Being a stay-at-home parent

stay at home mother and her children

For some parents, going out to work loses its appeal once they have children, whatever the financial cost. You may feel that you would prefer to be around full-time to parent at a crucial stage of their life. Conversely, others find life at home with small children wall-climbingly lonely and tedious. As with all aspects of parenting, everybody is different and what suits one parent won’t be for another. But here’s a guide to why you might want to be a SAHP and how to do it.

Should I stay at home with my baby when maternity leave ends?

This is a question that only you can work out the answer to but if, as the end of maternity leave looms, you don’t feel so eager to get back to work as you thought you might, you wouldn’t be alone. There are many reasons why you might decide you want to remain at home and care for your child full time.

Work might not be as interesting and rewarding as you remember it, and even the most previously career-driven parents can feel out of sorts when they return to work. It might be that, having had a baby, you now feel there is more to life than 8am meetings and quarterly targets. Or it might be because your childcare is so expensive that it doesn’t even make financial sense for both of you to be at work. Or you might simply want to be with your child rather than let someone else have the pleasure of them.

New parents might also find that high-stress jobs, involving long hours and 11pm emails, no longer suit them once their home life is also stressful and demanding.

“I realised that I would have to do two difficult, demanding and stressful full-time jobs. And there weren't enough hours in the day to do both of them properly. And that somebody else could do my 'work' job at least as well, probably better, than I could, but no one could do my parent job anywhere near as well as me.”

Should I take a career break?

Nobody says on their deathbed that they wished they’d spent more time in the office. And there will be plenty of time to work when your children get older, many Mumsnetters point out, as long as you recognise that you’re coming off the track in your existing career and might need to reassess your options when you do eventually start working again.

In some jobs you may be able to take a sabbatical or career break. Or leaving your old job may provide an opportunity eventually to retrain, try a new career or start a business. It may be that each parent can take consecutive time out of their careers, or perhaps both can work flexibly for a while.

Overall, the moral of the many threads on Mumsnet Talk forums debating the merits of being a stay-at-home-mother (SAHM) versus the merits of being a working-out-of-the-home-mother (WOHM) (and the occasional thread about SAHDs) is this: there's no one right answer for every parent and every family.

How to stay sane as a stay-at-home-parent

Wine tends to feature rather heavily on threads about how to survive being a SAHP. Some Mumsnetters heartily disapprove of this tendency (and wonder why beer and cocktails don't get more of a look-in). But here are some tips less likely to land you in the 12-step programme:

Meet other adults Mother and toddler group

Most stay-at-home Mumsnetters say the number-one rule to surviving domestic life in the early years is to ensure you have adult company every day. Parenting can be very socially isolating. Widening your support network is essential to help you deal with stress and boredom.

Arrange playdates with other young children and their families, find your local NCT branch and parent-and-toddler groups, seek out activities such as singing or music, baby gymnastics, toddler tennis, swimming groups and church toddler services – do whatever it takes to ensure you have been around other adults at some point before 6pm and, if you find one you like, keep hold of them. As one Mumsnetter said: “If you find another reasonably sane, human mother, don't lose her!”

Plan activities (but don’t despair if your plan goes awry)

Even if you don’t have to be somewhere, try to get out of the house every day. If you go out, you don't see the mess at home and get tempted to do anything about it. And the mess cannot worsen on its own.

Twelve hours of one-to-one interaction with a toddler can be incredibly draining. Fresh air and the chance for both of you to have a run around can be a real break.

Cultivate an alternative philosophy for life

Having a plan is sensible but, if things go awry, don’t lose heart. Days rarely turn out the way we plan and, when you have an infant to look after, that’s even more true. Here’s one Mumsnetter with a sensible take on things:

“Leave behind the corporate mentality of efficiency and task completion. You will drive yourself mad if you think, 'such-and-such has to get done now, but Junior won't let me!' There's so much I'd rather be doing than playdough, but I've learned to dismiss those thoughts and enjoy the moment to whatever extent possible.”

Make time for yourself if you’re a stay-at-home parent

If you can carve out some identity for yourself over and above that of the knackered parent who spends all day wiping bottoms and tables (hopefully not in that order), then you'll be able to face the next shift with a lighter heart.

Try fitting in some studying or evening classes, or other things which are not infant-centric. If your partner is out at work all day then leave them to take care of the children’s bedtimes, while you grab some me-time. Even if it’s just a few minutes of reading, it could make all the difference.

“I survived as a stay-at-home mother by drugging the children with television at breakfast-time, while I read the morning paper.”

At night, establish an early(ish) bedtime for your child.

How to get by on one salary

If the working partner is a Premier League footballer or hedge fund manager with a salary of epic proportions, then surviving on one salary generally isn't a problem. But for the rest of us, it means our spending habits have to change if one parent stays at home full time.

Many people's salaries are eaten up by childcare costs and the costs of working (clothes, travel, lunches) so you may find, once you've done the sums, that you're not actually much worse off if one of you stays at home. But you'll almost certainly have to redefine necessities.

Find a cheaper supermarket. Buy clothes secondhand or on eBay. Buy reduced-price food and freeze it. You can do 'smarter' shopping if you have more time. And smarter cooking, as this Mumsnetter explains: “We save a lot of money by having an allotment. I also now have time to do a major shop at Aldi for the basics (rice, tins etc) and then go elsewhere for other stuff; butchers etc. This saves me a fortune, plus I've time to plan meals and cook properly. If you're at home you don't buy sandwiches and have other work expenses.”

Some Mumsnetters find downsizing is the only way: “We downshifted to a small town. We have a house that would have cost a fortune in London, here we hardly have a mortgage. So we can survive on my husband's salary – haven't needed to eat into my savings too much yet. We've also saved tons – you don't need lattes. I have time to cook from scratch for every meal. I spend far less on clothes and general 'treats' to make up for working. And I don't miss very much at all – it did help that I was heartily sick of my job though.”

Could I work from home?
woman laptop home

Just because you aren’t going out to work doesn’t mean you couldn’t necessarily do some work. Thanks to technology, there are many jobs today that do not involve you being in the office and have flexible hours, and therefore allow you to work from home.

We’re not suggesting you take on 40, or even 20, hours a week but a few hours here and there could make for a nice break from the child-related stuff. A bit of consultancy work, or the odd freelance gig will keep you up to date with what’s going on out there and keep your CV ticking over. The money might be handy, too.

Being a stay-at-home father

Lots of fathers now stay at home, and it makes more sense for Dad to be the primary carer if he isn't happy in his job or the mother's career is more lucrative.
Just like mothers who stay at home, fathers may find they can do things to keep their CVs looking reasonably sprightly during a period of looking after children – consultancy work, studying, or volunteering while of the period out of paid employment.

One of the significant downsides for the out-at-work partner of a stay-at-home parent is 'provider pressure' ie being the person financially responsible for your whole family. So you need to be honest with each other about that pressure and how you can help each other. Having joint responsibility for the family financial admin – budgeting and paying bills – helps to share the burden.

“Be very, very clear as to what each one's role in the home is. How are household chores going to be split? Make sure the balance is struck and everyone is happy with what they are expected to do. As a working-out-of-the-house mother, it is very easy to overcompensate and end up doing childcare and housework before going out to work. Then you do a full day's work and come home and do some more childcare and housework.”

“I think that, as a woman, I'm more likely to understand that having children at home all day is full-time work and have sympathy and understanding for him, and ditto, that as a man, I think he'll understand the pressure I face at work.”