How to Become a Stay-at-Home Mom/Dad in 5 Not at all Easy Steps

I love being a stay-at-home mom. It’s definitely not easy. It’s exhausting, messy, maddening, solitary (and did I say exhausting?). It’s really and truly the most taxing and tiring job I’ve ever done. I am completely wiped out by the time my kid is in bed.

I build elaborate sand structures that get destroyed in a matter of seconds.

I spend much of my day building elaborate sand structures that get destroyed in a matter of seconds. And then, you know, cleaning up sand from every inch of my house…

But despite this, I love it.

Many people see this as a luxury–being with my child all day. I realize that in many ways, it is. But what’s implied in this idea of “luxury” is that it’s not an option for the majority of people. I’d like to make the case that it could be.

[I should preface this by saying that I don’t presume to know everyone’s circumstances. I realize that for many people, for a variety of reasons, having one parent at home really, truly isn’t an option. I don’t want to diminish that. Neither am I interested in judging the merits of being a stay-at-home parents vs. being a working parent. The fact is, I wanted to be home with my kid, my husband wanted me to be home, and we think this is a valuable thing so that’s why we do it. I’m not judging you for going to work.]

All of that aside, I have heard many new moms express some amount of devastation at the idea of going back to work, and I want to tell them that it might just be possible to be at home, if they really want it.

Here are my suggestions for how to make it happen:

1. Talk frankly with your partner (an obvious but important step.) Both partners need a clear understanding of the expectations to mitigate the possibility of resentment later on. Is this a priority for both parents, or just one? Is the at-home parent going to be responsible for most of the housework, too? It’s inevitable that at some times, each parent is going to feel like the other has it “better.” But agreement and understanding are like the life jacket that keep you from sinking in that occasional flood of resentment.

2. Prioritize and embrace the idea that you might not be able to have it all, all at once. (This is the big one.) You will need to make some choices.

Most of us get married, get a job, and begin to build a two-income life. Therefore, when it comes time to have kids, living on one income seems pretty much impossible financially.

There’s no question that living off of one income is tough. But when you prioritize and make value judgements about your life, things that seemed essential become less-so. We really, really wanted a new car. Our car is shit. It’s tiny. It’s ten years old. It has no air-conditioning! But it’s paid for and it runs. It’s really OK. When it comes to a decision between new stuff and being with my kid, the sacrifice isn’t so bad.

Our crappy car, Canadified.

Our crappy car, Canadified.

The other side of prioritizing is that the at-home parent might have to put off other career aspirations for a while. This can be terrifying, especially if you’ve begun a career that you will have to leave. You likely won’t be able to walk back into your old role. You might have to go back to school to refresh your skills, or you might end up making a career switch all together. Focus on the big picture, and accept the idea that some of your dreams and plans will have to be shelved until later.

3. And then (unless you’re extremely lucky,) downsize. You might have to take drastic steps, like selling your home or moving to a lower-cost-of-living area, selling off a car or getting a more affordable one (and if you aren’t willing to do this, that’s ok–you’re back at #2, making a decision about what’s important to you). Whatever your solutions, going from 2 incomes to 1 will be a big adjustment. But so is having a kid; this might be the best time to make big changes in your lifestyle, because big changes are going to happen anyway.

This might sound extreme (sell your house?!). But this is what I’m talking about, and why it’s step #2 that’s really the crux of it. What’s the priority? It’s for you to decide. Implementing a plan is secondary to making that decision. While I say it easily, I don’t say it lightly. We are living with great sacrifices (see my housing woes, which would be different if I was working) so that I can be at home. But I don’t feel like I’m living a poor life, at all.

4. Consider additional ways to make money. Most stay-at-home parents I know have income coming in from some source. I watch another baby 3 days/week. A lot of “stay-at-home” parents work part-time on off-hours. Many do direct-sales programs like Arbonne or Steeped Tea. If you have a skill you can do freelance, consider trying to build up some of that work to a manageable level. Swap kids with other at-home parents to give yourself some more work time. Get creative–there are many small ways ways to make some money to contribute to the budget, the mortgage, or the savings. It probably won’t come close to touching your potential salary if you were working full-time, but every little bit helps!


5. Stop worrying. I have often found that scenarios which seemed utterly impossible quickly become the norm. We are so remarkably adaptable. So when you’ve made this decision and taken the steps to make it work, embrace and enjoy it. Have faith that things work out the way they do.

This kid. So worth it.

This kid. So worth it.

Do/did you stay at home with your child(ren)? Do you wish you did? 

13 responses to “How to Become a Stay-at-Home Mom/Dad in 5 Not at all Easy Steps

  1. Totally can relate to this post now Jean! I stay at home with a 3 1/2 month old and plan to until my baby starts kindergarten. It’s a decision we made b/c it works best for of us and our work situation. I work part time as an editor and work from home, so I can watch my baby and bring in some extra income. (I just need to have the grandparents watch the baby the odd time when work gets crazy busy and I need to concentrate!) …We definitely want to raise our children and we realize that entails a few sacrifices since we’re primarily on 1 income. Great post!

    • That’s perfect that you can do some part-time work from home! (though yes, it’s nearly impossible sometimes to actually get anything done…) I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for commenting–I think it’s great for other moms and dads to hear about the success stories and what people are doing to make it work!

  2. Great post Jean! Even me working part-time has been a big adjustment for us/me – but I do love the time with the kids and wish I had more of it when I am working (while on mat leave I am getting my fill!). Hard to balance working ambitions out of the home with ambitions in the home. I agree that things tend to work out if you stop worrying and adapt, but of course, not without some challenges!

    • It’s really a terribly difficult decision. It often feels like you can never quite give anything your all when you’re trying to do accomplish more than one thing. I’d love to be posting 3 times/week, for example, but simply cannot find that kind of time to write that much amid all of the other things I try to do. And yeah, as much as I try to let myself off the hook sometimes, it’s hard to let go of the feeling that there’s always something more to do.

      In many ways, I think this is maybe just part of reality when you have small children who are so reliant upon their parents still (which I think will define children pretty much until they’re out of the house…). There’s a lot of discussion about how retirement can be such a wonderful phase of your life, and I think part of it is that you finally get some time to focus on yourself a bit. (I say this as all the retirees whose kids still live with them or who take care of the grandkids are probably throwing their heads back laughing at my naiveté. Ah well.)

  3. I did stay at home with my kids until about two years ago, when they got in school. That’s not to say that I didn’t work. I did. At one point, I had as many as five part time jobs. I chose things like babysitting and teaching at a homeschool co op so that I could take my kids with me. I have to admit that I feel relieved to be able to hold down one steady job now that they’re older. I missed a regular schedule and some time with grown ups. Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely glad to have had that time with my kids, but it was physically and emotionally taxing and isolating. I sometimes wonder if I would have been a better mom if I’d just taken a regular job with more predictable hours, but we honestly didn’t think we could afford the childcare. So much goes into child rearing! It’s more complicated than it seems when you first think of the idea!

    • Those are some great points. I think there could be a follow-up post about how to continue to be a stay-at-home mom (after you’ve made it happen). And one of the points is that it’s ok to decide to go back to work, when you feel it’s time. There’s no time length requirement to qualify as a SAHM! I have a few friends who were home for a while with their little ones and then decided to go back to work.

      I do look forward to the point when I have a more steady job of some sort, and I definitely have flashes of envy when I see a woman my age walking to work in her nice work outfit, etc, when I spend most of my days in yoga pants and a t-shirt. Ah well…

  4. Ahhhh. You have literally just read my mind. I’ve been agonizing… AGONIZING!… about quitting my job to stay home. I already have been unhappy with it for a while, but it will be a HUGE financial change if I quit, which is really scary. But, it’s something we can make happen through the steps you’ve laid out… and I REALLY want to be home with Sally. Oy. So hard.

    • Yeah, I see so many of my new mom friends just so bummed out about it. Yeah, it’s tough. In some ways, it helped that I wasn’t really leaving a job so much… we didn’t have to relinquish a salary–we were already poor 😛 For us, it’s more that we know there are things we’re missing out on but ultimately we’re fine with it. I definitely think it’s worth it–these years fly by so quickly! Let me know if you have any questions!

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