You have a job. You have a baby. After your parental leave is up, you find day care for your baby so you can go back to your job. That's "Plan A" and it's what everyone does, right?
Well, not exactly. "Plan B"-staying at home with your child-is a growing trend. While many parents return to their jobs for personal or financial reasons, others find a way to stay home for a few months, a few years or indefinitely. A 2001 report by the U.S. Census Bureau states that in 1998, 59 percent of mothers with infants worked full time. By 2000, only 55 percent of mothers with infants worked full time.
And it's not just moms with babies staying home. Today's two-parent families are exploring alternatives to the full-time, stay-at-home mom. Dads are staying home in some families, especially when mom earns more money or has a more promising career. In other families, both parents work flexible schedules so the children are almost always in the care of one parent. And some parents of preteens are opting out of the workforce to reconnect with their young adolescents.
When making a child care decision, these are the key considerations to make:
Can you live on less? Some parents wisely work out the books to see if they can accommodate a reduced-income budget. Kate and Dave, parents of two in San Francisco, tried living only on Dave's income for several months before they had kids to make sure it worked. Another advantage: they saved Kate's salary for a rainy day.
Are you willing and able to step off the career track? And if so, how can you keep your "finger in the pie" as Laurie, a Bellingham, Wash., lawyer, put it? She decided to stay home with her three children for a few years but volunteers on a local government committee and does part-time consulting from home.
For moms: Are you comfortable with a "traditional" gender role of mom-at-home? For dads: Can you break the mold of dad-the-breadwinner and become dad-the-caregiver? For both: What kind of support do you need from your spouse in terms of personal time, housework and childcare?
Would the pace of life at home-naps, repetition and routine-satisfy you? Would you miss adult interaction too much? Some parents report that they enjoy at-home parenting much more than they ever imagined and wouldn't trade the home zone for anything. The reverse is true for others.
What childcare options are available and affordable? Jo, a mother-of-two in Columbus, Ohio, is confident about her decision to return to work in part because her children are enrolled in an ideal day care situation. Available through her employer, her day care is close to her office and staffed by university-trained child development specialists. But many parents question the reliability of day care options or simply don't want to deal with the added stress and expense of the day care routine.
Over time, any one of these key factors can shift, causing parents to reevaluate their decisions. Deciding whether to stay home and who should stay home is both an emotional and a financial cost-benefit analysis. There is no single solution to this puzzle; each family must strategize about what works best within the context of its own particular needs and circumstances.
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