Stay-At-Home Parent or Work Full-Time?

In 2019, my wife went from being a stay-at-home mom to being a full-time kindergarten teacher. She had been a stay-at-home mom for the better part of a decade while we had 3 kids. We’ve found ourselves on both sides of this question and can offer some valuable insight.

When deciding to be a stay-at-home parent or working full-time you must consider the financial and emotional implications for you and your family. Our family successfully made this transition and our success was the result of communication, flexibility, and teamwork.

Continue reading to learn how we determined the right decision for our family.

Image of Kayla teaching in her classroom.

How my wife became a stay-at-home mom

My wife and I were married at 19, had our first kid at 21, and then two more after that. During our early to mid-’20s, she worked a few hours per day at a gym with a daycare. This was a perfect balance for her as she enjoyed the social outlet, made some spending money, and the boys could play with other kids.

While she was never a full-time stay-in-the-house mom, she still handled all of the traditional stay-at-home mom duties in addition to working very part-time and finishing her bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

Kayla graduated with her teaching degree a few years prior to working full-time because I was still finishing my degree and we were living off of the Post 9-11 GI Bill, state health insurance, and her part-time income. Her teaching degree wouldn’t have paid us enough to afford employer health insurance and daycare.

Why my wife decided to work full-time

About two years after I started my career, she was ready to start working full-time. She had spent nearly a decade as a stay-at-home mom and I understood her desire to start working full-time. It wasn’t because she didn’t want to spend time with the kids, but rather to fulfill a part of her that she needed to fulfill.

For someone who doesn’t necessarily want to be a stay-at-home parent, to be a stay-at-home parent for a decade or longer can feel like a mountain of dread. Some people simply aren’t wired for it. We have an 8-year old, a 4-year old, and a 3-year old. Kayla would have been a stay-at-home mom for over a decade!

Transitioning from stay-at-home parent to career

My primary concern was supporting my wife in whatever she felt she needed to do. My secondary concern was our finances. If we were in the same financial position with her working full-time and daycare as we were with her being a stay-at-home mom and no daycare, then I was on board.

For her, the transition was easy. Teaching is definitely not easy, but since she had spent so much time working in preschools and daycares, it was an easy transition for her.

When should a stay-at-home parent return to work?

Whether you’re returning to full-time work or entering the workforce for the first time, transitioning from being a stay-at-home parent to full-time work is not easy. It’s a completely different routine and stay-at-home parents may find it difficult to gain career traction after so many years out of the workforce.

Most stay-at-home parents will stay at home until the kids are school age and daycare is not necessary. If you’re making the move before your kids are school age, then you should consider the costs of daycare and how that will affect your savings and investing goals.

Communication is key to a successful transition

Communication is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. Listening, understanding, and communicating to your spouse about your needs, wants and goals are important as you move through life’s major transitions.

Our marriage has weathered the military, separating from the military, going to college, starting careers, moving across the country, etc. Our life transitions have been successful because of our level of communication.

Be flexible with your roles and responsibilities

When she landed her first teaching contract, a lot had to change. We had to adjust our roles to fit the new situation. This meant that I would have to start doing daycare drop-off and pick-up, making dinners more often, take care of the boys while she graded papers, etc.

I was 100% on board with taking on these new responsibilities in an effort to support my wife. She had done so much to support our family for so long, that I felt it was my turn to take some things off of her plate.

Understanding your finances

If you’ve put your household into a financial position that limits your options, then you may need to reconsider your finances. Understanding how your decision affects your finances is absolutely mandatory if you want to have a successful transition.

5 steps to gain control over your finances:

  1. Track your income

  2. Create a zero-based budget below your income level

  3. Track your spending

  4. Avoid or pay down debt

  5. Save or invest your cash flow

You may find that it’s a simple increase in income. Kids go to public school, mom and dad go to work. No daycare expenses are necessary. Perfect!

You can test the job market without committing

If you’re considering getting into the job market, you can always dip your toes in. Nobody says you can’t apply for jobs, get dressed up, and practice your interview skills without accepting a job offer. People do it all the time. In fact, it’s recommended that you go on interviews every 6-8 months to keep your resume up to date and your interviewing skills sharp.

The truth is, it might take you time to find the job you’re looking for. Depending on your level of education and skill-set, it might take you weeks or months to land a job offer.

Is daycare worth it to work full-time?

Aside from the cost, daycare has been positive for our boys. They get strong socialization, opportunities to learn every day, and their immune systems are getting some extreme exposure.

They go to a great daycare that is basically multiple levels of preschool. The kids are taught by real teachers, they get exercise, they do crafts, they make friends, etc.

How we make up for lost time with the kids

My wife and I try to maximize our nights and weekends with our kids. Rarely do we do anything without them, and we try to always come up with fun activities for everyone. I hire out my lawn care so that I have more time to spend playing in the yard with the kids rather than working.

Because the kids don’t have us strung out and exhausted all week, we’re able to commit more of ourselves to the kids when we’re together.

Summary

The decision to enter the workforce after being a stay-at-home parent is not an easy one to make. There are many financial, personal, and emotional decisions to make. It’s important to understand why you’re making the decision you’re making and to have open lines of communication with your significant other during the process.

Here’s the secret, careers are great and they have a lot of benefits, but they don’t make you who you are. Your money doesn’t make your family who they are. Your job title and the quarterly bonus aren’t going to fill your heart the way that your family can. The tradeoff must be worth it, and for us, the trade-off of being a teacher, having summers off, winter breaks, spring breaks, no working on nights, weekends, holidays, no traveling, etc. was worth it.