Blank stares and uncomfortable silence are often what follows. I wish I knew what they are thinking; if I’m being labeled a sexist or something else. What’s worse is that I also can’t be sure after telling someone that my wife, Cheryl stays home with our two girls whether or not she is being judged as uneducated, lazy or worse.
Maybe they weren’t thinking any of those things, but it is clear that there’s been a shift in the way society views stay-at-home parents. It’s not the norm anymore, and many people at the very least don’t know how to react to it. Other more extreme and offensive statements include: “So you don’t have any aspirations after this?” (an actual comment my wife got from a co-worker before she quit her job to stay home), or this from a feminist who is not a mom: “If you can’t pay your own rent, you are not an adult.”
We don’t owe anyone an explanation for our parenting choices, but I have grown tired of the confused response that I often get. There’s nothing to be confused about. Just because it’s not necessarily the norm anymore doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of good, practical, well thought out reasons for my wife to stay home right now.
Because this can be a touchy subject, I want to be clear about a few things before I start. I’m not writing this because I think my wife needs me to. I’m not writing this to fan the flames of the working mom vs. stay-at-home mom debate. I’m not demanding that every family make the same choices that we have made or judging those who have chosen another way. I’m not implying that people who make other choices don’t really love their kids or want the best for them when I state that we made these choices because we love our kids or that we want the best for them. What I am doing is explaining the reasoning and thought process behind our “old-fashioned” choices.
Cheryl has her own reasons for choosing to stay home- deeply personal, beautiful reasons- that she could articulate much better than I. Believe it or not, her reasons are not in any sense rooted in laziness or lack of intelligence or education. No, ultimately she finds purpose in and derives fulfillment from being primarily responsible for directly taking care of our two daughters (ages 2 and almost 8 months). The bottom line is that she chose to stay home for reasons all her own. Thus I can say in regard to Cheryl, without a whiff of chauvinism, that for the time being, our home is where the woman belongs. I didn’t force to her to do anything, and while I happen to agree with her, I would support her if she felt she should work full-time.
Daycare: the cost and quality
For us, the most immediate- not necessarily the most significant- reason that Cheryl stays home is that putting the two girls in daycare is expensive, to put it mildly. Daycare is the only viable alternative for us at this point, and neither of us are going to be making a huge salary anytime soon. We’ve run the numbers and if Cheryl worked full-time, the cost of daycare would pretty much wipe out her salary. It just doesn’t really add up for us. Why would she work full-time just to be able to afford to pay someone else to take care of our kids? Also, since she would basically be working to pay for daycare, there is a sense in which she is making the same contribution to our financial situation: by staying home to take care of the girls she isn’t bringing in money, but she is eliminating a huge expense. There is no exchange of money, but the net result is the same whether she works or not.
Besides, the quality of affordable childcare compared to the cost is an issue for us. Sure, there might be exceptions, but generally speaking, getting better quality childcare costs more. We probably won’t ever be able to afford high quality daycare or a nanny, and “you get what you pay for” isn’t exactly the motto we want when it comes to our daughters’ care. We’ve both heard plenty of stories from friends and family who have worked at daycares, and here are two reasons we don’t want to go that route:
-Many daycares are understaffed.
Here in Pennsylvania, state law mandates a minimum ratio of 1:4 workers to infants and 1:5 or 6 for toddlers. Our children get more individualized care and positive attention at home by having a 1:2 ratio. I’d expect the stress of those higher ratios to have an effect on the patience levels- thereby affecting the quality of care- of daycare workers, too.
Not to mention, from what I understand it’s typical for the fussier children to get more attention (to be calmed down) while the quieter children often get ignored for long periods of time because of understaffing. I can’t say I blame the daycare workers in this situation (what are they really supposed to do?) but one of the most significant ways that children learn and develop is through human interaction. I don’t like the way this system penalizes the quieter children, in a way, by depriving them of human interaction, and I don’t particularly like the message that the environment is sending to all the kids: if you want attention (all kids do), then crying or acting out are the best ways to get that. It’s not as if we think kids who go to daycare are going to end up as sociopaths, but we don’t think going to daycare is best for our girls. Your situation could be different, and you might see it differently. I’m certainly not trying to parent anyone else’s kids.
-Not their children
No offense to any daycare worker, but no one would expect a paid worker to care as much about the kids as their own parents. I know that to be the case in our family. I have the utmost confidence in my wife’s love for our kids. I know without a doubt that there is no one who cares about them more than she does, and that there is no one else who could care for them better than she does. Because Cheryl stays home, the girls are getting the highest possible quality of care and we don’t have to pay a ridiculous amount of money. To me, the positives far outweigh any sacrifices I have to make, and I know that Cheryl feels the same way.
Money can’t buy me love
Another reason we decided together that Cheryl staying home would be best for our kids is rooted in a principle that we feel very strongly about: People and relationships are primary. Money and stuff are secondary. It might not seem to be an obvious driving force given that our financial situation wouldn’t be drastically better off for Cheryl working, but it is an integral part of our parenting philosophy.
This is a principle we want to instill in our kids throughout childhood, so that hopefully as adults they care more about others than money, possessions, etc. For us this starts at birth. Sure, it might go over their heads for a while, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. One example of how this is a reality is the way my daughters have bonded with my (stay-at-home) wife as opposed to how they have bonded with myself (the working parent). Even at an early age it was clear who was the favorite parent (the one who was spending the most time with them). The difference is less pronounced now, but the point is the same: having extra money isn’t worth not having both of our girls’ parents gone for most of their awake time. It doesn’t fit with our principle of people over money and stuff.
If we can make it work so that the girls are almost always with someone they know, it’s worth it to us to sacrifice some creature comforts, like cable, for example. Having extra luxury is just that, and if we can’t afford it without both of us working full-time, we’ve recognized that we can live without certain niceties that are considered necessities today. Many people think that surviving on one income isn’t possible these days, but we are living proof that it is possible if it’s really a priority to you.
In our marriage, we have “traditional gender roles,” a term that seems to have a negative connotation nowadays. But these roles work very well for us, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones. I know that sometimes men have forced women into these roles, but overall there are plenty of practical reasons why so many men and women have functioned in these roles over the course of human history. Of course not everyone needs to be in these roles, but there doesn’t need to be a stigma attached to the traditional way either.