Friday, 10 July 2015

At-Home Parent: Luxury or Necessity?

The stay-at-home versus working parent debate is a favourite in the online parenting community, both sides believing theirs is the best scenario for rearing happy, healthy, well-rounded children.

Before this devolves into the same debate, let me make my own position clear: I don't believe either are better. I believe the best child care situation is the one in which they are nurtured, cared for, stimulated and safe. If that means staying at home and raising them yourself: great. If that means sending them to a grandparent or neighbour to be cared for while you work: great. If that means putting them in a daycare centre with a classroom full of other boys and girls their age: great.

I have been a stay-at-home mom, a work-at-home mom, and a work-outside-the-home mom at different points in my kids' lives, and for me, there's nothing more important than being at home to raise my kids myself. For me. To my mind, there's nothing in this world I will ever do as important as raising my children, and since the time my children will actually be children is short, relatively speaking, there is no sacrifice that I wouldn't make in order to spend as much time as possible with them during that time while they are young - teaching them and learning from them, growing with them and watching them grow, making memories with them and helping to shape the people they will become.

We can't afford to be a single-income family, so in order for me to be at home to raise my kids, I am a work-at-home mom. This is the best scenario for me, for us. For others, the best scenario might be to put their kids in a daycare or preschool while they work outside the home. That's fine, too.

But even as the at-home parents preach "quality time" and working parents pretend "I do everything an at-home mom does and work full-time" we are all overlooking the reality that for many, the choice doesn't even exist.

Some talk about the luxury of being an at-home parent - the luxury of being able to stay at home with your kids instead of going out to work. Though I'd argue that, in fact, most families could find a way to have one parent stay at home with the kids if in fact they wanted to do that (barring obvious exceptions, like single-parent families and households living close to the poverty line even with employment) - would you really need that second car if you weren't working outside the home? How much could you save on gas, meals, wardrobe if you were an at-home parent? Could you earn some income online, or in the neighbourhood, or working short shifts in the evenings when your spouse is home? - there are many families for whom staying at home is not a luxury but a necessity.

The prohibitive cost of daycare, particularly in big city centres like Toronto and the GTA - where average daycare costs topped $1300 per month according to the most recent study - often makes the option of working outside the home simply not an option until children are school-aged.

For those of us who are not doctors, lawyers, or engineers; who are educated, experienced and well-trained but are not making six figures any time soon; who make a reasonable and perfectly satisfactory living doing whatever it is that we do but aren't getting rich doing it in the next few years; for us, it often comes down to a matter of basic math. Crunch the numbers, and it actually doesn't make sense to work full-time outside the home.

Suppose my spouse and I earn $50K a year each - just a little higher than the average Ontarian's income of just over $49K. After taxes, I bring home roughly $39K, allowing for all credits and adjustments for our imagined dual income household of $100K with three children. Of that $39K, almost $22K will go to childcare - and this is based on a discounted rate provided by a friend of $40 per day per kid, $15 per day per kid for before and after school - simply for the privilege of going to work. ($10,400 for my preschool-aged son and $10,800 for my two school-aged sons combined.) That would leave me with roughly $325 per week in income. To earn that income, I would need a couple of hundred dollars a month for a car (say $50 a week) - either car payments or savings for future replacement or repairs - that would be unnecessary if I decided to work at home and go without a car. I would spend at least $50 a week in gas; I live in the GTA. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to get away with yoga pants, jean shorts, cotton tanks and hoodies in most work environments - let's say a hundred dollars a month ($25 a week) for wardrobe. Lunches out a couple of times a week, the odd night I can't make it home in time and have to pick something up for dinner instead of cooking? Another $50 a week, conservatively. At the end of the day, my fifty thousand dollars would contribute a whopping $150 a week to the household income even with our discounted daycare - and there are an awful lot of people who don't make anywhere near fifty thousand dollars. Imagine that scenario on a thirty thousand dollar income. Or a twenty thousand dollar income.

In my mind, there's nothing more important that being an at-home parent, and there is no sacrifice I wouldn't make in order to make that work. But the reality is that in a lot of cases - ours included - it simply wouldn't make any sense not to be an at-home parent. Why work outside the home when it's costing you every penny you make for the privilege of being able to work outside the home? For some - for many - being an at-home parent is not only a luxury, but also a necessity.

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