stay at home parent

So You Want to be a Stay at Home Parent?

So you decided you want to be a stay at home parent? First off, congrats! Parenting is such a personal choice, and all parents need more cheerleaders. You’re doing great. Those of you that choose to keep working… the same goes for you. You’re also doing great! No one should shame anyone for any way of parenting. YOU are doing great! Second, this may seem like a big, risky move, and you want to understand the implications, risks, and considerations. I can’t cover all of them, but I am here to help. I was primarily a stay at home mom for a decade (though I did work from home very part-time during those years). 


Editors Note:

Though this is a relevant discussion to have at any time, and many families make the decision to have one of the partners become a stay at home parent, this is really important during this 3rd year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For many reasons, some obvious and some now, countless more parents are choosing to become stay at home parents right now. This doesn’t mean that they have fewer responsibilities! This stuff is hard work! For those who may never have considered that they would ever be a stay at home mom (or dad), having realistic discussions with your partner and setting expectations and boundaries early on can help to make the transition easier on everyone and more successful in the long run.

After all, it’s just another job! And it should be (somewhat) clear what you’re signing up for and how you’re going to be supported!


The Risks of Leaving Work are Real

Stay at home parents can lose over a million dollars in lost wages. They are also taking themselves out of their fields, giving up retirement contributions, future wage increases, and the career path they’ve begun. Curious how much a stay at home parent might give up? The Center for American Progress provides a calculator that shows “The Hidden Cost of a Failing Child Care System,” where you can enter your own numbers.

That being said, the decision to stay home is not usually entirely financial. Personal finance is personal because you should be able to make the decisions you want to make. There are also ways to help combat the financial risks of staying home, including staying in touch with your professional network, staying up to date in your field, using your skillset for volunteer work, or even doing part-time work. 

The large gap in the resume may be a problem when trying to get back into work, but not as much of one if you can show you’ve kept your foot in the door and kept up to date.

The other risks, considerations, and implications require a big fat conversation with your spouse. Read on for the things that need to be figured out before you leap.

Co-Parenting is Required

By signing up to be a stay at home parent, you are not giving your spouse the ability to check out of parenting duties or even house duties. You’re not signing up for a 24/7 job with no breaks and no relief. That’s illegal professionally and should be unlawful in home life as well. These expectations need to be openly discussed and agreed upon as early as possible. 

Questions to ask:

  • How long do you need to detox from work after taking over the parenting duties? All-day with kids is a long time. You’re going to need a break as soon as possible when your spouse gets home. Schedule it. You can figure out what you need to do during that time later. I’ve spent that time with friends, walked the aisles of Target, gone to classes, or just left the house. Everyone is different, and I think you won’t know what you need until you’re there, but I assure you, you’ll need some time. Schedule it now. 
  • How do we plan to break up meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking? To be clear, making dinner while your spouse takes care of the kids does NOT count as a break. Grocery shopping with tiny kids can be so hard (yay for grocery pick-up becoming more mainstream!), but maybe it makes sense in your situation for you to do most of the meal planning and grocery shopping but share the dinner cooking load. This balance will look different for everyone.
  • What household chores will you be responsible for doing? Again, this balance will look different for everyone, but you need to discuss both of your expectations and agree on something that works for both partners.
  • What about weekends? This discussion is about expectations again. Perhaps you imagine that because you had parenting duties all week, your spouse is the primary parent all weekend. Maybe you anticipate a family outing each Saturday with everyone together. Maybe your spouse is expecting to also have time each weekend to do their personal projects. Maybe you are too. Discuss expectations and make a plan!

Whether you have children or not, it’s important to learn to advocate for yourself and your money in a relationship (even if you aren’t breadwinner!).

The Money is Still Equally Yours

Some of the main phrases used in an internet search in tandem with “stay at home mom” are: “husband controls money”; “no access to money”; “ask husband for money,”; and “reasonable allowance for a stay at home mom.” YIKES. First off, these all indicate financial abuse, which is real, terrible, and often comes with other forms of domestic abuse. (The organization One Love has a great post on recognizing the signs of financial abuse. Please check it out and get help if you find yourself in that situation.) If these sound like normal questions to you, you might always want to think about internalized sexism.

Here are a few ways to make sure this new move to stay at home parenting is a financially equitable arrangement:

  • The money is equally yours – I know, you already read that. But I want you to read it again. If you are deciding together that your new role in the family will be “stay at home parent,” that means you are also deciding that your spouse’s current role in the family will be “breadwinner for the FAMILY.” You will both be working for the family…only one of you will be earning money doing so, but that is all the family’s money. 
  • Stay at home parents are the CFOs of the family – I like this idea because it re-frames the way we think about stay at home parents and finances. The CFO is not responsible for income generation but rather income management. It would be silly for someone to get mad at the CFO for not bringing enough money into the company: “Get down to that sales floor and makes some sales, or you won’t be allowed to make any more financial decisions!” 
  • There is no reasonable allowance for a stay at home parent – One parent should not be put on “payroll” like a child getting an allowance. The finances should be done together. Both of you should have an equal understanding of how much money is coming in and how much is needed for basic living (food, clothing, housing, utilities, transportation, etc.). Both of you should be responsible for spending according to your family’s financial situation. It is just as irresponsible for the working parent to blow a bunch of money in a weekend as it would be for the stay at home parent to do so. While I was a stay-at-home mom, something that worked for us was that we would budget together, but each of us had a certain amount of money each month that was “no questions asked” money. The amount differed based on our financial situation. Still, even $15 a month for each of you to be able to spend on anything, no questions asked, is a healthy way to have independence but stay on track financially as a family.
  • You still need life insurance – I know, this is sort of an addendum, but if your family is moving forward with planning on you being home full time, you still need life insurance. How would the family cover the costs of all the childcare and house maintenance you will be doing if you die? Hey – while we’re mentioning life insurance, would someone else know what to do if your family had an emergency? Do both you and your spouse (or your parents or other emergency contacts) know where to find all the information to handle things in the case of a family emergency? What if you aren’t there to tell them which bank you use or what insurance you have? Check out the Smart Money Mamas Family Emergency Binder to get all the needed info in one place.

So, it’s time to schedule a date night, grab some ice cream, and have some critical conversations before you dive into the life of a stay at home parent. And no matter what you decide, you’re doing great! Remember that. 😉

Maggie Banks
Maggie Banks lives in Alaska with her husband and 3 kids. She is a researcher by day and a personal finance geek by night over at NorthernExpenditure.com. She catches and smokes her own salmon, picks wild berries in her yard, and can usually see a moose from her front window.

4 thoughts on “So You Want to be a Stay at Home Parent?”

  1. I really love this post! My mom was a SAHM and I’ve always stayed home with my own kids, choosing not to pursue a career. Thankfully, over the years my husband and I have come to many of the same conclusions you did (I’m the CFO of our home, we share household duties, etc.) I wish someone had gone over these things with us when we got married! They’re important things to consider whether the stay at home parent leaves a career or chooses to never have one.

  2. My wife finally left her toxic job to become a SAHM with our two boys about 3 months ago. It’s been great! But one surprise (which probably shouldn’t have been) was that I anticipated having much more free time, but I don’t lol (1yo at home all day, 3yo switched from daycare to ‘mother’s day out’). We love it though, everyone is happier. And for the first time, we finally sat down together to review budget to make sure we have equal ‘free’ spending capabilities monthly – i agree that’s super important! Great article, resonates well.

  3. I love this. You have inspired my to write an article about my wife’s journey from corporate accountant to stay at home mom. It was bumpy at first until she found a new purpose in addition to raising children. I am adding this article to my Fawcett’s Favorites next Monday.
    Thanks,

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Financial Success MD

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