What Options Does Your Family Have?

Dad with a child on his work desk

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2012:

  • 70.5 percent of mothers with children under age 18 were either working or seeking work (68.3 percent of mothers with a spouse present and 75.2 percent of single moms).
  • 64.8 percent of mothers with children under 6 years old were working.
  • 57 percent of mothers with infants under a year were working.

These statistics encompass all mothers involved in the labor force, including those who work part-time, work from home and are self-employed.

Research suggests that finances are the primary factor in a mother's decision to work. A study from the Pew Research Center reveals that up to 40 percent of American homes with children rely on the mother's income to meet financial obligations.

Responding to the study, one publication says: "Working mothers are so much the norm at this point that to even point that out seems unnecessary and incongruous."

The reasons mothers work are numerous and varied. Some, who may prefer to stay home, have to work to pay off college debt or supplement a spouse's income. Others may be the primary breadwinner of the family or wish to continue in a particular career track. Still others say they feel happier and have more energy for their children when they work.

Jeff and Brandy had their first child five years into marriage. "We wanted to have a few years 'alone' before a baby joined the club," Brandy says. "We spent those years working, taking trips together, buying a home, and dreaming of the family we hoped God would bless us with."

When they learned Brandy was expecting, they were excited. But the prospect of a new addition also brought pressure – especially for Jeff.

"I kept thinking, Now I'm responsible for another person!" Jeff says. "I knew Brandy was capable of taking care of herself if she needed to, but when we found out the baby was coming, I realized there would be someone completely dependent on me for everything."

By that point, the couple had already had multiple conversations about whether Brandy would return to work after the baby. "Jeff wanted me to be able to stay home if I wanted to," Brandy says, "but he was supportive of me returning to work if that worked better for all of us."

The couple prayed about their decision. Then, halfway through Brandy's pregnancy, she found out she would have the opportunity to go part time once her daughter was born. Because she desired to keep working, but fewer hours, it was the perfect arrangement. And because Jeff held a flexible job, he was able to stay home with their daughter during the first few months while Brandy was at work.

The arrangement proved to be a plus for the couple. "I went in three mornings a week, and I loved it!" Brandy says. "Time with adults. Time to dress up. And Jeff got those mornings alone with our daughter, and he loved that."

When I left my job to stay home with my son, Kevin and I were making about the same salary – me as an editor and him as a children's ministry director at a church. He half-jokingly offered to stay home with our son while I continued my career. (He claims that is still his "backup plan.") He explained that spending quality time with our son each day instead of going to the office held a certain appeal.

More than couples in the past, today's expectant parents have a legitimate choice to make about which parent – if either – will stay home with the baby.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 32 percent of married fathers – approximately 7 million dads – care for their children under the age of 15 for a significant part of each week. This figure is up from 26 percent in 2002.

The economic downturn (beginning in December 2007 and ending in June 2009)4 – in which more men than women lost their jobs – plays a big part in this trend. The woman is the breadwinner in 23 percent of American homes, according to the Pew Research Center.

The USA Today article "An American Role-Reversal: Women the new breadwinners," published in March 2013, cites several reasons for the rise of the stay-at-home dad. Women are increasingly more educated than men – earning more bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees than their male counterparts. At the same time, men are still more likely than women to choose careers doing things with their hands, such as construction or car repair, which pay less and may not deliver steady work. Women also fare better when it comes to health insurance – a must-have when it comes to raising a child.

Having Dad stay home isn't for every family. The role of stay-at-home parent can prove to be more frustrating for a man than for a woman. But some couples find that the arrangement suits their family.

The good news is, today's families have expanded options for making ends meet and nurturing family life. The important thing is that you and your spouse clearly discuss your preferences and seek the Lord together to discover His best plan for your family. 

As a new parent, you might enjoy Thriving Familya marriage and parenting magazine published by Focus on the Family. Get Thriving Family delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
Adapted from Expectant Parents: Preparing Together for the Journey of Parenthood, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers Inc. Copyright © 2014 by Focus on the Family.

Next in this Series: Embracing Your Version of Motherhood

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