After years of trying to buy back our time, my husband became a stay-at-home parent - and it's worth the hit to our income

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Courtesy Kelly Burch

Kelly Burch.

  • I thought I would be a stay-at-home mom while writing for a bit of extra money, but my freelance career took off faster than anticipated.
  • With my husband also working full-time, our family was stressed and spending big on outsourcing childcare and household duties. When he unexpectedly lost his job, we decided he should stay home.
  • Having a stay-at-home parent, plus the flexibility of my self-employment, has made our family happier and less stressed, so we know it's the right decision for now, even if we would be better off financially with both of us working.
  • Read more personal finance coverage.

When my husband and I started having children more than five years ago, we thought our lives would look pretty stereotypical and heteronormative. After our daughter was born, I quit my newspaper job in order to freelance full-time, while staying home with the baby. My husband pursued his goal of working in law enforcement. We both figured that his job would be our foundation, and that my writing would give us a bit of extra money while allowing me to stay home with our children and save on daycare costs.

However, that model was turned on its head rather quickly. Now, we have two children (ages 1 and 5), and my husband stays home with them. I still work from home as a writer, but it's not a part-time gig: I'm the breadwinner for our family of four, running a six-figure freelance business.

We've had this arrangement for nearly two years now, which has given us plenty of time to reflect on the changes that happened when the plan that we thought we would follow was turned on its head.

We were stressed, time-crunched, and trying to buy back our time

When I started freelancing, my career took off more quickly that I had anticipated. After two years of freelancing, I needed to invest in childcare, on an ever-increasing basis. After three years, I was spending about $1,000 a month on childcare (less than many people spend, but a significant amount here in rural New Hampshire). My husband was working lots of hours and overnight shifts, so we were also paying to outsource cleaning and other home-repair projects that he was perfectly capable of doing, but just didn't have the time.

Like many families with two working parents, we felt stressed and time-crunched. We were making good money, but also spending good money in an effort to buy back our time. That didn't align with our values (we'd rather have time together than more money), so we were contemplating making a change.

When my husband lost his job, we tried something new

Then, the change was made for us when my husband unexpectedly lost his job nearly two years ago. I was about 30 weeks pregnant with our second child, and we had a choice to make: We could spend the third trimester going through the arduous job application process, or we could slow down, take time for our family, and let my husband try his hand at being the main caregiver. Minimizing stress was our main priority, so we chose the second option.

Unexpectedly losing a job is incredibly stressful. And yet, once we decided that my husband would stay home and I would work, the chaos in our lives immediately subsided. There was less juggling of household chores and childcare responsibilities. My income increased, because I had more uninterrupted work time. And, we were saving about $1,200 on childcare and household outsourcing.

We still had less money than when my husband was working, but we recouped about half his income with my increased earnings and the money saved on childcare. More importantly, our reduced stress made us feel like having a stay-at-home parent was the right choice for that stage in our life, particularly as we welcomed our second child.

A stay-at-home parent turned out to be a logistical and emotional boon

Having a stay-at-home partner has tons of logistical benefits, but I was surprised at how many emotional benefits it had for our family, especially when combined with the flexibility of my job. When I was working from home without a stay-at-home partner, I was spending a lot of time and emotional energy on the running of the household, and felt split between work and home, constantly.

When my husband stepped into the role of stay-at-home partner, he began to better understand the invisible and emotional labor that goes into running a household. We'd always been a fairly equitable couple, but once our roles were reversed I felt for the first time like we were truly sharing the burden of the home and children in an even way (or, as even as possible when one parent is breastfeeding).

Since my husband was the main caregiver for our two daughters, he forged a closer bond with them. My second daughter (now 18 months) is much closer to her dad than her sister was at that age, purely because he's around so much more often. He volunteers at school, does playdates, and shares in the kids' experiences in a way he wasn't able to when he was working full-time. Their strong bond has taken the pressure off me as mom, that I felt when I was the primary parent.

It's been completely worth the financial sacrifice

It's been nearly two years since my husband became the stay-at-home parent. Initially we planned on him staying home for our daughter's first year. He briefly returned to work after that, but we decided that the added income wasn't worth losing the benefits of a stay-at-home parent at this point in our lives.

There's a lot of privilege that goes into having a stay-at-home partner, and we truly appreciate being able to make that choice for our family right now. Sure, we would be further ahead financially if we had both been working for the past few years. However, we're a more relaxed, happy, and bonded family unit because we have had a stay-at-home parent.

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