You’ll have more financial stability and freedom. While two incomes can certainly lead to more expenses, such as more vacations, nicer cars and outsourced help, when the money’s managed properly and households save well and spend conservatively, it can result in increased financial stability for everyone. If one partner gets laid off, not all is lost. There is the financial support of the other spouse — and hopefully some savings — to help keep the lights on while a new job materializes. As this academic summary from Hope College and Cornell University points out, “Not only are two wages often necessary to adequately provide for the needs of most families, dual-earner couples are less economically vulnerable than single-earner families, for whom a layoff can mean financial collapse.”
But perhaps my biggest fear for any stay-at-home parent is the loss of one’s individual financial independence. Financial autonomy is critical to any marriage. It reduces conflict over money matters and provides each partner with more freedom and flexibility to make choices, especially if the marriage fails and he or she needs to self-support. You don’t need to earn an equal amount or more money than your partner. You just need to earn enough so if you had to solely support yourself one day, you could. In practice, this could mean working part time and caring for your children part time, but unless you have a major inheritance parked somewhere, it can’t realistically mean departing from the workforce altogether.
You’ll enjoy greater career success. When kids enter our lives, many of us will be at pivotal points in our careers or, at least, still have promising trajectories ahead. A major and costly tradeoff to becoming a stay-at-home parent is losing that momentum you’ve worked so hard to establish. Can you really afford this in the long run? Sure, the math may tell you it’s more economical to quit your job and be the primary caregiver today, but what about five or 10 years from now? If you have hopes of ever returning to your old post and picking up where you left off once your children are in school, it may not be so easy.
I’ll never forget what I learned from one working mom of two children profiled in my book. She said it’s much more feasible to have your kids taken care of when they are young and you’re climbing the corporate ladder or investing in your career than it is to be missing in action when they are in grade school and need more parental guidance.
She preached the importance of continuing to work when your children are young so that you can go on to earn the seniority that’s often necessary to call the shots and create a better work/life balance as your kids grow older and demand more of your time. And as Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book, “Lean In”: “Women's average annual earnings decrease by 20 percent if they are out of the workforce for just one year … 30 percent after two or three years, which is the average amount of time professional women off-ramp from the workforce.”
I suspect the same — maybe even worse — is true for men who leave the corporate world and try to regain their professional status after being a stay-at-home father — due to the social stigma. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that dads who left work for even a short period of time to tend to family matters received lower evaluations and suffered more negative performance ratings at work than women who opted out.