The Luxury of Staying Home?

To be a stay at home Mom or not to be a stay at home Mom….
….that is the controversy. (or at least it seems to always be controversial)

I grew up with a mother who graduated from college with a BA and teaching credential, got married, worked as a teacher for one year, began to have children and left the workforce for almost the entirety of her 27 year “active” mothering career. (being a mommy never ends but the day to day “job” of mothering does) Other than working a few hours, here and there, when we were all in school and occasionally substitute teaching, she was a “stay at home Mom” taking care of the business of managing a home and raising her children.  When the youngest began high school she re-entered the “away from home” workforce as a high school English teacher and enjoyed a 20 year career as a teacher, earning a Master’s Degree and excelling in her field before retiring with a pension. Personally I think that is awesome! She had the best of everything due to her and my Dad’s great choices, sacrifices and hard work….and my siblings and I were the beneficiaries!

A generation later, I earned my college degree and worked as a youth minister both prior to and after getting married. When my first child arrived I desperately wanted to stay home with her but couldn’t see a way to make it work with a husband in college at the time. So we figured out how he could work part-time, in addition to being a full-time student while I would work part-time as a teacher and school activity director. With this arrangement none of us stayed home…even the baby who was with one of us all day except for a three hour time period in the morning. As our family grew and my husband finished college and took a full-time job teaching I continued on in my part-time job. I still wanted to be at home with my little girls but did not see how we could make it work on my husband’s Christian school teacher salary. We just couldn’t afford it…or at least that is what I thought (and was often told by others).

In 1997 through a series of providential events I instantly and without planning became a “stay at home Mom”.  We made so little money that year that we were audited by the IRS who wanted to know how our income diminished so much in one year. (the agent even asked…how are you making it?) I did build a very successful home business in the years following that eventually replaced the income I had made teaching part-time and yet I was able to work from my home along side and with my children.  So…..I have been a “generating income outside the home mom” and a “stay at home income generating mom”.   (whew! those are long titles)

I hope we can agree that all moms are working moms, right?  Some generate income outside the home, some generate income inside the home and some do not generate income at all but as moms….we ALL work. Better yet, we all work very hard!

And yet the majority of women that I have talked with desire to spend much less time out of their homes working and more time with their children if they had a “choice”.  Yes, I realize that there are the few moms who even if they were independently wealthy millionaires would still want to work outside of their homes because they simply love their careers but I believe that most would rather stay home and raise their children if they felt they had that “luxury”.  Here is where my issue lies.

Is staying at home a luxury or is it a choice…that is the question?

Other than single Moms (by never marrying, being divorced or widowed) who most simply must work to pay the rent and put food on the table (unless they have an extremely lucrative child support payment or alimony…kudo’s to them!)…I personally believe that most married moms can make the choice to stay at home (some with  generating income at home and some without). 

No, I do not believe it is a “luxury” for those moms whose spouses makes a certain magical level of income. I believe it is a choice.  A choice to perhaps sacrifice personal fulfilment, career advancement, social interaction, achievement accolades and of course income.  A choice to “do without”, to let go of material possessions, goods and services and fun vacations that we have come to believe are essential. A choice to have 37,440 extra hours to pour into the life of our children, homes & families during their 18 years of childhood.

And yet many have bought into the paradigm that it is a “luxury that we can’t afford” to be a stay at home mom (income generating or not). That it is simply impossible for anyone other than the ultra rich to pull off.  We even get encouragement to think this way from our influential leaders.

Speaking at what the administration called “The White House Forum on Women and the Economy,” President Barack Obama said that after his two daughters were born, he and his wife—both Harvard Law School graduates—could not afford the “luxury” of having her stay home with the children.

In 2005, when Obama began serving in the U.S. Senate (and his daughters turned 4 and 7), he and his wife were earning a combined annual income of $479,062. Barack Obama as a senator was paid a salary of $162,100, and Michelle Obama was paid $316,962 to handle community affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center.

So let me see if I’ve got this right…..

Then Senator Obama made $162,000 a year plus outstanding benefits and they could not afford the “luxury” of Michelle staying at home to raise their children? (he did not say she was working to advance her career or for personal fulfillment or for benefits….he said they could not live without her salary)

Things that make me go…”huh?….am I missing something here?”. Let’s see….if my husband currently made $162,000 a year that means, even after taxes, we would have about $9,000 a month for our family budget. (actually we would bring home even more than that knowing the charitable contributions we would be making and the number of kids we have would reduce our tax liability greatly) We live in California, said to be one of the more expensive states to live in and my husband brings home a third of that much money every month. If I had an extra $6,000 a month I could pay myself a salary for my hard work as a Mom of eight children and still have thousands of dollars extra each month to save, to spend and to give away. It would be a life of luxury for me as well as my family and my husband, who might actually enjoy a clean bathroom every once in a while! (yes I could pay someone to clean our bathroom or clean it myself with the extra time I would have from not having to work at my home business)

I do realize that most families who make this amount of money (equal to Obama’s $162,000 in 2005) do decide they can live on one income and one parent does stay home to take care of household business and raise the children. But there are many who make less than half of that salary who say they “can’t afford the luxury” when in reality they actually could. Yes, they might have to drive beat up cars, live in smaller houses, skip private school tuition, and forgo some “extra’s” in life (like eating out, cable TV, expensive cell phone bills, nicer vacations, manicures, gym memberships etc..) But in reality are not all those things actually  luxuries that the previous generation, who primarily did have stay at home Moms, did not have?

No, for the vast majority of couples having one parent stay at home is really not a luxury they can’t afford but a lifestyle choice that they have made. (just as it was for me during those early years when I bought the paradigm that we “couldn’t afford” to have me home) And as a culture we need to “call it what it is” instead of using rhetoric to justify our choices  or perceived lack thereof as well as making moms feel like they simply “have to work” to survive or by giving husbands the cultural confidence to tell wives they “need to work”. (I mean after all honey, Senator Obama needed his wife’s income, so you should work too) ** Husbands who pressure their wives to work is in itself is a whole other blog post that perhaps needs to be written about men who no longer feel pride and motivation to creatively provide for their families and demand their wives drop their precious babies off at daycare for nine hours a day for someone else to raise, when those mommys desperately want to stay home…..but back to the point.**  I believe that we need to influence our culture to encourage moms (or dads) to make the choice to stay home to raise their children. The more families that can have at least one parent investing a significant  amount of time (37,440 hours!) and energy into their home life and children the better off our society will be!  So let’s be honest:

It is a choice…not a luxury we can’t afford.

P.S. To my very special single, divorced & widowed Moms…let me say again I know that you do not have a choice as to whether you can work outside your home nor did most of you choose to be single Moms…I pray that the Lord will strengthen you, encourage you and wrap His loving arms around you all the while multiplying your time, energy & resources and surrounding you with great friends to support you!

And yes I do understand that there are special circumstances and situations (illness, loss of jobs, business going under, medical bills) that may at times “force” both parents to work).


Filed under Economics, Home Business, Life Lessons, Motherhood, My "take", Priorities, Uncategorized

18 responses to “The Luxury of Staying Home?

  1. thx for sharing…. am curious about your take on stay @ home fathers & mom being the provider. I know when I was that while my husband went to school & our 1stborn when to school with him, I felt extremely left out. I wonder if Dad’s feel that when we share with them the joys & angst of our day to day wonders & doldrums?

    • bethlambdin

      Erlinda….I think a husband & wife are a “team” when it comes to raising kids. If the wife has the ability & desire to be the one out iun the full time workforce and the husband has the desire & willingness to work at home running the family affairs and raising the kids…then that is great! The only time that I would see this as difficult is during that first year when the baby is nursing (if that is the type of nutrition you want to proide). For me….while I have a husband that would be a great “stay at home Dad”…I wouldn’t be able to take missing out on the day to day time with my kids.

  2. Christy Keyton

    Thank you for taking a stand on this issue (as well as many others) Beth! Thank you for being willing to speak the truth. After returning from Africa last year, things became crystal clear on what is luxury and what is not. Americans, even the poorest here, live with more material things than 95% of the world. There is nothing wrong with material things, but there is a lot wrong with calling all those things necessities!

  3. Ceci Sallee

    Hi Beth, enjoyed reading your thoughts on “stay at home Moms” and your encouragement to moms who are doing that, moms who may be considering that challenge and especially your kind & thoughtful words to those single moms that must work to support their families.

  4. Laurie Grover

    Thank you, Beth! I was encouraged (and challenged!) by this… encouraged in all the choices we’ve made over the past 16+ years since our first was born… and challenged in what is truly “necessary” and what are luxuries that we could eliminate even now! I generated income outside the home (part-time) for 2 years – and although I know God had a plan in that and can see the blessings in what has come from that time – when circumstances dictated that we move, I knew I wanted to find a way to be back at home again!! I wouldn’t trade the time that I’ve had at home with my children for all the money in the world!

  5. Joyce@Joyful Creations at Home

    Enjoyed reading this. Thank you. I have stayed at home since my first dd was born. My husband has had to work two jobs sometimes to make it work. We have a lot less “stuff” then most but still have plenty. We have a smaller house then most would with 4 children, but we make it work:) It is definitely a decision we have made together and I am so blessed to have a husband who enables me to stay at home.

  6. Gloria Borden

    What a blessing and joy it was to be a full time wife and mother! Financially, we lived pay check to pay check, but I never saw it as a burden. I remember counting the pennies toward the end of one month, hoping I had enough to buy and mail a birthday card to my mother. I had the privilege of staying home to rear our kids for twenty two years and then having a teaching career for twenty years. Truly, there is a season for everything. As a postscript, we have four wonderful children of whom I am proud beyond measure.

  7. Patti S.

    Amen. After getting a BA and leaving an MBA program, and then working in the corporate world for 8 years, I have been home with my kids for 15 years. I have generated income with my CM business as well as photography and graphic design. You could further this “choice” argument by pointing out that many men have a choice regarding the kind of job they have. I see many dads who are workaholics…working 80-100 hours per week, traveling for months on end and providing very high incomes for their families. My husband (who has a BA and an MBA) has made choices (turning down promotions and relocation opportunities that would have led to a much higher income) that have allowed him to coach our boys, attend school conferences, and be there every night for dinner among many other things. Obviously, if the only way to keep a job is to travel or relocate, then there is much less of choice. Also many men are called to certain vocations that they devote their lives to for personal fulfilment…medicine, ministry, etc. But, I see it every day….very rich families with workaholic dads…whose kids don’t really know them and moms who are virtually raising their kids alone….but they have every material possession available. Our American culture has furthered this phenomenon that also wasn’t present a generation ago. I have been truly blessed in that my husband’s biggest goal in life is to be a great husband/dad while providing a comfortable life for our family. We have adjusted our lifestyle to meet our income, not the other way around.

  8. Cynthia

    I’m so glad to have read this today. Unfortunately, sometimes in the process of defending their “need” to have the income of both parents working outside of their home, they also put down those of us who chose to not have those two incomes. They are critical of our choice not to finance the things they feel are necessary to a person/family’s happiness and place in society.

    The majority of the time, second incomes are for being able to add my wants to the necessities.

  9. I thought I was the only one who thought this way! There is a choice, most of the time!

  10. I have now read just two of your posts and I love you! This is something I Posted on facebook the other day. Being a stay at home mom is a choice we make…. 🙂 People do not see it that way….. and Obama’s comments don’t help.

  11. Well said, and you’re brave for saying it. I have been a little of both. I have never put my kids in daycare or worked full time, but I have worked part time more often than I haven’t – though I always think of myself of a stay at home mom. Right now, I teach nine ballet classes a week, but I wouldn’t do that much if my kids weren’t old enough to handle themselves alone at home for a couple hours at a time. So many woman call it a luxury and it’s so hard not to get defensive: like we stay at home moms sit around and eat bon bons all day. I know that’s not what they’re saying, but it feels like it. We live pay check to pay check and have for 13 years. We don’t do vacations, we don’t drive nice cars (in fact, my husband’s is a bit embarrassing….), we don’t eat out much, etc. We did decide to pay more in rent in order to be in a good neighborhood for the kid’s and that’s one area we could have “scaled” back on. However, we’ve lived in bad neighborhoods before and didn’t want to make that mistake again – hence, the me working part time in order to afford a couple hundred dollars more in rent. Anyhoo, it’s a debate that’s very polarizing. Wanna handle breast vs. bottle feeding next, you crazy woman?????

  12. Great post, Beth.

    It is a choice! Yes!!!

    I willingly gave up my legal career to stay at home with our babies. Now I homeschool. My husband is behind me 100%. He can’t imagine it any other way. We drive older cars, we don’t take expensive vacations and we don’t eat out a lot. Luckily for our family, my husband’s businesses allow him the freedom to spend a lot of time with us. He loves teaching the kids about the things he loves, like hunting, building, how to be self-sufficient.

    My husband makes a good living, but we see less and less of it coming through the door with each passing year. It’s not just income taxes, it’s the inflationary cost of necessities and the hidden increased taxes in just about everything we purchase.

    Daycare? Public school? No way. I had no idea how many extra hours we SAHMs spend with our children until I read your post. What an amazing number.

    To heck with new cars or even painting the farm house this year. I CHOOSE to spend this time with my children. I’ve only got seven years until they’re both old enough to be out on their own.

    I thank God that we live in a country that allows us the choice to homeschool. God bless America, no?


  13. Brandy

    I thank you so much for posting this.I was so sad and outraged when reading an article in the newspaper last week about this subject. This lady was saying that stay at home moms cant understand “women issues” in society (not her exact words )!!!!I I completely agree with you that it is absolutely a choice! Everyone chooses what they deem is important in their life. My husband and I made the choice for me to be a stay at home mom when I was pregnant for my son and I am glad we did! Has it been easy…no but like everything in life, the storm passes! We have had our moments of struggles but we have always found a way to make it through! We have had so many wonderful moments and memories that “extra” money could never replace! I also home school my children and it has been a blessing! My children see the benefit and are thankful for the choice we made as they are now 17 and 15! I find the hardest part is: being undervalued by women in society who choose to work! Women have worked too hard to be valued within society, for far too long and we should stand by each others side and help one another! I am thankful to God for giving me the strength to stand strong during the hard times and giving me all the wonderful days filled with laughter! For me, there is no other choice!

  14. I enjoyed this post! It’s nice to know that there are still folks in the world who will take a stand on controversial topics! My husband and I had decided nearly 17 years ago when our first child was born that we “couldn’t afford” for me to stay home. Soon after she was born, we discovered that she had apnea. For that reason, we knew that I “had” to stay home with her. (Nobody would agree to keep a baby who has serious apnea like she did.) Because we “had no choice,” we were forced to make it on my husband’s income. Looking back, I realize that, if we could afford for me to stay home because I “had” to, then we also could have afforded for me to stay home just because that was the best thing to do for my child. I am thankful that I was able to be home with all of my children, and that I’m still home with them 17 years later! 🙂

  15. Nancy

    I have a really hard time with the better than thou attitude stay at home moms have towards working moms. Sometimes it’s about teaching girls to be independent and have a strong work ethic instead of depending on someone else to “take care” of them. Because divorce and widowhood is all too common, this is more important than ever! I can’t tell you how many friends I have who have found they can’t afford the childred to attend college because the mom did not work during their youth. That almost seems selfish.

    Also, some of us working mom’s don’t worry just about making ends meet now. We want to be able to have a retirement that is comfortable some time before we are 85 instead of hoping social security or our children can support us. When my children were little they went to child care and for 5 years. My income payed for child care and my retirement. They did not suffer from it, and had my attention when I was home (Note they were all breast feed for 11 months despite working 40 hours a week). Our time together was more special because it was limited.

    My career did not have a gap (the cause of most women making less than men), and I can see my children in college now being successful. They have common sense as well as school smarts, and I am very proud of them. They also worked for their own spending money throughout high school. I think my 3 girls will continue to grow into self-sufficient women because I set an example for them. Sometimes quality time is more important than quantity time.

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