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December 28, 2009

When to Work, When to Stay Home?

BLOG-New-Year-2010 A new year gives us a fresh start. For many, that means a new job is in the works (or you’re at least looking around or thinking about it).

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.

Other Solutions
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 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!


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I find that child care can be expensive if going through larger companies for child care services. Look around for "mom and pop" type places, or new daycare centers for the best rates. A lot of new child care services can be offered at a better rate because they are trying to get a strong placement in the industry. It is always worth a try asking friends and neighbors if they know of a college student, or just graduated person that could work as a nanny or sitter.


Hi there! Thank you for the insight. This sure is a great help. You had made an outrageous impact to all the working moms out there. Make more blogs and continue sharing your thoughts and be an inspiration not just to the working moms but also to everyone who has a motivation in succeeding.

Kristen Stez

I gave up a six-figure income to stay home with my kids for 6 1/2 years. Although, it was the hardest thing I've ever done, both personally and financially, my kids were worth the investment! My career and my financial independence are very important to me, however, my children are priceless. I'm so grateful to the working women that were older than me at my previous employer. We were all sitting in the cafteria one day when I was (hugely) pregnant and every single one of those very successful, career-oriented women told me that if they had to do it over again they would have stayed home with their kids when they were young. That was all I needed to hear.

Jim (work at home)

It is refreshing to have found someone who knows what they are talking about. I highly recommend this site.


Most friends I know who were allowed to switch from full time to part time at their employer have enjoyed so many more benefits - not just for their children, but for their health! Moreover, they believe they are being even productive, knowing what needs to get done for their employer and knowing they don't have the time to waste being unproductive in the workplace.


This is really a hard decision to make but I would have to commend the idea of always considering the long term effects of your decision.

Aya Eavey

I have been a stay at home mom for the past 6 years, and I don't regret a minute of it. While I missed working with adults and the adult conversation, I feel it was a beneficial trade off for my kids and myself. I am now returning to the working world and I feel refreshed and renewed and ready to pursue a career in accounting. It has been financially tight to get through on only one income, and when I look at what I might possibly be making outside the home, my jaw drops and I realize what I gave up. So, my hat is off to all the working mothers out there pursuing a career and making the money, and taking care of the kids, the pets, the house...

Roselle Cariaga

I'm now 2 years being a stay at home mom, and very active in my kid's school activities and developments. At first it was difficult because I got used to working, and I really loved my work, but I have five kids that needed me more than ever. Here in Zambia, you can't find trained nannies or maids, that's why I had to pause on my career and pay attention to my kids. Now, with their busy schedules piano, golf, swimming, football, art, tutorials, table tennis, extra-curricular activities at school, and bringing them to their friend's house to play from time to time, their schedule has become mine as well, apart from the other house chores and errands I've to do in a day, I don't regret any of it, one bit, especially when they're excelling in class. As long as my Husband wants me home and be there for him and the kids, its all good to me. I don't know when I'd ever go back to do my hotel & restaurant management career again, for now I am truly enjoying my kids, and having my own time with some business deals on the side, only when the opportunity arises. I'm happy and contented.

asha murthy

Being a grandmother of a 3 yr old and a newborn has given me perspectives which underscore the importance of a mother being available to a young child like nothing else. The first 3-4 yrs of a childs life ,I think the foundation of everything that they will be emotionally later on in life. My 1 month old infant granddaughter will be instantly soothed when her mother rocks her versus any one else including her father. She is not able to smile yet but I see the smile in her eyes when she locks eyes with her mom. If we as mothers can give the first few years to our children wholly they will have a better start in life.

Monika Roychowdhury

When I delivered my son, I was in a stage of my career where I could not quit as I had already invested 10 years and was towards the end of training and starting a new job and finally reap benefits of years of hardwork. Some relatives from previous generation on and off indirectly made me feel guilty for putting my son in daycare (he satrted daycare at the age of 8 months). It was hurtful but I made sure whatever time I was home, I spent quality time with my baby and kept everything else lower on priority list. This still gave me 3-4 hours everyday and most of the weekends one on one time with my child. Despite what people said, my son is now 4 years old and is doing very well. He is trilingual (he learnt english in school and me and my husband taught him our native languages at home), is smarter than average child of his age and is emotionally attached not just to his parents but also to our extended family (I was told that kids who go to daycare don't get as attached to their mother as stay home kids). It has been exhausting but very gratifying as well. I have enjoyed the dual satisfaction of being a working mom. Yes, I never had time to watch movies or go to salon but who cares, I am happy I focused on my priorities and thankfully it worked out well.


We are a two-parent working family. I was a part-time worker and student when I had my first child and a full-timer when I had my second. Continuing to work outside of my home turned out to be the better option. I make much more money than my husband, so having me stay home did not make much sense in terms of the financial security of my family and career arc, plus my husband, like many men, wasn't emotionally equipped to be a homemaking dad full-time. We've pulled it off by using part-time childcare, flexible schedules for both parents, esp. dad, and lots of love and help from extended family. At times I am exhausted by the juggling, but the kids are fine, have close relationships with their extended family, and my husband and I have both been able to continue working in fulfilling careers and make progress toward our financial goals.

Lisa Marie

I know this is an old article, but I think it's great that you opened up this important dialogue, especially here on, where it can sometimes seems like things like this aren't even questioned.

The article is well-written and explores several important areas of this decision, but I think it almost ignores the one that I see as the most important by far- what is best for the children. And ultimately, I do think that what is best for the children is *more* important than personal fulfillment for the parents or maintaining a certain quality of life (obviously as long as all primary needs are met.)

I loved Kristen Stez's comment about giving up her six-figure income to stay home with her children after hearing from older women who said they regretted not doing that themselves.

As a former nanny who is currently working in the professional world and plans to have kids in the next few years, I feel strongly about not working full-time when my kids are young.

I know that others have different views about this and I respect that, but I personally cannot see how it is better for a child to spend almost all of their waking hours at a daycare or with a paid caregiver as opposed to spending them with their own parent- especially when they are in their most formative years.

Ultimately, I think this is something we all need to wrestle with and seriously consider. I certainly don't have all the answers, and I realize my views could change in the years to come, but I definitely don't think we should just assume that the way most people do it these days is the way it should be.

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