The Number of Stay-at-Home Moms Is on the Rise — but It’s Not by Choice

Just another day around the SAHM way.
Just another day around the SAHM way.

For the past two years, we’ve had our two older kids in part-time daycare. And when I say part-time, I’m talking two days a week for about six hours a day. That luxury costs about $500 a month. So if we utilized full-time we’d be paying well over a grand a month. For just the older two. If both Serge and I decided to work full-time outside the home instead of freelance writing from home we’d be looking at around $2,000 a month for childcare. When someone’s entire monthly salary goes to daycare you have to ask yourself, what’s the point?

It’s what’s happening all over America as stay-at-home-mom stats continue to rise for the first time in decades. Only these stay-at-home moms aren’t choosing to be stay-at-home-moms because they had a stone cold jones for being PTA president, they’ve been forced out of the working world and into the kitchen because what do you do when you can’t find work that covers the rising cost of childcare? And seriously, how does ANYONE afford daycare or find a job that fits perfectly within school hours? I hear women discussing how they “can’t afford to be a stay-at-home-mom” when the growing reality is a lot of women can’t afford to work.

It’s the working-to-pay-for-daycare trap millions of us are struggling to figure out. In an article on The Huffington Post, “When Being a Stay-At-Home-Mom Isn’t A Choice,” Jillian Berman notes that, “We’re at a new moment in the history of work-family balance in America. As middle-class jobs have vanished and low-wage work proliferated, a household in which both parents work outside the home is becoming increasingly unaffordable.” Anne Weisberg, a senior vice president at the research organization Families and Work Institute, tells Berman, “The economics of parenthood is a real problem in this country … Income has really been flat and expenses have been climbing — especially child care expenses. That’s the squeeze.”

We’re all struggling with it in one way or another:

  • Working opposite shifts from our partners because we can’t afford daycare.
  • Not being able to afford one partner staying at home full-time, but the cost of childcare while both parents work is making some families struggle hard to make ends meet.
  • Moms leaving kids in cars while going to job interviews for better paying jobs because they can’t afford childcare.

According to the Pew Research Center, “In 1970, more than three-quarters of single stay-at-home moms said they stayed at home to take care of their families. In 2012, only 41 percent of single stay-at-home moms said they’re staying at home solely to take care of their families. The same share said they’re staying at home because they can’t find work, are ill or have a disability.”

If the cost of childcare ends up equaling your salary, the decision comes down to what’s best for your family. Is it best for you to be out of the house working while your kids are in daycare? For many moms, the answer is a resounding YES. They enjoy the adult interaction and the fulfillment full-time employment brings, even if their entire salary goes to childcare. For other moms, the answer is no. Instead of a full-time job at a workplace, they prefer the different challenges that being a stay-at-home mom brings.

Lest the child-free among you start finger-wagging about how it’s our fault for choosing to have kids in the first place, think again. As Elizabeth Nastari Conway comments on Huffington Post, “I have an 8-year-old daughter. My husband and I planned for her and we waited till we were 29, with a house, two flexible jobs, childcare lined up in 2006. By 2008, my husband had been laid off twice, our home in foreclosure, our babysitter was downsized to subsidized housing because her daughter lost her home and job. There is no ‘planning ahead’ when you have no control over the economy.”

Sandra Lewis Moyer agrees, “In many areas, the cost of living is significantly higher than the average/above average paid wage. The idea that people are more willing to point fingers at families having the audacity to procreate, rather than recognize the steadily increasing cost of safe daycare options for children makes me sad for humanity. We paid $201 a week for three days of care. Our monthly childcare cost was only a few hundred dollars less a month than our mortgage. If that doesn’t sound problematic, I urge you to take a math class.”

Image source: Monica Bielanko

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