I have a Master’s degree and have been working a professional job in my field for eight-and-a-half years. I also have four children ages seven months to seven years.
Although I’m passionate about my career and love the university job I work for 30 hours a week, I often find myself torn. It is difficult to juggle work life and home life, and the thought of resigning and becoming a stay-at-home mom crosses my mind frequently.
In fact, now that we have had our fourth baby and are paying nearly as much in childcare as I take home in my paycheck, we are contemplating it even more seriously.
Plenty of women decide that what is best for them and their family is that they leave the workforce and become stay-at-home moms. In fact, the numbers are rising. Around 30% of American moms now stay at home with their kids.
But if a woman has the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom, this does not mean she should necessarily take it. No one arrangement is definitively better for the kids. Science has revealed a mixed bag of pros and cons. Some of these are explained in this article, which doesn’t even include recent research showing the positive impact on kids of having a working mom.
Besides, each family’s context varies in terms of type, amount, and quality of care. Therefore, the decision boils down to the family’s financial, logistical, professional, and emotional desires and needs.
If you are trying to decide whether to become a stay-at-home mom, consider these six major benefits. Throughout, I include stories of real women who left their jobs to become stay-at-home moms.
Read the other side of this exploration:
Flexibility as a stay-at-home mom
Stay-at-home moms have more flexibility to do things on their own schedule. For example, they can schedule travel without having to coordinate time off with their jobs. This is especially useful if they have out-of-town family members.
They also are not constricted by work when it comes to scheduling appointments or classes and activities, getting together with friends who are also at home with their kids, or even doing grocery shopping. (From experience, I must add, though, that they may be restricted by the number of young kids they have at home!)
Sick days, snow days, closed daycares, or school breaks can really throw a snag into a working mom’s life. They need to plan or scramble to rearrange childcare or take time off work in order to balance their work and home lives.
On the other hand, stay-at-home moms can roll with these punches. A snow day or a sick day may be a disruption, but probably not one for which they need to call in reinforcements.
Stay-at-home moms can also sprinkle housekeeping tasks into the day instead of needing to accomplish them all during the evening or weekends. Of course, more people at home during the day can also lead to more messes! But moms who manage to accomplish the daily tasks while their spouses are at work find that this frees up more quality family time when their spouses are home with them.
Not having to balance motherhood and work
Working moms spend many hours away from their kids, and the hours they have together may end up being stressful. They may have to quickly get out the door in the morning, for example, or rush to get dinner on the table and start bedtime at night after a long day at work.
Ana was a student affairs professional who was about to get promoted to her dream job when she made the decision to resign and stay home with her two kids, ages 3 years and 8 months. Comparing her mornings now, getting her son off to preschool, versus when she worked, she says, “…it’s less stressful because instead of getting myself out the door ready for work with my stuff, and my pumping stuff, plus both kids, a lunch and snacks for my son, and bottles for my daughter, all by about 8:15, now I just need to get us out the door with a snack for my son by 8:45.”
In those early stages, late night feedings and sleepless nights can make it extremely hard to get moving in the morning, let alone be on your A-game for work. Nursing moms also have to navigate the time commitment and logistics of pumping at work.
Angela (not her actual name) remembers her experience with her first child. “I went back to work when she was 6 weeks old, which was very challenging because she didn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time and needed to be held all night. I pumped at work and made it through two years that I don’t really remember.”
When pregnant with her second child, she resigned from her job as an elementary band director to become a stay-at-home mom.
Leaving behind the stress of work
While motherhood impacts a woman’s experience in the workplace, a woman’s stressful job may also affect the quality of her home life.
Cathy was a guidance counselor who left her job when her sons were 5 and 9. She reflected, “I had so much guilt when I worked outside the home because I would get home from work and have no emotional capacity for my family.” Once she was at home full-time and found a lucrative work-from-home opportunity, she said she found the balance she needed.
In fact, having a stressful job may be reason enough to resign and become a stay-at-home mom.
Samantha worked in a director role for a college. Work often left her in tears because she experienced a hostile work environment and had to travel extensively. She and her husband decided that rather than take maternity leave and go back to work, Samantha would stay home to take care of their son and run her photography business.
She says after she left her job all her anxiety attacks disappeared.
Having control over how kids are raised
For some moms, it’s difficult to imagine someone else taking care of their kids. Lindsay never thought she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. She says she actually bristled when her husband mentioned on a date he wanted his future wife to stay home with their kids.
But everything changed when her baby was born.
“I had a hard time leaving him in the church nursery or hiring a babysitter, much less going back to work full time,” she recalls. “At that point, we decided to do everything we could so that I could stay at home.”
She left her job as a teacher to stay home and take care of her oldest, and then she went on to have two more kids. Her decision was fueled by a desire to be her kids’ primary caregiver and teacher.
Although working parents have control over choosing childcare providers, they still give up a lot of control over what goes on in their children’s day-to-day lives.
Lauren, mom of two, left her job as a Behavior Specialist Assistant to stay home with her daughter, and later, her son. She says the benefit of being a stay-at-home mom is having “the security of knowing my kids are with me and I’m the person that can best care for them.”
Spending more time with your children
Many moms choose to leave their jobs because they desire to spend a greater amount of time with their children. Stay-at-home moms are there for all the little moments that happen during their children’s days.
They can always be there to take care of their kids when illness strikes. This is not always the case for working moms who may not have paid sick leave, an understanding boss, or a flexible schedule.
Moms of younger kids have more opportunities to take them for outings, often when places are a bit less congested than they are on the weekends. Lindsay suggests, “You might be able to attend classes, park outings, bible studies, or other things that you would miss while at work.”
Moms of older kids may be able to spend more time volunteering at school. When I was on maternity leave, there were some days I went to my daughter’s school to help her class with reading. It was nice to have this opportunity without having to worry about taking time off work!
Rachel, mom of four, says, “I was much less stressed staying home. We had our own routine on my days off that worked for us. It gave us the opportunity to do more things out of the house.” She had been working for a chamber of commerce before leaving to take care of her oldest as a toddler.
Rachel also points out the value of no longer having to split her attention between her job and her family. “I’m much more relaxed without having to worry about work as well as my kids. I can focus on our family well being without distraction.”
No longer paying work-related costs
Once moms sit down and look at the financial big picture, they often find that their jobs are not actually contributing much financially. In fact, some women would actually spend money to work.
The cost of childcare is astronomical. On top of that, the costs of gas for the commute, potentially parking (mine is around $1,000 per year), perhaps some extra supplies for daycare, and professional clothing really add up.
Plus, the more children you have, the less manageable the expense becomes. One mom of five shared, “I had children in rapid succession, and it became impractical (and inefficient) to coordinate and cover the cost of child care given the amount of income I made. The difference was not worth the time away from them nor was it worth the stress of two parents working. My husband could support us financially, and I could support us domestically.”
She left a job she loved as a lawyer and legal academic to become a stay-at-home mom. Although it was a difficult transition for her, she says she feels grateful and that it was the right decision.
Being a stay-at-home mom is a dream that many women have, either long before they have children, while they are expecting, or after they try returning to work. For other women, it becomes the logical choice to stay home due to the financial or logistical big picture. For whatever reason they choose to leave their careers, stay-at-home moms experience many benefits to their chosen lifestyle and often affirm their conviction that it was the best choice for their family.