The Career Impact of Becoming a Stay at Home Parent

by TTMK on August 26, 2013 · 7 comments

To work, or not work.  That is the question.

Well, not for me anyway.  I’m not going to be a stay at home dad, though I respect those who make that choice in a society that doesn’t always approve.  Try to make money, that’s the path I’ve been on and will be taking.

There are a number of people out there, however, who have most definitely made the choice to leave the workforce and be stay-at-home parents.  Usually, but not always, these are moms rather than dads.  Many of these people are highly educated, skilled, talented people who willingly choose to give up a career to take on another role.

Some people want to be at home to take care of the family, as they genuinely think the household will run better with someone at home.  Usually, from my experience, this seems to revolve around the lives of children – which makes complete sense to me.  In some cases, it’s for the individual’s desire for that type of lifestyle and not totally for the need of others.  In yet other cases, it may be due to other reasons – perhaps their own health, need to take care of an elder, etc.  But ultimately, the common theme here is that these are individuals who can work and have been doing so, but voluntarily quit to do other things at home.

A funny thing happens, though. Some of these people want back in, later in life.  An interesting, lengthy New York Times article discusses the concept of how some women who have opted out of the workforce try to get back in a number of years later.  Interestingly, it appears that things don’t always go the way they want them to.

After being out of the workforce for many years, many people find it shocking how they simply can’t find a job comparable to what they had before.  If they happen to land one, it might be for a lot less money and responsibility.

I think this is something that many people, female or male, should accept before making a decision to give up a career.  Not that it’s a guaranteed bad move to do so, as it probably works well for many families.  But the reality is that employers do not care about how a person managed a home, volunteered at PTA meetings, and so on.  As noble as those sorts of activities are – and beneficial to the overall quality of a family’s life – the value doesn’t translate over into the workforce.

The longer a person is out of work, the harder it can be to get back in.  Additionally, the more out of date one’s skills and market knowledge can get.  Whether one is voluntarily taking on a non-employed role with the family like a stay at home parent, or involuntarily unemployed, employment gaps can and do impact one’s career.

One way to re-enter the workforce is to consider a work-from-home job. Most industries now allow some employees to work from their own homes, as advancements in technology have made it possible. Even the medical field, which is generally a very hands-on environment, has work-from-home positions available. Those with a BSN degree can become a telehealth RN. Those who hold this position can work at home while monitoring their patients via telephone and a remote monitoring system. Other work-from-home careers include medical writer, medical transcriptionist, medical coder, home-based radiologist, and even home-based physician.

The article is an interesting if long read, but the bigger thing in my opinion is that people make such decisions with the knowledge of what it means.  While often times there is a lot of emotion involved, the cold realism of things should be remembered too when choosing to exit the workforce.  We generally can’t have something for nothing in life, and leaving he workforce to be a stay at home parent means that we trade-off career prospects.  Not entirely at all times of course, but there is no doubt a price to be paid.

As a parent of two young kids, I think of such things in the context of how the world is today and how things are trending in the future.  I especially consider these things in light of having a daughter.

My Questions for You

What do you think of the notion that actions have consequences, and a career price will be paid for exiting the work force to become a stay at home parent?

In what cases – if any – would you be willing to take on such risks to leave the workforce?

Are you, or anyone you know, a stay at home parent? If so can you share how you came to the decision to do so?


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle August 26, 2013 at 11:21 am

I would like to be a work-at-home mom, so this doesn’t exactly apply to me. However, I’m sure that since I am completely switching my field that it will affect my life though. If I leave the finance world, it would most likely be very hard for me to get back in unless I started from the very bottom again.


TTMK August 28, 2013 at 7:46 pm

That’s great that you’re already looking at this with eyes wide open!


AverageJoe August 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm

I’ve been a stay-at-home dad to some degree since I sold my business. If I went into the workforce again (outside of self-employment), I’d completely expect a degradation of my salary based on my time away. How can an employer think that someone out of the workforce has kept up-to-date with the world while they were gone?


TTMK August 28, 2013 at 7:44 pm

Agreed, they can’t. Usually, my guess is they don’t. It’s the person going back to work that doesn’t realize it!


Edward Antrobus August 27, 2013 at 7:05 am

I think that taking time off to raise a family would work best if you worked in an industry with a relatively flat structure, like teaching. I remember my gym teacher senior year had been a young teacher when my parents were in high school, but then left to raise her family. Once her kids got to school age, she went back to work and had no trouble getting back into it, getting her old salary back, or rising to the head of the phys. ed. department over time.


TTMK August 28, 2013 at 7:43 pm

That makes sense Edward. Solves the problem of worrying about levels, and overpaying people from the employer side


Andrew@LivingRichCheaply August 31, 2013 at 10:37 am

My wife originally was going to stay home with our newborn for a year or so, but she always wanted to go back to work. She is a preschool teacher…so I think it is easier for her to return after staying home. Another reason why it made sense to stay home was that she worked until 6pm and got home at 7…and the pay was low. However, recently she got a call about a civil service job (she took the exam years ago), they hired her and she will start working. The benefits are great and the hours/commute are good also.


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