How and When to Determine Who Should Care for the Children

by TTMK on January 6, 2014 · 15 comments

deciding_who_should_take_care_of_the_kidsThere’s a lot of planning and talking that should happen before a couple gets married.  How do each of you handle money?  How do you feel about debt?  Who’s a saver and who’s a spender?  What area of the country do you want to live in?  How many kids do you want to have?

Another issue, if you plan to have kids, is whether one person will stay home with the children or if you’ll both continue to work.  I believe this issue is not discussed frequently, especially since some couples are nervous about having kids and take a wait-and-see-how-we-feel-5-years-from-now attitude.  If you’re not even sure you’re going to have kids, how can you be sure who’ll take primary care of the child?

When You Don’t Plan for a Child

For instance, my friend, Jessica, took this approach when she got married.  She and her husband were married for eight years before they decided they’d like a child.  They both planned to continue with their careers, but when Jessica was off on maternity leave, she really enjoyed staying home with the baby.  Still, when her leave was up, she put the baby in day care, but the baby was miserable and cried non-stop.  Luckily, Jessica’s mother was retired and agreed to live with them and care for the baby for the year.  However, Jessica went on to have another child and quit her job and was a stay at home mom for four years, until her youngest went to school.

Even if Jessica and her husband had discussed who would stay home with the baby, chances are what they actually did was much different than what they might have hypothetically discussed eight or nine years prior, before a baby entered the scene.

Until you have a child, you often don’t know how you’ll feel about caring for one.  Many people think they’ll continue with their careers, but then after the baby comes, they don’t want to put the baby in day care.

You Know You’ll Have Kids, But. . .

Some couples do know before they’re married that they plan to have kids, and they may even have strong opinions about who will stay home.  However, they should still remain flexible because life doesn’t always go as smoothly as planned.

For instance, my husband and I planned to have two or three kids, and I wanted to stay home with them.  When we had our first child 3.5 years after getting married, I wanted to stay home with him as planned, but I couldn’t.  I was the primary breadwinner at the time, and my husband was a graduate student with a small teaching stipend.  There’s no way we could have survived on his income alone.

My husband ended up staying home with our son the first two years (until I felt comfortable putting him in day care), and my husband only took a half load of classes during that time.

While my husband didn’t mind staying home, he didn’t want to do it forever, so we didn’t have our second child until 4.5 years later, when I was sure I could stay home and my husband could work full-time, as we had planned.

Juggling the needs of a family can often be one of the toughest parts of being married, especially since the life you plan for is not always the life you get.

My Question for You

If you’re married with kids, before you got married, did you and your spouse discuss who would care for the children?  Did your plan turn into reality, or did you have to change your plans?

If you’re not married, will you discuss this before marriage, or will you simply wait to see what the future brings?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick @ Step Away from the Mall January 6, 2014 at 9:15 am

My wife and I discussed it a bit. She really wanted to be a SAHM so we made sure it happened. And it has. We adjust as we go, but she’s home with the kids still – 4yo and 2yo.B7DW

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TTMK January 8, 2014 at 4:30 pm

Sounds like good teamwork there!

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Emily @ evolvingPF January 6, 2014 at 1:21 pm

We tried to hash this out in premarital counseling but we are still trying to keep an open mind. My husband feels very strongly about both of us continuing to work after we have children, and that is my preference as well. However, I know how fogged out and miserable I get with sleep deprivation, so I’m trying to acknowledge that working FT outside the home with a baby might not be the best thing for me, but I won’t know until the situation comes about. We are not considering my husband staying home, though aware of that possibility.

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TTMK January 8, 2014 at 4:30 pm

That’s great that you made the attempt to at least discuss it prior to marriage. Even if you still aren’t certain of which path you guys will take, at least you have had discussions and an understanding of each other’s viewpoints.

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Money Beagle January 6, 2014 at 2:35 pm

We had discussed this and planned this before we were married. It was very important because that made us budget properly when we were searching for our house. Had we not had that conversation, we could have potentially bought a house that would have cost more, which would have compromised the goals we had set forth.

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TTMK January 8, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Well done, MB! I know of a couple who didn’t quite have this detailed discussion, then the wife wanted to quit after having a child. They just bought a home not too long before that, based on 2 incomes (and hers was a high income too). Ultimately, she felt the urge to quit working and hadn’t planned on this possibility before. The consequence was that they ended up foreclosing on their house. Preplanning like you guys did is the opposite and better approach!

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jim January 6, 2014 at 5:22 pm

My wife wanted to be a stay at home mom when we had little ones. However, she was relatively fresh out of law school and with the amount of student debt we had, her staying home wasn’t a realistic option. It’s something I throw out there for consideration because it didn’t dawn on us (until after the fact) that incurring huge amounts of student loans may well prevent you from realizing other dreams – like being a stay at home parent. How and why it never dawned on us before that escapes me, but that’s the truth.

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TTMK January 8, 2014 at 4:25 pm

I’ve heard of this happening before. It does make one wonder why we don’t think of such things before taking on debt, only to see that we aren’t using the education. You guys aren’t alone, that’s for sure! Thanks for the candor.

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Michelle @fitisthenewpoor January 7, 2014 at 10:02 am

Kids are about 2 years out for us. Our tentative plan is that I am working hard to find a stay-at-home work position or a freelance base. If neither of those things happen, I will go to working part time and we will use my part time income to pay for child care.

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TTMK January 8, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Here’s a question – would most of the part-time income be used for child care? In that case, it might be like working for free. Just a thought.

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Michael | The Student Loan Sherpa January 7, 2014 at 3:34 pm

I’m not married and I don’t have any kids, but I get the impression that there really is no way to prepare for having kids. I think my approach would be to try and plan as much as possible, but being open to the possibility that plans may change quickly.

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TTMK January 8, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I think you’re right that plans can change quickly. That being said, often times it seems like many changes might be through lack of thinking things through ahead of time. To the extent people can do that, the better off they’ll be. But I agree that flexibility is important – and preparing for flexibility is really where it’s at…

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SuburbanFinance January 8, 2014 at 10:55 pm

My fiance has the less stable job, with less potential for growth and movement, so he would be the one to stay home, but I don’t think either of us have ever envisioned ourselves giving up careers for kids. We want kids, but we also want to have fulfilling careers.

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eemusings January 14, 2014 at 8:13 pm

I think my husband would be the better SAHP as I have zero experience with children and he’s also the better cook (though don’t ask him to clean). That said, he’s just started in a new line of work that could be very lucrative, and my industry is much more flexible… We’ll have to work it out depending on our situation when we get to that stage. His mother is raising some of her grandchildren and I wonder if she would be willing to help out with ours when the time comes.

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TTMK January 16, 2014 at 10:05 am

Great example of how there are different factors to be considered in each couple’s situation. Income, flexibility, and caretaking ability all need to be balanced in a way that works for you both.

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