Are you a soon-to-be parent weighing the pros and cons of being a stay at home vs. working mom? It’s a big decision! You’ll have to consider the needs of your family as well as your own fulfillment and happiness.
On my own personal journey of motherhood, there have been forks in the road, as well as twists and turns. My husband and I decided mutually that I would stay at home for at least a couple of years with our first baby.
I ended up being a stay-at-home parent for 5 years until my kids were old enough to go to kindergarten and pre-school. At that point, I returned to work full-time. I had worked full-time for 6 years when the global pandemic hit. Navigating work from home while also having the kids virtually learn from home posed a whole new challenge.
The most important thing when making the decision to stay-at-home with your baby or go back to work is to weigh all the pros and cons each step of the way. Always make the decision that feels right to you and your family at that time.
Whether you’re deciding to be a stay-at-home mother or a working mom, consider it a good thing to even be able to make the choice!
According to this well-researched article, the pros and cons to being a stay-at-home parent even out. While positive outcomes emerge for children with stay-at-home parents, more parents experience overall happiness when working outside the home.
The biggest pro surprisingly is in future student’s academic performance. When parents stay at home with the child, the increased parent involvement benefits a child’s overall learning. Less surprising is research that shows that kids with stay-at-home parents have less stress and aggression.
Many articles talk about the concocted working vs. stay at home mom debate, falsely pitting one group against the other. In reality, there will always be judgment on either sides!
At the end of the day, you and your family will need to decide what’s best for YOU and your unique situation. The rest of us need to support each other on that decision!
Factors to consider on whether to be a stay-at-home or working mother
1. Household Finances
Finances should be the deciding factor on whether to go back to work. Having babies and raising kids are expensive, especially when it comes to childcare in the first few years.
If you have built up savings before having a baby or a partner with a full-time job and salary that can easily provide for the household, then the decision should come easier.
Cost of Daycare
Quality daycare can be more expensive than what many jobs pay, especially lower-paying jobs in the service industry. Sometimes the cost of daycare can cancel out the net paycheck. Unfortunately this pay inequity negatively impacts women of color the most.
The ideal situation is to have a family member take care of children for free. However, many new moms in the United States lack local support systems as family members tend to scatter across the country (and the world).
Calculate your household budget
Figure out the household budget including the money you are expected to make if you choose to return to work vs. the amount that daycare costs. The best way to calculate costs is to determine the weekly or monthly childcare costs. If daycare costs more than 50% of your take-home pay, then it may not be worth going back to work.
Other factors include other incoming household income, total debts, and your desire to go back to work.
Temptation to Spend Money is higher when you’re a stay-at-home mom!
Something to keep in mind is that money is much tighter with a one-income household, but the desire to spend is higher for stay-at-home moms! When I stayed at home, I was tempted to spend money multiple times per week due to my boredom. I needed to get out of the house with the baby or kids and ended up going to the crafts store, Target, or a baby/toy store.
Being at malls and in retail stores resulted in the temptation to spend more money on things I didn’t need. Perhaps it was to fulfill a gap in my life.
Once I started working, I was so busy that I didn’t have time to go shopping. My spending went down and it wasn’t a struggle to keep within the monthly budget.
Obviously, a secondary income is very helpful for the financial health of a household. A two-income household makes it easier to pay bills and have expendable income for travel, shopping, and hobbies.
When I returned to work, my starting wage was low ($15/hour). By that time, my son had started Kindergarten and I only had to pay preschool for my daughter. I had spent 5 years at home with the kids and wanted to get my foot back in the door.
Even though my salary was low initially, the secondary household income made a difference in terms of our earnings and savings. Eventually the cost of preschool went away when my daughter went to Kindergarten. I also got promotions and raises in the following years, which helped gain momentum in our savings.
2. Dreams, Goals and Desire for Your Fulfillment
Have you always dreamed about being a stay-at-home mom and spending quality time with your children? Is there nothing more you want from life than being there for your kids at all the milestones, finding fun activities to do with them, and potentially homeschooling?
Or have you always been a life-long learner with higher degrees under your belt? Have you always wanted to pursue educational or learning opportunities and apply them to work? Do you strive for challenges outside the home and intelligent conversations with your colleagues (because baby talk won’t cut it)?
Perhaps you want a bit of both. Although life paths and dreams change, check to see what you wanted before you got pregnant. You can do that by talking to a close friend or family who know you well, reflecting on your past, or checking back on old journals.
It might be a good idea to start journaling now to navigate being a new mom and brainstorm ideas about your ideal life. Sometimes in the chaos of everyday life, it’s good to sit down, reflect, and write down your thoughts.
3. Maternity leave at your current position or Flexibility in your schedule
Although maternity leave in the United States is abysmal compared to our European counterparts, check with your individual workplace. On top of the U.S.A.’s Family and Medical Leave Act, some companies may have generous maternity leave and by then you may be ready to return to work.
If your workplace is flexible and offers options to accommodate a new mother, take advantage of that. Whether it’s offering generous maternity leave or allowing you to work from home or part-time work, those are rare benefits to have. Many workplaces are discriminatory to mothers in general, so if you’re working at a company that values your contributions otherwise, then you don’t want to burn bridges with them. At the same time, don’t feel like you are obligated to stay with the company if you feel like you want to stay at home.
When you become a new mom, you start to lose your identity as the focus is on the needs of your baby. After some time (and more kids), there is even less time for you. Eventually you may start to forget what you wanted in life. The longer you stay-at-home, the more your identity solely becomes “mommy”.
On the flip side, going back to work (especially in a job you love) gives a sense of self after starting to lose your identity as a new mother. It provides a different sort of meaning and fulfillment outside of being a mom. Plus, kids can see working parents as role models who help contribute to the finances of the household.
There may be stigma both ways, but having a solid sense of identity when you become a new mom will result in more confidence and happiness.
6. Education and Opportunities
Career choices can play a factor in whether you decide to go back to work. Whether you have a high school diploma, college degree, or an even more advanced degree, you might not want that to “go to waste”. However, with a higher education and more specialized skills, you may be able to negotiate with your current employer accommodations when becoming a new mother.
Student debt is another burden to consider. Although you can put your loans in deferment while you are at home raising your kids, the total amount of student debt should be considered in your financial situation.
7. Values and Upbringing and Family Life
Some people are driven less by finances and more by their values and upbringing when deciding whether to be stay-at-home parents. Some people will want to choose to be a stay-at-home mom because they want to be there for their kids at every step of their development. Perhaps that’s something they had or lacked in their own childhood.
In my case, I had a stay-at-home mom who was always there with a snack and dinner on the table when we got home from school. Although she wasn’t always happy about it, I knew that it brought stability to us kids to have my mom there for us at all hours of the day.
The bottom line is that no one is going to care for your child(ren) as much as the parents. So if the thought of having other people take care of your baby during its formative years makes you cringe, then choose the option of staying at home.
8. Social Isolation
Being a stay-at-home mom can get pretty lonely. There’s only so much baby talk and children’s songs before any parent starts to go crazy and crave adult conversations.
I was in a new city and didn’t know anybody when I became a stay-at-home mom.
Going back to work in most cases will give you that stimulation. On the contrary, when you are a stay-at-home mom, you’ll have to seek out adult conversations in other ways. You can do that by meeting up with other new parents in the form of baby circles, story times, and moms groups.
9. Time Management
Whether are a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, there never seems to be enough time. People may think that stay-at-home moms have the whole day to themselves. This is absolutely not true when you have babies and young kids constantly needing care and attention. Staying at home to care for kids and the household is mentally and physically exhausting.
Sometimes it comes down to time management, but being a new mother doesn’t leave much time for anything else. Add in long hours at work, and you can feel drained about all of life’s obligations.
The most hectic time of my life was when I was working full-time, taking my kids to school, then coming home and immediately having to prepare dinner for the family. I seriously thought I was going to lose it. I probably had a meltdown every other month! This is when you need…
9. Supportive spouse & family members
When deciding whether to stay-at-home or go back to work after maternity leave, it’s important to consult your partner and other family members. Having the support of those closest to the child can really help with the decision.
Knowing that your partner is on board with family responsibilities such as childcare, cooking, and household chores will make your life much easier whether you stay at home or work. A working mother who then comes home to 2nd and 3rd jobs (housecleaning, cooking, planning birthday parties) is not sustainable. Neither is a stay-at-home mom who works all day caring for kids and not getting a break when her spouse comes home. As a new mom, you need as much support as you can get, and that’s especially true in your partner!
Benefits of Being a Stay-At-Home vs. Working Mom
I had worked for several years before getting pregnant with my first child. I had spent a total of 5 years staying at home with my kids before returning to the workforce. Now I’ve been a full-time working mom for over 5 years.
Here are my thoughts on the benefits of each of these stages:
BENEFITS – WORKING MOM
Get to talk to adults
Get to be independent (from the household) to do your own thing
Get to have some mental stimulation
Do something different and bigger
Role model for your children
House does not get as messy
Don’t spend as much money
BENEFITS – STAY-AT-HOME MOM
Get to be home with your kids all day
Time to pursue a side hustle
Have chance to connect with other moms in the same boat
Provide kids support
Can capture every moment of your kids’ fleeting childhood
You Can Get the Best of Both Worlds
There are ways to get the best of both worlds when deciding whether to go back to work or to stay at home. If you can make any of these options work, that would be ideal!
- Take a year or two to stay at home and then go back to work
- Work part-time
- Work from home
- Volunteer in a way that’s related to your field or which utilizes your skills OR Join a board of directors or committee to keep foot in the door
My Advice (Take It or Leave It!)
If you have the chance to stay at home for a year or more after your baby is born, I would go that route. Although I’m behind in my career path, I do not regret the 5 years I spent at home with my children.
Although there were times of loneliness, boredom and depression, I love knowing that I was there for my children during their formative years. Looking back I have so many memories from the various stages of development in my children’s early life, and thousands of pictures to show for it!
Being a stay-at-home mom is not easy. You need to build in time for yourself and keep your mental health in check. But being there for your children in their early years when they need you the most and when so much change happens in their growth is PRICELESS. Work will always be there, whereas a childhood is fleeting!