Are you thinking of becoming a stay at home parent?
Brock and I recently finished watching the series Boardwalk Empire, which takes place in the Prohibition-era United States. After watching one heart-breaking scene with a woman and her kids, Brock turned to me.
“It’s so sad how women were trapped in bad marriages or devastated when their husbands left or died back then because of a lack of resources and opportunity.”
“Sadly,” I replied, “It still happens. I hear from women in that very position all the time.”
Circumstances have changed dramatically since the early twentieth century. Staying at home to raise the kids is no longer an assumption, it is generally a carefully made decision. Couples weigh the pros (quality time with the child, no child care costs, more influence on development) against the cons (reduced family income, possibility of isolation or boredom for the parent who stays home, difficulty of re-entering the workforce down the road). It is still usually the female that elects to stay home if that decision is reached, yet increasingly, that role is given to or shared with the man.
The decision to stay home to raise children is an incredibly personal one, with many beliefs and goals entering into the process.
And I am not trying to sway you either way. That choice is entirely yours to make.
I just want you to think about all of the possibilities when you make your decision.
Because I often hear what happens when people don’t.
“I need to get out of this marriage. His drinking is out of control and he’s starting to scare me. I don’t want to raise my kids in this environment. But I don’t have any money and I don’t work. What can I do?”
“My tsunami divorce happened when he sent me an email and then left. The courts ordered that he pay child support, but he’s only made a couple of payments in the last year. I stopped working 10 years ago to raise the kids and I can’t seem to get a job now. What do I do?”
“We always seemed to be okay financially. But then when she died, I learned that there was all kinds of debt I didn’t know about. Since she was the primary bread winner, we decided that I would stay at home when the kids were young. It’s been so long now, my former industry has changed. What should I do?”
I hate reading these questions. I wish I could help them into a time machine and take them back along with the knowledge that they needed to form a contingency plan along with their child care plan.
And I get why people often don’t. You don’t believe that it can happen to you.
I was lucky. Even though I did a lot of things wrong in my marriage (secure in the belief that my husband really meant til death), I had my own career and my own income. My situation was also made significantly easier by the fact that we did not have children. I only had to worry about my own survival, not that of any offspring.
I didn’t follow up enough with the financial conversations that we had to ensure that his words matched the ledgers. I didn’t keep up with the myriad accounts, trusting that he had our best interests in mind. I didn’t have my own money, separate from his reach. I didn’t have an emergency plan for what I could do if the worst came to past. I allowed him access to my preexisting credit card. I didn’t know that he had canceled (or simply neglected to pay) the life insurance policy that let me sleep at night. And I trusted the courts would enforce their ruling that he was to pay me back.
I trusted him to take care of us. Of me. And I neglected to take care of myself.
And those mistakes cost me money.
If I had been a stay-at-home mom who made the same mistakes, the results could have been disastrous and so much larger than just a financial hit.
Because here’s the scary, sad and so-not-fair truth – It can happen to you.
You may find yourself wed (and dependent upon) an abuser. Scared to stay and yet unable to leave.
That same spouse that was so supportive of your staying home may decide that he or she no longer wants to return home.
The perfect parent may suddenly morph into somebody refuses to pay child support.
And through no fault of their own, your husband or wife may be struck down before their time.
And so as much as you hate to , consider those worst cases while you’re making life changes. Your life – and your kids’ lives – may depend upon it.
If you are the partner who will be staying home, consider implementing the following as part of an emergency preparedness plan:
-Build an emergency fund that you have access to. If your spouse also has access, make sure that you periodically check to ensure it’s there. It really doesn’t have to be some great amount. Just enough so that you never feel trapped in that moment because of a lack of funds. This isn’t meant to be a primary savings account or some source of anxiety. Just a small insurance tucked away, hopefully never to be needed.
-Have at least one credit card in your name with a reasonable limit. One problem people often face after staying at home for a period of time is that their credit takes a hit. Use the card at least every few months and then pay it off to keep your credit score high.
-Before you decide to stay home, develop some education or job skills as well as some experience. It’s never easy to return to the working world after a break, but it’s a little easier if you’ve been there before and had something to offer.
-Consider work you can do part-time or from home. Even if the pay is not great, it is something and it keeps you from feeling powerless.
-Maintain connections with people who are in the working world.
-Build and nurture a safety net of friends and family.
-Stay sharp. Enroll in free online courses. Take on freelance gigs that relate to your former career. Keep up with the changes and developments in your industry.
-Have an outline of a “If the sh*t hits the fan plan.” Hopefully the outline grows faded and dusty. But if it’s ever needed, you’ll be so glad you put some thought into it when you could still think rationally.
-Have a pulse on the relationship and the family’s financial standing.
-If divorce is in the picture, don’t assume that alimony or child support will be awarded or promptly paid. Try to put yourself in a position where that money is nice, but not needed.
There are times when you have to be dependent upon somebody else.
And that’s okay.
But never allow yourself to become dependent upon being dependent.
Because that’s a risk that may end up being too big to take.
This is one area where the motto I learned from the residents of a remote – and harsh – Alaskan town applies:
“Prepare for the worst. Expect the best. And live for today.”
Because even though it can happen to you, I hope it never does.
I just want you to be prepared just in case.
So that you are never in a position of asking somebody the unanswerable question, “What can I do now?”
16 thoughts on “Planning On Being a Stay At Home Parent? Make Sure You Consider THIS First!”
Totally totally agree. If I had a time machine, I would totally go back
Every woman should pay herself first even if it is only $10 a week. After 10 years that is $5200 not a lot but at least it is something.
It’s enough to not feel trapped. And that’s priceless!
I agree. I kept my UK credit card. Boy, am I glad I did!
This is spot-on. I will never regret staying home with my children…that was time with them that was priceless. But I do wish I had pursued my education more when I was younger or at least gotten a degree in a field that would still be relevant down the road after years of unemployment. As it is, I stayed in a terrible marriage full of lies and addiction more years than I should have because I was dependent on my husband for my children and me to live. I did get a small job that paid very little about 10 years ago, and I’ve worked there ever since, but it was not near enough to live on. Finally, after many years of prayer, God gave me the peace that He would take care of us, and I knew that my children and I could no longer live in such a toxic situation. Through many blessings from God and my wonderful support system of friends and family, we are out and finally feeling peace for the first time in years. I did get a new position where I worked, and I am making enough to live month to month, but there’s nothing leftover for savings or the future. At my age, even going back to school, I’m not sure what there will be for me, and I know I will never have the earning potential of my ex-spouse. But, the happiness and freedom my children and I feel now is worth living month to month and working until I’m 75 if I have to, just as a previous reply said. I only hope my children will see what I am facing now and will prepare themselves for the “if” that we all hope will never happen.
High price to pay, yet so happy to hear you have found peace . I bet your children will learn from watching you- I did from watching my mom.
Great advice! I told my teenager daughter to make sure she gets an education and a career, so she doesn’t have to depend on a man.
Wow, i must talk about this very subject until i am blue in the face and my stay at home mom friends look at me like i have a second head, then think oh, she’s pro working mom. I recommend you read, The Feminine Mistake (not mystique) by Leslie Bennetts, she discusses in detail this very thing and i try to refer friends to read it and at least here out the options with a full view of “what ifs”. And if it wasn’t too my dear wonderful grandmother (who worked during a time when when just didn’t work) who told me from an early age, that staying home was putting too much trust into one’s spouse, even though you loved them. My situation may have ended very differently. I took that advice she gave me and decided to continue to work thru the birth of my 2 children. After all, I had invested a great deal of money into my college education to NOT work. So the decision was made by me, and supported by my then husband. We found wonderful child care and i didn’t ever regret my choice. Then after my husband left our marriage after getting fired from his employer for having an affair with his secretary now wife #2. I couldn’t believe how important my choice in 2004 became. I was still hit financially but recovered fairly quickly i believe because i was employed full time in a career. Thanks for getting the word out to other women. Good article!
Glad your decisions helped you!!
Sigh…where was that advice fourteen years ago? I will definitely be passing it down to my own children.
Glad you’re passing that on…sorry you had to learn that one the hard way.
I am all for women equality. I am a women who has worked most of her teen and adult life; pursuing education that lead me to better career opportunities. Staying at home isnt for everyone. According to this article stay-home-partners can only depend on themselves. Distrust everyone else in your life, this article shames people who dont give into that fear. Can I always trust my spouse or partner? Yes I can, because it’s my choice to put faith in the character of my partner. My husband and I have a completely different story than the author of this article. This article is not spouting a cookie cuter example for every partnership.. but it is fear mongering. I want more info about marriage, trust and financial goals. What do I get? An article that says you can only trust yourself, not the character of others. That’s the world’s lie. Why not instead of scrapping and hiding funds, invest in the people around you, people who want to see a partnership thrive. Are you saying those people don’t exist? What an insult. What happened to trust openness vulnerability in marriage as characteristics of marriage that help you and your partner be a real team? What is wrong with building trust with the person you are married to? This article would have us believe it is wrong with their biased veiw, focusing on marriage, partnership or teams who work together will eventually disinergrate over time. Of course we all have one guarantee in life, we will die. Playing on fears people have either experienced themselves or may experience in the future with teammate, partner or spouse- I am not discounting that those events don’t happen to people but there are many stay home partnership that work because of trust and vulnerability. Why discount those good examples and where is the hope? This article is about YOU and how YOU can depend upon YOU. Take this article with a grain of salt or two. Instead of making a contingency for when your divorce happens. Prevent it from happening by trusting your spouse and surrounding yourself with a community that wants to see your family thrive.