Every parent, and especially Mom, at one time or another, has to confront the dilemma of choosing when to work and when to stay home. Whenever you look for a new job, talk about having a baby, or think about moving, no doubt you’re also trying to figure out how your decisions affect your child care situation.
Many make the choice to work or stay home based solely on finances—they assume both parents have to work in order to maintain their quality of life. And yet they find themselves caught in a Catch-22: they’re paying for child care in order to work, yet working to pay for that same child care. Child care can be expensive! It’s often the second-highest monthly expense for families behind the rent or mortgage payment. For some, their child care bills are high enough that they’re considering making a switch and having one parent become a stay-at-home mom or dad.
Is your family tossing around similar ideas and wondering when it’s financially worthwhile for one parent to stay home while the other works? Here are a few tips and tools that can help when you’re facing this tough decision.
Crunch the Numbers
Child care consumes 14% of the average family’s budget. So if one parent contributes one-third or less of the family’s total income, then almost half of what that parent makes goes straight to child care. A family in this situation might consider the thought of one parent staying home if it means they can cut costs in other areas, too. But, there maybe other things to consider…
Beyond the Bottom Line
These decisions go past mere dollars and cents. If you think past your paycheck, you have to consider the other benefits you receive as an employee. Social Security contributions, 401k’s, health insurance, and future salary increases could all be at stake when one parent thinks about staying home. Much of cost associated with staying home can’t be measured by a pay cut alone. And if you do choose to have a parent stay home, you might have to find alternative options for these concerns. Whatever you do, I encourage you to always keep thinking about the long-term effects of your choice!
Seeking Personal Fulfillment
As a working parent, I know how rewarding being both a worker and a mother can be. If you’re thinking about having one parent stay home or looking for a flexible job opportunity, you should also weigh your own satisfaction along with the needs of your family. Ask yourself these questions: Do I need a career to be happy? Do I want to be the sole caregiver for my children?
Personal fulfillment is exactly that—personal! What works for you might be totally different from what works for someone else. It’s so important to take the time to understand what you, your partner, and your children need before making this decision.
Find the Tools
There are several great tools out there to help you figure out what’s right for your family. Our partners at NACCRRA have developed a terrific online work/care questionnaire that takes an in-depth look at your family’s unique situation and all the areas affected by your decision to work or stay home. They even help you forecast the long-term effects of the choices you make. The tool is quite comprehensive, so it’s worth setting aside an hour or two with your partner while you work through the steps together.
Many parents have found a way to adjust their work schedules to keep child care costs down. There are more flexible, home-based jobs now than ever. It’s a growing sector of business, especially in the recession where companies are being more cost-conscious than ever before. Sites like Etsy, Elance, Cafepress, or even Care.com let you showcase your talents (and get paid for it). You can even find full or part-time career opportunities through other websites like Alpine Access, Working Solutions, and TeleReach. There is the downside, however, that many of these jobs don’t offer the same types of health or retirement benefits. But if you’re interested, definitely check out Tory Johnson’s Women For Hire which has even more job tips, ideas, and lists of work-from-home resources.
Making the decision to either work or stay at home isn’t easy. There are definitely advantages to both, and each family needs to make their own decision about what to do.
If you’ve faced that choice in your own home, what factors did you weigh? Is it worth it for you to stay home? Or is it better if you work? Share your thoughts in the comments!