One of the things that makes our journey to early retirement unique is that I’m a stay at home mom. Though I do have some income (I’ll get to that), I am not a major financial contributer to this journey. Yet I’m the one that manages all the finances and makes all the plans for Mr. T to retire early. Here’s a bit more of the story behind that.
How I chose to be a Stay-at-Home mom
Penny, our oldest, was born while I was in graduate school. Because of the timing, I had the opportunity to decide what I wanted to do before ever starting a corporate life. Because Mr. T and I were both in school, we balanced parenting duties equally and made sure our class schedules worked around each other so we could pass off the stroller on campus between our respective classes. After Mr. T graduated, we moved to the Northwest so he could find a job and I could finish my masters thesis. We didn’t count on our long stint with unemployment at the same time. I graduated just before Penny was 18 months old and the next month, Mr. T got a job in Alaska.
Moving to Alaska was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Not because it was Alaska. We loved Alaska right away. It was hard because I’d never been just a mom and I had never had the parenting duties fall so heavily on me (now that Mr. T was off at work every day). Though that transition was hard for me, I made the choice to stay home. I knew how hard it would be to leave Penny every day and I wasn’t sure what career path I wanted anyway (just like now, I wanted to do so many things!).
The idea was not new to me. My mom was home with us (and worked part-time in the schools teaching Shakespeare to elementary students when I was in elementary school and directing musicals in the middle school starting when my sister was in middle school). Mr. T’s mom was home with them (and worked part-time as a nurse). I assumed at some point when I had children, I would spend some time home with them. I hadn’t planned to get married so young or have kids before graduating. That timing, however, made the decision easier for me. It was a natural transition.
The Financial Implications of Being a Stay-at Home Mom
Financially, the choice was simple as well. We had just spent 10 months unemployed and paying graduate school tuition. We knew we could live on very little. Now Mr. T had a consistent income and health insurance. Sure we had a mortgage payment now, but we were still thrilled with having a consistent income and we knew we could make it work.
The big sacrifice in becoming a stay-at-home mom is that you are willingly giving up your high-incoming earning years to earn no money as a mom. This sacrifice needs to be acknowledged more widely. When I come across stories of stay at home moms feeling guilty spending money because they are not earning it or having an “allowance” as a stay at home mom, I feel ill. Just because you are not the income earner in your family does not mean you contribute less. I sacrifice my income-earning years and Mr. T sacrifices by being the only income we rely on as a family. That has its stresses as well, but that does not entitle him to all the money. This is an important conversation to have before making the leap into becoming a stay at home mom. Both spouses need to be on board with this sacrifice.
Our family is like a business. Mr. T is in sales for our business (he doesn’t actually work in sales and would make a terrible salesman, as would I) because he brings in the most revenue for the business. I am the CFO of the family. The CFO is not responsible for income-generation, but rather income-management. It would be silly for someone to get mad at the CFO for not bringing enough money into the company: “Get down to that sales floor and makes some sales or you won’t be allowed to make any more financial decisions!”
I have been tremendously lucky that I am able to generate some income for the family as well. I did not seek to do so, but 9 months after moving to Alaska, a job fell in my lap. My old professor’s husband called me out of nowhere and asked if I wanted to work for him part time, from home, entirely around my schedule doing research (which is my passion) 10-15 hours a week. That was 7.5 years ago. Not all stay-at-home moms are as lucky. They are no less valuable than I am.
There is No Right Choice
As always, I want to emphasize that there is no “right” choice here. Just because I am a stay at home mom doesn’t mean I think you should be. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I don’t regret my decision at all, but it certainly seems easier before actually doing it. Every family is different. There are benefits to staying home and there are benefits to daycare–both for the kids and for the parents. As long as you are having the discussion about what is best for you and your family, you are making the right choice.
Parenting is hard enough without the added mom guilt. I, for one, am in solidarity with all parents everywhere. During the first week of school after I dropped my kids off, I saw a dad in his construction uniform and hard hat running his son into school before the bell rang. Solidarity, dad. For every mom pumping in the broom closet to feed her baby when she gets home from work: Solidarity, mom. For every parent wondering if they’re doing the right thing: Solidarity, parents.