In a lot of ways, Jon and I have a pretty ideal work-life balance for two parents with two full time jobs, plus four kids at home and one more on the way. Jon is able to take our three year old and our six month old to work with him at his father’s family business in a nearby town, and his mom comes to their office each day to help care for the girls. Both of us have relatively flexible employers, so when someone is sick or there is a doctor’s appointment or something, we are able to work it out. When we need back-up, we have his parents, my sister and my older kids’ dad and stepmom to step in to help us. We’re luckier than many working families, and I am very well aware of it.
But lately, it’s becoming clearer to both of us that even with the help that we have that so many working families do not, our household has gotten a bit out of whack. While our jobs are going well, and the kids seem to be doing great, our household is just not running as smoothly as it needs to. While I have never been known as a domestic goddess, even I am disturbed by how disorganized our home life has seemed lately. Between ball games, school clubs, work obligations, playdates, pediatric appointments, etc, there have been too few family meals at home, together, at the dining room table. The house is messier than it’s ever been, and we can’t quite seem to get on top of it. There are home repairs that need doing, and we desperately need to haul all of the junk out of our second floor so we can continue the remodeling we have started up there in recent years. But these things just end up taking a back seat to simply keeping up with what’s going on on any given day. Lately, I feel like we are paying attention to everything but our home, and our home life – which should be the heart of even the busiest working family.
Jon and I have discussed a lot of different options for how to get a better handle on keeping house, with all that that entails, and increasingly, we are coming to the conclusion that one of us is going to have to scale back at work and be home more – maybe even full time. Because my job with benefits, plus my freelancing are more beneficial to our family’s economic survival, we both agree that it makes better sense for Jon to be the parent who scales back, becoming a stay at home parent who holds down the fort and keeps our home running more smoothly while I am focused on earning money.
We haven’t yet come up with an actual timetable for this change, but we both agree that this is the direction we need to go, sooner rather than later. With two teenagers and three (!!) young children in our family after the new baby arrives, we are at a point where we just have to have someone at home acting as the air traffic controller. The financial hit we will take is something we are trying to figure out, and when we do, we will begin planning for the big change to Jon’s SAHD status. Although we haven’t yet hammered out the details, just coming to an agreement about our need to make this happen has taken a big weight off of my mind. I am still stressed when I look at all the dog hair floating around my house, and I am occasionally overwhelmed on mornings when we are trying to get everyone bundled up, lunches packed and kids hustled off to their various locations for the day. Now, however, I am able to look forward to a day in the not so distant future when someone will be at home to at least attempt to stay on top of the dog hair, and to mornings when we don’t have to rush the little kids out the door so Mama and Daddy can get to work on time, but instead let them sleep in and eat their oatmeal while still in their pajamas. It sounds heavenly.
So how about y’all? Have any of you transitioned to having one parent stay home part or full time? How did you make that decision? Was there a tipping point? And who stays home now - you or your partner? Inspire me by telling me how you made this work in the comments below.
ADDENDUM: One or two commenters have pointed out that I have blogged quite a bit over the years about the financial risks that women face when they decide to stay home with their kids. One commenter suggested that I have “criticized” stay at home mothers. In fact, I have never criticized the SAH choice. What I’ve said and what I believe is that any parent (male or female, though my writing had previously focused on women with regard to this issue) who makes the choice to take a period of time out of the paid workforce to stay home with kids needs to clearly understand the potential longterm financial risks of that choice, and should plan to mitigate those risks to the extent that she/he can. In Jon’s case, he will likely start by cutting back to part time, rather than quitting work altogether. If we decide that he will stay home full time, we will make sure he takes in some freelance work (he’s an accountant), and will work to remain engaged with professional networks, etc. If Jon wanted me to sign something recognizing the financial value of any time he stays out of the paid workforce that would protect his interests in the unlikely event that we ever divorced, I would be more than happy to do that. My point has always been that anyone who chooses to step away from the paid workforce to be at home should do so with eyes wide open regarding the financial risks. I think that in Jon’s case, we would be looking at having him stay home until our youngest is in kindergarten, at which point he would go back to work part time. In my observation, the greatest financial risks are to parents who stay home for long stretches of time – more than five years – without doing anything during that time to keep their skills and resume competitive, should they need to get back to paid work.