Have you ever thought about quitting your job to stay home with your children? Every week I receive letters from women who are considering leaving their careers. Some emails are short, and some are long, but more than half ask the same vital question: Will I regret quitting my job to become a stay-at-home mom?
Over the years, I’ve written quite a bit about my decision to become a stay-at-home parent. Moms and moms-to-be read my posts and reach out with questions about financial dependency, money imbalances, financial dishonesty, and quitting their careers. But the most common and heart-felt questions center on stay-at-home mom regrets.
Most letters are written by moms with infants or toddlers, but some have pre-teens and teenagers. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a parent or how many children you have; the desire to stay home compels many women to question their careers.
Will you regret quitting your job to become a stay-at-home mom? I can’t say for sure, but I can give you some insight that might be helpful.
I quit my career eleven years ago, and I’ve thought a lot about my decision since then. If you are struggling to make this decision, I hope my words will help you.
Will I Regret Quitting My Job?
To begin, let’s define regret. Regret is the disappointment felt from lost or missed opportunities. We typically feel regret when we believe our past decisions have led to a less-than-perfect outcome. More specifically, we believe a different decision could have led to a happier life.
If you worry about stay-at-home regrets, you are concerned that a brighter and happier future exists if you remain gainfully employed.
The stay-at-home mom decision presents two forks in the road. One path leads to snuggling, reading books, singing lullabies, and going out on daily adventures. The other leads to career advancement, a deep sense of accomplishment, and a paycheck.
If you anticipate regret, you might worry about the difficulty of returning to your career and the lack of socialization or money. On the flip side, you may imagine missed milestones and tearful daycare dropoffs.
There are pros and cons on both sides of the debate, and both choices have trade-offs. But the truth is, there may be moments of utter joy, sadness, and disappointment, no matter what you decide. Both paths will lead to a mixed bag of feelings and emotions. And yes, possibly regrets.
If you are worried about becoming a stay-at-home mom, recognize that neither option leads to perfect results, and that all of life’s major decisions involve compromise and sacrifice.
Which joy do you want to experience? Highlights of work or first moments with your kids? Career accolades or snuggles before naptime? A safety net of cash or bonding time?
Before you can answer these questions, let’s get real and honest about the life of a stay-at-home parent.
Stay-At-Home Parenting Isn’t Perfect
Becoming a stay-at-home parent isn’t a perfect job. Do you love every minute of your current position? Probably not.
I enjoyed solving problems as a software engineer but didn’t love sitting in meetings, filling out paperwork, or satisfying arbitrary deadlines.
The same is true for stay-at-home parenting. It’s not a perfect life of bliss. Sometimes you may feel bored or lonely, and your children may be cranky or difficult. Many days are tiring, just the same way they are at work.
Many stay-at-home mom regrets focus on the difficult parts of parenting. If you think you are leaving your job for paradise, you will be disappointed in your decision to quit. Spending the weekends with your children is very different from spending every minute of every day with them. Will you enjoy being with your kids every day or would you prefer to spend time alone?
Why You Might Regret Becoming a Stay-At-Home Mom
Before making a decision, it helps to understand the regrets of other stay-at-home moms. Here are the most common ones I’ve seen:
- losing your identity
- feeling isolated
- missing your paychecks
- feeling bored
- struggling to return to the workforce
- feeling like your only jobs are to cook, clean, and tend to children
- starting over if you get divorced
Let’s discuss these regrets and discuss ways to mitigate them.
Isolation Is Real
First up, isolation. Work provides more socialization than we realize. When you go to work, you talk with your coworkers, collaborate with managers, hang out at the watercolor and go out to lunch. Even in a virtual environment, you probably spend at least an hour a day chatting with your peers.
Becoming a stay-at-home parent can be incredibly isolating. It isn’t easy to adjust to sitting at home alone with an infant who can’t talk. Their baby cues may sound like a melody, but speaking without being spoken to is tough. If you don’t live in a place with social activities, you can go for days or weeks without talking to another adult.
If you are extroverted, the lack of communication may bother you more than you can imagine. I consider myself an introvert and craved adult interaction in the early years of my son’s development.
If you want to stay home, ask yourself how and where you can meet other moms, dads, former coworkers, or neighbors for meet-ups. Are there mommy-and-me groups in your area? Do you live in a neighborhood with other stay-at-home parents?
I was very isolated for the first nine months of my son’s life. I lived in an established, expensive neighborhood where both parents had to work to make ends meet. The playgrounds, parks, and walking trails around my home were empty.
Sometimes, I was jealous of my husband’s ability to socialize with his coworkers. I was envious of the time he spent commuting without children and the moments he shared laughing and talking.
Thankfully, I went to a tot-lot meet-up one afternoon and met the only other stay-at-home parent in the neighborhood. He and I got together twice a week while our kids were little, which is good because I would’ve gone stir-crazy without those get-togethers.
When they moved away, I missed them dearly. I took my son to the library and signed up for art classes. He painted, colored, doodled, and listened to stories while I tried to meet other parents.
It was nice to meet other parents, but at times our conversations were far from stimulating. Sometimes having children the same age was all we had in common.
If you can’t find activities for you and your children, you’ll need adult-only activities for yourself. Ask your husband to watch your kids one night a week, so you can join a book club, play cards, or chat with other adults about your hobbies and passions.
You Might Lose Your Identity
Speaking of passions, if you decide to stay home, I urge you to spend a little time on activities that don’t revolve around your children. Many women, myself included, lose their identities when they leave work.
Initially, your world may narrow, and it may feel like your entire life revolves around your kids. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Find a way to carve out two hours a week to focus on self-care. Take online classes, renew your professional certifications, read, write, or express your creativity. What you do doesn’t matter, but you must schedule a little me-time.
I know you’ll feel guilty for spending time on yourself. Believe me; I’ve been there. Try to push those feelings aside. You will be a better mom and partner when you feel fulfilled on multiple levels.
If you feel stressed out from parenting or had a particularly long day, spending time on your passions can recenter you.
Have you ever gone to a party where a stay-at-home parent can only talk about their kids? Maintaining your interests and activities will help you feel well-rounded and interesting. When your partner comes home from work, you’ll have something to talk about other than your children.
I love being a stay-at-home mom, but I hate when people refer to me as “just a stay-at-home mom.” I don’t want to be defined that way. Carve out a small sliver of time for your passions.
You’ll Miss Your Paycheck
I cried when I left my high-paying job to become a stay-at-home mom. I suffered through infertility and waited years for the birth of my children. I wanted desperately to become a stay-at-home parent and still cried about my missing paycheck.
Money eliminates our financial fears and worries and buys us lots of stuff. Plus, having two incomes is safer than one. If your partner loses their job or company, how long can you survive without an income?
For twelve years, I worked as a software engineer. I started making $30,000 a year and ultimately walked away from a six-figure salary.
To become a stay-at-home mom, you must think carefully about losing your income. Money helps pay the mortgage and covers doctor bills and car payments. It also allows us to pay for experiences for our kids, like sleep-away camp, trumpet lessons, and travel.
If your husband doesn’t earn a large salary, are you willing to forgo clothes, makeup, and shoes in exchange for more time with your children? Are you willing to decrease the number of times you eat out or cut back on family adventures?
How much can you cut back without feeling deprived? If you need money to look and feel good, you won’t be happy sitting around in the same old clothes year after year. If you hate cooking and enjoying dining out, you might be miserable standing at the stove every evening.
Review your budget and decide how much you are willing to give up. Will you feel strapped by a lack of money? Be honest with yourself! Focus on what makes you happy.
If you walk away from work, you are losing money today. You are also losing potential raises, bonuses, 401k matches, and years of compounding interest.
Think hard about becoming financially dependent, and find ways to feel like an equal in your relationship.
Returning to Work is Hard
Leaving the workplace is risky. In some positions, your skills will become outdated. Right now, I can’t return to work as a software engineer. Technology moved ahead in the last ten years, and my skills have not moved forward with it.
What career are you leaving to become a stay-at-home parent? Teachers and social workers have an easier time returning to work than doctors or engineers. Are you in a position that will be difficult to step back into at the same salary?
Recruiters will look at the gaps in your resume. Young college graduates are eager to learn, require less pay, and don’t have families to distract them from work. Whether we like it or not, age discrimination is a factor.
Be prepared for a lower starting salary when you’re kids head off to school. Are you willing to start over with a new career if need be?
How will you feel if you leave a six-figure salary and start over earning what you made as a young college graduate? Many women don’t want to start at the bottom all over again.
If you don’t want to start over at the beginning, search for part-time work, maintain your connections with former coworkers, and renew your certifications. Remember, though, that it’s challenging to balance stay-at-home responsibilities with career-related tasks. You may drop resume-building duties as you tend to your children and household responsibilities.
Some women never need to return to the workforce, but remember that you may need to start over after a divorce. A lot of stay-at-home mom regrets come from women who started over after being left by their husbands.
You Spend Your Life Completing Chores
Many regrets stem from not defining the stay-at-home role before starting it. Does your partner expect you to take care of the baby and complete every household chore?
Do you need to scrub the floor, cook dinner every night, and keep everything tidy? Make sure you understand what you are signing up for before accepting the position.
Once my son was born, I realized I couldn’t accomplish all the tasks my husband initially expected me to perform. I wanted to cuddle and love my baby, and I began to resent the endless list of household responsibilities.
Parenting was much harder than I expected it to be, and quite frankly, I was exhausted from countless nighttime feedings.
Set guidelines and mutual expectations before you quit your job, and remember that just because you stay home doesn’t mean you are responsible for 100% of the chores.
Ask your partner if they value your contributions outside of earning a paycheck. If you need help, ask for it and keep the lines of communication open.
Will You Regret Quitting Your Job to Be a Stay-At-Home Mom?
Will you regret quitting your job to become a stay-at-home mom? Only you can decide, but I think you can mitigate many stay-at-home mom regrets with careful consideration and thoughtful planning.
I am grateful for the past eleven years with my children. I dreamed of snuggling my babies, singing to them, and taking them on adventures for years before they were born.
Was every minute full of picnics and rainbows? No. Did I give up a lot to stay at home with them? Most definitely.
But I wouldn’t trade that time for anything else in the world. Do I regret quitting my job to become a stay-at-home mom? Not for a moment.
My children now attend school full-time, and it’s time for me to return to a world without them. Will I return to a six-figure salary? Probably not. Would I reverse course to feel smart and make money as I did in the past? No way.
The Truth About Regrets
Lisa Endlich Heffernan wrote an infamous post listing the reasons she regretted becoming a stay-at-home parent. But later wrote, “The post focused on what I gave up, but I gained so much spending wonderful years with the three people (along with my husband!) who I love the most.”
False illusions form the basis of regret. We think through the “what-if” scenarios that could’ve made our lives different or better, but in doing so, we fail to realize how much we’ve gained.
Staying at home is a luxury, and I am fortunate to have spent this quality time with my children.
In life, there will always be roads not taken and regrets no matter what you decide. I suppose the real question is, what choice will you regret more?