When I was pregnant, I just got very frustrated.
Don’t eat deli meats, do this particular prenatal test.
Why did you make that choice?
Why didn’t you make a different choice?
I felt like I was being told to do things, and I never got the answer to why.
Sometimes in the world of modern parenting you just can’t seem to win.
If I go back to work, I spend less time with my kid.
What if they don’t get the attention they need to adequately develop?
If I stay home and give up my income stream, will I look back and regret my decision?
There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there about whether to stay home or go back to work, so trying to make a choice between the two can be confusing and emotional.
You love your kids and want what’s best for them, but how do you determine what best means when everyone has a different opinion?
There are many variations of parents that a household can have, and I think more families should be asking the question of whether it makes sense for the male partner to stay home.
But the truth is that in the current time, most of the discussions about stay-at-home parents focus on women in particular.
And it’s usually the women who say they feel that what they do during the day is going to determine at a deep level what kind of mom and person they are.
That is a huge weight to put on yourself as a parent.
And when you’re met with the side-eye after telling someone you’re going back to work or not, it can poke holes in your confidence.
I decided to dig in and find out.
Is it better to stay at home or go back to work?
It’s an emotional decision, yes, but as an economist I’ve learned that we can use data to help navigate through those emotional decisions and feel confident we’re making the best decision for our family.
Specifically there are three main factors you should consider before you decide.
First, you need to think about how this decision will affect your family budget.
Let’s do some numbers.
Say your total household income is 100,000 dollars, with you and your partner making 50,000 each.
That means you bring home about 85,000 dollars after taxes.
If both of you work and the family pays 1,500 dollars a month for childcare, your total disposable income would be 67,000 dollars a year.
Are you with me so far?
If you decide to stay home, your family makes less but you don’t pay for childcare.
Your disposable income goes down in this scenario, but not by as much as it would if you didn’t factor in the childcare.
It becomes more complicated if childcare is more expensive in your area.
A full-time nanny can run 40 to 50,000 dollars a year depending on where you live.
If that’s the case in your neighborhood, in the scenario I outlined, it would completely wipe out one parent’s income, and you’d be better off financially with one parent staying home.
Of course, this is only a short-term analysis.
Childcare is less expensive sometimes when kids are in school, and you may make a higher income later, so you want to factor that in if you can.
Once you’ve done the math, you’ll know what’s possible and you’ll be able to make a more informed choice, which should feel empowering.
Second, it’s time to talk about what’s best for your child.
You may think this should be the core of your decision, but there’s actually no right answer.
According to studies from Europe and the US, the decision to go back to work or stay at home won’t actually make or break your child’s future success.
Research shows that two parents working full-time has a similar effect on your child’s future test scores and income to one parent working and one not.
What seems to be most important is the environment your child is in during their spare time.
As long as they’re engaging in enriching activities; reading, practicing their motor skills, interacting with other kids, they’re going to thrive whether or not you’re at home.
There is a bit of nuance in the data.
For example, studies have found, that if both parents work, kids from poorer families are impacted positively, and kids from richer families are impacted less positively.
So depending on your household configuration, the effects on your child could be a little positive, or a little negative, but the overall impact is negligible.
Now I want to call out an exception: maternity leave.
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that babies do better when their mothers take some maternity leave.
The early days with your child can impact their development, so if you have paid leave, you should take it, and if you don’t, maybe consider taking some unpaid leave for those first few months, if your budget allows.
And finally, ask yourself, what do I want?
While this may seem simple, it’s the factor that feels most taboo to explore.
In talking to parents I find that when a woman chooses to stay home, she often feels obligated to say she made this choice for her children’s optimal development.
Which, sure, can be part of the reason, but a perfectly acceptable answer is, “this is the lifestyle I prefer,” or “this is what works for my family.”
The same goes for the working mother.
Saying, “I like my job, and that’s why I went back to work,” is enough.
If you want to go back to work, that’s great.
You’re lucky to have a job that you love and you have every right to keep it once you become a parent.
Be honest with yourself about what you’d like to do.
If you’re upfront about that, you’re guaranteed to feel happier, which will allow you to be the best version of a parent you can be, and isn’t that the whole point?
There is no right and wrong when it comes to parenting.
The best decision is the one that will make you — and your family — the happiest.
Up to you to decide what’s next.
By acknowledging that the choice to stay home or not is just that, a choice, with factors pushing you in various directions, we can ditch the guilt and enjoy doing what feels best for our families.
What is your experience? Let’s share yours below.