Life has a way of happening, whether you're spending yours building a meaningful career or simply earning a less-than-meaningful paycheck. People meet and fall in love, I dos are said and leases are signed. The next thing you know, the birth of a new baby or an adoption may occur, upending your life in wonderful and crazy ways.
Maintaining your current commitment to the 9-to-5 may feel less meaningful with a new baby in the house. Despite changing times and a slowly-shifting milieu towards balancing family and career, taking a long-term break from the daily grind is still not without consequences, particularly if you're hoping to reach the top of your field. Many couples will find themselves considering the off-ramp option for one partner as their family expands. Before you opt in to opting out from the world of work, ask yourself these questions and make sure you're comfortable with the answers.
Can we afford it?
Love may make the world go round, but for lots of us, money is a pretty close second. The number one question determining most families' ability to have one partner opt out as a breadwinner is finances. Before you decide to hand in your resignation, make a budget that includes potential emergencies as well as your day-to-day expenses and goals for the future, including home ownership, vacations and college.
Consider the impact of losing your health insurance if that was part of your compensation package and create a contingency plan that includes dental coverage, particularly if you suspect that an overbite is in your child's future. It may not be comfortable, but reviewing your prenuptial agreement or alimony and child care options should the marriage end should also be out on the table and discussed, so that the opted-out partner is not forced into a financially vulnerable position. Sitting down with a financial planner and creating a roadmap, outlining the current and potential assets of both partners, will help.
I make about what a nanny does, should I opt out anyway?
Based upon results reported by the International Nanny Association, the average live-out nanny makes an annual salary of around $33,840. Many people choose to opt out of work, at least for the first few years of their child's life, because the cost of child care closely parallels their own earning capacity, once work-related expenses such as clothing and commuting are subtracted. There are, however, less expensive child care options you can consider if staying in the workforce is your preference, such as nanny-sharing or daycare. Correlating your future earning capacity should also be part of the equation before you choose to opt out of your current paycheck.
What's best for baby?
Conflicting studies and anecdotal evidence abound about what's best for baby, with compelling evidence on all sides. Certainly there is no question that a safe, loving environment is mandatory, with some parents lauding the need for a few hours of quality time with their child daily and others extolling the virtues of quantity time instead. Stay-at-home parents often report gratitude for every minute they have to focus on their child, as well as added flexibility. But keep in mind that being at home may not mean being free from work, albeit it of a different kind.
Will opting out from the office mean opting in to more housework?
Research indicates that even within the most egalitarian relationships, a shift towards one partner staying home full-time typically results in an imbalance of responsibility for household-related tasks, such as cleaning, laundry and errands. Despite the flexibility being home can provide, opting out to spend time with a new baby does not necessarily mean playing in the park and singing lullabies 24/7. Both parents should determine ahead of time how chores will be divided up, including middle-of-the-night wake-up calls and diaper-changing duty. Even a stay-at-home parent needs to sleep sometimes.
How will this affect our relationship?
Successful relationships tend to remain fluid, as life always changes, both for better and for worse. Taking time to map out your expectations of each other as well as staying in communication can help to maintain a stable and loving balance at home. Can you assure that both partners will feel equally valued, independent of their paycheck? Knowing in advance how this shift may affect your relationship can help you both to navigate these new, unknown waters emotionally as well as financially.
Will your decision to opt out adversely reinforce the glass ceiling?
Men and women who choose to opt out sometimes find themselves missing the dinner-time conversations they formerly enjoyed about daily conquests and accomplishments at work. The subtle changes between partners and their interactions with each other may have an adverse effect on more than just their relationship.
Interestingly, key studies conducted at Harvard University, New York University and a variety of other schools indicate that men whose wives opt out negatively shift their own attitude towards women in the workforce, displaying more gender-based discrimination. While your decision to opt out may be more about your family's needs than society's, do you have a clear sense of how your stay-at-home status will affect your partner's attitudes towards women in general, and you in particular?
How hard will it be to opt back in?
Astonishing as it may seem, based upon your skills and experience, the workforce may not welcome you back with open arms should you decide to opt back into it. This may be particularly true for women, who often find potential employers doubting that their stay-at-home experience did not diminish their ability to contribute to the workplace and even may have added significantly to their skill set. The recession and still-glutted unemployment rolls have made this bias against opting-out moms even easier to justify than it was in 2003, when Lisa Belkin first coined the phrase "opt-out revolution."
Are there options for opting out completely?
The goal in opting out for many is time to smell the roses as well as the diapers. It may be beneficial to ask yourself if opting out completely is necessary, or if it's possible to keep a toe (or several toes) dipped into the work pool. Have you considered working part time, telecommuting or pursuing flex-time hours?
Some companies are becoming more amenable to supporting the work-life balance of their employees, as the message begins to hit home that these types of supports generate not only more productivity from workers, but also more loyalty. It's possible that the benefits of staying at home can be melded with those realized by staying in the workforce if you negotiate your needs with your employer, prior to making a decision.
As with all things in life, the heart wants what it wants. If your heart's desire is to be a stay-at-home parent, make sure you plan for it well in advance and go for your dream. If staying on the job is meaningful to you as a new parent, create an alternate plan that will allow you to participate fully both at home and at work.
Everyone's gotten the memo by now that no one can have at all, but living a life of regret serves no one, most especially your child. No matter how close a second money may be, it is love that makes the world go round, and the love of a parent for their child is like no other. Whether you opt to opt out or not, planning for your future together and working out your choices as a family can yield you the perfect result for both you and those you love most.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.
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