That old question: Work or stay home?

By Stew

Last week, MoneyNing posed a question to his readers: Should I be a work at home Mom? Of course the first thing that came to my mind was the iconic 1980’s movie, Mr. Mom. Personally, I would love to be a stay at home “mom” and in some ways, Mrs. Stew is more suited to work outside the home . . . she likes being around people. As for me? Let’s just say that a cabin on the top of a mountain in Alaska sounds like a dream come true most of the time. But his article caused me to reflect on the past six months in our family. Many of you will remember that our family wrestled through the issue if a stay-at-home parent v more income last summer. You can read about our decision here and here. Currently, Mrs. Stew stays home with our children. She home schools our two older girls and also provides in-home daycare to several other children from other families.

In MoneyNing’s situation, he is contemplating staying home to work and having his wife go back to her full-time in order to provide health insurance for their family after the baby is born. The problem of health insurance is a an issue for all of us and often, job decisions are made on this factor alone. It seems to me that MoneyNing will need to be Mr. Mom.

Today, I would like to list some factors and observations that have convinced me that we made the right decision in having Mrs. Stew stay home. Some of you might remember that she had a job offer. A pretty good job offer, but it would have required us to find child care for our youngest and send our older two to school.


We have observed a lot of questionable financial decisions on the part of the people who drop their children off at our home every day. Things like out-to-eat, expensive clothing, pricey club teams/activities, major home renovations, electronic toys, etc. To say nothing of the added expenses of gas, car maintenance, clothes and greater tax liability that are a part of working in the corporate world. Sometimes I think that my wife has a larger amount of take-home pay than the people for whom she is working.

I am not saying that all of this is unnecessary spending, just that with a little bit of fiscal discipline and wise spending, many of these mothers could afford to stay home. In each case, the husband has stable employment with benefits. The mother is working outside the home simply to maintain a standard of living, a keep-up-with-the-Joneses approach to life.

The kids

I have to say that our children seem happiest when they are home with mom and for that matter, so is mom. Mrs. Stew has worked outside the home two other times previously in our marriage and both times the result was greater stress in our marriage and more unwanted behaviors in our children. Crying, fighting, whining, sickness and their natural sleep patterns were interrupted more often.

In the case of the children who come into our home, the younger ones almost always cry when they have to leave . . . I really feel sorry for the parent whose child is more excited to see my wife than his own mother and father. This kind of thing cannot be healthy in the long run.

Right decision

There are many cases where both parents are forced to work outside of the home. I understand that we may be forced to consider that option again in the future. I do not intend to judge or cast aspersions on others who might make a different choice than we did. Just make sure that you are dropping your kids off at daycare for a good reason.Vacations in Jamaica or a new Lincoln Navigator might not be the best reason . . .

Right now, I am just thankful that Mrs. Stew has the option to stay home.

Article by Stew

Photo by Le Petit Poullailer

16 Responses (including trackbacks) to “That old question: Work or stay home?”

  1. Courtney Says:

    “The mother is working outside the home simply to maintain a standard of living, a keep-up-with-the-Joneses approach to life” and/or “There are many cases where both parents are forced to work outside of the home” – what if the mother (gasp) simply likes what she does?

  2. Gina Says:

    Courtney does make a good point. I prefer to work outside the home and I bring home 2x more money (not to mention the insurance benefits) than my DH. He has a work from home business. If my DH wanted to stay at home w/our daughter I would support that idea … I am just not cut out to be a SAHM.

  3. Stew Says:

    Everyone has a different situation . . . just passing along observations from the three families that I have seen up close.

    There are many instances when both parents working outside the home, enjoy their work. At what point do the best interests of the child override your “enjoyment”?

  4. Monroe on a Budget Says:

    There is another option: mom and dad work different shifts or one of them works part-time.

    That way, the day care bills are limited and more of the household income can go toward paying off debt, buying a house, or taking care of expenses that the family really needs.

  5. prasti Says:

    mr. stew…thanks for the encouraging words. we are a single-income family (i stay at home while my husband works), with 3 kids, on a tight budget, and working to pay off our debt. i have been in both situations as well, where my husband and i were both working (i even loved my job) and have found that i was less stressed and enjoyed my life more when i decided to stay home. being a SAHM is the most consuming, challenging, enjoyable and rewarding job i have ever had, and i think our kids seem much happier with me being home (plus everything just seems to flow better). we’ve had to make some standard of living sacrifices in order for me to stay home *and* be able to pay off our debt, but it has made us all realize just how much we have already.

  6. kristia Says:

    I totally agree with you Mr. Stew. I previously worked fulltime in childcare and observed basically the same thing you described in your post. My students were 4 years old, and often cried or argued that they didn’t want to leave me. Furthermore, after talking to many, many mom who work, I found out once the child goes home there’s very little interaction as a family. Unfortunately, some parents (not all) in my opinion, choose working outside the home to avoid the responsibilities as a parent. I’ve seen and heard it first hand. They’re usually the ones who bring their kids to class on their days off, dread the weekends and holidays when there’s no school, their kids open and close the childcare center and are usually the ones with behavior concerns. Three years was all I could stomach.

  7. stacy Says:

    it’s nice to know that there are other families out there like ours with a parent at home. we seem to be a dying breed. i have a son in the 5th grade and he told me that a child in our neighborhood told him that i was “lazy” because i didn’t work outside the home. of course, i knew he was repeating what his parent said. but then my son surprised me and said “he’s just jealous because his mom is never with him”. i was floored. i didn’t think my kids ever thought about things like that. that made every money struggle we ever had seem insignificant. some day i want my kids to say their mom was around and always available to them.

  8. Stew Says:

    Monroe, that is a good suggestion provided that there is no other solution to a cash flow problem. NOTE: no one here is condemning others who make a different choice. We are not all dealing with the same scenario, just make sure the only factor in your choice is not money.

  9. dogatemyfinances Says:

    Your judgmental is showing.

    There are actually women with, you know, careers, who can’t just up and quit for a few years. I get that your wife isn’t one of them, but they do exist.

  10. Stew Says:

    Dog, see my previous comment. Every situation is a little different, if you think a career or extra money is worth more than being home with your children, you are free to make that choice. Just make sure you think it through.

  11. Courtney Says:

    Sorry, but I agree with dogatemyfinances – you routinely come through as judgmental on this point. You comment “At what point do the best interests of the child override your “enjoyment”?” but you assume that it is always, unequivocally, 100% in the best interests of the child to never be in daycare and to have a SAHP (really a SAHM) and that the only reasons to have a two-career household are dire necessity or selfishness (though the quotes around “enjoyment” seem to imply that you don’t believe people actually enjoy their jobs).

    Yes people make choices, and yes I hope along with you that they have thought them through. Parents can work and still have meaningful quality time with their children just as much as parents can stay at home and have NO meaningful interactions with their child other than making sure they’re fed and house doesn’t burn down. Your implications that it’s always about the money or prestige or whatever are rather insulting. I think working at something fruitful that you enjoy can make you a better spouse AND parent – some people just function as better people when they’ve had meaningful interactions with adults and/or feel like they are contributing financially to the household and/or doing work that they feel makes a difference outside of the home.

  12. Stew Says:

    Courtney, you are coming across as defensive. :) Make your choice, stick to it and be happy about it. But don’t get a little cranky when you hear a different viewpoint. I believe and I think most studies indicate that it is 100% in the best interests of the child to have a stay-at-home-parent. It is not possible for everyone, I understand that. It is barely possible for us – my wife had to work out of our home and I spend most of my free time blogging.

    And, I never said that a person cannot enjoy their job. I enjoy mine a great deal . . . but if I could choose between kids or job . . . I would be home.

    My article merely indicated that in the cases of the three families for which my wife provides care, they are choosing career, luxuries and “enjoyment”, however you define that, over the best for their children.

    Maybe their kids are just better off with Mrs. Stew ;)

  13. Courtney Says:

    I’m neither defensive nor cranky, just firm in my current opinion – I don’t even have kids yet :-) But you have to admit, this is not the only post where you have presented strong prejudices against working mothers.

  14. Stew Says:

    Ha! I’m very glad you aren’t cranky. It is true that I have a viewpoint that I have developed over time. My wife shares that viewpoint – I would stay home with my kids in a heartbeat. But it is our view, backed up with at least a little data, that home with a loving parent is a better place than any daycare or babysitter for a child. Our anecdotal (the three children that my wife cares for) evidence seems to support that view.

  15. Mike @ Gather Little By Little Says:

    We have tried both option (mom and dad working and my wife staying at home while I am working) and I must say that our life is much smoother since my wife stay at home:
    – We never get stressed at night to prepare supper, bath, do laundry, etc.

    – We spend our weekends taking quality times with our children instead of doing the grocery, cooking for the upcoming weeks and clean up the house.

    – Our children have the chance to spend more time with their mother and they still go to the daycare 3 days a week to play with other kids.

    I agree with Stew when he says that we cannot all have the choice of having a stay-at-home parent. But when you can, at least try it, you won’t regret it!

  16. Webhotel Says:

    The work at home may be better but it may help only for part time workers. I would also ask my sister who lost her job last year.