Which Spouse Should Be the Stay-at-Home Parent?

January 31, 2014

stay-at-home parentIn most cases where there is a decision to be made about which spouse should be the stay-at-home parent, the choice favors the wife/mother. Instinctively, this seems to be the best choice, particularly when it comes to parenting. But there may be some objective factors that should be closely examined before making a snap decision.

There are even situations – increasingly common these days – where it might be better for the man/father to be the stay-at-home parent. Here’s a list of considerations.

The Spouse With Better Parenting Skills

For the benefit of the child or children, the spouse who should be the stay-at-home parent is the one who has the better parenting skills. Often, that’s the wife, but not always.

The couple should carefully consider who likely has the greatest amount of patience (an absolute requirement with children), the greater attention span (because kids have limitless energy), the best nurturing capabilities, and even the greatest ability to teach.

The complication is that most of us have all of these qualities to one degree or another, and while one spouse may be strong in some of them, the other may be equally strong in others. If that’s the case, then it may come down to personal preference – which spouse wants to be the stay-at-home parent more?

One major caveat though. There is another consideration that requires self-examination and complete honesty. Sometimes the spouse who wants to be the stay-at-home parent more is the one who hates their job the most. In this situation, the stay-at-home parent option becomes an exit strategy from the career world. This should never be considered a viable criteria, since the primary purpose will benefit the parent who wants out, and not the children in any way.

The Lower-Earning Spouse

It might be more accurate to say that the higher earning spouse is the one who should continue working outside the home. This will be an obvious benefit to the entire family, since not only will it result in higher income for the household, but it probably also means more generous benefits, particularly in regard to life insurance and retirement investing.

Another factor that may not be so apparent with income level is income potential. For example, if the lower-earning spouse is earning less because they recently came out of medical school, it might be best for the other spouse to be to stay-at-home parent, since the earning potential of the medical school graduate will be substantially higher.

The Spouse Who Has the Better Eye for a Bargain

While we tend to think of the stay-at-home parent as primarily being a caregiver to the children, budgetary responsibility tends to be thrust on the spouse by default. After all, not only does the stay-at-home parent have more control over their time (to pay bills and deal with financial complications), but they are also put into more situations that require making purchase decisions.

That being the case, you should also consider which spouse has a better eye for a bargain. It probably is not a good idea if a spouse who is a spendthrift is the one who becomes the stay-at-home parent. There will be dozens of purchase decisions to be made every week with children, and it will require a real eye for a bargain.

In a very real way, the stay-at-home parent becomes the guardian of the family’s finances. That should never be taken lightly. The increased financial responsibility by a spendthrift spouse could destroy the couple’s entire attempt to raise their own children at home.

The Spouse Who Has the Greatest Ability to Work from Home

This is an often overlooked consideration when it comes time to decide who should be the stay-at-home parent. It is a factor that can mitigate other considerations, particularly the question of who can earn the most money outside the household.

Let’s look at this question by example. Let’s say that Spouse A has a $50,000 job, and Spouse B earns $40,000. On the surface, it may look as if the logical choice is for Spouse B stay home with the children, and for Spouse A to continue working. But if Spouse A has the ability to earn $20,000 working from home (and Spouse B doesn’t), the family’s financial situation will be helped if Spouse A becomes the stay-at-home parent, and also earns money working from home.

Let’s say that Spouse B will continue to work earning $40,000 per year, but Spouse A will contribute $20,000 working from home. This will produce a combined income of $60,000 per year, versus just $50,000 per year if Spouse B comes home, and Spouse A continues working outside the home.

Some serious consideration of this potential should be given. And it’s not just a matter of producing a higher income. A family living on a single income is more at risk today than they have been in generations, due to the fact that employment is far less stable than its ever been. An arrangement that would allow both spouses to continue earning at least some income will provide a form of income diversification every family needs today.

Have you considered some of these issues in deciding which spouse will be the stay-at-home parent? Leave a comment with your situation!


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Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

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2 Responses to Which Spouse Should Be the Stay-at-Home Parent?

  • Xu Vicky

    “The Spouse With Better Parenting Skills”

    Kids especially in their younger years needs the guidance of their parents the most. It is their parents who are their first teachers and this is their growing years. What is imparted to them during these years will be ingrained in them as they grow old.