What Is A Stay-At-Home Parent?
A stay-at-home parent (often abbreviated as SAHM - although it should be SAHP) is a mother or father who stays home to raise his or her children while the other parent goes to work. There has been great debate about what type of parenting is best, but experts have said that so long as the children are happy and healthy, it does not matter whether one or both parents work outside of the home.
Approximately 20% of children under the age of five are cared for by a parent alone. In families in which the mother works, 32% are cared for by a stay-at-home dad.
A stay-at-home dad (SAHD, house dad, or house-spouse) is a term that's used to describe a father who is both the caregiver of the children and the homemaker of the house. While families have evolved, more men are opting to become stay-at-home dads.
There are a number of benefits to a father having an active role in his children's lives. Paternal involvement is beneficial for his child's physical, cognitive, behavioral and emotional development. Stay-at-home dads allow the mother to continue to work without the stress of finding proper daycare and a nanny, as well as reduces the economic impact of childcare (which, as most parents know, is exorbitant).
While it's a reality for many families, dads who stay at home to raise their children (and women who eschew child-rearing for a career) still face judgment and stigma.
Even as the number of stay-at-home dads has been increasing steadily, the role is still subject to stereotypes. A stay-at-home dad may find that he doesn't have the same social support as a stay-at-home mother does; many stay-at-home dads have reported being shunned by Mom groups. Many fathers have rebelled against this and started their OWN parenting groups.
Good for them.
The Choice To Be A Stay-At-Home-Parent:
The choice to stay at home with a child isn't always an easy one - in a household where money is an issue (necessitating that both parents work to support the household), there are sacrifices that must be carefully weighed before one parent decides to stay home. Here are some things to consider while deciding whether or not to become a stay at home parent:
- Can we afford it?
- What will happen to my career if I take time off?
- What personal sacrifices can I make?
- Can we afford the financial sacrifices required?
- Will I be satisfied at home?
- Will being home with the children allow me the same satisfaction my career did?
- How long will I stay home with the children?
- Is this suited for my personality?
What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages To Staying Home With Children?
As with any other decision, the decision to stay at home with the children has both pros and cons associated with it. Here are some of the advantages to being a stay-at-home parent:
Advantages For Staying Home With The Children:
- Consistent, reliable and quality childcare.
- You (or your partner) is responsible for decisions regarding the day-to-day life of your child.
- Home environment may be more relaxing and nurturing than daycare.
- Many experts believe a parent is the ideal caregiver for his or her child.
- Children in daycare may have higher levels of stress and aggression.
- Ability to be responsible for growth, nurturing and development of children.
- Decreased illnesses (for children not yet in school) for the whole family.
- Decreased levels of parental stress - juggling a career and childcare can be damn near impossible.
- May be much cheaper than daycare or other types of childcare.
- Many find that raising children is fulfilling.
Disadvantages for Staying Home With The Children:
- Feelings of loneliness and isolation - especially for stay-at-home-dads.
- Lack of adult conversation and human contact.
- For those who enjoyed a career, it may be more challenging to fit in with other stay-at-home parents.
- Loss of identity - if career was important.
- Decreased lack of self-esteem - at home, there are no bonuses for a job well done.
- Anxiety over returning to career.
- Worries about money and other economic drawbacks of a single-income household.
- Tensions between partners (especially if one partner isn't on board with the other's decision).
- Lack of socialization for children.
Saving Money As A Stay-At-Home Parent:
Living on a sole income generally means that expenses must be cut. But where? How?
First, keep track of all expenses (yes, even that Starbucks run) and see where you can dump some unnecessary expenses. Here are some other cost-saving techniques for one-income families:
- Look for signs of hidden costs that may not be necessary.
- Reduce cell plans if too many minutes are going unused.
- See where you can lower credit card interests.
- Cancel a pricey gym membership and take the kids on a walk or run.
- Have picnics in the park rather than going out to dinner.
- Find hand-me-downs and use any consignment shops for kids clothes.
Coping With The Challenges Of A Stay-At-Home Parent:
Beyond the obvious financial and career risks, there are a number of other difficulties associated with staying at home with the kids. These can include:
Social Isolation - staying home with a child (especially if postpartum depression is a factor) can be socially isolating. Here are some tips for combating the social isolation of being a stay-at-home parent.
Coping With Social Isolation of SAHP:
- Just like you'd do if you were at the office, build networking into your schedule.
- Look for Mommy (or Daddy) and Me classes in your area and go.
- Find playgroups and join them.
- Take the kids to the library for story time.
- Many bookstores have large train tables where they can play - these are all great places to meet other parents.
- Be proud of what you do - it's one of the most important things you'll ever be tasked with.
- Call friends - even if geography and lifestyles have changed, it's important to keep in touch with people who know - and love - you.
Low-Self-Esteem - if you've previously been satisfied and felt good about yourself while working, getting raises, and praise from colleges, you're in for a very large change - you won't find the same level of rewards at home with the kids. Here are some ways to cope with the drop in self-esteem:
Coping With Low-Self Esteem:
- Get creative with it - if it's the praise you miss so much, find a substitution. Write a post for The Band.
- Find an online community to get involved with.
- Find another outlet - perhaps you've been so focused upon your career that you never thought about what you'd do with your free time. No time like the present!
- Create a scrapbook, or, if the thought of crafting stuff makes you vomit, find other things that give you a minor sense of accomplishment.
- Write a list of all your positive traits - and look at that list after you've been up all night for 3 nights running and barely able to see straight.
- Make time for yourself. It doesn't have to be a spa day, but have a nice quiet soak in the bath while your partner watches the kids.
- Go for a walk with a friend.
- Talk to others about how you're feeling.
Read more about how to increase self-esteem.
Unequal Division of Labor: While many people enjoy taking care of their house, making certain their laundry is done and the dishwasher is expertly loaded, it's hard if you've gone from being responsible for half the chores to saddling the full load. Here's how to cope:
- Talk to your partner about the household responsibilities. See what he or she can still manage to help with, even though you're home all the time (hey, staying at home doesn't mean you're sitting around and eating bon-bons all day long).
- Let some of the stuff slide. Yeah, you're home all day, but that doesn't mean you're not running your ass off. You can't expect to be Super Mom or Super Dad all the time.
- Find someone to come in once a month and do the big cleaning. Sure, it might cost some money, but your sanity is worth a hell of a lot.
- Ask visitors to help out - see if they can throw in a load of laundry or do something else helpful.
- Ask visitors to watch the kids so you can do a little light cleaning.
Your Changing Partnership:
It's tremendously difficult to call your partner to hear him or her giggling over a "working lunch" while you're holding a squalling baby and trying to clean up vomit from your two-year old's hair.
And it's very hard to feel as though you're an "equal" partner when you're not bringing home the bacon. This transition is much easier if both partners are on the same page with this - even without a paycheck, the stay at home parent still IS contributing to the household - it's just not measured by a paycheck.
One of the worst challenges stay-at-home parents face is living in two realms. Partners, once in a single realm, are now orbiting different planets. While this isn't a bad thing, it can mean that resentments and jealousy can occur - your partner may be jealous that you don't have to get up in the morning and commute, and you may be jealous that your partner has the camaraderie of a job to look forward to.
I Love Staying Home With My Kids, But I'm So Bored!
Boredom is common for most people who stay-at-home with their children. There are only so many games of patty-cake you can play before you feel entirely exhausted.
It's imperative that all stay-at-home parents make some time for themselves each day. Time that's unrelated to your partner or children: time for you.
Make a list of things you loved to do before Baby came and see how these activities can be worked into your daily life. If you loved running, consider borrowing (before buying) a jogging stroller and bringing baby with. If it's reading, make sure to have an e-reader full of books to read during nap-time or after Baby has gone to bed.
Don't allow yourself to become too isolated. Keep in touch with old friends - even if it's a phone call once a week or a nice walk alone in the woods.
Meditate or join a yoga class. Sure, "staying-at-home" is less stressful...but I've yet to understand how. Anyway - meditation can be your friend.
Tackle a project. You have more (and somehow less) free time now. Why not start a minor remodel of one of your rooms? Why not pick up an instrument and learn to play? There are a lot of things you can do - simply open your mind to it.
Create a schedule. No, not like, "8AM, Baby eats, 8:30 AM change diapers" but make each day a different type of day. Do laundry one day. The floors another. Grocery store yet another. This breaks up the chores a bit while making sure you still are able to get most of them done!
That can mean taking on some projects around the house, learning a new craft, or engaging in other meaningful activities. It's easy to lose yourself as a parent - don't forget, you have an identity outside of Mom or Dad, and that's NOT something to feel guilty about.
Going Back To Work After Being A Stay-At-Home Parent:
The choice to return to work outside of the home can be difficult if you've been a stay-at-home parent for a length of time. The transition from working with children to working with adults can be a shock to some. The fear of resume rejection is also a concern to many.
The key to making your resume work in your favor is to think of your work at home as just that: work. Your job title can be Household Manager, and your duties can translate from "laundry and cooking" to descriptions that match closer to a corporate environment. As the Household Manager you are responsible for maintaining schedules for all members of the household including appointments, travel as required, and all activities.
If you volunteer at your kid's school, that's important to include. Volunteer work includes room parent, assisting at school programs, field trips, carpooling, and more. If you coach your kid's little league, or lead an organized group (i.e. Girl Scouts), you should include those as well.
All of these activities are a full-time job, and recruiters are looking for key words that show that you took your duties at home seriously just as you would at an office. Have confidence in the work you did at home, and you'll transition just fine to an office.
Additional Stay-At-Home-Parenting Resources:
Cost of Raising A Child Calculator - wanna see how expensive children are? Here's your chance!
First Year Baby Costs - a look at how much a child costs during his or her first year.
Stay At Home Calculator - great tool for ascertaining whether you can financially afford to stay home with your children.