the two-income myth

My wife is an intelligent woman who decided to quit her professional career as a management-tracked analyst with a huge investment bank in order to be a stay-at-home parent when our son arrived, and to remain home even longer when our daughter arrived. I would have willingly stayed home in her place but being older and further along in my career I was making twice as much as she so it would not have made sense. She has now been at home for more than four years and I have noticed that there is a subtle campaign against her choice, and it makes me angry. Despite all of the talk about mothers making the ‘tough choice’ to go back to work, I think the tough choice is staying home.

First of all, before I’m jumped upon…I know there are single mothers and poorer families who have no choice. I would maintain this is a small proportion of the population, though. Single mothers definitely have no choice as the primary breadwinner, of course. Some families may have special circumstances that require both parents to work – health care costs spring to mind. I wonder, though, how many times the choice to work is the choice to support owning a second television, or keeping the premium movie channels, owning the house with the extra two rooms, or leasing a nice car – versus staying home with a child.

My family took a big hit to our finances when my wife quit work. We went from two people living in a two-bedroom apartment on two salaries to three people living in a three-bedroom house on one salary. We did it by making huge changes in our spending, and after a couple of years those changes have – surprise – become fairly routine. We understood that we could not afford as many luxury vacations or idle purchases of gadgets and jewelry and so on. The reward was that our children have been able to stay at home with their mother and be in a safe, healthy, fun environment.

This setup has not come without cost.
My wife misses adult companionship and the sense of validation that you get from a professional position. We miss having the second salary, which for a while was all being plowed into savings and made for a relatively large down payment on our home. And of course my wife worries about her future job prospects once both of the kids are in school and don’t need a stay-at-home mom. But the worst thing in the past were the assaults on her decision by other women.

Bubelah relayed conversations to me from her friends and ex-colleagues and so on where the subject was inevitably “when are you going to get back to work?” Aside from the obvious insult that caring for a child is not “work”, this had a very negative effect on her state of mind. She usually laughed it off, but the simple fact is that she doesn’t really interact on a daily basis with anyone but me who supports her decision to make child care a full-time job – although since we’ve moved to Florida the support has been a bit warmer. We never felt that the trade-off of getting another salary was worth having our kids in day-care 10 hours a day before they were two years old, but that’s what we felt was expected, sometimes.

Do we need the money? We may not be able to spend freely like our friends do (particularly since we also don’t take on any debt) but we really don’t NEED any more money to meet our current expenses. I understand that sometimes both parents want to work. That is fine, but just be honest about that choice. Many people claim to be “forced” to work two jobs to make ends meet, but is it really “making ends meet” when you drive a new car and have premium movie channels and take a vacation to Aruba every year?