Choosing to stay home with children


Since before the recession, an increasing number of mothers say they’d like to work full-time. The Pew Research Center analyzed new data from the U.S. Census Bureau and conducted a survey to discover this and other family financial dynamic trends.

In 2007, 20% of mothers called full-time employment their ideal situation, while by 2012, that number increased to 32%. Over the same period, the percentage of mothers who would like not to work at all decreased from 29% to 20%.

The new report contains a variety of interesting statistics like the above. While just over half of all respondents, including men and women, say that children are better off with a mother who stays home without a job, only 8% believe that a father’s staying home with children has a positive effect. If I were a father, I might take offense that society considers full-time parenting ineffectual or even negative in the development of children.

The report results seem to confirm that most Americans maintain traditional beliefs about parental roles while reluctantly accepting that society has been changing around them.

Pew Research also analyzes the trend of single mothers.

On the topic of single mothers, most Americans (64%) say that this growing trend is a “big problem”; however, the share who feel this way is down from 71% in 2007. Also,
young adults are less concerned than older adults about the trend. About four-in-ten adults under age 30 (42%) view it as a big problem, compared with 65% of those in their 30s and 40s and 74% of adults who are 50 and older.

The public’s opinions about unmarried mothers also differ by party affiliation and race. Republicans (78%) are more likely than Democrats (51%) or independent voters (65%) to say that the growing number of children born to unwed mothers is a big problem. Whites are more likely than non-whites to view it as a big problem (67% vs. 56%). The views of men and women on this issue are the same.

When mothers are the primary income sources in a household with children under the age of 18, 63% of the time, they are single mothers. Otherwise, they are women who earn more than their partners. In total, mothers earn the primary income — or the only income — in 40% of all households with children. That’s a dramatic shift over the past half-century; in 1960, only 10% of households with children consisted of mothers as breadwinners.

New parents are faced with this critical question. Who stays home with children? The household situation could have an important effect on the emotional development of a child, and conscientious parents can find themselves struggling with determining an answer to the question. And when the discussion comes up, statistics offered by surveys such as this Pew Research Study aren’t helpful, because every situation feels unique.

What support do you have?

Having family and close friends nearby helps. With grandparents available to help once in a while, new parents will, in theory, be less stressful as they adjust to life with their first child. Saving the cost of a babysitter is one benefit, but the emotional support from family members, close in both physical and emotional proximity, can make it easier for a couple to decide to be working parents. That’s particularly if the financials determine that both parents need to generate incomes to avoid financial problems due to the increasing cost of raising kids.

Having a wide network of support also helps from a daily expense perspective. Close family and friends can help provide some of the materials you’ll need as new parents as hand-me-downs. It seems that inheriting clothes from family friends or children wearing the same clothes their older siblings wore has fallen out of favor recently. It may because, relatively to incomes, clothing is a lot less expensive now than in prior generations. But cribs, car seats, strollers, and other baby needs are more expensive, and young families can benefit from items that have been used by friends and family.

Do your children have special needs?

Sometimes life doesn’t fit your plans. You may be financially secure enough to raise a typical child on one income, but later determine your child has special needs that change the course of your life. For example, a child with autism may increase expenses more than $25,000 a year, not including what might be covered by insurance. That’s as much as a part-time job might provide, or a full-time salary in some jobs.


At the same time this extra income is needed to cover the expenses that come along with special needs, the demand for being home with children increases. It’s no surprise that parents of children with special needs often adjust their own life goals, becoming advocates for research, cures, or support for those facing the same challenges. It may be the only way for some to handle the financial and emotional requirements of being a parent for a child with special needs.

Is working financially practical?

Life decisions are often about more than just numbers on a spreadsheet, but you can’t make a good decision without thinking about the finances. It’s not enough to just compare the parents’ lowest individual salary with the cost of child-care. Even with this comparison, values come into play. Imagine a spectrum of child-care options spanning from full-day care in an overbooked facility to a live-in nanny who stays with the family for many years. What is the most basic level of child-care that you would consider acceptable?

Compare the cost of the child-care you wish to provide with the cost of losing an income. You can’t do this comparison without considering the full cost of losing an income. It’s more than just the salary. It could include a loss of benefits. It could include a loss of future opportunities. These should be factored in to the decision, even if it might be difficult to come up with a precise value.

The numbers can only help inform decision, not determine it. You could estimate that your household net worth would accumulate $5,000 more each year if one parent chooses to work and pay for child-care rather than staying home and providing his or her own full-time care. That annual $5,000 could be saved in a college fund for the child, adding up to a substantial amount to help pay for education 18 years later. But if $5,000 a year doesn’t make financial survival difficult, parents may choose to forgo the increased net worth in favor of staying home anyway.

How many children do you or will you have?

With more children, costs escalate, as do needs for child-care. If you are relying on both parents’ careers to afford to raise your children, at what point will the increasing child-care needs prevent a family from maintaining several jobs?

What sacrifices can you make to shift your budget?

Having children requires personal sacrifices. Whether it’s no longer partying at clubs every Friday night, putting aside hobbies, or spending less time at the office, children change life’s priorities. The changing priorities should be reflected in your budget or spending habits.

If you’ve been saving money for a vacation, a new child might change the type of vacation you’re planning, or it might inspire to redirect the savings towards a different purpose, like child-care. You may need to delay traveling the world until your children are grown and earning a living on their own. You may not be able to start the business you were planning.

How did or will you decide who stays home to raise your first child, if anyone? How did your priorities and your budget change? What advice could you give to new parents or potential future parents?

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