Many families in their 20s and 30s are opting to have one parent stay home to raise their children. While this can be great for some people, there are others where this wouldn't work. We should also acknowledge that there may be some things that families with stay-at-home parents might be overlooking when they make their decision to keep one of them at home.
This decision, as with everything in life, comes down to trade-offs that go far beyond, "can we afford to?"
There are so many reasons to have one parent stay home. These are the reasons we've all read about. Many parents want to know that they are the ones raising their children and not a babysitter or nanny. Some feel that if they both work and their child has to go off to daycare, or even if a nanny is hired, they will have a non-parent raising their kid.
A related second reason to stay home with your children is that you get to be there for all the "firsts" - the first step, the first word, the first time they stand up or roll over. These are important moments for many people to experience first-hand.
There are some financial reasons one parent will stay home. Daycare is expensive, in-home nannies are even more expensive. These costs multiply when you start having multiple children. Many couples feel that it doesn't make sense to send both parents off to work only to spend all that money on paying someone to take care of your child.
These, along with many personal reasons to stay home, are great reasons to have one parent stay home. Many people value time with their child, especially in those young years and there is nothing wrong with spending your money on things you highly value ("spending your money" refers to the income you are not making by staying home).
Before making the decision to have one parent stay home, I think it's very important to look at both sides of the coin. I don't get the sense that enough people talk about the downsides of having one parent stay home to raise children. Many of these reasons are rooted in money, and we don't like to talk about money in our society.
First, there is a lack of financial autonomy on the stay-at-home parent. They don't "earn their own money" and this can often lead to anxiety around spending money. Money is often a topic many couples fight about, and having a one-income household can lead to either 1) "I make the money," said by the employed parent, or 2) "I can't spend this money, I didn't earn it," said by the stay-at-home parent. Don't underestimate this.
Similarly, studies show that having a one-income family can create a financial burden on the spouse who works. There is a certain stress that comes with knowing your entire family relies on your one income. Traditionally it's the dad who goes to work and men aren't known for voicing concerns or talking about feelings, so this stress tends to compound.
At some point the stay-at-home parent might want to go back to work once the child is old enough to stay home alone or moves out. Some people have concerns about not just a gap on the resume, but a gap in skills and technology. There is also a certain anxiety that comes from having to go back to work for the first time in 20 years.
Then there are the normal financial risks that we can't ignore. The parent who works could pass away, become disabled, or lose his or her job. Now, the first two should be covered by adequate insurance, but it is still something to consider. Losing a job due to downsizing or a merger would mean your one-income household is now a no-income household. Having an adequate reserve fund should help shelter this, but it can take several months to find a job if the economy is bad enough, and I hate to see people get into situations where they take a job they hate just because they need income. This leads to unhappiness and less ideal outcomes.
Lastly, I've seen articles and heard anecdotes about stay-at-home parents either becoming bored, or feeling like they are missing out on adult-interaction. This loneliness is real and it's hard to talk about to your partner.
There are times when we know couples who are doing the opposite of what we are doing. If we have a two-income household and they have mom staying home, it's easy for us to be jealous of all the personal benefits to staying home watching the kids grow up, as well as not having to go to that job that we hate. Conversely, if we have mom staying home and they are a two income household, we may be jealous that our neighbors aren't as bored as mom is or that they are making more money to save into their children's education accounts.
Either way, it's hard to fight the "keeping up with the Jones'" syndrome. Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation where there are two or three stay-at-home moms talking about how they love it and we want that. Then we do it and find ourselves hanging out with two-income households talking about how they love the extra income and trips they get to have as families, and we want that. The grass is always greener!
There Is No Right Answer
Remember, none of these answer is right for everyone. One of these two options is right for you. Just sit down and talk about all the pluses and minuses with your partner and consider all the angles and ramifications of your decisions. Make sure you are comfortable with the trade-offs you are making.