Work Out Of The House Or Stay At Home With Your Kids

SheKnows is proud to offer The Parent Trap column, by mother and writer Lain Chroust Ehmann.
Lain Chroust Ehmann

If I read one more magazine article about how much money I can save by quitting work to stay home with the kids, I'm going to scream.

Now, I'm all in favor of parents - moms or dads - forgoing the work world. Whether you have one child or five, full-time parenting can be the most rewarding and important job there is. But trying to quantify the value of staying home with your kids is way off the mark.

Miles of newspaper columns have already tried to establish whether working parents - especially moms - are "better" or "worse" than stay-at-home-parents. Frankly, I think the whole topic is a waste of energy better spent on productive pursuits - say, taking your kids to the Children's Museum. One parenting size does not fit all, and only you and your family can determine what works best for your household.

What I find interesting is that though people often decide to return to work for economic reasons, those who choose to stay home typically are not trying to save money. So why these magazines try to convince us we're going to save a bundle by quitting is beyond me.

The latest article I saw was in a national parenting magazine. The authors noted that although you'll have a lower household income when you leave work, your reduction in net take-home pay is less than you think, once you factor out all your work-related expenses. At first glance, it's logical. There are certain costs that you just don't incur when you aren't reporting to work every day. Commuting costs. Wardrobe expenditures. Lunches out with co-workers. Family dinners eaten out because you had to work late. Daycare. Housecleaning services, since you'll be home to do the chores yourself.

Indeed, all these do amount to a pretty penny. What bothered me, though, is the authors glossed over the extra expenses incurred by stay-at-home parents.

Let's start with the car. Though you may not be making the round-trip commute to the office each day, as a stay-at-home parent you'll spend your share of time behind the wheel. All of the sudden, you're available - to take the kids to school, pick them up, drive them to Susie's house, to the library, to soccer practice, to piano lessons. The wear and tear, gas, insurance and maintenance add up.

Now let's take the wardrobe issue. There's no more need for silk suits, pantyhose and heels. But when I went from corporate office to home office, I needed an entirely new set of clothes - one that was wash-and-wear, and one that, unfortunately, didn't come cheap. Even jeans and sweatshirts cost money. And have you priced a pair of sneakers lately? They make my work pumps look downright cheap by comparison.

So you're not lunching with Pam from Accounting at the hip gourmet salad place. Instead you're meeting Maureen and her kids from Gymboree (don't forget to factor in that cost -- $10-$15 a lesson, per kid) at McDonald's. The menu is cheaper, but now you're buying for happy meals for two or more.

No more on-the-run deli dishes for dinner because you worked overtime. But what parent doesn't occasionally order in pizza, or, for that matter, hire a babysitter for an afternoon once a week? And I'm not scrubbing toilets no matter how many hours I spend in the house.

Then there's all those freebies you'll lose - free Internet access from work, maybe a company car, gym membership, subsidized cafeteria, and more, not to mention health benefits and life insurance. Maybe your spouse's job will include coverage for everyone. If not, get out the checkbook.

So which is cheaper, working or staying home? I have no idea. In fact, the whole economic comparison is ridiculous. Before I had kids, I didn't do a twenty-year forecast to determine whether we'd be better off reproducing or buying a few thousand shares of Microsoft stock (I knew what the answer would be). And when I decided to work from home part-time, I did so because it was important to be with my son, not because it was cheap. As all parents know, kids are no bargain, but that's okay. All good parenting decisions come from the same place - the heart, not the

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