I came across an article by U.S. News that left me with all kinds of feels. Unfortunately, the feels fell mostly under the disappointment category. The article’s author dissected the “high cost” of choosing stay-at-home parenting over a long-term career, and because you all know my passion for family preservation/mental health, I thought I’d give my own take on the matter.
U.S. News’ article reminds people—women, in particular—choosing to stay at home and care for children will cost them dearly. The article uses one example of a working woman (making $50,000 per year) who chooses to stay home with her kids for five years. When factoring in salary plus benefits and potential wage growth, the calculation amounts to more than $600,000 in “losses” for the time at home with kiddos. Sounds massive, right?
The reason for my disappointment really comes from the article’s final line: “Kids are awesome, but you have to know there’s going to be sacrifice. You have to be really savvy about making these decisions and really think about the long term.”
Yes, I agree finances should be part of the conversation when considering stay-at-home parenting (and I also acknowledge the financial nature of this U.S. News article, making shortcomings inevitable). But when really thinking long-term about at-home parenting, I hope moms and dads will also highly consider their children’s mental health.
The Brain Effects
A local licensed counselor once told me she worked on a study associated with UCLA that found children of stay-at-home moms experienced less anxiety than children in daycare. Of course, with my love of research, this piqued my interest and began a hunt for more on the topic.
I found one study from The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that revealed continual time in daycare leads to “less harmonious parent-child relations and elevated levels of aggression and noncompliance” in children. In addition, a study from the journal Child Development found increased cortisol levels in children spending their time in out-of-home care. Research also revealed kids who spend more time in child care centers demonstrate high levels of problem behavior. (Child Development, 2003; Child Development, 2007)
Jay Belsky, a child development researcher at London’s Birbeck College, told Psychology Today that these “aggressive” children spending large amounts of time in child care were more than just slightly defiant—their behavior was close to the threshold requiring therapy. Belsky also mentioned psychologists are sweeping this information under the rug, as the developmental psychology field is “monopolized by women with a ‘liberal progressive feminist’ bias.” Interesting.
While not directly related to mental health, studies also show educational benefits in children of stay-at-home parents. Research conducted in Norway found children with an at-home parent experienced increased school performance into their high school years. Even further, studies have found homeschooled children (those whose parents lead their education at home) typically score 15 to 30 percentile points higher than public school children on standardized tests. Homeschoolers also tend to score above average on SAT and ACT tests.
Thinking Beyond Finances
My intention in sharing these studies does not involve provoking mom-guilt or shaming women in the workplace. Some are called to work outside the home and they genuinely want to do so; some cannot afford to stay at home with kids for financial reasons. I get that. However, I hope the conversation goes far beyond the “huge financial sacrifice” argued by U.S. News and other media/cultural sources.
How do you place a monetary value on more harmonious parent-child relationships, fewer aggression and behavioral issues, lower stress levels in children, plus increased educational benefits? How much would you pay for your child to potentially achieve higher grades, live a less stressful life and avoid therapy for behavioral issues?
Considering these long-term effects is equally important (or, I’d argue, even more important) when evaluating stay-at-home parenting. Let’s move beyond thinking, “kids are awesome, but I’m not about to lose out on [an estimated] $600,000.” I hope at-home parents see the potential mental, physical, educational, relational and spiritual benefits for their kids and can think, “Yep, it’s worth every single penny.”
One Final Thought
I want to add that God will provide for families, whether parents work part- or full-time, or if they choose to stay at home. He promises this. I’ve heard amazing “God stories” of four-children families living off of one teacher’s salary while the mom homeschools, and equally amazing stories of single moms working full-time to support three rambunctious boys. God comes through for both. We can take comfort knowing God always carries us, gently leading those who have young. (Isaiah 40:11)
Peace and blessings,
Kat, (semi-professional) insomniac