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Why We Both Went Back to Work After Having Kids


Deciding to become a stay-at-home mom or dad after having kids is a big decision.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?

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for writing this post. I am pregnant with my first child and am so relieved to see a post about the benefits of returning back to work. Far too often, I find that articles seem to not cater to this group of individuals. I feel fortunate to have already secured a spot at a day care that I feel will be able to offer our little one benefits that my husband and I could not have done alone. I feel fortunate though since the majority of mothers I socialize with have also returned to work, so I have a sense of support. Not to mention, both my mother and mother-in-law worked while raising kids and both my husband and I turned out fine. Thanks again!

  2. No kids now. But I’m guessing I’ll feel even more guilty leaving my kids than I do my dog, so I don’t know what to expect.

  3. I don’t have kids now but have had this conversation with my girlfriend. We are both of the mindset that we want one of us to stay at home until the kid(s) start school. We aren’t sure if we can make it financially, and we are both open to both of us going right back to work. But this article points out well that there are other factors to consider, like the bond a mother has, when making the decision.

    This is why we are trying our best to have the option of one of us staying at home. We don’t know how we are going to feel until we actually have the child. So, we plan as best we can for both options so that we can hopefully be able to afford (both financially and emotionally) any decision we make.

  4. Boy are you right that our culture punishes us for taking years off to raise kids. In fact, the majority of companies in this country don’t even offer paid paternity leave!

    Employers need to realize that priorities change when you have kids. They need to support us in our efforts to find a good work-life balance.

    • Point taken on the paternity leave and I agree, but you would have to start with the fact that it’s not mandatory for companies to offer paid maternity leave either and that’s even more pathetic. They have to give a woman time off, but it can be 100% unpaid if the company so chooses. It’s baffling.

      • I am a working mother of two, but i still don’t get the concept of paid maternity/paternity leave. If you are having a baby, the most fair thing an employer can do is allow you to come back to your job, which i believe is the law. I work for family and received partial paid leave, but I didnt expect it at all. From an employers perspective, if you want a baby, you plan. If you want to get paid, save up your vacation days. Just my opinion.

  5. Great post! I was raised by a stay-at-home-mom and she loved it, but she’s now divorced with no savings, no education, and no job prospects, so there’s definitely a downside as well. I always imagined myself being a stay-at-home-mom, but since I’m about to return to school and pursue a Ph.D. I guess I’m already on the career-mom path. It just sucks because I already feel guilty about not giving my potential future children 100% of my time!

  6. I recently returned to work after having my first baby in August.

    We have only recently gotten to a good financial position (no credit card debt and a small emergency fund). We could afford for one of us to stay home, but money would be tight and we would not be able to afford a college fund or build up any additional savings.

    I also simply enjoy working, and need that aspect of my life to be happy. I feel like I am taking better care of myself and my family on multiple levels by working. No working Mommy guilt here!

  7. Although it’s difficult to predict your future emotions, the decision to stay home with kids is something worth considering even before investing in a career and the education it requires. For example, my wife is wishing now that she had not invested in medical school because it made staying home with our kids financially impossible. Some day when residency is over and the loans are paid off (20-30 years?), she may change her mind, but right now, she feels like being a mom is more rewarding than being a doctor.

    Another thing to consider is the size of family you want to have. A two income household with two or three kids in daycare can be tight but manageable. Make that five or six kids and childcare costs easily exceed the second income. However, with a stay at home parent, additional children make less of an impact on the family budget.

  8. Great post! This is a tough decision for anyone to make. I had my son when I was 19. I was a single mom so I didn’t have a choice of being a stay-at-home mom. I felt so guilty leaving him at daycare. I remember thinking that my son wasn’t going to know that I was his mother. I had my daughter two years later. I married her father. Both of us worked because things were tight. I have been a single parent now for years after getting divorced. Once again, it isn’t a choice I get to make. I have only myself to depend on. Even if I had the choice, I think I would rather work for myself than sit around. I would need the intellectual stimulation. I just try to be more involved with my kids and attend their functions as much as possible. That’s all you can do at the end of the day.

  9. We have 3 children. I have always worked and my husband has been the stay at home dad. Our decisions have always been in the moment whAt is the best choice? When I was pregnant with our first child we were both in college. I had 3 semesters left and my husband had 5. So it was obvious that I would be able to graduate first. So he stayed home while I finished college. Thanks to a lot of family support neither one of us had a job and I graduated with ony $5k in debt. Once I finally did get a job he took another year off and then it was time for him to go back to school. He is now graduated but costed $26k because we had to pay tuition and daycare for 2! We had our 2nd during his last year of school. Now we have 3 kids so daycare for three kids would be around $1700/ month. We would pretty much be breaking even if he got a job. I have had several bad experiences with a day care I trusted so them being at home in a safe controlled environment is important to both of us. But as the days go by I’m starting to think even if we were net negative it might be worth the sanity.

    As far as being penalized for choosing to take several years off, how about being penalized for taking the bare minimum time off. Women have to prove their loyalty to their job over and over again. Also, it is hard to go above and beyond expectations when you’re running on 4 hrs of interrupted sleep so performance bonuses take a hit.

    I can understand from the employer side also. They are looking for experience. And if your relative work experience was more than 10 years ago. Then things have probably changed a lot and you’re going to be an investment on their part. And the older you are how many years will they get out of you. But this plays into age discrimination, which is illegal.

  10. We have three children, and my wife recently went back to work after 5 years at home. The decision was based more off of my wife’s mental well being than it was our financial situation, but the extra $$ is a big plus too. Our children are 4, 3, and 10 mos. After looking at different child care options, we chose to have an Au Pair come live in our home. It isn’t as expensive as one might think – plus very flexible. Our monkeys have the stability of staying in the same surroundings (besides preschool) and have grown fond of her quite quickly. I know it isn’t a top choice for everyone, but we are loving it so far!

  11. Such a tough decision! My husband and I don’t have kids yet but when we do, we’ve decided that he will be the stay at home parent and possibly work part time. We’d like for him to stay at home at least until our kids are school aged. Since we have family close, we’re hoping to not have to pay for day care costs. However, I think you make a really good point about the benefits of daycare such as the knowledge of the teachers. They really are experts in their field and it’s great to know that your child is being cared for by someone with a master’s degree in child psychology and development. I think that it’s really important for the stay at home parent to have play groups, early childhood classes, and other adults to be around while your children play and learn. Some of my friends who are stay at home parents have felt really isolated without family around and without much involvement in activities outside of the home. I’m curious to see if my feelings of wanting to work will change once I have a little one of my own. I’ve always seen myself as a working mom, but who knows how I’ll feel once I meet that little person, so it may be a much harder decision than I realize. Thanks for revealing so much about you and your wife’s personal situation. It’s gives me lots to think about!

  12. Jessica H. says:

    My husband and I had numerous conversations about this very topic when the time to have children felt right to us. We took a look at our budget and figured out what we would need to save in order for me to stay home for one year. After we had about half of the amount saved up, I was able to get pregnant fairly quickly and by the time our son came, I made the leap from full time career to full time mommy. That was the fastest year of my life but it was the best thing for me and my son. We were able to have a year of bonding together without the financial stress of only one income. After my son’s first birthday, I was able to find a part time job in the same field and re-enter the work force. No one questioned a lack of skills since I was only “gone” for a year. Now I’m able to have the mornings with my son, my mom takes care of him while I work in the afternoon (he usually naps during this time) and I’m home by the time he wakes up. I would never ever trade the year that I took off and stayed home with my son but I love the balance of family and part time work. I craved mental stimulation and productivity when I was home with my son. Now that I am working part time, I feel like I can be a better mother. It may sound weird but it’s what works for our family. :)

  13. I appreciated reading your article! Some people [myself and spouse included] simply can’t afford to have either spouse quit work after having a child! I think that it’s important in today’s economy for people who can’t afford to have one, full-time, stay-at-home parent and caregiver to find support emotionally and otherwise! I think it’s fabulous if families do have a real economic choice to allow one spouse to stay at home, but I think it’s also important to not pass a moral judgement on those who have to be dual income earners, and think that they are somehow “less good” at parenting.

  14. Being a stay at home parent does have its advantages and disadvantages. I agree with your plan of working to build a better future financially for your children but being an army wife, a teacher, having two children, 4 and 1, and pregnant with the last one calls for me to become one. I’ve recently resigned from my position to stay at home more and focus on our children and myself. And the disadvantage is a big dent being placed in our budget. An advantage is the time i’m spending with my babies while resting and preparing myself for greater things. I’m also beginning school in January to receive my masters. It would have been nice if my employer would have worked with me and allowed me to take half days which would be part time, but they wouldn’t so the best decision for us is for me to stay home until my husband returns from his deployment. Our faith and will power keeps us believing in this change and the good it will do for our Childrens future. Thank you for money under 30. It has helped big time.

  15. I had both of my children very close together, 14 months apart to be exact. this we did on purpose because i did not want to start and stop working so to speak. While I applaud your view that to go back to work now will allow you to further your careers i disagree that that having someone else watch your child everyday is somehow better or as good as your own guidance, Masters degree or no Masters. Yes it takes a village to raise a child but NO ONE will EVER take care of your offspring like you. not for any money in the world. I realize there are many who have to go back to work without a choice but for those that do have a choice i feel staying home for at least the first year is very important. I recently went back to work, not because i had to, but because i wanted to after three years at home. i too work in the legal field which is very demanding and at times feel conflicted when i have to leave work to take my child to the doctor or work around a crazy schedule because preschool hours dont match work hours and consequently feel pressure from the man. i feel fortunate that i could stay with my children and think that i will never grow older and regret going back to work and missing these great times just to advance my career.

  16. Hello. I’m a 23 year old father of a 3 year old. My wife, the same. I work full-time in a blue collar job that gives me just enough to get by, barely enough to save. (Thanks to this blog, I save more now than I ever have.) We plan to have another child, quite soon, only problem is my wife is in college, training to be a radiologist. Many things to think about here. She will be graduating in 2016, and it is strongly suggested to have the baby before she goes to work around radiation. Also, she expects to have the crazy hours medical staff (especially rookie medical staff) have when she enters the working class. Very tough decisions to make, that we still have yet to decide on.

  17. I enjoyed this article. I’m looking to quit my job in accounting to stay home with my 2&3 year olds for at least two years while doing minor freelance work. I was bitter when reading about your thoughts on daycare teachers knowing more than parents. For one, I want to be a teacher (to older kids) so I feel I am completely capable in relating to my kids in that way and/or educating myself in their developmental stages. But I am more confident after reading that it will be good for me to freelance so I can stay updated and keep from having a gap in my resume. All I need is a couple hundred dollars a month to make things easier, but it will benefit our financial future in a great way.