Why Even Stay-At-Home Parents Need A Part-Time Job

The question of whether a parent should stay at home full time or work is a delicate one, and depends on the resources and needs of each individual family. Tracy at personal finance blog MoneyNing makes a solid financial case for having the stay-at-home parent work outside of the home at least part-time.

Part of her argument? Jobs aren’t always plentiful, and letting your skills and network become obsolete while parenting full-time will hurt you on re-entry to the job market. She writes:

It’s a tough job market out there. Even if the stay at home spouse had no plans to return to work once the children are in school, things can change if the working spouse is laid off or suffers a disability that makes them unable to work. Divorce and death are two other possibilities that nobody wants to think about but happen all too often.

Even part time work can keep job skills current and allow for networking that could lead to a full time job if the need arises. Having an extra source of income already in place can stretch unemployment benefits and savings if the primary breadwinner loses his or her job.

Extra income and life balance are essential parts of Tracy’s case, too. If you don’t need the money right now, save it for future financial catastrophe, for your retirement, or college.

Three Reasons Stay at Home Parents Should Consider Working Part Time [MoneyNing]


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  1. Magspie says:

    Fine, good advice, but in my experience part-time jobs are extremely hard to find. Especially skilled part-time jobs. Any advice on how to land one of these valuable part-time jobs?

    • ElizabethD says:

      Comment twins!

    • You Can Call Me Al(isa) says:

      Maybe look into a temp agency. Sometimes they need fill-ins for skilled jobs. I, personally, have worked a few 1-10 day jobs before I found a full-time job.

    • EdnasEdibles says:

      I have a few friends who have been able to stay home while doing occasional freelance projects for their previous employer. If you keep the relationship open and leave on a good note, most are happy to have you help out every once in a while. It’s enough to at least keep a few references remembering your name and keep adding samples to the portfolio. My friends that do this work in public relations, marketing or design so it’s a bit easier. But I think there are plenty of ways to be creative about it. A guy I worked with had a wife who was in finance. Every year she does taxes for H&R Block. It’s not great but it’s somewhat connected and she’s making contacts. Another friend does a lot of marketing design work for her daughter’s preschool. Not traditional part-time gigs and not a regular paycheck but it’s enough to keep you current and connected.

  2. ElizabethD says:

    Good luck finding part-time jobs outside the low-paying segments of the food and retail industries these days. At a professional level, they pretty much don’t exist anymore.

    • aloria says:

      Depends on the field. I know a handful of information security consultants who only work on a part-time basis.

      • tiatrack says:

        It’s also really easy to find a part-time nursing job. I work in health reasearch for a large HMO, and we have tons of part-time jobs we can’t fill because people only want full-time.

        • Magspie says:

          That is true. Also accountants. All of the part-time jobs I’ve seen are for nurses or accountants. I’m thinking about trying to get an accounting degree.

    • It'sRexManningDay! says:

      Freelance writing is great if you have the skill set and the contacts to get going. I do this as a second job on a part-time basis; it keeps me in touch with former colleagues at other companies. And if I lost my primary job, the P/T writing could grow into a more full-time gig.

      • ktetch says:

        yeah, works for me too. Although I’ve actually switched fields, from the Robotics/safety ones to internet tech, copyright, & politics

    • lettucefactory says:

      Well, I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it is absolutely true that employers are trying to get more with less. Flexible work arrangements, job sharing, telework rates – these things have all decreased over the past couple of years.

      That said, yes, if you’re in a field like health care, you can absolutely find part-time work. The problem is, if you have the nerve to have a child without having first chosen and been successful at a specific career path that is amenable to part-time work, you find yourself with a child to worry about on your hip and no good part-time options on the horizon, and now it’s too late to fix it.

    • RandomHookup says:

      It really depends on your field and if it’s the kind of work that can be done at home or in off hours. There are a lot of areas that can use freelancers and part-timers because of the huge efforts by companies to cut back on their full-time staff.

      For example:

      * Freelancer graphic designer
      * Recruiter or researcher
      * Software developer
      * IT help desk
      * Phone sales
      * On-call personal assistant
      * Translator

      Of course, these usually require you have some experience in the field already, which is what the article is referring to — keeping up your skills for when you return to the job market. Getting a “job” is a lot harder with kids because of the childcare costs (unless the job involves child care itself).

      • sweaterhogans says:

        Yeah, I’m a web/graphic designer and all I can find are part-time or temp. I find it’s really hard to get a fulltime permanent design position.

    • kjs87 says:

      I see PT for paralegals a lot, and they can pay pretty well, too. You don’t necessarily need a certificate, but I think you do usually need a Bachelor’s.

    • Laura Northrup says:

      Conversely, in my field (I’m a librarian) full-time jobs are a rarity.

    • ElizabethD says:

      Sorry, everyone — you’re right; freelancing part-time is easy if you have the skills and contacts.

      I was thinking only of permanent payroll jobs working for someone else.

  3. rbb says:

    Make sure the stay at home spouse works a job long enough to get the minimum number of quarters needed to collect Social (in)Security benefits. If there is anything left in the system by the time they are eligible, then they will be able to collect a monthly check.

  4. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    One thing is that couples should always discuss this before even getting married, let alone having kids. You have to talk about what you need to do in case life situations change. You don’t want to have a kid, then suddenly realize amid the chaos that each of you has entirely different opinions about being a stay at home parent.

  5. LuckyLady says:

    This article just reinforced the fact that all working people should have long-term disability insurance, and all working people with families to support should have life insurance and long-term disability insurance.

  6. georgi55 says:

    What happened to net worth article?!

  7. MamaBug says:

    Gah….this hits spot on, my oldest starts school next week for the first time and that means I’ll have to find daycare for the youngest…
    but will the money I make (in an unskilled job, no college degree here) offset the costs of daycare, gas, extra car, etc?

    • wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

      Most likely not, especially if you’re in a high-tax state that taxes you the same as your higher-earning spouse.


      This is a good example of why it is a bad idea. Your best bet is to pick a career and get an education in that, then set out into a work force that needs you. Easier said than done, of course.

  8. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    I have 4 kids, and by the time I’m done paying for daycare, extra gas expenses, ETC… there’s no way I could have a job without being broke. It’s cheaper for myself to stay at home with the kids and wait until all are in school before pursuing, and let their father work. (Not to exclude one disabled child with multiple health/physical needs.)

    • Blueberry Scone says:

      No kidding. I have a friend with 3 kids under the age of 5, and I think she plans to return to work after her mat. leave. I have no idea how it’s worthwhile, as what she makes will be within a few dollars of what she’ll have to spend on daycare/after-school care for her kids.

    • Jerry Vandesic says:

      This kind of analysis needs to look at things from a long-term point of view. Even losing money now might allow you to make more when your return full time. Taking a number of years off could limit job opportunities. Don’t think about this year, think about the total over the next 10 or 20 years.

    • arachne says:

      I hope you are carrying disability/life insurance on yourself. Nightmare situation I have seen over and over– stay at home spouse has catastrophic accident/illness/dies. Because stay at home spouse has not kept up Social Security work quarters no financial assistance from Social Security. Working spouse left with care of children and disabled spouse as well as need to support all financially.

      I do not understand why this is rarely planned for by a couple.

  9. dulcinea47 says:

    If you can’t get a part time job, consider relevant volunteer work. I was on a hiring committee at work recently and a couple of the best applicants had not been working full time consistently the past years, but had done a lot of volunteer work, which definitely counted in their favor.

    • kristinabeana says:

      Yup – I am a librarian and there are not a ton of jobs, but there are a fair number of volunteer opportunities available. I would hire someone with a degree and library volunteer experience over someone with just a degree in a heartbeat.

      • dizzy says:

        This is probably not exactly the situation you’re talking about, but that’s how I got my library job that carried me through high school. While classmates were flipping burgers, I was spending 15 hours a week shelving books in what I consider one of my favorite places in the world, because I started volunteering two years before I turned sixteen. When it came time to hire someone (and being a shelver, all the applicants were pretty much inexperienced high school kids) I knew I had it in the bag. Now that I’m an adult with a college degree, I’d still go that route in a heartbeat if I found a situation like that again.

  10. Bakergirl says:

    I don’t have a choice. Both of us have to work in this economy, even with a child. I would’nt mind working part-time but as other commentors have mentioned, it’s hard to achieve. My boss always has me working 30-35 hours a week.

  11. smo0 says:

    I agree – pick up a trade if there are no available jobs.
    I know a lot of stay-at-home-mom’s who do some sort of small business online crafts and what not….
    You can lose touch with what’s going on. I also read an article about people who are unemployed due to the recession are less likely to find a job when things pick back up, especially if you were laid off…. because the future employer will look back at “why weren’t you retainable.”
    It’s horrible, but true.

    Think about it – if you work in a place or department where 5 other people do your job… say they have to cut staffing by half – and you’re one of those people laid off… it will be looked at like “why did they keep them and not you?”

    Losing touch with the current workforce can make your experience as a whole, obsolete.

  12. MissMostlyMittens says:

    Great advise. Also an option for those who refuse to work part time is to volunteer in a capacity that keeps skills sharp. Volunteers with many different areas of expertise are needed and most Charities only require a couple hours commitment each week. Volunteer work can go on a resume and helps prevent resume gaps, too.

  13. chiieddy says:

    Good luck finding a part-time job that will cover the cost of child care while working that job.

  14. Cameraman says:

    My wife has been job hunting since shortly before giving birth. All the jobs she could find- mostly in playgroups- didn’t even cover daycare.

    So she’s opening up a daycare business in our apartment. She just retook a first aid refresher course and bought some toys, a fire extinguisher, and a first aid kit. Parents supply pack-n-plays and food or formula. She’s getting a neighbor who is herself having trouble finding work to partner with her, so she has a fellow adult to talk to during the day.

    We are hoping to cover rent with what she makes, which is great because repaying her student loans is killing us (student loans she took out before we even met, grumble gumble).

  15. momtimestwo says:

    I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom for 10 years, and though what the article says might look good on paper, putting that into practice is different, for me at least.

    My husband has had the same job for 15 years, same hours, 9-5. My youngest starts K this year, my oldest starts grade 5. I have thought about getting a low-key, non stressful part time job somewhere.

    But then what do I do when one of the kids stays home sick from school? Or during school breaks? Summer break? No relatives can take them, they all work. Daycare? My kids have never been in daycare, plus it’s expensive and would use up any money I made part time.

    I would have to work around the kids school and after school schedule, I have to be involved 100% in their education, and part time work just wouldn’t make financial or emotional sense.

    Actually I should say “paid work outside the home” :)

    Now when they are older, that’s different.

    • Pinget says:

      Tell it. That’s my situation too. If they seriously want moms to work, make school more than 36 weeks a year.

  16. wonderkitty now has two dogs says:

    My concern would be child care. Even a sitter can cost hundreds a month, never mind actual day care. Plus, car maintenance on commuting to your part-time job. Usually, that is where a part-time paycheck goes- there is little extra left.

  17. georgi55 says:

    Unless you are racking in over $30 an hour, this only makes sense if you have one child. Once you have the second child any extra money you make is going to daycare and car, gas costs as others have mentioned.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      It really depends on the part time job. If it’s between 20 – 30 hours a week and the employer is flexible, then you can avoid day care entirely.

      I work from Friday – Monday and a few hours on Tuesday and Thursday. If things are hectic at work, I’ll work from home during the week. My wife works from Tuesday – Thursday, with a few extra hours on Monday and Friday (depending on her schedule). I work around 40-50 hours a week and she works 20-30.

      We’re lucky to have flexible employers. Our schedules are hectic and I only get one day off per week but it’s worth it to save the $600/month that daycare would cost us.

  18. mmmsoap says:

    It’s also been shown to be emotionally critical for the parent staying home to get out of the house regularly to spend time with other adults. The benefits of keeping one’s feet wet in the job market, combined with the pride from bringing in extra income has direct benefits to the caregiver’s emotional health, which translates to a more healthy parenting experience as well.

    It’s pretty hard to find skilled part-time jobs, but many people in the same skilled jobs are able to work with their current employer when planning maternity/paternity leave, to return at reduced hours or a part-time schedule.

  19. Incredulous1 says:

    Find me a job that is from 8-3 when the kids are in school, holidays, nights weekends and summers off.

    I had a part time job where I took home a whopping 500 a month and I left for work 1 hour before the kids got out of school.
    In return I had my kids coming home to an empty house, unsupervised time alone, very few family dinners together, no help with homework until late in the evening.
    My boss and the company I worked for treated part timers like dispensable bodies and would tell you that they could replace you in an hour – true.

    I find that after quitting, I have more time to cook cheaper meals and shop cheaper.
    My house is the one where all the kids hang out. I’m able to drive kids places, know who their friends are and what they are doing.

    Would I like a good job – yes. Is it possible to find one – no?
    For the tiny wages most part timers make I’ll stay home and cut every corner we can. It’s not easy, but it makes more sense in out case.

  20. lettucefactory says:

    Even working full-time, the money I take home *barely* covers daycare for my two kids, and gas and insurance for the second car we had to buy. And I have a college degree (though I’m not particularly skilled, unfortunately, so my pay tends to be on the low side for where I live; I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none.)

    Anyway. I’m still glad to be working for many of the reasons this post mentions. But realistically, SAHPs shy away from part-time jobs because they don’t know how to access them. They also don’t know how to find work that at least pays for their childcare expenses. It’s not that they just haven’t considered the concept.

    These sorts of articles are always perfectly targeted to the upper-middle-class SAHP who had a *career.* But if you’ve always only had *jobs,* it’s not at all intuitive to be able to spin those skills into a self-directed part-time job situation AND solve the daunting childcare question at the same time. And when you have more than one child, that question is indeed very daunting.

    • supergeorgina says:

      Exactly! When you’re making paltry “job” money versus “career” money, daycare costs & time spent away from family really make working not seem that worthwhile.

      And I completely agree with a previous poster that said staying at home means saving money on meals & other stuff. When I was working, we spent a ton on food just because it was easier when we were both tired from working.

  21. areaman says:

    Something not mentioned so far… I’ve heard a lot of stay at home parents are dying to talk to another adult by the end of the day.

    Working at Starbucks or whatever could be a good release valve for this.

    • lettucefactory says:

      I’ve known a few who have done this. The child care cost issue remains a concern, but the good thing about a few shifts at SBUX is that you can get evening/weekend hours.

      It’s better than nothing for the sake of interaction, and it actually can get you some good networking opportunities. I’ve worked in coffee shops before, and regular customers will sometimes strike up friendly relationships with baristas. If your friendly regular customer turns out to work at a company you’d really like to be employed at someday, well, that’s networking right there.

      But as far as your resume goes – and I say this as someone who has been in the position of hiring before, as well as a former SAHM who did the return-to-work thing recently – time at SBUX is not really going to help. You really need something relevant to your particular desired line of work to make your resume look better to hiring managers. Better to do relevant volunteer work than paid work at SBUX, from the resume perspective.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Which is why so many become phone sex operators.

    • Cameraman says:

      I mentioned it a little upthread. My wife is opening a daycare operation in our home and taking our neighbor as a partner in order to have another adult to talk to.

  22. mechteach1 says:

    Actually, your concerns are no different from many of us who work full time. When the kids are sick, and you don’t have relatives in town, it’s always a struggle to manage. However, over time, you can build up coping mechanisms.

    You mentioned that your husband has had a steady job for years. It’s likely, then, that he had goodwill from his employer and sick days. While you are first starting out, he can cover some of the sick kid days. Then, when you have been working long enough, if you are so inclined, you can cover the sick kid days. Also, with a fifth grader, that child could actually stay home alone some of the time.

    With your scheduling concerns, you could also look into afterschool care. Our school system offers 2 hours of post-school care for $10/day. (I know that we are very lucky, but are probably not alone in this opportunity!) You could put your kids in that occasionally, if you needed to have slightly later hours.

    Of course, all of this is only relevant if you actually *want* to get a job. If not, then that’s fine, too, of course.

    • mechteach1 says:

      Sigh. This was supposed to be @momtimestwo, above. Sorry, newby poster.

    • Me - now with more humidity says:

      Our school district offers after-school and before-school programs for $100 a month. It’s a great deal.

      That said, part time jobs are few and far between for reasons that have been argued over countless times on Consumerist. The freelance writing/design market has been crushed by Craigslist low-balling. And I’m 50 (although with significant experience and a terrific track record). Learning a trade that requires more education isn’t going to happen — despite the fact that it would be lots of fun — neither of us want to take on school loans at this point in life. Fortunately, my SO has a great job in the defense sector.

      So I’ll be volunteering a lot at school this year, I guess — though I do enjoy it. And continuing to chase contract and consulting gigs (although everyone seems to be a “consultant” these days, and too many shouldn’t be ).

      And the lack of adult conversation thing is soul-sucking, especially since most of our adult friends and fellow dads work all day.

      But life’s good anyway.

    • Me - now with more humidity says:

      BTW, there’s no way in he!! that I’d ever leave a fifth grader home alone, especially when sick.

  23. Kohl's Retail Monkey says:

    I am a retail monkey (customer service now, but I started as a cashier) and I only work when my husband is home. It sucks cause i hardly get to see him and I cant afford a car so I’m stuck home all day, but it gets me out of the house and I make some money.

    • lanigan911 says:

      I am in the same boat, except it’s my wife who works FT, and I’m at IKEA. If I wasn’t there, I don’t know if it would be worth it over the long run. Because I’m there, I am able to cover GOOD benefits for the family, which totally makes it worth it.

  24. jjcraftery says:

    I was a stay at home Mom for 10 years. I still am…..it’s just that last September, I got a part time job, because both kids were finally in school all day.
    I was suddenly faced with the silence and boredom of being home alone all day, every day!
    And after all those years, I was starting to get a bit nutty, actually!!!
    Having nothing else to think about all day except your kids is actually BAD for a person!!!
    Now, having 2-3 days a week I’m FORCED to think about something OTHER than my children, is GREAT!!!!!!! Even days when I’m worried about one of them or whatever, I get to work, and I FORGET my worries, just for those few hours, and I feel SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much better later!
    It helps me step back, and think of the problem or worry in a much more realistic view, instead of the ONLY thing in life, being that problem!
    I can’t explain it.
    All I know, is that I’m feeling soooo much more mentally well these days, thanks to knowing that I have something important to do OUTSIDE of my home.
    And it’s nice, knowing I pay for at least the groceries every week. And getting to feel like I actually bought my husband a Christmas or birthday present with MY money, and not HIS money, is a great feeling too!
    I hate work. Don’t get me wrong! But it really made me feel like a whole person again.
    And I’m not saying stay at home moms aren’t whole people. I believe ALL moms should stay at home, actually! The rewards were more than worth my going a little crazy with cabin fever. Both for the kids and my husband and I.
    But when they hit school, it’s a GREAT feeling to be out with the big girls and boys again!
    Even for just a few hours!
    I don’t make a lot. $9.50 an hour. But it’s something, and it’s MINE. I made it. AND I took care of the kids before and after school. AND I have flexibility to be home when they’re sick or off school, and go to work later….(not every job can be that flexible, I know!)
    So my reasons were not even for the reasons in the article. But yeah, entering the job force again after 10 years WAS extremely scary!!! I was suprised someone even took me seriously!

    • georgi55 says:

      I hope you don’t take this as offensive, but your husband’s paycheck is family’s money, but your paycheck is your money? Wow…I thought we were in 21st century.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        I think she meant that she didn’t have to ask her husband for money HE earned to buy HIM a present, not that she kept all her money.

        She did say she bought the groceries.

  25. mbemom says:

    As a long time stay at home mom who just recently started working part time again, I’m not sure how feasible this advice is. Granted, it would be nice to hedge your bets against death and divorce, if you can. But child care can be tough to find and if one is only working part time, even tougher to pay for. If you have a nice, willing grandma or friendly, non-creepy neighbor who is willing to watch your kids for free for a few hours a week, have at it. But for most people, this just seems unlikely The reason many moms (and yes, I am assuming we are talking moms here) stay home is to take care of their kids because either they want to be the ones doing it or they can’t afford daycare and staying home makes financial sense.

  26. wimom says:

    I agree and am in the same boat. I don’t see a way to work even when all of my kids are in school full time in a few years. My husband makes a lot of money but he works a lot more that the average person. I cannot expect him to take off of work so I can make minimum wage at JC Penney’s or Target. It does not make sense, even though I am pretty tired of being a stay at home Mom. Where are my kids right now? Watching Spongebob since I need a break!

  27. wimom says:

    I agree and am in the same boat. I don’t see a way to work even when all of my kids are in school full time in a few years. My husband makes a lot of money but he works a lot more that the average person. I cannot expect him to take off of work so I can make minimum wage at JC Penney’s or Target. It does not make sense, even though I am pretty tired of being a stay at home Mom. Where are my kids right now? Watching Spongebob since I need a break!

  28. Sanveann says:

    It sounds good on the surface, but as others have pointed out, this isn’t always practical advice for the reasons others have pointed out; it’s hard to find part-time work in many fields, and child care (even part-time child care) is NOT cheap.

    I am very lucky that my employer was amenable to me moving to part time when I had my first baby, and even luckier that they OK’d me working nights, so we didn’t have to pay for sitters or daycare. (I take care of the kids during the day, my husband takes them at night.)

    That said, even though my arrangement works pretty well, and I feel lucky to have it, it’s not perfect by a long shot. I’d like to see my husband more. I barely see my co-workers. (It’s nice to get out of the house, but it’s not like I have a lot of human contact at work.) I take care of the kids all day, and then I work till midnight, so I’m pretty frickin’ tired most of the time. If I were to lose my current job, I doubt I’d be able to find a similar arrangement — “Why, sure! We’ve never met you and we don’t know squat about you, but please feel free to work totally unsupervised!”

  29. NydiaGeben says:

    Money. Go out and make some.

  30. MomInTraining says:

    If you happen to have a post-graduate degree or some kind of technical skills, consider getting a job teaching as an adjunct at a college or university or tech school. Other than the in-class hours every week, it is a really flexible job and pays pretty well. And you are generally not working during school breaks and holidays. There are also teaching gigs with online colleges that pay even better and don’t require you to be in class ever. If you are interested, get your resume to the department chair of the department where you could teach. And follow up. There can be high turnover, so sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time.

  31. lihtox says:

    I was a part-time adjunct professor for several years, including when my daughter was a baby. It was certainly vital to my academic career, but it was also a great excuse to get out of the house and be an adult for a while. If you’ve taken some postgraduate classes then you should be able to find such a teaching gig, though the pay is lousy and the work is hard particularly if you’ve never taught before.

  32. WarMuffin says:

    Remember after WW2 when the men came home and suddenly the women weren’t welcome in the workforce anymore? Well, there was a reason for that.
    All sexism aside, if we were in an economy where we had more jobs than applicants, then advising couples to have 2 jobs per household whether they needed the money or not would be one thing. As the situation stands, it’s a selfish thing to do, and yes, I assure you: my money is where my mouth is. I’m a stay-at-home mom and my husband’s job is being outsourced in a few months. After that, whichever one of us finds a job first works- the other one is houseparent. We can, and intend to, live on 1 income.
    Even if I could FIND a part-time job at this very moment, I’d be morally obligated to tell unemployed friends and family about it first. I can’t face the karma of taking a job from someone I know has needed it for months unless I genuinely need it more, and I don’t. Yet.