The Great Debate: Work or Stay-at-Home. Which is Right for You?

Parents & Kids Magazine
July 2011

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If you examined the average American family forty years ago, you would find most fathers provided financial support while the mothers served as primary caregivers. In 1969, the U.S. Census Bureau reported nine million stay-at-home mothers. During the 1970’s and 80’s, gender roles began to lose their distinction as women became more aggressive in the workplace. Today, the number of stay-at-home mothers has dropped to five million.

On the other hand, the number of stay-at-home fathers rose for the third straight year in 2010. Many men – finding themselves unemployed due to the recent economic downturn – are choosing to adopt the role as primary caregiver while the mother works. The Census Bureau reports there are now 154,000 stay-at-home fathers nationwide.

Today, the question of whether to work or stay-at-home is no longer dictated by societal norms, but instead influenced by personal factors within each family. Whatever you decide, keep in mind there is no right or wrong decision. Each family is different and it’s important to do what is best for you and your child.

What are some factors I should consider when making the decision to work or stay at home?

First and foremost, can your family afford to live off one income? Sit down and take a look at your family budget (if you don’t have a family budget, now is a good time to create one). Are there areas you can cut back or eliminate altogether? Or do you enjoy having money for extras like eating out and family vacations? Also, take into consideration how much money you will be giving up. The cost of childcare is among a family’s biggest expense – in Mississippi it averages around $7000 or more a year. Coupled with the cost of gas for your daily commute and other incidentals like dry cleaning and work attire, you may not be contributing as much as you thought.

Second, are you okay with someone other than you or your spouse playing an active role in raising your child? If your child’s caregiver is a trusted family member, neighbor, friend, or daycare worker this may be a non-issue. Also, how do you think your child will handle the situation? Some children love the social interaction that daycare provides and thrive. Others may experience separation anxiety and not cope as well.

Third, will choosing to stay at home hurt your career? There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be a good parent and wanting a great career. However, if you remove yourself from the workforce for an extended period of time, will this set you back? There are things you can do to stay involved in your profession, such as doing freelance work and staying active in professional associations.

What are the pros and cons of being a working parent?


  • More income.
  • More security if one person loses their job.
  • Instilling in your children a good work ethic and teaching them time management skills.
  • Opportunity to get out of the house and regularly interact with other adults.
  • Feelings of self-worth – Not everyone will be happy in the role of full-time caregiver. Some need to find other outlets so they don’t feel they have lost their identity.
  • Preparing your child for school by providing socialization opportunities.


  • It’s likely someone else will witness your child’s firsts – first step, first word, etc.
  • Feeling like you are missing out – If you have a demanding job that requires you to work long hours or your organization is not family-friendly, you may end up missing a lot of doctor’s appointments, school plays, and sports activities.
  • Not being able to spend enough time with your child.
  • Lack of free time – when your life demands a lot, there normally isn’t time left for you.

For 13.7 million single parents who serve as the sole breadwinner for their family – staying at home is not an option. It is common – even if you have the choice to stay at home and opt to work – to have feelings of guilt over leaving your child every day. It is important to find an appropriate balance between work and home. If the time you are able to spend together is limited during the days you work, plan fun activities that allow you and your children to connect on your off days.

What are the pros and cons of being a stay-at-home parent?


  • Being able to witness your child’s firsts.
  • Ability to share more quality time and be available when your children need you.
  • Ability to establish a daily routine that works for all of you – no early mornings, no rushing to get everyone dressed and out the door.
  • Ability to volunteer with parent organizations and attend school functions and sporting events.
  • More control over who influences your child’s life.


  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation – spending the majority of your time with children can cause you to yearn for adult conversation.
  • Loss of identity or self-esteem – a child isn’t likely to praise you for a job well done like work colleagues are.
  • As your child gets older and more active, it could become increasingly difficult to provide the stimulation and social interaction they need.
  • Child may be more “clingy” when introduced to new surroundings or people.
  • Being a stay-at-home parent doesn’t end at five o’clock. Nor do you get a vacation. Devoting all your time to your family can cause burn out.

Any parent will agree that devoting yourself entirely to your child’s needs and keeping them entertained can easily turn into a full-time job. However, many stay-at-home parents will tell you that it is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling roles they have ever taken on. As with any job, burnout is inevitable. Find ways to give yourself a break and take time for yourself. Take advantage of a mother’s morning out program, volunteer, or become involved in a hobby. You can also find ways to stay connected to the outside world by becoming active in play groups and/or social and professional organizations.