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Marriage and the Stay-At-Home Parent
When one spouse stays at home to care for the kids, there are immeasurable benefits, but there are serious relationship issues to take into account before you and your spouse make the decision for one of you to stay at home.
Who will stay home?
No longer are women considered the only choice for full-time parent/homemaker status. A couple should take an account of skill sets to see which would make the better stay-at-home partner. Factors to consider include the following:
1. Earning potential-Which person will earn the highest pay outside the home?
2. Education-Will anyone require additional education in order to earn more?
3. Skills-Which person has organizational and self-starter traits to handle home management? With no accountability, can he tackle necessary household, finance, school, and child-rearing duties?
4. Parenting temperament-Which has a more nurturing personality to cope with full-time child-care? Kids need more than cursory supervision. Their social/emotional demands are exhausting, and childhood offers a short window of time for quality parent-child interaction. The stay-at-home spouse should have patience, consistency, and mental and physical energy to enrich children’s lives with plenty of thoughtful activities that will fortify and prepare them for life.
Prioritize your goals as you contemplate the balance sheet. My husband and I opted for me to stay home even though at the time, I out-earned him. With his zest for cleaning, he would have made a far better housekeeper than I but since child-rearing, and not house-cleaning, was our priority, I became full-time mommy. One day when I left our three little kids with him to grocery shop, I came back to my industrious husband mopping the floor. My glee was short-lived when I found our toddler-age kids banished to the couch “until the floor dried.” They were relieved to see me—and hungry. “Did you feed them?” I asked. He shrugged. “They didn’t ask for anything.” And this little anecdote illustrates why it is important to decide upon your family priorities and skill sets before selecting who will be the stay-at-home parent.
Division of labor
As the sole breadwinner, my husband was the goose who laid the golden eggs and had to keep laying. Nothing could interfere with his ability to earn a paycheck or the entire family would be in jeopardy. That meant he needed a full night’s sleep so he skipped those middle-of-the-night feedings, diapers, fevers, and nightmares. Anything home or child-related including laundry, cooking, bill-paying, and homework was in my job description. But this can be a 24-7 job for a homemaker while other employees have clear periods of time off. Yet, if he took over home duties when he returned to the family, he wouldn’t have any time off either. For us, a common sense approach worked better than having distinct job descriptions. If I was tired, overwhelmed, or ill, he helped. When he was under pressure at work or on the road for business travel, I was sure to support him in any way possible. And I should mention that, as my own boss, I enjoyed the luxury of being able to set my own “breaks” and down time without any complaints from him. How will you set up your labor expectations?
Loss of income
Will one spouse staying at home mean that you will lose his or her paycheck? Living on one spouse’s income can bring undue financial stress, and when finances are the number one cause for divorce, you need to consider the financial impact seriously. Can you afford the loss of income? What sacrifices will be made to accommodate your new budget? Are there ways for the stay-at-home spouse to work from home? Do you have other streams of income? Working has its own financial costs like transportation, clothing, taxes, and child care. Run your numbers to see the bottom line on your balance sheet. Sometimes, it makes better financial sense for one parent to stay home.
When a person leaves the work force, his or her future financial security is at risk. Should the unexpected occur—illness, accident, divorce—will the non-working spouse be able to carry on? The non-working spouse should try to stay current in a chosen profession with home study, freelance/part-time work, or volunteer time in the event he or she needs to return to the work force. Another safety net is to have adequate life insurance coverage for both spouses. Traditional advice suggests to cover the spouse who earns the income, but should the non-working spouse die, the working spouse will want to take time off to help the children transition through this difficult period without having to worry about work and money.
Expectations and Respect
Despite a couple’s best intentions of maintaining a balance of respect, the scales of power often tip slightly toward the working partner. An age-old adage that states, “He who makes the gold makes the rules” proves itself even if on a subconscious level. Will you be able to respect the one who stays home? Society respects those with earning power. Do you have the self-esteem required to relinquish your earning power? Can you stand strong upon the principle that your contribution is of more value than money?
The decision to have a one-income marriage should be approached carefully but with the right attitudes, this arrangement can strengthen a marriage by eliminating the stress of a two-income lifestyle. When we transitioned to a one-income family, gone were the work schedule conflicts and stress from having to do triple duty (home, office, kids). A one-income marriage simplified our lives considerably. The harried lifestyle of a two-income family meant rushing from work duties to home duties. A lot of take-out. A messy home. Piles of dirty laundry. No free weekends. Attention-starved kids. When we transitioned to a one-income family, there was a home-cooked meal on the table, clean clothes, tidy home, chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, contented children, and time to enjoy restful, playful time together at the end of the day. Sure we had to make do with less but we learned that it doesn’t take much to have a happy, peaceful life, something that eluded us when we had more money.
“For the hand that rocks the cradle
is the hand that rules the world.”
~William Ross Wallace
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