No need to delve into arguments about personal choice or what is good for children or families. That’s all been hashed out in the mommy wars. It’s not about those issues. This is about money.
You. Cannot. Afford. To. Be. A. Fulltime. Stay-at-home-mom. You just can’t.
What’s that you say? Your husband is a banker? And your daddy is rich? Your spouse adores you – even though you gained, like, 40 pounds with each pregnancy? I don’t care. It makes zero financial sense for any of those 5.1 million women in the United States who are stay-at-home moms (thanks, Census data). That is about one in five married-couple families who have decided to put their family’s futures in jeopardy.
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Don’t just take it from me. I recently interviewed Joanne Cleaver, a career consultant and author of The Career Lattice.
“Stepping off the career track completely is career suicide,” Cleaver told me. “Don’t do it.”
Her reason? You will no doubt lose the momentum you’ve built, the network you accumulated, the credibility you’ve earned. But these longtime truths are accelerated in today’s tech-driven world – no matter what industry you’re in. “If you completely leave the workforce, when you return you’ll have to completely reinvent yourself with new skills, new credentials and a new portfolio,” Cleaver said. “You might as well start in a new career.”
These challenges translate into a tougher time getting a new gig when you want one. And once you do, you’ll earn less than had you kept a foot in the workforce while caring for your kids. Researchers at Harvard and University of Chicago found that when professional women leave the workforce for three or more years, they suffer a compensation hit of about 37 percent. For female MBAs who take time off to be with children, pay drop 41 percent relative to male MBA earnings.
However, if you plan ahead and keep a hand in the game, things might turn out differently. Of course, things don’t always happen as planned.
Take me, for instance. I was married to a really nice, devoted guy who made a handsome income. We had a baby, bought life insurance, set up automatic contributions to our retirement accounts and emergency savings, and even started a college fund. He had disability insurance, but that never came into play after he fell off a cliff and nearly died of a brain injury – of which the lingering and devastating symptoms played a big role in dissolving our marriage.
Who could have planned for that? That is a crazy story. Not so crazy are these scenarios:
- Death of a spouse
- Life. Stuff just happens and you have to stop working.
When I had my first child I’d enjoyed a lucrative freelance writing business, which I cut down to about third-time after Helena was born. After my ex moved out, I quickly ramped up my workload. So when the child support and health insurance stopped because he was fired (again, related to the injury), I was able to swing my family financially, even after I had another baby.
Had I not had a career, or an ongoing business, my son, daughter and my life would be in a very, very different place. We would likely be broke. I would be angry. I would be selling stuff I really care about and making decisions about our futures out of fear instead of love and happiness (though you should figure out how to sell an engagement ring, it's therapeutic).
That’s all the scary news. Here’s the good news: we live in an age when parttime, consulting and freelance work is not only increasingly available to employees, but also growing in popularity among employers.
Ask yourself: How can you keep a foot – toe, knuckle, nail – in your industry while still giving your children the time you feel they deserve? Brainstorm, ask colleagues and mentors for advice, and get creative to make sure you remain relevant. You can’t afford not to. Then, check out these posts about making money now, from home:
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.