Thinking about being a stay-at-home parent? Here's what to consider

Thinking about becoming a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) or a stay-at-home dad can be exciting and a little scary. There's a lot to consider: While you'll have the lead on your child's development and early education, everything from your family dynamics to your income, free time, and social situations will change. Talk to your partner or support system about your finances, your career goals, and other personal factors before deciding what's best for you and your family.

Mom in the kitchen with child
Photo credit: Sarah Hebenstreit

One of the many challenges facing parents today is how to best juggle the responsibilities of work and taking care of your children. For those families who have the resources, one option is to become a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) or dad. It's not an opportunity everyone can afford – it may be impossible for single parents or for those who rely on both incomes to support their household, for instance – but for some parents, it's an appealing choice.

Becoming a SAHM or stay-at-home dad can spark from an array of circumstances: Some parents have always dreamed of it, while others choose to put their careers on pause to be hands-on with their children in their early years. Some find that one parent staying at home actually outweighs rising childcare costs. And in some cases, layoffs, school closures, and other issues (many fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic) might force some parents into the role.

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No matter how or why you might be thinking about becoming a stay-at-home parent, it's a major transitional decision, with its fair share of benefits and challenges. If you're on the fence about what's best for your family, here some factors to consider.

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Find out how much you're likely to spend to raise your child.

How common are stay-at-home moms and dads?

About 1 in 5 parents are stay-at-home moms or dads, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Whether it's by personal preference or because their financial situation requires it, most parents work outside the home: According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, 65.8 percent of moms with children under the age of six participated in the workforce, while 93.4 percent of dads with kids the same age also worked.

The numbers also show that while SAHM rates have remained steady, more and more dads have been opting to stay at home in recent years: Between 1989 and 2016, the number of stay-at-home dads rose from 10 to 17 percent, according to the Pew Research Center.

It's also worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the makeup of stay-at-home parents over the past couple of years: An April 2021 survey of BabyCenter moms found that 20 percent of them had voluntarily left the workforce due to health concerns or to manage childcare, while another 23 percent had been laid off or had their hours reduced. It's hard to tell how these numbers will affect SAHM rates in the long-term, but their current impact can't be ignored.

Choosing to take on an active role at home as a SAHM – whether it's for your baby's first year or until they go to school and beyond – is a major lifestyle decision with its fair share of benefits and sacrifices. It's worth thoughtfully weighing the pros and cons before you commit.

What are the pros and cons of being a SAHM or stay-at-home dad?

There are many benefits and challenges to being a stay-at-home parent. You can give your child individualized care and attention in an environment you control, for example, but you're also responsible for creating structure and finding ways for them to learn social skills. And that need for socialization may also affect you, too: Stay-at-home moms and dads might feel loneliness, stress, and even depression from a lack of adult interaction.

Family finances can also pose another challenge. While some families find that giving up the cost of daycare by having a parent stay home helps their budget, others may find themselves having to rethink their spending as they transition from a two-income household to a one-income one. This often requires thoughtful planning, and can take some getting used to.

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Regardless of whether you go to work or stay home, your child's environment needs to be safe, supportive, and loving – it's essential to their health, development, and happiness. Some parents may find they feel like better parents when maintaining a healthy work-life balance, while others are happiest as a full-time SAHM or dad. There's no wrong decision.

Through extensive research, researchers have found that children of women who go back to work before their kids turned 3 years old were no more likely to have behavior problems or perform worse in school than kids whose mothers stayed home with them. In fact, for some families that struggled financially, researchers found that a mom's salary had the potential to create more opportunities for her kids and ease family stress.

On the other hand, the study also found that families that didn't need the mother's salary might benefit from the mom being at home for the first year – something researchers said could ideally be addressed by a more flexible maternity leave or paid family leave policy for working moms.

What to consider before becoming a SAHM or stay-at-home dad

Every family will have its own unique set of factors to consider when deciding what childcare environment is best for them, but here are a few common questions to discuss:

Is this something we can afford? There's a common misconception that only financially well-off parents can afford to stay at home with their children. But many families are able to make it work based on their resources. Sit down with your partner, if you have one, and determine whether your family can live comfortably with one income. List your expenses with the working parent's income and see where you land: Do you have savings for emergencies? Will health coverage be an issue? There are a lot of questions to consider before you make this decision.

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Will I miss my financial independence? When you're relying on one income, your family budget may get a little tighter, and you may miss the days of treating yourself to a pedicure or a staycation without pause. But that doesn't mean it can't work: Come together with your partner to collectively decide how to fit some small luxuries into your new normal.

Will I enjoy being a SAHM? While being a stay-at-home mom or dad doesn't mean that you'll forever be confined to your same four walls – you can fill your days with park visits, library trips, co-op playdates, and more – most of your time will be spent with your children, which requires an entirely new skillset of flexibility, creativity, and patience.

Will this work gap reflect negatively on my resume? Having an employment gap on your resume to stay at home with your child isn't uncommon or frowned upon as it used to be. Companies are catching up – in fact, after millions of moms left the workforce in 2021, LinkedIn added a SAHM option to its profile settings.

Will I have trouble returning to my career in the future? It's a valid concern, but many stay-at-home parents find comfort in knowing that there are ways to sharpen their skills during their time at home, whether that's by networking, keeping in touch with former colleagues, taking professional development courses, or staying abreast of new developments in their field.

Only you can make the decision that's right for your family. Staying home could be for you if you're convinced that you're the best person to care for your child, your family can get by without your income, and you're willing and able to make the necessary emotional and financial sacrifices. On the other hand, if you need or want to work outside the home and you can rely on a nurturing childcare provider, there's no reason to feel guilty about your decision.

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BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2021. Employment Characteristics of Families – 2020. a new window [Accessed March 2022]

Pew Research Center. 2019. 8 facts about American dads. a new window [Accessed March 2022]

American Psychological Organization. 2010. The Kids are Alright: Few Negative Associations with Moms' Return to Work Soon After Having Children. a new window [Accessed March 2022]

LendingTree. 2022. U.S. Workers Spend Up to 29% of Their Income, on Average, on Child Care for Kids Younger than 5. a new window [Accessed March 2022]

CDC. 2021. Child Development Basics. a new window [Accessed March 2022]

The Business Journals. 2020. Nearly half of working moms take a career break. a new window [Accessed March 2022]

United States Census Bureau. 2021. Tracking Job Losses for Mothers of School-Age Children During a Health Crisis. a new window [Accessed March 2022]

Tiffany Eve Lawrence

Tiffany Eve Lawrence is a journalist and lifestyle writer who covers parenting, maternal and mental health, and how minority families are socially impacted. As a military spouse, she's fully versed on the challenges of having to parent without a village because she's done the "momming" thing all over the United States and abroad with her twin girls and husband, a retired Marine.