SAH vs Working Parents

I recently picked up a book in the bookstore called “The Feminine Mistake” by Leslie Bennetts. I didn’t get a chance to read all of it, but it brought up some very interesting ideas. Basically the premise of the book is that women should be wary of staying at home to take care of the children because in doing so they become economically dependent on the husband. This makes the woman economically vulnerable if the husband loses his job, divorces the woman, or passes away. Also, giving up a job to stay at home with the kids also means that the woman is giving up a part of herself. This is on the premise that jobs give people a sense of competency and being able to function in society.

I may not be describing this well, but there is also a summary of the book by the author here:
(Actually, it’s more of a defense of the book, since it has gotten a lot of negative publicity, but it still contains the major themes of the book.)

I agree wholeheartedly with the message of the book. I don’t want to be economically dependent on my husband, and I want to be able to pursue my own interests as a career. At the same time, I am a woman, and I would like to raise my future children. That is, I’d like to be significant in their lives and not just someone they see after 5 or 6 every day. I feel that raising children is also an important job, and one that I might like to do myself. Since I’d like to have a number of kids, maybe 3, taking time off to raise them all to, say, age 4, would be damaging to my career, so it does seem to me like I have to make a choice between career and family. (Vera Rubin raised six kids and still made a name for herself as an astronomer, but I have no idea how to accomplish something like that.)

So I guess what I’m saying is that I am utterly confused about this issue and I was curious what the intelligent people of this board have to say about it. Should one parent stay at home to raise the children, since this is an important task, or is it the responsibility of both parents to work, in order to develop personally via their careers and be financially solvent?

(This topic seemed like it might be Great Debates material, but I could see it going to IMHO as well. I’ll just start it off in GD anyway and cross my fingers.)

Some thoughts on the issue:

1 if having a job is important to you but so is being home for the kids maybe you should be looking for a mr mom type guy. IE someone who could stay home with the kids, and tend the house and stuff.

2 lots of kids have working parents and turn out fine.

3 You only have to be home for your kids (if that’s what you wnat) till they they’re in school for full days. Then you can get a first shift job.
My aunt’s a highly paid nurse, and my step uncle, well he tries atleast so I have some first hand experiance seeing how what I think you mean plays out.

4 Just some personal advice, but forget “*isms” I’m more then a penis and you’re more then a vagina. Just be yourself and follow your own path to what makes you happy.

uh and adendum on number 1, if you go looking for a mr mom make sure it’s someone who already has a job or you could end up with no work and no cleaning mr bum, not mr mom.

Of course kids get sick and need to stay home and schools close for bad weather/teachers’ in-services/summer vacation.

Don’t forget snowdays! Best part of winter!
Anyway that’s why we have things like child care, and why we have sick days at work. Two parents = 2x the sick days.

If you stop thinking in gender rolls and start thinking of them as two people with kids to look after it simplifies greatly I think.

Sounds like a load of cobblers. Women have a choice these days. It’s up to them to decide what’s best. For some giving up paid employment may well be a mistake; for others, it may be the right thing to do. This applies to men too. For one person to blanket-call it a mistake seems the height of hubris.

The thing that gets me about books on both sides of this issue is that they assume every family is the same. In reality, you’ve got families where both parents have to work and families where that’s not true. You have mothers (and fathers) in great enriching jobs and those in jobs where looking at poo in a diaper would be a step up. You’ve got parents of different ages and different levels of education. You’ve got families where it would be folly for the wife not to have an independent income and families where this isn’t an issue.

The only wrong answer here, IMO, is to make anyone feel they’re doing the wrong thing by going against some standard of womanhood or motherhood.

I think you’ll find that people who’ve been parents for a while don’t think of it as SAH versus Working, key word “versus”. There are a LOT of different and equally correct answers to the question of how to go about this job of raising kids. It depends on your career, your kids, your family, your finances, your support network, your city, your spouse, your health, the economy, etc.

We’re all just trying to parent our kids as best we can. You never know what life will throw your way, what your child’s needs will be and how you will react to motherhood.

Not that there’s anything wrong with investigating the issue, it’s really smart to be aware of the implications of your choices. I don’t think there a simple answer.

It also reflects the premise that employment outside the home is more valuable and worthy than work inside the home. Don’t forget that in reality, giving up staying at home with your kids *also *means that you’re giving up a part of yourself. Unfortunately, that part is so devalued that we tend not even to recognize what most dads are missing out on.

Bottom line: you can’t have everything. A household needs income, so at least one person has to give up a certain amount of freedom, the ability to dress as they please, the opportunity to nap in the afternoon, etc., and most significantly, the extended time and interaction with the children that enhances parent-child bonding. And on the flip side, someone has to take care of the kids, whether it be one of the parents sacrificing outside employment, or sleep, or time with their spouse, or sacrificing all the stuff listed above to earn enough to pay for other caretakers.

I am currently, but not inevitably, economically dependent on my husband (I am a lawyer, on inactive status with the bar). He is currently, but not inevitably, dependent on me for childcare, grocery shopping, and cooking. :wink: I *do *think it is VERY unwise to rush into marriage and SAHM-hood with only a high school diploma, and no marketable skills. There’s a sweet spot where you can get a decent education and some job experience, and still have children before reaching the dreaded Advanced Maternal Age. And there’s always time for more career later. Also, I’m currently doing volunteer work that is pretty intellectually involved and is planned to lead to a home-based career for me when my kids are older. You can find intellectual stimulation and fulfillment in other ways than 9-5 office work.

Maybe I need a flame-proof suit now, but ideally, in most cases, I think babies need to be with their mommies. They are used to being inside our bodies, our bodies produce milk for them, and in my experience women are more likely to be interested in and/or good at parenting infants. (N.B. - this in no way applies to each individual, and I wholeheartedly acknowledge that many men are excellent nurturers, and not all women are cut out for it, and you can still breastfeed and also work as CEO of a major corporation.)

That said, I think that is the *ideal *situation, not the only one that works; nor do I think that people who do otherwise are automatically “bad parents” or something. Hell, my husband’s parents both worked from the time he was tiny, and he still turned out well enough I want to spend my whole life with him!

And now I’m going to flip around the other way again and say I see far too many people who blindly accept that work outside the home is the only way to be validated or fulfilled, or who pursue material things at the expense of their children’s welfare, even to the point that I wonder why they didn’t just get a pet, rather than have a child. People near the poverty line may truly have to both work to let their family survive. People who live in my neighborhood with its 3,000 square foot houses, in a “top 10 places to live” town, and drive expensive new cars, and go on expensive vacations do not “need” two incomes - they are choosing to sacrifice their time with their kids in favor of material wealth.

I think the responsibility of the parents is to provide the best upbringing for their child, as circumstances dictate. You can’t apply blanket statements like, “One parent should stay home with the kids” to everyone, because that that isn’t always the best course of action. You also can’t say “Both parents should work”, because for some folks, that just won’t fly.

In my unmarried and childless opinion, having to choose between your job and your family is the natural, inevitable consequence of wanting things that will simultaneously compete for significant portions of your time and energy.

Well, I was going to post my opinions, but **Unauthorized Cinnamon **said it already. But I’ll put in my two cents anyway.

Yes, by becoming a SAHM you become economically dependent on your husband (though there is reciprocation). You lose salary, possible seniority, and so on. And you give up all that Social Security you were earning, which is why elderly widows so often live in poverty. It is an economic sacrifice you are making, no doubt about it. This is at least partly because our society is set up in such a way that we give a lot of lip service to caring family work, but we place very, very little real value upon it. I don’t personally like the solutions some European countries have come up with, but they do seem to manage this problem of modern life better than we do.

There are, however, things that you can do to mitigate this financial sacrifice and cushion a possible fall. It is imperative for any woman to get enough education that she can support herself and her children if necessary, and if at all possible to keep up her qualifications. Having savings of her own is also a good idea. There are things a woman can do to earn some income while staying home; as a matter of fact nearly all my SAHM friends do something to bring in some cash–it’s not always easy to make ends meet on one income these days. (I’m a librarian and work a few times a month.) And you can go back to work in the next chapter of your life and still have many productive years; my own mother stayed home for about 18 years (while working less than part-time), started back up, and now has more demand for her time than she can handle. She has accomplished a lot and still has several years before retirement.

IMO it’s also very important to have a husband who actually puts value on home and family work; this is hard work and it should be appreciated. A marriage cannot work if one partner has contempt for the other, and that includes choice of work.

Being a WOHM also entails sacrifices. As far as I can tell, working full time while also having young children is exhausting to the point of insanity. Someone still has to do all the work involved in running a home and family, and the fact is that for most people, the majority of that work still falls on the mom. Usually, any hobbies or personal interests go out the window for lack of time. A lot of working moms also fight guilt and miss their children terribly, though of course all this varies. Some women would go crazy if they didn’t work and handle everything with aplomb; I’m one of the ones who wonders how they do it all.

In many ways, motherhood means that you cannot win. Someone is going to hate you for how you live your life, and they will tell you so loudly and blame the ruin of the nation on you personally. You cannot make everyone happy; it’s quite a trick just to make yourself and your family happy, healthy and functional. If you can do that (or sometimes, even part of that), then you’ve done well.

For myself, I very much enjoy being a SAHM. I do not in any way feel that I have given up a part of myself; there are quite a few ways that I have grown and become more competent and adult through motherhood. I don’t feel that I need to earn a salary in order to be a worthwhile human being, nor do I get bored without a boss to tell me what to do. Raising my kids and running my home is important work, and it takes a lot of time and energy, but I do still get time for my own interests–I read a lot, I create art with textiles (IOW I sew and quilt!), I get to hang out with friends and generally have an interesting life. My husband and I are a team; he earns the money but it’s ours, I work hard for the benefit of the family just as he does, and we need each other. So, for myself, I think the financial sacrifice is worth it to get the kind of life I want for our family.

If you like, I’ll recommend some more books on this issue; there’s a lot to think about here.

Its a matter of priorities and values and where you place your risk.

Is there a risk in being a SAHP that your spouse will leave/die/lose his job and you’ll be in a financial hardspot? Sure, but that risk may be worth taking. Or it may not be. For us, that risk was a factor (along with our desire to work) to not having a SAHP in the house. I get very obsessive on the subject of financial security and I wouldn’t have slept well worrying if the next downturn would put us both out of work, unable to pay the bills. But I’m odd that way.

If you are two adults with a strong marriage, in relatively good health, both with employable skills, who may have set aside a little money before having kids and going to one income, it probably isn’t that much risk. If you have a high school diploma, a marriage that has a betting pool on it for when it falls apart, if one of you is in poor health, or you have no resources other than the paycheck arriving on Friday - its more risk. Which doesn’t mean it still can’t be worth it.

Pretty much all I have to offer has been said already. Especially the part about each marital partner doing what is best for them and the family, whatever their gender.

My wife and I are both lawyers. When we had kids we decided we wanted one of us to stay home. We decided it would be my wife, even tho she was making more than me, for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, we felt she would be a better fulltime caregiver, homemaker than me. But also, while neither of us was thrilled with our jobs, we thought I would be a little better at doing a job i didn't really care about to bring in the needed , than she.

A corollary to that last point is that she did not feel a strong need to work at any particular job to feel fulfilled/complete/etc. If you are the type of person who for whatever reason needs something that employment outside the home gives you, then by all means, don’t stay home with kids as you will likely end up resenting the kids and your spouse.

When the youngest of our 3 got to school, we discussed whether we wanted her to go back to fulltime work. But we were able to live on my salary and she wasn’t dying to do anything she was trained for. Besides, it really is nice having her do some of the shopping and chores during the day, and dealing with the kids when they headed off to and came home from school. It was surprising how frequently the kids would come home from school with one minor crisis or another. I’m glad we had a parent available to address them at the time, get them started on their homework, rive them to various activities, and just in general further instill the values we find important, instead of depending on a caregiver for that.

In one respect, having a stay-home spouse is a luxury. You definitely have to give up some things if you give up 1/2 of your household’s potential income. When we were starting out, it was obvious that many of our friends travelled more, ate out more, and bought more luxuries than us. But that wasn’t and isn’t important to us when it comes to leading the type of lives we wish to. Now that my youngest is 16, we have no regrets.

Also, my wife has worked part-time most of the time - teaching at a community college and arbitrating, both to keep her resume somewhat current should she ever need/want to rejoin the fulltime workforce, and to give her some intellectual stimulation. Few people realize the mindnumbing drudgery that can be involved involved in staying home with preschoolers.

Couple more points - to have one spouse stay home, you have to keep your spending at a level where you can live on one salary. IME, many couples don’t want to give up the luxuries and comforts that a double income allows. Then, when they get into those spending habits, they are trapped, and don’t enjoy the flexibility of giving up one income. (Personally, I think in many cases this is indicative of Americans’ addiction to consumer goods - but that is another discussion.)

If you both work, figure out realistic childcare costs. In some cases the 2d income largely goes to paying childcare. If that is the case, then you had better be getting some emotional or other benefits from the job besides the paycheck.

Personally, raising kids and running a household the way we want to is such a demanding job, that I couldn’t imagine doing it if we both were coming home in the evening after full days at work. Flexible work schedules can go a long way towards establishing a middleground.

If the worry is that your income-producing spouse will die, I agree that both spouses should have some degree of education and some work experience such that they can rejoin the workforce in some capacity should they need/want to. Insurance can go a long way in such eventuality.

If divorce is the fear, make sure all assets are comingled and there is no prenup that will disadvantage the stayhome partner.

Paging Sapo… (SAHD)

Does the book even go into the other options? SAHD, part-time jobs, working from home. I gave those same arguments (“if you drop out of college and get pregnant straight away and then he gets run over by a truck, then what, eh?”) to two students of mine whose families were trying to force them into dropping out of college to marry their non-college boyfriends and become SAHMs - but my students did not want to do that! If someone wants to be an “unemployed” SAHP and can afford to, more power to them.

It’s important to consider the options fully. But no option should be discarded on grounds of “they say.”

Thank you for the responses, this has been thought-provoking for me to read. Several people have stated that this is a personal decision, and I agree. I think what I’m really looking for is just people’s personal accounts of the decision-making process.

Can I request that a mod move this to IMHO?

I feel kind-of silly for posting this thread, actually, because to hear other people talk about it, it’s an easy decision to make, once you know what you want. It’s just not an easy decision for me and so hearing other people’s accounts of the advantages and disadvantages is enlightening. For the record, after reading the posts here, I think I disagree with the book as well. It really does depend so much on the individual situation.

One thing I do want to mention is that my career is in scientific academia. While some careers have options that allow you to quit for a few years and then return back to the workforce (albeit with disadvantages, such as a paycut), science revolves heavily around politics and new research. Talking to other professors in science, I have heard of several mothers who continue working, but all of them have only one child. Those who have left academia for a few years to raise children have not come back, at least not to academia. So I suppose for me, personally, the decision is between scientific academia and family, and I already know what I’m going to choose, because I want a family.

But I also know that giving up a career altogether would make me unhappy. I like knowing what I can accomplish as a scientist, and I like thinking about the science. I like telling people what I do and getting the “wow!” response, and they wouldn’t say that if I quit work to raise children. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is. Also, most of my friends are from work, so work is essentially equal to my social outlet.

There are of course middle grounds, where I can pursue science to some degree without actually becoming a full professor, and maybe still get the daily social interactions that I need, it’s just difficult to find those options, especially since the unstated goal in my line of work is full professor.

Yes, I would appreciate that.

I’m not sure actually. I only read about two chapters while I was in the bookstore and it started to get repetitive (SAH = bad!!!) so I didn’t read further or buy the book. It may be that some later chapters described alternative options.

It also depends on your child. You could have a child whose needs exceed what a daycare can provide. We all assume we’re going to have healthy, average (well, above-average :wink: ) children, but it isn’t true.

You could also have twins. :smiley:

Please, do not feel silly…this is a huge issue for women & families! It’s hard to know what you want to do, and even if you do, it’s sometimes hard to accept it and make a definite decision. I work full time and have two young children. I always thought when I had kids, I would stay at home with them. When the time came, though, I realized that I simply don’t have a good temperament for it. For me, the though of becoming financially dependent on my husband didn’t have anything to do with it…I just thought that the whole household would be better off if I wasn’t home all day with the kids. So, that was my ultimate decision, but it was a VERY difficult one to make. I feel guilty about it sometimes, and I feel a little overwhelmed sometimes (especially when there are changes…I had a baby a few months ago, and my 3-year-old started preschool today, so dealing with all the resulting disruption is hard for me). I guess my point here is that even after you make the decision, it is easy to second-guess yourself, especially on the hard days. Don’t worry about not being sure…it’s completely natural to feel as though you have competing priorites.

Actually it’s not entirely a personal decision. Everyone says that, and it is, but it’s also a societal decision with big consequences, and there’s not always a lot of leeway for compromise and negotiating something that works for everyone. Some books recommend things like “both partners should work 30 flexible hours a week and participate equally in home and family!” --which is a great fantasy but nigh impossible in real life (and what about benefits?). There is a lot wrong with the way our society deals with family and work, and it has a big impact on this “personal” decision.

I’ll work up that list for you.

Couple of observations on this subject in my 51 years:

I’ve never seen children fucked up solely because both their parents worked. It is the rule; not the exception, for both parents to work outside the home (in my circles, anyway). Most kids turn out ok.

In my experience, women feel more regret than guilt regarding leaving their kids. That goes for women who work due to necessity as well as choice. You miss stuff. That’s the way it goes. You are also able to provide for them in ways you couldn’t if you were home with them. Choosing work over SAHM does not make you a bad person.

Parenthood and employment both provide a unique brand of “identity” in a person’s life. Some people are forced to give up one for the other, but for the most part, both work and kids provide a sense of pride and accomplishment. You really can do both well, in my opinion.

You owe it to your children to know how to earn a halfway decent living, even if you don’t use that knowledge for a period of time while they’re small:

  1. Your transition into the working world will be less disruptive should you find yourself widowed, divorced, or otherwise unable to continue to provide for them.

  2. It teaches them personal responsibility.

  3. It teaches independence.

While I believe that the decision to work or stay home (for either parent) lies solely with the individual family, I think it is wise for both partners to be able to step in and provide a half-way decent living should the worst befall the family.

Something else that hasn’t been mentioned, but is relevant in many situations, is the temperament of the child. Some children are just going to respond much better to being dealt with by a parent. Some children may have health issues that makes finding care difficult, and/or much more expensive than it would otherwise be.

For me, I went back to work when my oldest was about two years old (my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer when my oldest was 3 months old, and instead of returning to the job market, I became my mother’s full-time caregiver; my oldest daughter was 20 months old when my mother died). Then, when my oldest was almost four, I had a second child. The cost of day care for a newborn, in addition to the cost of day care for the older child, would have taken most of my paycheck. Add in the cost of gas, work clothes, etc., and I essentially didn’t have a paycheck. I quit my job outside the home, and got a job as a phone sex operator, working from home on the night shift. But the understanding was that when my husband started earning enough money for me to quit that gig, I would. And I did. When my second child was eight, I had a third child. That third child is now starting second grade, and I’m working again, part-time from home. FWIW, my second child was very high-strung as a child, and I don’t believe she would have thrived in a situation where she was cared for by other people. Being a SAHM also allowed me to home school my two oldest children for a number of years (I’m not home schooling my youngest because she seems to be thriving in the public school system; if that ever ceases to be the case, I’ll home school her, too).

I’ve contemplated going back to work outside the home, but chronic health problems keep me from doing so. We live in a very depressed area, unemployment is high. The jobs around here that I would qualify for would never keep me around, because I would have to take too much sick time.

Anyway, like everyone else has said, there’s no one size fits all answer to this question. Each family and situation is different, and YMM, as always, V.