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Career Talk: When you don’t want to stay at home and give up your career

From this post: The Aftermath of Giving up your Career to Stay at Home, Reader D wrote in to ask:


I have a dilemma that has been the top discussion in my home but let me tell you about my situation.

I am married with 3 kids ages 6, 2.5 and a newborn. I’ll be going back to work in about a month.

My husband and I up to this point have both worked after starting to have kids and it hasn’t been an issue.

However, we’ve recently talked about buying a house in about 2 years in order to save up enough money.

It would be in another county here in CA to get more bang for your buck but that requires a lengthy commute to both jobs.

My husband decided it would be best for him to continue to work since he makes more money and then I’d stay at home and work part-time so I’d be readily available to kids.

I however do not want make that sacrifice and want to continue working an 8-5 and hire someone to clean and do laundry.

[..] You had a point about I LIKE THE IDEA OF INTER-DEPENDENCE, NOT TOTAL DEPENDENCE and thats how I feel too but He doesn’t want to go this route as it seems “silly” that we’d have to pay someone when I could just stay at home.

He is really stuck on this and so am I because I really do not want to lose who I am and that really scares me too. I don’t know about other men but I don’t think they get that concept.

My husband thinks its just a math problem and not at all emotional but that’s exactly how we think, I have to see how I feel about a major change and sacrifice, not just whether the math works out.

Can you provide insight?

Great question. Few thoughts:

If you are out of work for too long, you will not get back in, let alone at the same level you left it at


I know plenty of women who stayed at home and then couldn’t even find entry level jobs, as they had been out of work for so long.

Even if men stayed out of work for too long, they would not be allowed back in either.

Interdependence works only if you are able to come to the compromise that it is fair to both parties

A lot of this has to do with money and how it is split between the two spouses.

In my case, it works perfectly only because I am on the hook for 50% of everything we spend/share, and he cannot argue that I should for example, stay at home with Baby Bun when I have to still pay my half.

I am not saying what we are doing is going to work for you or is right, but it works for us and it is one of the points I use to emphasize working or not working — as in, it is my decision.

You will have a stereotype applied to you and you can choose to embrace or reject it

When I was at home, with Baby Bun all the time, I could only think: I feel like a.. stay at home Mommy.

Now this is me, not all stay at home mothers. This is ONLY ME and my feelings.

I would meet others in the elevator and they would peg me as “stay at home Mommy” when in fact I was a freelancer (a real one, not a fake freelancer who pretends to be self-employed when they’re really unemployed), who was waiting on a contract.

In contrast, when my partner stayed at home, and they would say to him: “Oh working from home today to be with your son? How nice of you.


Why do men get the automatic assumption that they are “working from home” when they’re at home, but women immediately are pegged as “stay at home mommies”?

Minor point but it was really quite annoying.


It is one thing to have children and love them completely (which we all do as parents), but it is another to be asked to do it full-time just because you’re the mother.

Why not the fathers?

Why is it always the man that goes to work and doesn’t stay at home?

I am not down with that without a discussion and a rational, compromise that we can both agree to.

I hate that kind of stereotypical inequality and thinking without any pushback.

Fathers are important too, and they’re just as competent, capable and smart to take care of their kidlets over mothers.

Sometimes, they’re even better.

Questions to ask in such a delicate situation to start the discussion without fighting:

The way I would approach it, is to first figure out how much you both make, net after taxes etc.

1. Who makes more? By how much?

Can you survive on one income only, and what happens if he loses his job?

2. Who has the potential to make more?

Are either of you in an industry where after a few years, you will be making a lot more money, but you need to be in the game to do it?

3. If you worked, is that enough to pay for a full-time person to watch your kids including the costs of your work (commuting, clothing, etc)?

If so, would you have money left over to go to savings as well?

If so, then it is a no-brainer, go to work, then hire someone full-time.

If you worked and it would cost you MORE money to hire someone to stay at home full-time while you worked, this makes no financial sense, unfortunately, unless question #1 or #2 comes into play where you make more or COULD make more.


4. Re-consider part-time work.

Is that really too little for you?

Part-time is nice, you get to have your own Mommy-Identity-Work time away from your kids and to be SOMEONE, while also having time to spend with them when you aren’t working.

Honestly, I’d love to work every other day and have time off with Baby Bun, or work half days (just mornings), and have Baby Bun in the afternoons or something.

But that’s just me. I don’t mind staying at home part of the week just to hang out and do nothing and hang with The Bun, but then again, my salary is pretty high, so I’d still be earning a good chunk of money no matter how little I work.

Has anyone else encountered this? If you’ve lived through it, how did you come to your decision? Can you please help D?



  • Emma | Money Can Buy Me Happiness

    I feel qualified to comment here as I left my career at it’s peak and honestly, sometimes I don’t think I’ll ever get back to that level. I’ve now been a freelancer (who works from home) for 3 years, and now earn about 10% of my former salary. If I include bonuses and raises, it’d be more like 8%.
    If you love your job and can afford to hire help (and still profit from working) just do it. I love being a mum but I love working too. When my son was one and my husband had some trouble finding a job, I took a 6 month contract and it was the happiest time of my family life. My office was close to home so I would come back for lunch and have 30 minutes with my family everyday but the work was fulfilling and interesting and most of all, I felt validated as a productive worker again. It also gave me a reason to get dressed nicely each day (and have a shower!) and that in itself really helps with your self-esteem as a mother.
    I now have a newborn and a three year old so I’m right back in the thick of being at home again, however I’m actively planning to focus on my business for the future – not my husband’s job. As soon as I can match my husband’s income – he will be quitting his job so I can become the full-time breadwinner.

  • nicoleandmaggie

    Ditto to the “the math problem is not actually that simple”:

    And it sounds like in this specific family’s case there might be some additional concerns about household bargaining once she’s no longer bringing in as much money.

    Like someone else pointed out, the solution sounds like don’t buy the house in another county.

  • middle class revolution

    I hate the simple math that only takes current income into consideration. Not only will you be sacrificing years of raises and promotions as Raluca said in her comment, you’re also missing out on 401k investment income. It will also be very very difficult to jump right back into a similar-level job after missing years of work. Ultimately there isn’t a right choice, only the best choice for you and your family. However, you should look at the big picture.

  • Catherine

    Raluca’s comment was great.

    Math aside (because, let’s face it, the math is the easy part, making the right assumption is much harder) – I would know, I’m an engineer. It’s not clear what is that you and your husband both want to achieve in your professional life and personal life. Those life goals should be the driving factor for consideration for any decision. What are the must haves that you both need to feel fulfilled? Then figure out how to make that happen, with any combination of the possibilities that Raluca suggested, and more. It’s short sighted to make your timeline for your “math” too short.

    If you want to do real math. Figure out the time frame you’re looking at. Understand that the benefits of you staying your career is going to pay off in the long run (not the next two years). Consider the job advancement, raises and such opportunities that will be given up, and then weigh those against the cost of childcare and cleaning. Weigh those decisions against what goal you want to achieve with getting a bigger house, and longer commute. All of these factors should be treated as variables for optimization, not constraints that need to be worked around. Constraints need to be your must haves – is the house a must have or a career?

    If you want a career and find your job fulfilling, why should a bigger house set a precedence over your happiness? Focus on making the big things happen, and work other things around it. In the last 3 years of my work, I’ve increased my salary by over 60%, and the opportunities available to me will also continue to increase. Is that loss in potential opportunities and income worth the savings currently?

    Your husband should not be making this decision alone. You are an equal partner and need to live with the decision for the rest of your life. If you are feeling hesitancy or resentment now, its only going to get worse with time – please speak up! Have you considered your back up plan if you were to get injured, or if he needed to be out of work for extended periods of time? What opportunities will be available to you if and when you decide to rejoin the work force?

  • Abigail @ipickuppennies

    I like the point of “What if he loses his job?” Few jobs are safe.

    But what really bothers me about this story is that he’s deeming his wife’s desire to keep working a full job as “silly.” Unless it’s costing them money, it’s not silly. Even then, I don’t like the idea of having a work ethic to be silly just because you have a child.

    He needs to accept that this is what she wants. He promised to love and respect her. Arguing why she shouldn’t want to go back to work full-time is *not* respect. Who cares what he thinks of her desire to go back to work? What matters is that she wants it, and it’s important to her. To me, that’s the end of the discussion.

  • Cassie

    The problem with looking at this as purely a math problem (and this is coming from someone with a mathy background), is that it doesn’t take into account any of the intangible benefits she’s deriving from being in the work force outside of the home. While working comes with its own set of stresses, having regular adult interaction and conversations about something other than children can be a stress reliever on it’s own for some people (never mind the ability to use the washroom by yourself!) It’s very easy to feel alienated and/or house bound being home all the time, especially if being there wasn’t entirely your choice. Not to mention the fact that if they move to another county any social support system she has at her current location will no longer be available to her. I don’t think her husband has considered this. If her husband did the bulk of the child rearing and made the same or less than she does, he might not be so quick to turn it into a purely mathematical problem.

    Besides, if one of them did lose their job in the future, it’ll be a lot easier to let cleaning staff go to reduce their budget than it will be to find a comparable job and get back on their feet. Fortunately since they haven’t purchased a house yet they still have some time to discuss this. There’s nothing saying the market won’t hiccup between now and then, placing their eventual house closer to their places of work rendering the whole discussion moot.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      100% yes. I went to work to have adult interaction and a break. It was nice to be appreciated for my brain and not for the fact that I can make funny faces & get things from the fridge to eat.

  • SP

    Raluca’s reply was great and hit on the points I wanted to make, and even better with this statement: “Consider approaching the issue from a different angle: your job and your husband’s job are essential and everything else is up for debate. ”

    If you can get your husband on board with this train of thought, I think you guys will be able to come up with a solution that works for you both. It really isn’t acceptable for him to expect you to make this sacrifice because he thinks it is best, any more than it would be appropriate for a mom to unilaterally decide she was going to quit her job and rely only on the husband’s income. These decisions have to be made by both!

  • ArianaAuburn

    Two incomes are better than one. And what if this guy gets laid off? Then D would have to get a full-time job anyway. Unless D and her hubby are filthy rich, staying at home and working part time might not be doable. Best case scenario: the part time gig may be enjoyable and lucrative. Worst case scenario: neither. Sounds like this guy hasn’t learned this valuable lesson: “Happy Wife=Happy Life”.

  • raluca

    It is a math problem. It’s just choosing the right math that is the problem.

    When you stay home with your children, you are not just sacrificing your current salary, you’re also sacrificing years of raises and promotions. In my line of work, the salary progression is quite steep in the first years, so somebody could give up almost 25% per year in raises. I’ve tripled my salary in the first 3 years after starting work. Of course I took some risks to do that, but if I had been out of work in that small timeframe, I would have missed out a lot of money. Your salary could barely cover a helpers wage at the moment, but in 5 short years, it could pay for a house in a better/safer neighbourhood, the tuition to a better school for your children or even that unexpected medical emergency which would otherwise backrupt your familly.

    The biggest issue here is not even the money. It’s the fact that you seem to be sucked into the wrong kind of lifestyle for you. If you don’t want to give up work then you shouldn’t. It’s as simple as that. You *don’t* have to move in a place where the commute is so big. If a situation makes you uncomfortable, speak up for yourself. A mature discussion could yield a better understanding of your and your husband’s fears and hopes for the future and create the basis for a better compromise. In my experience, if things are left unsaid and a party does not feel completely ok with a situation, this usualy ends up in more grief down the road and a bigger fight. Well, at least in my house that’s the way we roll :).

    Consider approaching the issue from a different angle: your job and your husband’s job are essential and everything else is up for debate. You could brainstorm and find a better location for your familly to move to. You could ask a relative (the grandparents) to move with you and take care of the children while you work. Consider buying a smaller house in an area that is close to work. Consider a job change for either you or your husband to shorten the comute. The possibilities are endless, as long as you put the important things first.

    Also start reading for encouragement. Her situation and proposals are comming from a point of priviledge but what she does really well is question assumptions that we all make about life/work balance. This particular example: gave me some eye opening insights: modern mothers spend a lot more time with their children than they used to and that’s on top a larger load at work. The thing that gets sacrificed? Chores, which nobody particularly misses, in my opinon. This sounds like the ideal life: go to work and do meaningfull things, come home and play with your children, outsource the boring bits of life: the cleaning and the laundry. Sounds like heaven to me.

  • Anne

    Nobody wants to think of bad things, but they do happen. If there’s just one person who’s capable of supporting the family, what happens if one day that person is no longer there? It is like an insurance for the future of your children to have two adults in the family who are able to earn money. It is not wise to waste the acquired professional skills.

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