How Do You Know if You Should Stay Home Full-time?

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How do you know if you should stay home full-time? A reader wrote in with this question, one that I thought could benefit from a range of perspectives and answers. I’d love to hear your advice for this young mom on how you decided to become a stay at home mom or why not.

How Do You Know if You Should Stay Home Full-time?

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I would like to know how you knew that you were meant to be a stay at home mom. That one moment that made you know that without a doubt that your calling was to be a stay at home mom.

I have a 7-year old and a 4-year old. My husband and I both work full time trying to make ends meet and still barely make it. I would love to be a stay at home mom, and my husband does not support the idea. As he sees it ,we will never be able to make ends meet or get caught up on bills. 

How Do You Know if You Should Stay Home Full-time?

This is a hard thing, to want something that seems like a financial impossibility. I can’t say that at the beginning there was a moment when I just knew. I think those early years were peppered with doubts and struggles. It was only after we got experience (and a few hard knocks) that I “knew” it had been the right thing for our family.

There were a few things that have helped me get to this place over the years.

Get the finances right.

It sounds like finances are the sticky point for your husband, and reasonably so. If you’re both working and money’s still a struggle, well, how in the world would you do it on one income?

We didn’t get the finances right until we were 10 years into it. We thought we had it right at the beginning, paying off student loans and building a reserve. Unfortunately, we didn’t know what to do once you spent the reserve.

We hadn’t figured out how to budget or live within our means, and that kinda blew up in our faces. After a lot of hard work and going without things we thought we needed, we were able to pay off the debt and get right side up.

That’s a round-about way of saying, I was home with my kids, but we didn’t have the finances right. We weren’t truly “making it” because we had debt.

lego and money

My going back to the work place might have been one solution, but it’s not one that we wanted to choose. The emotional investment outweighed our financial inadequacies. To stay home full time meant that I would be the primary caregiver to our kids, something that was really important to me.

When I was pregnant with baby #5, I started freelance writing and by the time baby #6 came, we had learned to budget. Those two things helped us finally get a handle on our money. It only took 10 years of winging it to get there.

While we now rely only on my husband’s income, technically, we both “work”. My income gives us a little breathing room, else things would be pretty tight. One income can pay the bills, but there’d be no new clothes or dinners out.

There may be things that you can do to get your finances in a different place. You didn’t share specifics so I’m not sure what “making it” looks like at your house. We don’t have a lot of money going into retirement or college funds, so for us, it means simply staying in the black and paying as we go.

Find fulfillment in being home.

I know for some women, to stay home full time means more than just getting the finances right. For some, it means giving up a career they love or one that they’ve worked hard to create and don’t want to lose.

While I didn’t really care about leaving my job, I still struggled to transition out of the work place. I knew that being a mom and homemaker was “enough”, but it took me awhile to realize that and to really “feel” it. My early years as a SAHM were peppered with projects and hobbies that consumed me, to the detriment of my responsibilities at home.

I think it’s good and healthy to have outside interests and hobbies independent of your life as mom, however I wish that I hadn’t squandered my time with my littles thinking I was bored or needing to justify spending my days with them.

knightsBe united.

Being united with your spouse is so important! This is easier said than done sometimes. I know that some couples really struggle on this issue.

To have a parent at home can seem like a luxury, but it was something that we agreed on in the hypothetical before we were ever married. For us, we were willing to make sacrifices — and a lot of mistakes — for me to be home.

It’s really important that you be on the same page for this, particularly if there will be sacrifices and/or mistakes. I would see if you can talk about your longterm goals and finances as well as share your feelings about your wishes and fears. Maybe it can’t happen next week or next month, but maybe next year. I think being open to discuss longterm strategies is really helpful on both sides.

Every couple is different; every family has different life circumstances. I don’t think anyone can make that decision for you guys, but certainly it’s good to hear how other people have come to their own decisions

What advice can you offer this mama?

Are you a stay at home mom? Have you wrestled with this question and found the right answer for your family? Share your experience in the comments.

As always, I trust that you’ll focus on sharing your experience and how you came to your decision rather than criticizing others who’ve made different choices.


What’s your question?

Have you got a question you’d like to ask? Want feedback from other moms on an issue that affects your “life as mom”?

Shoot me an email: jessica at lifeasmom dot com.

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  1. I LOVE working part-time (except when i have to work during nap time). My kiddos spend three mornings a week at preschool, and I get to work towards finishing my PhD. The options really don’t have to be work OR stay-home- lot’s of moms are finding that hybrid options are a win-win for their families (like Jessica :)). I encourage you to look at other potential options besides your current work situation. T

    The solution may not be obvious right away, but there are a lot of non-traditional ways to continue to work part time. Good luck!

  2. I always wanted to stay at home, but when my first was born it would have been hard financially for me to become a full time SAHM. So, I compromised. I left my long-hours, stressful job for a part-time job that was flexible and close to home. I generally work two days a week, at the office. I get adult time, and my kids get to interact with others at daycare. It was supposed to be temporary, until I could afford to stay home full-time. However, I actually love it and after almost 6 years I have no intentions of leaving. I am a better mom when I’m at home because I can re-charge at work (I’m very much an extrovert and need to be with people). It doesn’t have to be all or nothing!

    Also – You may also be able to take a leave of absence from your job for a couple of months to try out being at home before you make a decision.

  3. To the original question:

    I had to go back to work after my first was born, and it wasn’t what we had planned. It was HARD. I spent most of that first year in a very negative head space because it wasn’t how it was “supposed” to be, even though I knew it was the only logical option.

    Fast forward another year, and I got my dream of being a SAHM. The first 6-9 months were fantastic. Then, for many reasons, it became a worse situation than me working. Yikes!

    For me, I needed to learn to be content regardless of my circumstance and trust that where I was at any given point in time was/is right for that moment. That doesn’t mean to not pursue alternate options, but more that I needed to choose to be content where I was at.

    For far too long, my attitude while I was working put far more of a strain on my marriage than the fact that I was working. Contentment still doesn’t come easy, but has far more of an impact on the health and happiness of my family than where I spend my daytime hours.

    (And not saying that you’re not content – solely throwing out my personal experience in case it’s helpful to someone!)

  4. For me and me alone. Being at stay at home works for me. I have went back into the work force and I always end up back home. You think a second income would help with bills, we would have more money. Not in my case we were no further ahead finicially if I stay home or work. We only have our youngest at home and she start high school. I would like to find a part time job no nights no weekends and no holidays. So I prayed and when I follow what Gods saysit always works out. Yes moneytight but that ok.

  5. In the interest of being respectful and kind, as you ask, Jessica, can I point out that this kind of comment makes working moms feel awful? We are all raising our children, whether we have jobs or not.

    “From the moment I learned I was pregnant, we knew (my husband agreed) that we didn’t want anyone else to raise our child so I would stay at home with him.”

    1. You make a good point. I had not thought about that comment in that light. I paid a proofreader to go over it and neither of us caught that.

      I have never paid for my children to be in day care so I honestly do not know what that experience is like. However, I was in daycare myself from 3 months of age to 3 years. My understanding is that my mom quit her job at that time with that sentiment. She had been a kindergarten teacher and felt she had been investing in other people’s children more than her own.

      I knew that if I continued teaching (and spending the hours after school needed to do a good job) someone else would be doing the bulk of the childcare. My statement was particularly about my own situation and my own family.

      It wasn’t intended to be a blanket statement about all parents who work. My apologies for the ambiguity. It’s a tough subject to talk about without coming across wrong to someone. We make different choices based on who we are and the families we have.

      1. Jessica,

        I think Ellen was actually quoting my comment. I apologized to her (as you can see).

        I’m afraid this is a good example of the limitations of the written language–there’s no body language, tone of voice, etc., to help clarify the “speaker’s” intentions. (I should know better too–I spent my professional career as both a proofreader and an English teacher.) It’s also an example of good intentions gone awry–my hope was to encourage others through my story. I’m sorry that some found it discouraging/offensive instead. Mea culpa.

    2. Ellen,

      Please be assured that I meant no offense to anyone. I completely understand that many women have no choice in the matter. (My mother-in-law was widowed when my husband was only two years old, and she had to work outside the home from that point on–my father-in-law had a heart condition that precluded him from getting any life insurance, and she chose to never remarry. There was a period of time when my mother also had to work outside the home due to circumstances beyond her control. I have the greatest respect for both my mother and my mother-in-law, and I miss them both dearly now that they’ve passed. They were amazing women.) I don’t even guarantee that I will never go back to work. This past year has shown me that a great deal of life is beyond my (or anyone else’s) control, and it’s generally not wise to say “never.” Only God knows the future.

      I also know that many women choose to work outside the home because they want to–they enjoy what they are doing, they feel they are doing something valuable, they want to put their educations to good use–the personal reasons are myriad. That’s fine too. Many of my friends work outside their homes, and we all agree that the choices we make for our own families are the best choices at the moment.

      As I prefaced my comments, this is an emotionally loaded topic and I’m not trying to suggest that the choice we have made is the “best” choice for anyone else–it was just the choice that we felt was right for our family and our circumstances. Perhaps if we hadn’t had to wait so very long for our son we would have felt differently. Who knows? All moms (stay-at-home, work-at-home, and work-outside-the home) have an incredibly challenging and important job to do.

      Please forgive me if my story (or the way in which I shared it) was offensive; it was not intended that way.

      1. Hi Ellen,

        I’ve been a SAHM, WAHM and working-outside-the-home mom. I wasn’t offended by your comment, but the whole “someone else is raising my child” bit is always a hard one to hear. I understand the sentiment behind it, but as someone who’s been on both sides, I can say that I am the one “raising” my children just as much when I’m home with them all day as when they’re in daycare. I’m not sure the best way to word it so that it’s not inoffensive to anyone, but it is one I have to consciously remind myself, “they didn’t mean anything against you by saying it” (at least most people don’t!).

        My children are both thriving in daycare by having someone that is not me provide input in their day. And I’m still by far their favorite person (much to the chagrin of their Daddy many days!). I still interpret babbles better than anyone else in the world. But some behavior issues that I’d been working on daily for months with my older son (as a SAHM) were gone within two weeks of him being in full-time daycare. He’d reached a point where he could hear it from someone else better than me.

        There are far more inputs in our decision process than I could get into in a blog post comment, but both my husband and I are convinced that at this point in our lives, the best thing for our family is for me to be working full-time and have the kids in daycare. That may change at any time, and we reevaluate regularly.

  6. It’s an emotionally loaded issue, for certain, and I certainly can’t tell anyone else what’s best for their family. However, I would like to share our story.

    After 15 years of infertility (yes, 15–that’s not a typo), we were finally blessed with a wonderful son. From the moment I learned I was pregnant, we knew (my husband agreed) that we didn’t want anyone else to raise our child so I would stay at home with him. When we recalculated our taxes and took into consideration childcare, commuting, clothing, etc., our take-home income didn’t really change that much. (That was actually a bit discouraging, because I felt that I had been working like a fiend for all those years for no real reason. My husband wisely reminded me that we would have never qualified for our home without my income.)

    When our son was a year old, my husband felt the Lord leading him to a job change (one that would actually mean a pay cut!). Talk about a leap of faith. Whew! The Lord has always provided for our needs, and we have no doubt that this is where my husband is supposed to be. We live frugally but comfortably, and sites like this have helped us to do so. When my son turned two, I did do some part-time, very flexible work for a couple of years. This allowed our son to attend a Christian preschool.

    Our son attended public school for three years, and then we chose to homeschool him. This is another decision we will never regret, especially since last summer, at age 49, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. (I’m doing very well now, but that experience really made us understand that we can’t take the future for granted.) I am so glad I’ve been able to spend so much quality time with our son.

    Our son is now 11, and with all of his activities life sometimes seems to be going by in a blur. They’re all good things–church, Scouts, swim team, music, soccer, etc.–but they do keep us hopping. As I’m sure Jessica can confirm, childhood goes by in a flash.

    So, while I can’t begin to tell you what you should do, I will tell you that we have no regrets about becoming a one-income family. My only advice to you would be to pray for wisdom and for agreement between you and your husband whatever decision you make.

  7. Oh, this is a hard one! I returned to work after both of my children were born. Financially, it made sense for me to continue working and I didn’t really feel the pull to be a SAHM. Then, my husband took a new job when our kids were 2.5 yrs and 6 months old and we moved out of state to a tiny little town where I knew no one, there were no job opportunities for me, and I became a SAHM. It was a difficult transition for me. I’m an introvert and I had a hard time meeting people but I finally found a mom’s group and came to enjoy my role at home. Our budget was much tighter than it had ever been before but we tightened our belts and made it work as best as we could. It was not easy. The hardest thing for me was that we were not able to set aside any extra for retirement or emergencies. I’m a saver by nature and that was a source of stress and worry for me. Then, after 2 years I had an opportunity to return to work. Honestly, I though I’d jump at any opportunity to return to work but we struggled with this decision. We had to consider whether this was a good move for our family and if it made financial sense for me to re-enter the workforce. We prayed about it and felt led for me to accept the job. I’ve been back at work 2 years now and it has been a good move for our family. Yes, I have moments of working mom guilt, but the kids have not been adversely impacted since I returned to work. I do feel at peace with the lifestyle our family has.

    If I were in your shoes, I’d ask myself why do you want to stay home? Are you feeling guilty about working, do you not like your job, do you feel your kids need you at home, do you feel like you’re only working to pay for childcare? How do you think your life would be different if you stayed home? Then, look at the numbers. Where is your money going each month? Do you need your job for the insurance benefits? What expenses could be reduced if you stayed home? Would you be eligible for the earned income tax credit if you relied on one income? Are there other services you might quality for on one income? The numbers might surprise you. As an example, we qualified for free energy efficiency improvements for our home from our power company while we were living off 1 income. The earned income tax credit was helpful too.

    You and your spouse must be united on this. It will not be beneficial to your family if you swap the stress you currently have for a different type of stress (marital or financial). There is no “right” answer and only you know all that you are facing. Pray for guidance and clarity and think it through with your husband.

  8. I have done both. I decided to stay home when it was clear that I would actually be losing money by working because of child care costs. Plus my then 3 year old had some medical issues and I felt I would never get to know my newborn while working and dealing with those issues. It was meant to be for two years, but then I got pregnant again and had a third!

    I was home for six years and did not love it. I was happy to be able to nurse my babies for a long time, though. I will always be glad I had that time with the kids and to handle the medical issues, but it was hard on me psychologically and took a big toll on our marriage. We began to live in different worlds and it was hard to stay connected.

    I have been a full time working mom of 3 for a year now and I am much happier. Our marriage is now more of a partnership. Because the kids are all in school now it is easier on them, although they would always prefer to have me home. The most important thing is finding a job with flexibility so that you can still be there when they need you.

  9. My husband added all our expenses if I worked including clothes and lunches out incl. Day care, gas etc. Time will always be short. I think taking your kids to daycare does give them a schedule and routine that will help them their whole life but 10 hours a day your child is with someone else? If you can have someone to come to your home that you approve of and is like you has worked well for some mom’s I know. 🙂 it’s a very hard decision. Going to work after not working for 10 plus years will not pay as much as if if you had been working ?????? I stayed home? We definitely do not have as much money as families who’s mom worked and their children are amazing?

  10. This job of being a stay at home mom has so many blessings. I have been home with children now for over 20 years. We do sacrifice, but the blessings are incredible. My children range from 32-5 years old. We also gave up my income that was larger than my husband’s.The older ones say they never knew money was tight, we always had all they needed. Trusting God to meet our needs wasn’t easy, but He taught us what needs really are. It has been a wonderful ride. I would do it all over again.

  11. It is definitely a hard decision! I worked part-time (20-40 hrs) for almost 10 years (5 years with children), and we were in the “I have to work or our budget doesn’t balance” boat too. My husband works at a small Christian school – how would we ever make ends meet on one income?? We did a LOT of talking and praying with each other and other wise friends. My most recent job was getting very stressful – I absolutely loved the work I did, but some interpersonal relationships strained me. I did have a “moment” last winter — when putting my 2 year old to bed at night she fiercely grabbed my neck and said “mommy don’t go, I need you.”

    Some women are blessed to have a personality that [generally] enjoys being home with their children 24/7. I am not one of them. I do need to be away from my kids for some time each week or I would probably go crazy. And it’s okay. I left my other job and now work 2 afternoons a week at my church. It’s just enough time to get a break from the kids while still bringing in a little bit. I also do a direct sales home-based business (Usborne Books & More) on the side.

    Our budget is definitely tighter, but I’m learning ways to cut costs here and there, and the less-stressful week for me is totally worth it. Every month my husband and I have a “budget meeting” and plug numbers into an Excel spreadsheet, and we force ourselves to stick to it. If this is going to work, we have to be committed to making it work rather than just hoping for the best.

    Oh and while we were working through this decision, I read Lysa Terkeurst’s book “The Best Yes” which was very thought-provoking. Good luck in making your choice, whatever it may end up being!

  12. I agree with others. You drop quite a few expenses when you stay home – daycare being the biggest one! I also don’t need fancy clothes any more and we eat out less because I am home to cook dinner. We knew it was time because I felt God’s leading. After our first was born I was anxious to get back to my job and adult conversation lol nothing wrong with a fulfilling job.

    By the time I was pregnant again my role at the office had changed and I was bored and felt pretty worthless so it was easy to decide to stay home. I then picked up some work from home totally out of the blue and it has really worked well these past two years.

    Definitely sit down and figure out numbers!

  13. I wanted to be a stay at home mom, but it was not in the cards. My salary was four times that of my husband and my job came with full benefits. We couldn’t live on his salary alone. Then about four years ago during the height of the recession my husband lost his job. Suddenly everything changed. Financially it has been a struggle, but not impossible. We were able to cut several expenses such as my husband’s commuting costs, daycare costs for our daughters and eliminate a few luxuries. While the finances have been hard, the payoff for our family life has been worth it. Yes, you have to make the finances work, but you probably also need to discuss with your husband the benefits as well as the costs to you staying home.

  14. one expense that would be dropped would be daycare/before & after school care………maybe special clothing…….less meals eating out…..I am just trying to think of expenses that they might not have if she was a sahm. also could she find something she could do that would bring in a little extra income by staying home. definitely both her & her spouse needs to be on same page….blessings

  15. It’s so hard in our present economy to get by on one income these days and not everyone has that option. Having said that, I would advise this mama to really think about how she could be saving money by staying home. Perhaps becoming a one-car family, air-drying the laundry, making he own laundry soap, making more food from scratch, planting a garden, etc., and do some real research into frugal living. When she has her list ready, she could then take it to her husband and show him how much they could save by her being home. She could also think about a way to bring in some income while at home.