Stay-at-home parents


Mum reading with toddlerFor some parents, the whole paid-work thing just doesn't cut it once they have children, whatever the financial cost. Some women (and men) feel strongly that childcare is not something they want to outsource and that they want to be around full-time to parent at a crucial stage of their child's life.

Conversely, other women (and men) find life at home with small children spirit-crushingly, wall-climbingly lonely and tedious. 

Some couples start from a position of both of them working but find that it's just too stressful, or that once they've paid the cost of childcare they've got no money leftover from one of the salaries anyway.

Women who deferred children till they were older may find they have worn out their existing career or it has worn them out. Or that long-hours, high-stress jobs no longer work for them once their home life is also stressful and demanding:

"I realised that I would have to do two difficult and 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 I could." seeker

There will be plenty of time to work when your kids get older, many Mumsnetters point out, as long as you recognise that you are coming off the career track in your existing career. 

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 angry, angsty, sometimes funny, sometimes frightening 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 | Getting by on one salary | Stay-at-home dads

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

"I know it can drive you nuts to be at home all the time but I guess I've kind of got used to it, and almost like an addict I need to see what she's up to and be there when she needs me or hits a milestone or whatever. We're not going to have any more and that's partly why I feel like this. I know soon enough she'll be at school and the week will be mine and I'll pine like a nostalgic old fruit about the long (sometimes magic, sometimes tedious) days at home with her." Evita

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 end in 12-step programmes:

  • Meet other adults

Most stay-at-home Mumsnetters say the number-one rule to survive domestic life 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 activities such as singing or music, toddler 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.

"If you find another reasonably sane, human mother, don't lose her!" maisystar

You can also, of course, try Mumsnet, which offers a 'meet a mum in your area' facility on your Local site, and is full of great ideas of places to go and things to do with your child, as well as empathetic advice when you've had a rough ride at the local toddler group.

  • Plan things to do

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.

"Split the week into sessions - mornings, afternoons, evenings, what ever works for you, and know what you are going to be doing for those sessions. Just roughly, like park, CBeebies, cafe, painting. It keeps you sane and then the long day doesn't seem never ending and overwhelming. And everyone is so right about the evening drink." suzywong

Try fitting in some studying or evening classes, or ther things which are not infant-centric.

  • Cultivate an alternative philosophy of life

"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." expatkat

  • Make time for yourself

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, then you'll be able to face the next shift with a lighter heart.

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

Establish an early(ish) bedtime for your child or children.

Getting 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.

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 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.

"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." tearinghairout

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." vonsudenfed

Stay-at-home dads

Obviously, we don't want to be too gender specific here - it may make 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.

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 - some consultancy work, some studying, some creative dressing up of the period out of paid employment.

"It is wonderful to go back to work knowing you are leaving your child in the care of the one person in the world who loves them as much as you." smallwhitecat

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.

Be honest with each other about that pressure and how you can share the burden. 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." citronella

Examine your feelings about SAHD-ing as opposed to SAHM-ing. Will you feel jealous of your partner being the primary carer? What would happen if you split up? A SAHD may well be entitled to maintenance payments and may be more likely to end up with the children residing with him. How does that prospect make you feel?

"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." Blinglovin

And whatever your gender, Mumsnet Talk is here 24/7, to distract, entertain and keep you company if you're feeling a bit undervalued.

Last updated: over 3 years ago