Back in the 1950s and 1960s it was the norm to be a stay-at-home—working moms were something of a novelty. As time has gone on, it seems that more and more families have two working parents, and children who are either cared for by a relative or in the day care setting. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “the labor force participation rate of married mothers with children under 3 years old increased from 32.7% in 1975 to 60.3% in 2009.”
In the two years that I was a stay-at-home mom (or SAHM as they sometimes call themselves), I found there were a number of reasons why families made the choice to have one parent leave the workforce to raise their children. There were also a number of sacrifices we all made, in order to make the life of a stay-at-home mom work. None of us were rich (as some people would often imply). Simply put, we made choices, and sometimes choices were thrust upon us.
My choice to become a stay-at-home mom was not really my own. At seven months pregnant, with a belly that made it quite obvious, I was laid off from my job—a position I had held for nearly seven years. At seven months pregnant, I couldn’t go back to work. I’m an intelligent person and knew no one was going to hire me (even though they couldn’t use my pregnancy as the reason). Besides, even if I was lucky enough to get another job, I wouldn’t qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act, as it only covers you if you’ve been at a job for at least one year.
Other moms who I’m friends with who made the choice to stay home with their kids did so for several reasons—they had no family members who could watch their kids or daycare was so expensive that it would all but negate whatever money they were making. We live in New York State, which according to Child Care Aware is one of the “ten least affordable states for center care based on the cost of child care as a percentage of state median income for a two-parent family.” I can say with 100% certainty that this is the case. A family with two children in daycare in New York (as well as many other metropolitan and many major suburban areas) can expect to pay as much as $30,000 a year (or more) for child care. That’s more than a lot of people make. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau, the median household income in 2011 was $50,054.
With numbers like that, staying at home sounds much easier. Of course, there are a number of lifestyle changes to be made. When I was thriving as a stay-at-home mom, I was not spending money on things for myself. I was actually very eco-friendly, as most of my new items, were really just new-to-me—passed along by a friend or relative who no longer needed whatever it was. I cut down on my gasoline consumption, choosing to push my kids in a double stroller rather than drive. Incidentally, this was also easier than getting kids in and out of car seats multiple times. Coupons also became a way of life. I always dabbled in coupons, but the life of a stay-at-home mom, made coupons my way to make money go further. In the summer months, we planted our own garden—allowing us to have wonderful fresh vegetables without the cost (or the pesticides).
Of course, as a stay-at-home mom, you have a lot more time to entertain your children. I became quite adept at finding free events by staying on top of a number of events calendars—the town, the library and my local mall were some of the best ones. Local newspapers (the community weeklies especially), are also a great source for the different events. In addition, when people would ask what gifts they could get my kids for birthdays and holidays, I often would mention gift certificates to their favorite places—amusement parks, bounce places, local theaters. Toys become old, but doing things and going places is always a wonderful adventure.
Being a stay-at-home mom is not for everyone. Many will burn out, as I did. I found myself in a rut—needing to use my brain and talents to contribute to society. It doesn’t change how much I love my kids, and I would not have gone back to work had the perfect-for-me job not come along. For each person it’s different. For me, I knew I needed a job that would be close to home, pay enough to cover day care costs, and of course, allow me to use my talents. It also has allowed me to set another example for my kids—that of a mother who works outside the home, but still enjoys every moment she has with her kids.
If you want to be a stay-at-home mom, the best piece of advice I can offer is to take a long hard look at your budget. See what you can cut from it. Find ways to save. If you can still pay all your necessary bills with one income, then it may be an option. Be honest about what your necessities really are. I cut back on my cell phone bill (since I would be home, my home phone would be my go-to phone, and my cell phone was just for emergencies when I was out).
If you can’t make the numbers work but still want the extra time with your kids, then maybe a part-time job is a good option, or a job with more flexibility so you can still spend time with your family while bringing in money. And, remember to use any connections you may have. I found my job through an alumni group posting on Linked In. You might be surprised how many companies are looking for freelancers and consultants these days—you could work from home, or even just a couple of days in the office. The benefit to the employer is they don’t have to pay for your benefits. It might just be the win-win a lot of moms are looking for.