Are Stay-At-Home Parents Setting Themselves Up For A Big Fall These Days?

I grew up with a stay-at-home mother that took wonderful care of us and provided what we needed. She cooked, cleaned, cared, and loved all 4 her kids as well as anyone could on the single income Dad brought in. Anymore it is tough to get along well with just one income; love can help us through, but these days both parents going to work is an upward trend for good reason…

In The Beginning…

Albert Schweitzer once said:

“Thought cannot avoid the ethical or reverence and love for all life. It will abandon the old confined systems of ethics and be forced to recognize the ethics that knows no bounds. But on the other hand, those who believe in love for all creation must realize clearly the difficulties involved in the problem of a boundless ethic and must be resolved not to veil from [humankind] the conflicts which this ethic will involve [us], but allow [us] really to experience them. To think out in every implication the ethic of love for all creation — this is the difficult task which confronts our age.”

Ambrose Bierce once defined love as: “a temporary insanity, curable by marriage.” and it makes sense when you begin to break down what % of marriages end in these days, divorce.

It’s a sad but true reality that probably wasn’t what marriage was institutionalized for, The institution of marriage pre-dates reliable recorded history, many cultures have legends or religious beliefs concerning the origins of marriage, but I’m sure none of them ended with the word “divorce”.

The Repercussions of Not Working

My Mom got out of the work force with my oldest brothers birth in 1977 and stayed there until 1993 when the big “D” reared its ugly head.  For nearly 20 years my mom missed out on the on the job training efforts, introductions of computers in the workplace, the internet, the list goes on.  But the point being that she had all her eggs in one basket and we all know what happens when that basket is taken away.

When my old man left, my mom then had to provide for 4 kids under 16 somehow back in the workforce.  She’d missed out on 20+ years of a lot of things.  Being 40 years old and entering the workforce was a task.  She had her teaching degree, but had to get it back up to par after all that time.  She had exactly $0.00 in any investments, any retirement, any finance at all.

She was starting 100% fresh in the realm while having no experience to speak of in any trade.  She took odd jobs that clearly didn’t provide a 401k or retirement package of any kind just to make enough money to pay our monthly bills and keep food on the table.  Having us to take care of didn’t leave much room for her and coincidentally has just recently been able to start putting money towards retirement; that may not happen until she’s 75 now.

At the same time my Dad filed bankruptcy and Mom had to either buy him out of the mortgage or refinance.  They had only 7k to pay back at the time, but with the increase in mortgage payments, defaults, and refi after bankruptcy, Mom today stands at nearly 50k remaining to pay on the house.  She was able to keep it, and can now afford payments, but not after a boatload of financial nightmares.

Why The Change In Tradition?

Images of the traditional family still dominate our televisions and magazines, but they do not represent how most Americans live. In 2002, only 7 percent of all U.S. households consisted of married couples with children in which only the husband worked. Dual-income families with children made up more than two times as many households. Even families with two incomes and no children outnumbered the traditional family by almost two to one.

The large percentage of households in the “other” category shown in the accompanying graph reflects the relatively large number of female-headed households and households headed by young adults or older Americans, who are less likely to reside with spouses.

Among married-couple households, about 13 percent consisted of families with children in which only the husband worked, 31 percent were dual-income families with children, 25 percent were dual-income families with no children, and 31 percent consisted of other types of families, such as older married couples whose children no longer reside in the household says a PRB article dated 2003; and that number has likely shrunk again by 2008. says that “the longer a woman works outside the home, the greater the percentage of household responsibilities assumed by the man of the house, and couples are redefining what it means to be the man or the woman, the father or the mother, in a relationship. This summary shows that the divorce rate is lower when couples divide up the duties more equally. In fact, it’s even lower than with the traditional relationship where one person is the breadwinner and the other person runs the house.”
icon for podpress – Here The Bigg Success Show discuss the issue in more detail.

Should YOU Be Worried?

Well, I don’t know. I’m not a marriage counselor. I can however speak from what I’ve experienced when I say that although love starts out with forever in mind, it may not really last that long.  It really gives a lot of the financial earning power to one person in the family and if that trust is broken, you can be in for a surprise when the rug is pulled out from under you.

Does this same thing happen to everyone? No, but looking at the increase in dual income families and roles of the modern family, I would say that it is at least something to think about if you’re in a similar living situation and things are as you thought they’d be.

I know it doesn’t relate exactly to the topic at hand, but at a personal level Amschel Rothschild has a good point that can be applied to this scenario when he says “Give me control of a Nation’s money supply, and I care not who makes the laws.” It’s the similar thing in a marriage, if your spouses name is stamped on everything, it’s tough to get your hands on anything when the walls fall down and you don’t have any money to build them back up.

photos by: freeparking, mikebaird

Filed Under: 401KadviceBudgetingEmergency fundfinancial educationFrugalInvestingReal EstateRetirement

  • The thing about this is that this type of thought is paralyzing. If you go on with life thinking of what may go wrong you may be heading to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Did you ever ask your mom if she regretted the years she spent home with her kids? I bet the price was worth it to her.

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  • @Mercedes – Actually a very good point. I have asked my Mother it before and sure she really enjoyed us kids, and would never say anything else, but she agrees in looking back that she had built up a trust that she didn’t think would.

    You make a very good point in realizing that “self-fulfilling prophecy” though. You can’t live life in fear, but it really does bring up the opposite, what if my she WOULD have worked? Would she have regretted that? Maybe “yay”, maybe “nay” – just looking at both sides of the coin as “what ifs” have been around as long as hindsight has been 20/20. .;)

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • I don’t like this article, because it uses one example to build fear in marriage and trusting your spouse. A trusted relationship within marriage is the foundation and the strength of our society. Sure, things can go wrong. But, I think your statistics are way off, your source must be biased. Moreover, raising children is MORE worthy then working. I know that’s hard to hear, but it’s true and mothers know it because up to 80% of working mothers regret not spending more time with their families. Kids grow up so fast if you’re not with them, you are missing out. Our culture is changing, I’ll give you that, but for the worse – not the better. Your mother lived a much more fulfilling life and the result was better children. Today’s day care kids are filling the prisons, reducing the hope of the future of our nation.

    I thing stay at home parents are just as likely to gain skills they need to return to the work force as working paretns. Business tools and processes are always changing. The working parents skills are just as likely to become unuseful, causing them to get laid off or their job to get outsourced. A stay at home parent funcations as their own boss, with tasks that they manage. They are self trained and cannot get laid off. They also have more opportunity to start their own home business or grow a hobby into a business – and since 80% of the wealth are business owners, the stay to home parent has be better chance at becoming wealth.

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  • 401k’s are overrated. Most dual-income families have just as much debt as they have in their 401k’s. Dual-income families are not getting ahead; they are just living in bigger houses with newer cars, while living with more stress and less family time.

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  • Jana

    I’m a stay-at-home-mom, so obviously I have a bias. I will say that we still do maintain my retirement account, and contribute to it regularly. I won’t be out of the workforce forever, and will actually return to school prior to returning to the workforce as well, in nursing, so I should have job security no matter where we live.

    I think a complicating factor in the modern family dilemma has already been touched on. So many families live outside their means, making the second income necessary to meet basic needs. We live well below our means, making it possible to continue retirement savings and pay for our needs without the use of credit (with the exception of our mortgage).

    Obviously, the skills gap is a significant one, but a truly wise stay-at-home parent keep their skills relevant with the times, or choose to work part time to have a foot in the workforce.

  • Wow. What an honest, well-written, thought-provoking post.

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  • @Curt – thanks first off for stopping by and participating. It really is an interesting debate to bring up – First off, I really agree with the relationship being a trusted source of strength in our society and most certainly more worthy than working; but I’m just speaking from one of the 2 sides of the coin. I am currently living the other, love the family life and enjoy what it brings, but speaking from experience and seeing my friends in their 20s calling off weddings anymore, it really makes me think. Most statistics I see put the divorce rate at around 50% and I agree that’s a sad number, but still true even if we don’t like to think about how crappy it is.

    I’d like to say that I thought my Mom had time to figure out how to run a business or pick up a trade on her own, but it was a lot tougher in the 70s and 80s than it is today to pick up some extra cash from stay at home moms. I read a handful that do quite well blogging, taking surveys, or even admin assistants or helpdesk analysts in the spare time.

    As far as dual-income families just not getting ahead, I can speak from experience when it was just myself providing the income, we were sinking fast. My wife going back to work has given us a few extra dollars and climbed far out of the hole we’d dug ourselves in to.

    Also, I really hope that my daycare I take my kids to don’t prep them for prison-life either! I do appreciate the other points of view!

    @Jana – NICE WORK on being a stay at home mom AND a nurse. You don’t see that much, so good job there. You make a very valid point when you say to keep your skills honed. The point I made in my scenario which also can apply @Curt is that my Mom put ALL her eggs in that basket and all her trust that my Dad would always be there. Keeping her skills honed would have prepared her a lot more for what may or may not come.

    @Vered – Glad you liked it; thanks for stopping by! Thank you as always!

  • K

    As a former SAH mom and a survivor of divorce I am glad you’re raising these points. I would not trade the time I spent with my kids for anything, but I do have regrets about losing valuable career growth and facing my retirement years in a less than strong financial position.

    On the plus side, being a SAH mom taught me how to live frugally and thrive with less money than many of my peers who have lived on two incomes. But while divorce is costly for everyone, statistically men fair better financially after divorce and recover more quickly than women. I know this is true in my case.

  • I love Curts comments above. I agree with him regarding a 401(k).

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  • Sam

    Well my wife just left her Treasury Managerial job 6 months ago to take care of our almost 2 yr old toddler. And no, we’re not thinking of divorce and our relationship as married couple is even stronger.

    Eventually, I plan to increase my sources of passive income so that I could spend more time with her raising our baby. She’s still contributing to her retirement fund even if she’s unemployed. ( yeah you can do that here in this side of the world-Philippines!)

    Fix My Personal Finance

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  • Celia

    Interesting article that touches on many points. The main point I took was if you are a stay at home mom, you still need to be aware of the family finances; you still need to live frugally and plan on contributing to IRAs (in addition to the 10,000 other things that need to be done).

    As an aside, culturally, I think we give up too easily. Marriage is hard work, and you have to work at it constantly. Too many people give up when it gets a little tough at the beginning, or forget/don’t realize that it takes WORK, so 20 years down the road, find themselves living with a stranger. It is hard to stay connected and to grow together and takes planning and attention.

    For me, the absolute value is the time spent with my family and my children. If, God forbid, something happens to my husband, I will treasure the time I had at home with them and thank God that we funded our IRAs, had term life insurance and put away money into savings (although we are having to rebuild that at the moment).

    One interesting suggestion I read was to have a newly engaged couple plan a budget together before they get married based on one income (his/her current income – he could stay at home if she makes more).

  • Interesting post – my wife is staying home with the kids, although to be honest my first choice was for her to keep working. Now that we have 2 kids I think it makes more sense for her to stay home since daycare is pretty expensive.

    I think it will be very difficult for her to go back into the workforce when the kids are in school – even 5 or 6 years of non-working is enough to mess up your career. That said, she quit her job before we had kids because she hated it so much.

    Another point which deserves mentioning is that it sounds like your parents were not doing all that well financially when they were together which of course makes it harder when they split up.

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  • @K – It was true in my case also. My old man filed bankruptcy and moved in with his new girlfriend. Mom was left to battle out of bankruptcy. She figured it out though and is above water now, but by no means financially ready for retirement.

    @Kevin – thanks for the comments.

    @Sam – Good for you! I wish you the best of luck in hitting your passive income goals!

    @Celia – I think you hit it on the head on several points. I agree that people give up on marriage too easily anymore, because I can speak from experience in saying that it isn’t easy. Thanks for chiming in!

    @FourPillars – My wife stayed home with our 2nd also for a few months, but decided that it wasn’t for her. She really missed out on contributing to the income. Don’t get me wrong, we BOTH love the kids to death, but I can see her point that it is tough to be a SAH Mom – having that adult interaction daily is something that some people need. I tip my hat to you and your wife!

    And yes, my mom and dad were very financially unhealthy so it did contribute to the split I am sure.

  • Suzanne

    Great article and I love that you are open to hearing what others have to say.

    I didn’t have our first child until I was 33, so I had years of work experience and don’t have the fear that if something were to happen (god forbid), I would be financially devastated because.

    I don’t think that a mother should keep working for the sole reason that something “might” happen one day and she needs to know how to “be in” the work force. What if a mother worked for that very reason, nothing happened and her kids missed out on having their mother and vice versa? I believe with my whole heart that much of the problems we are facing today with our young people is because they missed out on the single most important thing in their life, and that is having a parent present in their lives on a daily basis.

    Children weren’t meant to be raised by someone else who doesn’t have the emotional well being of that child first and foremost on their radar. Abundance of money isn’t important when you compare it to lost years of being with your child. When a person makes the decision to become pregnant, you should also be making a commitment to that child(ren) and not a commitment to a societal “norm.”

    When people learn to live a simpler life in order to accommodate one parent staying home, life actually becomes easier. If more people would try it, the world would be a better place for it. We only have the very moment we are living in right now, don’t throw your children to the wolves for a little extra cash.

  • Those statistics about household situations are eye opening. Is it really only 7% of households have a single income and have children? I guess I am in that minority then. It truly is a sad thing. I am so thankful that I earn enough so my wife can stay home and take care of our 4 beautiful children.

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  • The article certainly has a “bitter” tone.

    For all of the stay at home parents, don’t let your job skills lapse should you decide to stay home with your kids because your spouse might abandon you and your family!

    I can here it know:

    “Honey, why are you taking that online computer class?”

    “Well, dear. I want to make sure that my job skills are current in the event that you abandon me and the kids!”

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  • @Benjamin: The sad and, yes, sometimes bitter fact is that marriages DO dissolve. Sometimes it’s a bolt from the blue. That online computer course may save your life, or at least enable you to keep your head above water while you retool your life.
    Another possibility: serious illness or sudden death of a spouse. Would you be prepared to re-enter the workforce if something happened to your Mr. or your Mrs.?
    Work like hell on your marriage, never take your partner for granted — but make sure you’re fully apprised of finances and saving for your OWN retirement. As they say, “Pray to God, but row for shore.”

  • @Suzanne – You make a good point on the “visa versa” side if mom worked all that time and missed out on the kids, but I’m just bringing up the point of having a better understanding of the consequences. Yea, I didn’t want my parents marriage to fail, but looking back, my mom really did put all her eggs in one basket.

    I’m just saying to keep the options open – build and trust your partner for sure, but keep that 1% of your pie in the background keeping your skills honed. Why wouldn’t you want to mitigate any risk you can. It’s sad and very unethical, but I think might be worth it if you ever have to use it. If not, well, you learned something along the way and you have a wonderful spouse. 😉

    @Adam – So says the Population Reference Bureau – it’s definitely a change from how I grew up for sure, but times are a changin’ they say!

    @ Benjamin – agreed that the tone was a little rough, but at the same time, I was trying to drive the point home that not every family can be “The Brady Bunch”. I wish it were so, but I think Donna hit on it pretty straight in saying that it DOES happen these days – albeit much less than everyone would want, but devoting a small amount of time to keeping up with your profession may pay off big in the end.

    @Donna Freedman – Thanks for stopping by and chiming in! Like I said above, it’s a tough road to haul for sure with marriage, and a huge kudos to those that can stick with it until the end. Good point about the sudden death as well, it may not just be a cheating or dishonest spouse, it may just be a natural death and you’re still in the same situation with nothing left and rebuilding your repertoire for the work force.

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  • Being A SAHD and WAHD, my thought is that raising my children is a full time job whether I work at home or in a corporate office 60 miles away. The thought of entering the corporate world again makes me sick to my stomach, but I’d do it in a second if our financial situation changed. We were dinks for 10 years before having children, so both my wife and I had years of corporate experience under our belts. I hated my career, and my wife still loves hers. Easy decision for both of us, I would stay home and work part-time. I think it would be much harder for a stay-at-home spouse to try and make the transition to the corporate world if they didn’t have any prior work experience. It is still possible, and your mom is proof that hard work and determination will get you through hard times.

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  • Hi Hank

    This was such an interesting post that the first time I read it I could have written a book in response! It raises so many interesting points.

    I suppose the first thing to say is that it’s sad that you, your brothers, and your mother had this experience, it must have been tough on all of you. Things that happen while you are growing up have a big and long-lasting affect on you. My Father’s ill-health and early retirement on health grounds when I was in my teens resulted in me not going to college and instead starting work at the age of 16 (because I was happier contributing to our family budget than taking out of it).

    I think that once you have children you enter a time on your life when it is very hard to get the balance between home and work right (I would almost say that it is impossible). Whatever you decide to do you will always find yourself (or others) questioning it.

    My wife and I have tried various things over the years (my eldest child is now 13) from both of us working full-time (very stressful) to my wife staying at home and me working 4 days/week (I think this one was my favorite!). Currently I work full-time and my wife works some evenings/weekends providing lessons for mums-to-be. It has the advantage that we don’t have to pay anything for childcare, but it does mean that we don’t get to see each other as much.

    On the subject of your Dad declaring bankruptcy, I have written a related post on what the consequences of your partner declaring bankruptcy that might be of interest to your readers. It is written with UK-law in mind, but there are probably some points of general interest.

    Thanks again for the interesting post.


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  • some of my friend can’t be SAHM any more because their children growing older and they need pay their education etc.

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  • Thank you for the wonderful tips!

    I truly believe that moms at home can find success making money online!