to send the kids off to school and get your money’s worth from their education is gone. You won’t have to work around the day care’s schedule, and you won’t have to worry about money wasted when your child has to stay home.

Creativity

A friend of ours who became a stay-at-home mom found that she really enjoys coupon clipping and finding deals. I have other friends who found new passions while staying at home to raise their kids. One friend learned that she can make some pretty cool stuffed animals out of scrap fabric. Another friend of mine taught himself to play guitar while his son napped. Some people are able to tap into untouched passions they never knew they had. Some are even able to make money at it.

If you’re crafty, even better! Get your stuff out there and start selling it on Etsy! It doesn’t even have to be useful. Someone made knit leg warmers for chairs. Yes. Knit. Leg warmers. For chairs. Even better? They’re selling for $15. That’s $3.75 per leg! Even better than that? You can buy the pattern and start your own chair leg warmer enterprise. Cold chair legs of the world will be forever grateful for your commitment to their warmth and style.

Quality Time

As a stay-at-home parent, you can control your child’s environment and you’ll share in his or her developmental growth.

Case in point: My wife and I had a rare occasion to pick our daughter up from day care together. We walked in, weary from the day, and our daughter came crawling up to us. Her teacher blurted out, “Why don’t you show mommy and daddy how well you’re walking?” My wife and I were crushed. While we were at work answering emails and making meetings, our little girl took her first steps without us. It was a stone-cold stew of guilt and regret.

While my little sister was growing up, my mom stayed at home to take care of her. It’s something she didn’t have the means to do with my older sister and I, but that time with my little sister is time she always treasures.

As a grade school- and middle school-aged kid, I can safely say that it was great having mom home too. If I ever forgot lunch, mom would bring it by. If I ever fell ill, mom was there. And now that I think about it, mom was a chaperone for my field trips too. I wasn’t so grateful for it back then, but in hindsight, it was always nice to see my mom and my little sister enjoying museums and art galleries right there with me.

Good? Bad? Who Knows (Better Than You)?

As a parent, it seems like some days there’s no right answer. One constant truth, however, is that the biggest decisions are never the easiest to make. There’s a lot to weigh in the decision between staying home with the kids or trucking away at work.

Regardless of your choice, no one can ever call it into question as long as it’s made with the best interest of your children and family at heart. No one knows the needs of you and your family better than the people involved. The best you can do is explore all options, weigh all potential benefits, face every potential roadblock, and find a way to make it work for your family.

Do you have a stay-at-home parent in your family? How do you manage your time between work and home? Do you have help? Let us know in the comments below.

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