Benefits of Stay-at-Home Parenting?
July 9, 2019 5:29 PM   Subscribe

I am the mom of a 10 month old weighing the possibility of going back to work full-time in the next few months. I feel like I know the benefits of having a career, but what about the benefits of staying home?

Currently, I’m trying to dig into how I feel about my options. I love being home with my child, but I am often second guessing myself and feeling like I should go back to work and advance my career, even though the thought of doing so makes me sad. I am lucky to have a partner who fully supports my choice to work out of the home or to work at home raising our child, and the financial freedom to pursue either option. I realize I am incredibly fortunate in this regard.

I feel inundated with messaging that says stay at home parenting is a frivolous choice. Or worse, that it’s anti-feminist, a waste of my education, and potentially financially ruinous in the event of divorce/the death of my spouse. The essays and think-pieces by women who balance family with high-powered careers, even when the angle of the piece is on the difficulty/sacrifices involved, make me feel like “everyone else like me is doing both.” I seem to remember reading research that said children do equally well in either scenario (mom works or mom is at home)… so then why not work? For all these reasons, I worry that putting my lucrative, fairly enjoyable career on hold is the “wrong” choice.

But… I love being home with my child. It’s hard work, but it’s very rewarding to me and I really enjoy and have fun with it (most of the time!). And, deep down, I can’t help but feel like it does make a difference if I am caring for my child full-time versus my child being cared for by a nanny or day care for most of their waking hours.

I would love to read any essays/research/personal anecdotes that speak to the benefits of full-time parenting. What, if any, are the tangible benefits of being raised by a stay at home parent? Of being a stay at home parent? Where can I hear from other feminist, educated women who have made this choice? Open to all perspectives, as long as they’re not of the misogynist “women belong in the home” variety. I realize this is a highly personal choice, but hearing how others have made it is helpful. Thanks!
posted by lakemarie to Human Relations (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I hated staying at home. My feelings were clear. Yours seem clear too, and if you have the means it sounds like you should take advantage of the opportunity to stay home!

Staying home helped me understand how incredibly not lazy or antifeminist it is. I sucked at it and hated it and am in awe of those who do it voluntarily and well. If it’s your choice, it is an entirely feminist choice to make. The key is that you’re not feeling bound by gender roles, but rather that you’ve made an educated decision about what you really want.

There will be haters no matter what you do. Embrace what your gut is telling you.
posted by olinerd at 5:42 PM on July 9, 2019 [16 favorites]

In Emily Oster’s new book Cribsheet I think she talks about this, but to be honest I don’t remember what she said because I’m pretty sure it boiled down to my preconceived idea before reading her book - I don’t believe there’s any research study that has shown a difference either way for long term effects on kids as long as they receive adequate care in either home or a care setting.

It’s really up to what makes you happier and it sounds like you know what that is, at least so far. Kid’s ages and stages can really change over time and some are more pleasant than others, so I’d keep an open mind later on whether or not it still makes you happy to be home.

Anecdotally, when I’ve been a SAHM vs working mom, it’s easier to cook nutritious food from scratch. It’s easier to meet other moms and do play dates. There’s less stress and time crunch in the morning and evening, tasks can be spread through out the day. Weekends are a bit easier in terms of care and routine because we’re not switching from “daycare routine” to “at-home” routine- it’s just the same every day.
posted by permiechickie at 5:49 PM on July 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

One thing to remember is that you don’t have to make a forever decision. You can stay home for a year or two or longer if you want.
I stayed home until my youngest was two, then went back to school part time. I wish I’d stayed home longer. This isn’t popular to say, but even the greatest child care worker is not going to love your child like you do. And as someone with grown children who has many regrets, one thing I don’t regret is time I spent with my kids. You do not get those years back once they’re gone.
Of course, women can make their own choices, and I respect that. But you asked for viewpoints supporting staying home. And it’s true that someone will criticize you no matter what you decide.
(It can be hard or impossible to get back into the workforce if you’re out a long time. Unless you’re very wealthy, I’d suggest a large life insurance policy on your husband to make sure you have financial resources if something happens to him.)
posted by FencingGal at 5:59 PM on July 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

My sister went to an Ivy League law school. Becoming a lawyer had been her goal since childhood. She continued to practice for several years when she had children, and constantly wished she were able to be home, even though she still enjoyed law.

When her oldest was 5, they moved to a new state, and she took the opportunity to try staying at home full time. She has zero regrets, and from the outside, she is happier and more relaxed than I had ever previously seen her.

She intends to work again eventually, but has really cherished this time.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:03 PM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was a SAHM for about 20 months. The benefits to me were pretty numerous, but not enough to outweigh a paycheck. :)

1. Putting together healthy meals was doable.
2. Exercising consistently and for at least an hour was possible.
3. Thinks like keeping the laundry going without losing sleep happened.
4. Saved a fair amount of money by managing expenses, researching investments, selling unwanted items. Generally just time to "manage" a household.
5. Getting together for coffee, brunch, lunch, playground was easy and expected.
6. If I or my daughter didn't want to get up at 5 am, we didn't have too.
7. Minor illness could be nursed rather than pushed through.
8. I was available during business hours for things like doctor's appts, the housing office, bill offices, and other sundry neccessities that are needed but usually close by 5.
9. All the random free classes at the gym were during the day and I could go.
10. I got to join my all time favorite moms groups which are basically running with babies and hiking with babies.
11. I was able to interact face to face if there was ever a random customer service issue or I needed to interface with a governement official.
12. I could binge a fun Netflix show during naptime rather than after dark.
13. Scheduling haircuts was easy.
14. Lastly, of course, I got a lot of hands on time with my daughter. Which I loved, but honestly at 2 she needs a lot more socialization with kids her age and had I kept it up I would have had to make a much more concerted effort to keep her socialized and engaged in developmentally appropriate ways.
posted by stormygrey at 6:08 PM on July 9, 2019 [12 favorites]

I just want to add, managing a household and raising a child is work. It can be hard, detailed, and intense work. It is always important work. There is nothing anti-feminist about deciding that you would best serve your self and your place in the family by doing the work at home and not in an office.
posted by stormygrey at 6:11 PM on July 9, 2019 [18 favorites]

I'm also fortunate to be able to be at home with my children, and one advantage I can think of off the top of my head, is that once the kids are in school and have after-school activities, staying home means you are available to pick them up from and drive them to their various activities. Sports, Reading Olympics, school plays, marching band... you name it. I honestly don't know how parents who work manage it. I guess the kids just can't join afternoon activities and can only do evening ones. This probably depends on the type of area you live in. We are suburban/rural and after school busing is extremely limited and you have to drive to everything.
posted by molasses at 6:12 PM on July 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

My wife was a stay at home parent for our 2 kids until this year when our youngest started kindergarten. She really enjoyed being able to spend the amount of time she did with the kids. She didn't have a lucrative career to go back to but she did want to go back to school and she was able to study for and write the TOEFL and do all of her applications while she was at home. If she had been working I don't know if we'd be able to find her the additional time to do that. One tangible benefit to our children is that she speaks to them in her native language and because she was around more and speaking to them more in the language they are stronger in it than they otherwise would have been.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:23 PM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

There is a good book on this subject, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. The benefits for a young child are substantial. Having just one kid and staying home can be a wonderful and pleasant experience for all involved.

However, when we had the second kid and the older one was not quite old enough for preschool, it was exhausting. I would not recommend staying home with two young ones unless you have others who can truly and substantially help (whether through family or hired help) because you really will never get a break otherwise.

If you're really concerned with the financial aspect of staying home, you can consider getting a post-nuptial agreement. I'm not sure they're enforceable in most states, but it would force you and your partner to have a necessary conversation, at least. What seems desirable when your baby is ten months may seem more tedious when he's 3 and just climbed up the bookshelf for the tenth time that day.
posted by luckdragon at 6:37 PM on July 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I’m at SAHM to my 17 month old. I didn’t plan on staying home, but my maternity leave was going to end when she was 10 weeks old and I just couldn’t leave her. I’m also incredibly fortunate that my paycheck, while substantial, was not the deciding factor in my staying home and the lack thereof doesn’t make a significant difference in our family’s lifestyle. I will say that it has gotten much, much easier now that we’re in the toddler stage; when she was probably 8-12 months I thought I would go back to work around 18 months. Now that we’re nearing that point, I want to continue to stay home with her until she is ready for preschool around age 3. Her gaining a bit of independence through walking and talking has made a big difference in our day to day, and her separation anxiety has lessened quite a bit too (I can walk out the room without her screaming now, yay!)
I’ve given a lot of thought to this choice with regards to how it fits into a feminist mindset and ultimately I’ve decided I don’t care, because it’s the best choice for my daughter. While I do think that daycare is a really great choice in some circumstances, it wouldn’t have been the right choice for my kid and she is happier and healthier being home with me. We do lots of structured and unstructured activities - Mommy & Me, music classes, going to the pool a lot, reading a ton, and just being together - which we wouldn’t have the opportunity to do if I were working outside the home. In the grand scheme of things, work will always be there, but babies don’t keep. I posted a similar question on AskMe before my daughter was born and most responses advised me to go back to work, but I know I will look back on this time with no regrets. The reality is, women who work outside the home often don’t get to spend a lot of time with their kids and if you don’t *have* to be away from them and you’re enjoying it, why go back? Feel free to memail me if you want to talk further.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 7:04 PM on July 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have been a stay at home parent for three years. I like being able to manage my own time (to the extent that you can with little kids), no office or daycare to get to in the morning. It's easy to set up playdates and activities and I've made lots of friends and gotten lots of support through those. Managing the household is way easier; there's just more time to do things and I can always be available for phone calls and repair people. I like being able to spend a lot of time with my kids.

But ultimately I stay at home because I like it FOR ME. I don't think it's necessarily better for my kids (anecdotally I think daycare kids and stay at home kids come out the same, assuming generally competent care). I just like it and I check in with myself regularly and I still like it. Not having a job doesn't bother me; I've never been particularly career focussed (I do volunteer work and keep myself networked in my industry to keep myself set up for going back to work eventually). I see what I do very much as work and don't think of it as being anti-feminist at all. My husband and I communicate very regularly about how our household works and our finances and future, and we respect and understand each other's contributions.

I will say that, staying at home was definitely easier before I had my second kid (really hard adjustment period there!) and also that now my daughter is 3, she definitely needs more socialization than I think I can provide so she is going to part-time preschool in the fall. But the past few years have been really great and I'm still doing it. No regrets.
posted by cpatterson at 7:14 PM on July 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

In general, doing what you love and want to do is the smart choice. If you love being home with your child more than you would love working and there's no significant obstacle to staying home, then staying home instead of working makes sense, just like it would make sense for you to live in Seattle instead of Los Angeles if you like Seattle better, or to spend your spare time hiking instead of knitting if you like hiking better.

Staying home can mean more freedom and more fun for you and your kid. You can go ice skating when the rink is nearly empty. You can ski when there's fresh snow instead of waiting for the weekend. You can go for a hike on any nice day. You can travel to visit relatives if you feel like it. Instead of sitting in an office you can sit with your feet in a creek reading a book while your kid plays in the water, or go to a U-pick strawberry farm or sit by the fire playing board games and eating cookies. And instead of going to the same daycare or preschool and doing the same things every day your kid can play in the creek, pick strawberries, help make cookies, go ice skating, or go out of town to visit relatives. Staying home also makes homeschooling an option, makes it easier to get enough sleep and makes it easier to have a dog.
posted by Redstart at 8:04 PM on July 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Staying at home is entirely different if you have the ability to hire occasional help (or a grandparent nearby who will help for free) and you have ability to pay for classes and activities for your child.
And please, just be so careful about thinking, “I’ll do this for a bit and then go back to work.” It’s not always easy to go back to work after being out of the work force, and if you have other kids, the time can be easily delayed by years. If I could go back and figure out a way to work consistently even just a few hours a week, I would do that. Better for me, my mental health, and my career.
posted by areaperson at 8:19 PM on July 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

As a data point - I could have written your post. I went back to work after maternity leave for all the reasons you listed, even though it broke my heart to be away from my child. It took me until he was two years old to figure out that I really just wanted to be with him as much as possible, while he's little. I absolutely, deeply regret the two years when other people got to spend more of his waking time with him than I did. It is my greatest regret so far in my parenting journey, and I would give anything to have that time back.
posted by TrixieRamble at 10:30 PM on July 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Forget “should” and forget any external messages you feel you receive. Do what you want to do, which sounds like staying at home.
posted by tillsbury at 11:06 PM on July 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Stayed at home with two children (now ages 32 and 29). No regrets.
Never used a daycare. Never hired a babysitter in the home. Did not live close enough to relatives for regular support.
Occasionally they stayed for an hour or so at the YMCA minding room while the husband and I exercised. Occasionally they visited with playmates while I did something else. Occasionally their playmates stayed with me, while the other parents had some time off.
The best support from my husband was the weekend Mom Time when either he would take the kids to the park or the zoo or shopping... and I could sleep in and not have to worry about the what-ifs when the children were out of sight. Or he would stay home and I would spend the day anywhere else. Total luxury.

So... no problems with picking up the values of random paid caregivers, a revolving stream of children, and the strangers associated with both. No matter how nice the adults are, no matter how attached your child becomes, no matter how much you lean on them for support... they are always one phone call away from being replaced by someone with whom, in the best case scenario, you just don't "click" when it comes to the care and upbringing of your child.
Hindsight can be awful.

Then it was preschool at the YMCA (occasional volunteer), kindergarten (weekly volunteer), and public school (volunteering at school and with scouts). I did go back to college and worked part-time and full-time while the kids were in middle school and high school. Once the last child was in university, my husband was almost ready to retire and we've had our own things going ever since.

I am all about you doing what is best for you. If you and your spouse decide that the best short- and long-term decisions are a period of stay-at-home parenting, do it.
Don't burn bridges. Keep your contacts, and your resume updated. Expand your skill sets. Lots of people change careers multiple times during their lives -- right now some of your skills include organization and multitasking with a sometimes uncooperative end user.

Every child rewrites the book. What works for your child today may be 180 degrees from what works for a toddler, or a preschooler, etc. And any little brother or sister will probably do something completely different.
Don't get comfortable with "my child is so easy / hard / cooperative / stubborn / outgoing / introspective." They change. They keep changing, right past the time when they graduate and move away. With a little luck, they will become adults that you would enjoy as friends, even if you've never met them before.

Your family choices are not up for review by the Holy Council of What Women Do When They Become Parents. This random MeFi stranger is giving you full permission to be the example you want for your child, without reference to any other social pressures.
Take plenty of pictures and make plenty of memories, because in a flash they are adults.
You've got this.
posted by TrishaU at 11:08 PM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

My mother did not stay at home and has expressed regret about her decision. My brother and I turned out just fine, of course, so despite what judgy people might say, being a working mom vs a stay-at-home mom has no impact on your child's future (provided whoever is caring for the child is loving and engaged, which is not a given either for paid/extended family caregivers or for SAHMs).

This is one of those times that you are making a decision not so much for your child but for you -- an uncommon, almost radical idea given the expectations of Western motherhood. Maybe that's why so much of the debate about working vs SAHMs focuses on the impact of the child, because it's heretical to applaud women who make a choice that's right for ourselves rather than for someone else.

The feminist choice is the choice that's right for you.
posted by basalganglia at 3:20 AM on July 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

I stayed home with my son until he was about 2 years old. I saved a ton of money by breastfeeding and making baby food (by steaming and pulverizing in a food processor, once a week, then freezing in ice cube trays to make baby-sized portions). I also shopped a lot at yard sales, people always have excess baby clothes to get rid of.

Went back to work, part time, when my son was about 2. Hated that job (customer service), found a gig setting up inventory and point-of-sale for a store my friend was opening. He paid for my daycare, a lady who watched his nieces and nephews, and my son was close by when I was working at the store.

After that, I got another job eventually, temp work, and found a SAHM babysitter, who was wonderful. She eventually moved on from babysitting as her kids got older and she had to ferry them around to various activities, and started her own faux painting business (another route for SAHM's start your own gig -- she'd gone to art school, so she had the talent).

After one less than stellar babysitter experience, we moved my son to his grade school's after school daycare program. It was a small neighborhood school, and they were very good with the kids.

I would have liked to stay home with him a little longer, but my husband at the time was nudging me to go back to work, which I resented quite a bit. I did manage to take time off here and there, by doing temp work and taking a break between gigs. I was making pretty decent money for a temp, and had a couple of side things going on that allowed me to take time off once in a while.

I also liked being there when my daughter got home from school, making gingerbread for her, making sure she got home okay, did her homework, etc. There were some issues when she got too old for daycare, and I was working full-time (divorced) and she brought some kids home and they got into shenanigans, so I regret not being able to supervise her when she was 13 and up, but by then I was divorced, so had to work full time, as my ex was giving me very little money, and he also slacked off on any kind of visitation or help except for having my son every other weekend. My daughter hated going over there, so she often went to sleepovers at a friend's house on those weekends.

2 years wasn't enough time for me to lose my skills, which was mainly office support, secretary, light accounting, etc. I could still find temp jobs very easily during that time period, less so now. So it was probably a good thing that I went back to work, because I ended up having to support the entire household.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:59 AM on July 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have several flexible part-time jobs now that my kid is a bit older, but was at home full-time for the first 18 months. I have the sense that I feel more like I have a... comfortable handle on what's happening in our day-to-day lives than parents who work outside the home full-time generally might, simply because I have the time and energy to do so. We're not just "surviving until the weekend." We don't have to go for the most obvious/convenient option every time, and can instead research and plan comfortably. Being able to make food at home is a great example. It's no big deal for us to go to multiple grocery stores for the best prices/quality on various items at each, instead of having to cram everything into one big-box store run. It's actually kind of nice to have several smallish, well-defined errands like that to plan into our days! And also just in general, it's so much easier to check all the boxes on the all the "how to care for a child" lists without it such a frantic sprint bracketing the workday. EVERY DAY they're supposed to play actively, eat vegetables, eat protein, not eat much sugar, not have too much screentime, have books read to them, have their teeth brushed thoroughly and completely TWICE, get over 10-12 hours of sleep, and other stuff I'm forgetting now because I'm human. That's a ton of stuff just in terms of how much time and energy it takes, never mind that the kid may be actively resisting any/all of it. Oh and by the way you also should be kind and patient and respect their bodily autonomy and teach them good habits and life skills and how to be as independent as they can while you're doing it. Clearly many many people manage to come off of their work days, day after day, and then do this whole other "job" too, but it's really really nice to have the time and capacity to smooth all that out over the day.
posted by teremala at 5:05 AM on July 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also I wanted to say I would really encourage you to do this for internal reasons rather than external ones. The problem with feeling like you "should" stay at home because your kids will somehow end up better's easy to get entrenched in that idea and end up feeling like you don't have a choice even if you end up wanting to go back to work, because you're making this huge sacrifice. And it's just not true because obviously your kid is going to be completely fine either way. You really have to do it for you.

There's this weird Mommy Wars-style cultural narrative that pretends like, when your kid is a baby you get to choose staying at home or working and then you are in that box forever. When actually, a) the vast majority of people don't really have a free choice b) individual families make it work in a variety of different ways. Like, I am in a local group for stay-at-home moms and fully half of our members are not technically, full time, stay at home parents. They work part time or from home or they are studying part time or they pick up shifts here and there or they do weekend/evening work or they teach so only join us for summer/school holiday activities or they volunteer. And as you can see from this's something a lot of people do for a limited period of time and then circumstances and motivations change.
posted by cpatterson at 6:49 AM on July 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

My partner and I both work out of the home, but I wish one of us were able to stay home. If one of us could stay home, it would make the following so much simpler:
1. kid sick days are covered
2. play dates are easier to set up, because your kids can see friends after school as opposed to trying to cram it into an already jam packed weekend
3. errands and chores that we have to do on the weekend could be done during the week, opening up the weekends for more relaxed, fun family time. (this is so huge)
4. weekend evenings are less stressful if dinner can be started earlier (and/or doesn't have to be made at 10:00 pm the night before)
5. as my daughter ages, there are activities she wants to participate in and can't. She can't be a girl scout because the troop meets at 4:00 on Wednesdays. She does dance, but it is at the less than ideal time of 6:00-7:00 pm (we get home at 5:30! bedtime is 7:30! but she loves it, so...)
6. you are not distracted by work. Even though I don't check work email on the weekends, it's always floating around my head. The ability to just focus on my family, without other concerns, was an unanticipated bonus of my maternity leave.

It's a difficult decision and I wish you all the best.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 9:05 AM on July 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

My daughter is almost 20 now, and I've worked full-time throughout her life. I always thought there'd be more time to teach her stuff or just for playtime, but there wasn't. I was too tired to do much of anything when I got home from work, which is all on me, I know. One day I woke up and she was graduating from high school, and it was too late to do all those things I had wanted to do. I regret not staying home with her during the early years. My husband worked a 2nd shift part time, however, and he was able to stay home with her until I got home from work. Looking back, there are a lot of things I would have done differently. I wouldn't have prioritized work over her, but I was the primary earner then so I felt I couldn't make another choice. Hindsight is 20/20.

The days are long but the years are short.
posted by cass at 10:09 AM on July 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm the educated feminist you're asking about and I've been a full-time parent for most of this century. Originally I hoped to go back to work when my kids were school-age, but that wasn't an option for various reasons. It was rough at the beginning, but now I'm glad how things have turned out. Blah blah blah benefits for my children blah blah blah, but these days I'm all about the benefits for meeeee.

My house is a nicer place for me to be because someone (me) is able to deal with the crap like getting a new furnace, or going grocery shopping at multiple stores. I see my friends. I volunteer hundreds of hours a year to support organizations I like. I have hobbies I get a lot of fulfillment from, which would be impossible to pursue to this level if I had a paid job.

Everything avocado_of_merriment lists? I have it, including Girl Scouting for me (I'm a troop leader, plus I do many things for adult Girl Scouts) and my daughter.

It wouldn't've worked if I didn't have the resources I do. Being a full-time parent and not having the time, friends, and/or money to do cool stuff would be very difficult. But if you can swing it, and if you're not someone whose sense of identity is strongly connected to their job title, I recommend it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:34 AM on July 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments deleted. The question is looking for perspectives about benefits of staying home, so let's please stick to that.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:03 AM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

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