Earlier this year I wrote about the not-so-insignificant costs of having a baby, and several of you asked about the decision to go back to work or for one parent to stay home.
For those fortunate enough to have this choice, choosing to return to work after having a baby or become a stay-at-home mom or dad is as gut-wrenching, guilt-laden, and consequence-fraught a decision as you will likely face in your lifetime.
After having Molly, Lauren and I chose to continue working full-time. After Lauren has our second baby next month and takes her maternity leave, we will both go back to work again.
Making these decisions, Lauren was torn. At the beginning of her legal career, she never imagined not returning to work. She always pictured being both a career woman and a mom. But then she had Molly, and suddenly things weren’t so clear. A mother’s bond to her child works in ways I, as a man, will never understand.
Of course, I could’ve been the one to stay home, too. For all the stay-at-home dads in popular culture, they still seem to be a rare breed in real life, but a breed I would be happy to join nonetheless. As it so happened, however, we had Molly just as the business of this blog reached a tipping point and I was doubling down on my work to grow it. The good news, of course, is that working for myself provides flexibility that’s invaluable for taking Molly to doctor’s appointments or just spending some extra time together now and then.
Although the jury is still (and may forever be) out about the benefits of day care versus staying home with a parent, we joke that Molly’s caregivers are raising her better than we could alone. We are not, for example, experts in child psychology and development. We’ve taken many cues from her teachers (many of whom have master’s degrees) about when to introduce certain foods or routines. We would agree that “it takes a village”.
What’s difficult, however, is that we are mostly alone as parents in our circle of friends with toddlers. A couple moms work outside the home part-time; dozens others stay home with their kids. For Lauren, knowing that she’s missing weekday play dates and swim lessons with other moms takes its toll, both emotionally and socially.
But the grass isn’t necessarily greener. For many couples with a stay-at-home mom or dad, money gets tighter than they would like.
As a financial writer, it’s tempting to boil the stay-at-home decision down to money. Childcare costs between $200 and $300 a week for center-based care. That’s not cheap, but most professionals earn enough to make working worthwhile (especially when you factor in the value of benefits like health insurance). But our decision was about more than money. We’re not greedy; we didn’t decide to continue working just to have more disposable income. We decided to keep working to save money and to build our careers; things that we believe will improve our children’s lives someday, too.
As young professionals, we are our own greatest assets. You are your own, too. Your future earning potential is likely worth more than your house, your 401(k), and whatever cash you’ve got in the bank combined.
If you choose to be a stay-at-home parent, for two years, five, or twenty, the opportunity cost is big. Just how big depends not only on your education and current career, but how easily you could reenter your career – if you ever want to.
Increasingly over the last decades, many new moms are “opting out” of the workplace. They recognize the career costs to staying home, but they’re sick of the rat race anyway and happily bid corporate culture adieu. This puts pressure on partners to earn more, which may create resentment. It’s been a long time since the 1950s; one salary doesn’t go as far as it used to.
As we have both witnessed, this also creates tension among women in the workplace, whether younger women leave work entirely or simply push back on work-all-night corporate expectations in favor of family-friendly hours. (When your kiddo’s in day care, you may, after all, need to leave at 4:30pm on the dot everyday.) Some see this trend as squandering the work previous generations of women accomplished as they fought for equal opportunities at the office.
Although Lauren and I do crave work-family balance, we’re don’t want to opt out. We both crave intellectual stimulation and, hopefully, new opportunities to learn and grow professionally. I’m an entrepreneur; I want to see where I can take this blog and other ventures. Lauren is a smart attorney; I believe she could be a judge someday.
The reality is that the working culture in the U.S. still punishes professionals for taking years off to raise kids. Until that changes, we must constantly evaluate our work/family decisions to make sure they’re the best for our family and our careers. As baby number two arrives, we’re looking for ways to work a bit less and parent a bit more. Working part-time while maintaining health insurance and a foothold in your career may be the young parent’s Shangri-La, but for now, unfortunately, there are more parents who want it than employers who offer it.
Are there days we’d rather be taking Molly to the playground instead of sitting hunched over our computers for eight hours? You bet. But with Molly in great hands (a critical component), we’re confident we’re doing the best thing for her (and our) collective family future.
That’s our decision.
Are you a parent that’s chosen to stay home or return to work? How did you arrive at your decision?