One choice that many couples face is whether or not both spouses should work outside of the home. This is typically not a very difficult decision, that is, until you bring children into the world. Those of you who have kids can all agree on this one thing—everything changes with kids! While it was most likely a natural thing for both of you to work before kids entered the equation, it is a very difficult decision for many couples once the kids arrive.
In our experience in talking with married couples, this is one of the hot topics that leads to emotional distress and conflict in marriage. The necessity of both spouses working can lead to a very complex decision you will need to make. Should both spouses work after the child is born? Unfortunately, this is not a decision that we can make for you, nor should it be. Every situation is different. Each circumstance will need to be discussed at length, and then an educated decision can be made after discussing both the advantages and disadvantages.
When we had our first daughter, Debby was attending a local community college and was working as a legal secretary. She thoroughly enjoyed her job and returned to work shortly after our daughter was born. Our situation was one that many young parents find themselves in—having grandparents that live close by and help out with the grandchildren.
Debby’s mother volunteered to watch our baby so Debby could continue to work, and this worked out very well. For six months. After six months it wasn’t that her mom couldn’t or wouldn’t handle our baby, but her mom decided to return to work herself.
Upon hearing that news, we began looking for childcare and we enrolled our daughter in a local daycare center. That, too, worked out well, this time for about two weeks. Debby realized the very first day we dropped our daughter off at the daycare that she couldn’t leave our baby to be raised by someone else.
During those first few days of daycare, we sat down to look at our family budget and began to eliminate everything we could. We cancelled our cable TV, stopped the newspaper subscription, modified our grocery budget, and planned on eating out less often. I was working as an assistant manager in a sporting goods store, making a reasonable wage; but it was not exactly a family wage. We had some very tough choices to make in those early years, but after giving her boss a two-week notice, Debby left the working world, did not finish her degree, and became a stay-at-home mom.
Was it tough? You bet it was! We bought used furniture from my sister, scraped and saved everywhere we could, and lived in a fixer-upper house for a few years. We could fill an entire chapter on horror stories about that house, which never seemed to get fixed up like we anticipated! A few years ago it was bulldozed to the ground to make way for new office buildings—good riddance!
I can recall many times we would see other people our age without kids or with dual incomes buying expensive cars, home electronics, and other frivolous things. I think we can both honestly say, though, it didn’t bother us not having the toys and gadgets that some of our friends had. Sure, it would have been nice to have some extra things, but we knew then what was important to us. And looking back now, we know that keeping Debby home was the best thing we could have done for each other and for our children.
Life together was all about the choices we made. Those choices made it clear to both of us that we valued each other and that we valued our family, regardless of our financial status. I often laugh whenever the subject of “being rich” comes up because we have frequently told our kids over the years that we are, indeed, a rich family. Rich in family love! They remind us of that often and we have a good laugh together.
Before we go any further, we want to very clearly say that keeping Debby home with our kids was a choice we made for our family at the time, and it may or may not be the choice that is right for you. When deciding whether Mom (or Dad) should go to work or stay at home with the kids, both Mom and Dad need to make the decision together. We certainly can’t make that decision for you, nor can we tell you what is right for your situation. There are countless examples of couples who both have full-time jobs and maintain a healthy relationship with one another and their children.
What we will suggest, however, is that you talk about it thoroughly. Write out a budget with only one income and compare it to a budget with both parents working. The dual-income budget would need to include not only the daycare costs, but all of the costs related to having a job. This could include the cost of owning, insuring, and operating a second vehicle, the cost of clothing for the particular profession, the cost of meals while working, and any other expense that would be incurred if both parents worked outside the home.
Too often a couple will sit down and look at the amount of money an additional job will bring in, and only deduct the actual cost of daycare. Several months into the new job, they discover all these other related expenses and decide that the additional job is not providing the level of income they anticipated. They may feel that they made a poor choice but are unable to reverse course, and that’s when problems begin to develop.
For some couples, you may find that having only one spouse working outside the home will provide a sufficient income for your family and any additional income the other spouse could provide is not needed. For others, you may find that you need dual incomes for the quality of life you choose to live. In addition, still others may be struggling to meet the basic financial requirements even with both parents working.
These are decisions and choices that you need to make together, as a couple. If one spouse insists on a particular choice and you are not in agreement, at some point you will ultimately pay a high price for that decision in terms of your relationship. Take the time to discuss these options in detail and come to an understanding and an agreement that you can both support. Forcing a spouse to work or to stay at home can often lead to resentment, anger, bitterness, and a host of other problems that may cause irrevocable damage to your relationship.
You may find that you both need to compromise somewhat to come to an agreement. You will find that sacrifice is always required. The sacrifice for you may be the size of your home, the neighborhood you live in, or the age and condition of your car. Or, you may need to sacrifice the amount of time you have to spend together and your free time. One thing is certain, there is always a price to pay, and sacrifice is required. Compromise is important so one spouse doesn’t feel they are the one shouldering all of the sacrifice and all of the responsibility.
(Excerpt from “Discovering Your Amazing Marriage” pages 8-11)