Monday, June 3, 2013
A Husband's Perspective - On Mom's Decision to Go Back to Work by Drew Kobb
A guest post by Drew Kobb from Dr. Ouch:
When Catherine and I had our son, Harrison, I felt certain she’d want to stay at home with him. Of course, I’ve discovered, as with everyone else even remotely related to children, you can’t count on anything being certain.
She’d been working as an accountant for several years, but I knew that she hadn’t been the biggest fan of her boss, so I figured between that and how she had bonded with Harrison during her maternity leave there’d be no question as to whether or not she wanted to stay home going forward.
But that brings me to my first point: you’re equal partners and need to talk to each other. Marriage means partnership, and that means coming together to make decisions. Yes, she’s the one giving birth, but no matter what’s happening, the question is never “Should I be involved?” It’s “How involved should I be?” Obviously the answer will depend on you and your spouse and your individual circumstances. For me, that meant asking Catherine how she was feeling about staying home. Note: it meant not telling her she needed to stay home because we wanted Harrison to have his mother around, or saying that we’d never be able to afford having her stay at home. It may be for you that that’s true, but you’d be surprised what you can afford.
Anyway, here’s my (somewhat) hard-won advice:
Start with your finances. And I don’t mean start—and then finish—with your current finances. Look at all your options: if she’s making more money than you are, could you stay home and care the kid(s)? If you want a breastfed child, it’s harder, but surely you could prepare lunches while she pumps in the morning before work. And if you’re concerned that you won’t be able to make it with just the single income, is there a way you could monetize that blog you’re working on? Running a monetized blog is certainly a full-time job, but it’s also one you can do from home. Or maybe she could do her job from home on a flex-time arrangement (and only have to come in once a week).
Look at the various options under each side: she goes back to work & she stays at home. Obviously the major difference between the former and the latter is that the former will include childcare costs. For us, that meant just over $10,000 per year. Nothing to scoff at (but still below the national average of ~$11,500). First off, figure out how much money you can expect to pay (in your area, with your specific options) and then figure out how much money beyond those childcare costs the two of you would need to make it worthwhile.
Use maternity—and paternity—leave as a trial run. If she—or you—stay home, then you’ll have to budget for a (maybe much-) reduced income. But you’ll also have a few other sorts of expenses to factor in. Get used to spending hour upon hour in the company of an often squealing baby. Mom or dad will end up going crazy like that.
So budget for weekly excursions: for mid-day luncheons with other parents, for babysitting so you and your spouse can maintain a regular date night, for outside the home bonding time with your baby, say, a parent-child yoga.
Even though you’ll be on paid leave, try living on the reduced-income budget and see how it would/will be. It’ll be much easier for you to make your decision if you know what it’s actually going to be like. (And it won’t be nearly so stressful because you’ll have that money as a failsafe.)
Figure out childcare options. Even for those who have family living nearby, finding the best childcare can be difficult. Your extended family may or may not want to take on the role of daycare center, so you’ll need to look into your options. Generally speaking, those options include daycare centers, au pairs, and nannies.
A good daycare center over in California could end up costing $1500/month while a good daycare center in Mississippi may end up costing closer to $400/month. Visit any daycare centers you’re considering, and talk to the people who actually work on the floor of the center—not just the administrators or supervisors. They’ll have a different perspective, for sure.
Au pairs are the exotic choice here. Au pairs are usually students who stay at your home and care for your kids for up to a year. You provide housing and an educational stipend, but (if you have the spare bedroom) you end up paying them less than you’d pay a full-time nanny. Be aware that not ever au pair has childcare experience, so make sure you work request that from the agency.
Full-time nannies tend to be a bit more (or a bit less) expensive than daycare centers, and the peace of mind a nanny brings (knowing that your child is getting one-on-one, or “one-on-however-many-kids you have” attention) can’t be undervalued. If you don’t know the nanny already, or have a personal recommendation from good friends, consider hiring a private investigator to run a background check.
Be honest with yourselves and with each other. If you’ve got a clear picture of your financial situation, and you know what you’ll be doing for childcare, you’re going to find you know what you want. Once things become “real,” it’ll be much easier for you and your wife to see what you really want. So, sit down with each other once you’ve figured out how things could be and decide if that’s what you really want. In the end, Catherine wanted to go back to work, and knowing we had things worked out either way, I did what any husband should do: I supported her.
Drew Kobb, in addition to studying civil law, loves long distance running and considers himself a health and fitness enthusiast. His interests range all over the medical field, and Drew highlights that range on his blog, Dr. Ouch.