When it comes to childcare versus stay-at-home I pick stay-at-home anytime for children, parents, and lifestyle overall.
Today, as at the writing of this article, yet again parents around Australia are losing money and being unfairly disrupted due to their local childcare/daycare centre staff going on strike. Whilst I have no gripe with individual childcare workers, I do take issue with the overall childcare system and personally believe it to be a financial and emotional burden on the family.
Are you struggling with the horrendous cost of placing your child/children in childcare?
Are you concerned that as a dual income family one wage seems to go mostly on childcare expenses?
Do you feel time-poor dropping your children off in the early morning before rushing to work and then picking them up at nightfall?
Do you feel sorry for your kids being raised by the state or by people who don't share your values or simply by childcare workers you don't know?
If you say yes to some or all of those points above then you were just like us back in the early 2000's.
11 years ago Nina and I made the decision that I'd become a stay-at-home dad and then in 2008 (2 years after the birth of our second child) I left my 90k job to look after our two boys fulltime. Looking back it was the best decision we have ever made! I will detail the reason/s why we decided it would be "me" to be the homemaker in another post or perhaps in my new podcast show on Patreon.
However, it wasn't an easy decision to become a single income family and the following years after taking such a pay drop did tighten our financial situation considerably. It was really tough juggling finances and being as frugal as we could. Nevertheless, 10 years down the track and we not only survived on one wage but our whole family unit (including our relationship) has never been better.
The sceptic in you might say, "but the cost of living overall is worse now so there's no way I could drop out of the workforce and still pay the bills," and this is true, electricity, fuel, food, other utilities, etc have skyrocketed over the past decade. It's also true that childcare is more expensive, taxes are higher, and transport costs to get to work have risen heaps! So if you actually do the sums, you still might find that the savings made by staying home cancel out the money made by working.
Or, say staying at home doesn't quite cancel out your wage vs expenses but instead, by working your GUTS out you're slightly ahead each fortnight. Ok then, how much would you be prepared to pay yourself to stay at home? When pondering this question, you might find staying at home still worth it even if it's not a "zero-sum" game.
Furthermore, there are other ways the homemaker can either passively supplement the loss of income or bring in an income via alternative sources. In fact, I would say these days it's ESSENTIAL that the person staying at home does more than raise kids and housework.
Gone are the days of eating cream buns, sipping coffee at mother's group gatherings and then having dinner ready at the table for when hubby gets home. That's so 1990's…
The other day I was speaking to a young lady (a working mum) and she said excitedly "Oh, you're a home dad! My husband has just become a home dad also!" I said, "great! What else does he do?" It turns out they have no plans for him to do anything besides looking after the kid – nice gig if you can get it, but I'm sure the earnings from this 21-year-old woman wouldn't go far and I fear they'll run into problems if hubby doesn't make good use of his breaks between baby nap times.
Our eldest child (now 14 years old) with cauliflowers from our garden (image above)
These days the homemaker must use their time wisely and add to the family income in other ways, for example:
- Grow your food – Not every place is ideal for a home food garden but if you are considering dropping back to one wage I would also strongly recommend you live somewhere with growing space – a small suburban backyard that gets sun most of the day is all you need. Before I resigned from the Army we purchased a small 3-acre property on the fringes of the city. We planned this deliberately in order to grow our own food for when I left the workforce. Indeed we started GYO (growing your own) and learning about food gardening several years earlier so that when we dropped down to one wage we were already reasonably proficient in backyard farming. There are considerable savings to be made by growing your own food but it's not for free. You are essentially working for your food – literally. However, the benefits of GYO are HUGE, besides saving money not having to buy most of your fresh food, there are numerous health, educational, and psychological advantages.
- Work from home – I started growing our own food and now I make money online sharing my knowledge and experiences on how I do it. The internet is only in its infancy and the ways people are making money in the virtual world is growing exponentially. Everyone has some skill or experience that could potentially turn into an online career to either supplement an income by earning a few hundred dollars here and there or turn into a lucrative business making millions! There's also the possibility of working for a traditional employer who is happy for you to work from home as long as you get the work done – these types of arrangements are growing in popularity.
- Work part-time – An oldie and still a goodie, working part-time to bring in some extra money might be all you need. Yes, it's a little harder to work a part-time job if your children are not at school yet but if you have the ability then go for it. Perhaps, Grandparents can babysit for a few hours or your workplace might be ok with you bringing your child (unlikely as it seems workplaces are changing).
- Welfare – The dirty word WELFARE… When I was in the Army many of my subordinates who had families with stay-at-home parents were also receiving family welfare benefits despite them being on reasonable incomes! The welfare net in Australia is generous so why not take advantage of it if you are eligible. We qualified for payments after dropping down to one income and we were not too proud to receive them. Thankfully, we don't qualify for any assistance from the government anymore but if the "system" is going to chuck money at you then be gracious and accept there's no shame at all.
Now, let me qualify my stance slightly on the homemaker having to do more at home because it's not entirely fair to place everyone in the same basket or to label someone a "bludger" if they don't do any of those things outlined above. To be honest, there are circumstances whereby the person staying at home might not be able to grow their own food, find a part-time job that's suitable, or work from home.
Even if you can't do any of those things don't underestimate your value of staying at home because the hidden savings or advantages of having one parent stay at home are significant!
The number one advantage (in my opinion) of having one parent at home is the pressure it takes off the partner in the workforce. You might have thought I'd say the main reason is the children… And yes, the parent being there for the child is significant (I was raised in a single parent household and my mother being there for me was particularly important especially since I never had a proper father) but having two stable pillars at the top of the family is even better.
Not having to worry about the domestic tasks and runnings of the household enables the person in the workforce to concentrate on their career. All things being equal, this freedom to work hard and perform well can help them to excel in the workplace above their peers, get noticed, get promotions, and ultimately more money. Whereas two parents both working both drained at the end of the day trying to share the domestic chores and responsibilities can lead to burnout for both people causing a drop in work productivity, which can be damaging for both careers.
The stress in dual-income households these days is unfortunately unprecedented and immense. I'm positive that me staying home has played an important part in my wife becoming the success she is today. I can't overstate enough the importance of the breadmaker to be supported and motivated (cheered on) by the homemaker. Both roles complement either other and both roles are just as important, however, for the person in the workforce to be as successful as possible (whether they're a labourer or CEO) they must be supported by the homemaker emotionally and physically. Obviously, the breadmaker/breadwinner needs to acknowledge the hard work and equal partnership of the person at home also.
Just to wrap up, I understand everyone's situation is different and what I have written above may not be remotely applicable or attainable for some; however, if you are finding the stressors of both parents in the workforce hard to bear and it's making your relationship and/or family group unhappy then I urge you to stop bashing your head against the brick wall and consider trying an alternative approach.
Sure, don't underestimate the difficulties of living on one wage or less money and the challenges of changing direction – life isn't easy no matter what path we take but only a fool follows the same road when the signs point to a dead-end.
Children benefit GREATLY from having one parent stay at home and so do the parents. Why piss money up against the wall by working just to pay someone to raise your precious kids?
I will be speaking more about parenting and other related topics on my new podcast show over at Patreon.