Forbes just published a survey that shows that 84% of working women want to stay home with kids . The new job that everyone wants is stay-at-home mom. This makes sense to me. It’s clear that women don’t want to bust through the glass ceiling, or they’d have done it by now. And it’s clear that men are not pulled by kids in nearly the same way women are, because women’s careers tank when they have kids and mens’ careers don’t.

So now that we are acknowledging that women aspire to stay home with kids, the question remains, “What should women do in their twenties to get to that life they want in their thirties?”

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, is famous for telling women don’t quit before you quit. She says women should see if they want to stay home with kids before they start fading out of the their work life. This is great advice for the 16% of women who don’t want to stay home with kids. But for everyone else, it seems very smart to start preparing to shift your work life to accommodate the shift in your identity to becoming a mom.

Here’s how to make that shift work for you:

1. Know your personality type.
Take this personality test. It’s free. And reading your score is like going to a fortune teller. It’ll tell you a lot about what it’s going to be like for you after you have kids.

If you are an INTJ or INTP you are most likely to not want kids. And if you have kids, it won’t be terribly difficult for you to compartmentalize and go to work during the day. If you are an ENTJ, less than 1% of all women, you are so performance-driven that you will likely keep working even after you have kids. For everyone else, it’s likely that you will want to stay home with kids. That’s where we get the 84% of women wanting to stay home.

Sidenote: The personality type that will have the most difficult time managing kids and a career is ENFJ because you are ambitious and also very committed, so you will struggle between commitment to work and commitment to kids and you’ll have a very hard time giving up either or feeling like you ever got it right.

2. Understand that your job performance is ephemeral.
For those of you who will fall into the 84%, understand that the life you have as a high performer at work (or a low performer) is going to end when you have kids. Priorities will change, and it will not matter that you are a high performer because you will not choose to sustain that when you have kids. Work is a place where you get external rewards for being smart and productive and a good team member. You do not get that at home. So you need to figure out how to get what you need in your twenties if you want to stay home in your 30s. Don’t get addicted to people telling you how great you are. You have to give that up to stay home with kids. Kids do not give performance reviews. They give tantrums.

The hardest part about leaving the workforce is not the money. That’s hard the first few months. Over the long haul, the hardest part is that you miss workplace accolades. Your identity as a strong performer at work will fade, because we don’t have a way to rank parenting skills. So be careful to not make top performer an identity that’s hard to give up. The harder it is to give up, the more you will be torn when you feel the urge to stay home with your kids.

Sidenote: Go to yoga. Learn to be with yourself because you like yourself instead of to impress people. Really. I’ve done Ashtanga for 15 years, and the biggest lesson I’ve learned is how to get good at something because it feels good rather than because others believe you’re good.

3. Live below your means.
You know at age 23 if it’s likely that you’ll want to stay home with kids. Which means the minute  you get married you should adjust your spending for one income. This will always keep the door open for you to stay home with kids. The biggest reason that women who want to stay home with kids don’t is because the family has become dependent on the second income. Don’t let that happen.

So living below your means isn’t about frugality and savings. It’s about making sure you’ll feel like you can stay home with your kids.

Ways to get along on one income are living in a small house, living in a low-cost-of-living city, having friends who also live on one income. Because your sense of financial well-being is mostly dependent on you feeling as well off as your friends are.

4. Pick your spouse carefully.
If you want to stay home with kids, don’t marry a guy who can’t earn a living. If you want to stay home with kids, make it clear that even though you earn more than the guy, the guy will be the breadwinner. If you want to stay home with kids then you put all your financial hopes in the guy’s career. Whatever his earning ability is, then that is your earning ability, because you are a team, and he is the breadwinner.

Here’s something about stay-at-home moms: they all want full-time nannies. It’s indulgent, yes. But it’s nice. Really nice. I tell you this to let you know that if you marry rich, staying at home will be easier than if you don’t marry rich. But you already knew that.

Sidenote for women who don’t want kids. If you have even read this far: Even high-earning women want to be with men who earn more than they do.

5. Start freelancing before you have kids.
The best way to stay home with kids and not lose your mind from boredom is to pay someone to take care of your kids while you do freelance work. If you read the Forbes survey of women carefully, you can see that women want some sort of interesting work while they are home with their kids. This is also consistent with Pew Research surveys which find that most women with kids would like to stay home with kids and have some sort of part-time work on the side.

When you think plan remember that you should not plan to do anything more than break-even on this work. This is not moneymaking work. This is work that addresses the fact that you miss the workforce. You’ll miss accolades for a job well done. You’ll miss being paid to be smart. You’ll miss being thought good at what you do. Establishing a freelance career to address those needs is reasonable and do-able.

But you have to start early, before the kids start coming. Because once they’re here, you won’t have time or energy to build up a new business. That is a full-time job and you won’t want a full-time job. Freelancing with the clients you established is a very part time job. And that will make you happy. For every personality type there is a part-time track that will feel fulfilling to you. You just have to find it. Remember to be true to your type if you’re an S you need to be following rules, if you’re an N you need to follow your ideas. Learn your type and pick part-time work that caters to that, rather than striving to earn a lot of money.

6. Accept that you will fall behind.
Women are performing at a higher level at work than men are right now. So, statistically speaking, when you decide to stay home with kids, the people you were better than will start moving ahead of you. It will kill you. Prepare for this. It works best to think of your career as a time in your life. You were a high performer when you did it, but now it’s over. It’s like being the head cheerleader. You were great when you did it, but high school is over and you’re onto the next challenge.

The good news is that for women who hate work, and never find their place to fit in, everyone starts over when they have kids. No one has been a mom before, everyone has a new identity and you have a fresh chance to fit in and do well among the 87% who think staying home with kids is the ultimate job to have.


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  1. JenK
    JenK says:

    I’m not going to get into the whole personality type discussion other than to say that I’m INTJ and I knew for years that I wanted to have kids. I have been staying home with mine for the last couple of years, but only because he had something happen and really needed me.

    Your point about women being bored and needing to do something with their brain is an old canard and way off base. If you manage your kid from a distance, I suppose that would be true, but then why would you have kids and stay home with them? If you learn about child development stages by reading about them and by watching your child go through them (which does not happen ‘by the book’), you will be constantly amazed. If you let your child show you who they are, you will feel luckier than you can imagine. Why would you resign yourself to laundry and house-keeping when you can have a backstage view of the most remarkable show in the world?

    On starting a side business before you quit–absolutely a great idea. It is so hard to get back to work. Having a built-in onramp would be so good!

    Just as you predict, it is absolutely killing me that a guy who was nowhere near as good as me has now sailed past me. Worst of all, he puts up posts that make him sound like the best dad in the world–the few days every couple months his kids are with him. I’m a single mom, without a net. No one takes my kid for a few days, and I certainly don’t have the luxury to pull the all-nighters he does. Makes me so mad, and then he’s “nice” to me on top of it. Ugg!

  2. DaveM
    DaveM says:

    Well. I’m glad that women are finally pushing back against the Superwoman Over-Achiever stereotype. For decades, I’ve been telling my female friends that they’re crazy, working and worrying themselves to death. It’s completely unrealistic, and it makes most men wary. A woman who wants to be perfect in every way, everywhere, every time, is never going to relax. She is never going to be fun, even for a moment. She is never going to have time to even catch a breath, as she races from one impossible to-do item to the next. What kind of life is that?

  3. Morticia
    Morticia says:

    Penelope, I appreciated your observation that if you are an INTJ you probably do not want kids. My husband and I are both INTJ’s – which can be interesting – and we have never wanted children and are perfectly satisfied with that. So good to know this, I have done reading on the personalities of INTJ folks and no one else ever mentioned this. We are coming up on our 30th wedding anniversary, comfortable financially and happy with our lives, LOTS of time for travel and reading and community activities, and spoiling our nieces and nephew.

  4. Brent Jones
    Brent Jones says:

    This is a topic that so few people are talking about. The very idea of a single-income household has almost become laughable with the shift in economic conditions. But it is definitely still possible with the right planning.

    Like most things in life, there are a lot of people in discussion during the aftermath (“I am now 33 and I want to stay home with my kids but did nothing to prepare – how can I work-from-home?”) but precious few people saying, “I am 23 now and in ten years, I’d like to stay home with my kids. What should I do now?”

    Great article.

  5. Tiayra
    Tiayra says:

    Penelope, this is my favorite post you’ve ever made.

    I am 30 years old, an INFJ, and a newlywed who is 8 months pregnant. I moved to Hawaii with my husband a few months before the wedding.. We conceived the baby 6 days after the wedding. I was never able to find work out here prior to or after the pregnancy. What I wanted to do most was to be a Nanny, and take care of children.

    So of course I have decided to be a SAHM, and unschool. We are used to living on one income, because that’s how it was from the day we moved in together out here. My husband is an ESFJ, loves his job, and makes over $70k a year, plus he’s up for a promotion next year.

    I DO miss the positive accolades from working, and even from college. You are so dead on with that. But this is something I want, and I am also writing a memoir.. A solitary act that doesn’t garner me any praise, and I can’t send the work to an agent until it’s finished. Kind of like with a newborn baby. You can’t know if you’re doing a good job until much later, when you see if they turned out OK or not.

  6. Litter Box Guy
    Litter Box Guy says:

    Hey thank you so much for this review. I have been looking for a blog about this. You can really filled me in with some great info. Thanks alot. Will continue reading.

  7. Jo
    Jo says:

    From a 44 year old stay-at-home mom:
    1. Your youthful optimism is wonderful regarding “the glass ceiling”, but the implication that it exists because women haven’t gotten around to smashing it yet is off base. It will disappear soon, but be aware of its origins.
    2. The sentence about “all” stay-at-home moms wanting full-time nannies is incorrect in a most confusing and breathtaking way.

    • Jo
      Jo says:

      3. Yoga is a universal cure-all, I will indulge in that broad brush statement! I’ve practiced eight years now and started teaching it, too. It has been an efficient and effective tool bringing balance to all aspects of me and my life. Namaste’!

  8. Sinnary Sam
    Sinnary Sam says:

    I’m chuckling over the “pick your spouse carefully.” I’ve dated several people back in the day, and no matter what their career and educational goals, I wasn’t able to find “electricity” based on that. I have been lucky though and my husband works very hard so that I can work part time from home and give my children the flexibility they deserve from me. But, I hope it’s that easy for others to find spouses based on love and income.

  9. pjay
    pjay says:

    Why would I want to marry a woman who deliberately wants to put all the financial burdens on my shoulders, and who I will need to support regardless of the survival of our marriage?

    This may have made sense in the past, but it sure doesn’t now.

  10. Seener
    Seener says:

    This post is one of the best things I have read in AGES. I have been humming and hawing about staying home with my 2.5 and 4.5 year old. I am an ENTJ! I am finding it very hard to juggle work and kids. I am making the preparations for quitting and staying home in a few months. We did all the things you suggest in our 20’s and feel very fortunate to be able to do this for a few years.

    I have also decided I will not return to the field of work I am in currently. I will work in another area where the pay isn’t as great, but the hustle bustle isn’t as crazy either… and that will be 3 years down the road.

  11. Erin
    Erin says:

    Perhaps you’ve addressed this somewhere on your blog, I haven’t found it yet, but what are your thoughts on when your kids leave for college and what SAHMs do then? I’m in my 30’s, but I’ve been watching my mother, and all of her friends in their late 50’s, go through divorces as the kids leave for college. They were all living the dream–married to high-earners, “getting to be” SAHMs–and now they are all in their late 50’s, jobless, low/no earning potential, and newly single. My peers say their parents are going through the same thing, divorced after 25+ years, all these upper middle class suburban SAHMs are struggling.
    My mom and her friends all talk about regretting leaving the workforce. They all vary in how they are doing financially based on settlements, but they are BORED–their kids were their lives (which I will say is a lot of pressure on my siblings, friends and I). I am an ENTJ (but my T/F is almost 50/50) and I planned well–finished my PhD and then spent the first year home with my son–though I wanted to poke my eyes out after 4 months and taught/researched 2.5 days/wk. I’m now working full time (as is my husband) and I am a MUCH happier person when being a mom is one of my roles instead of my only role. I am biased (being that I love both working and parenting) but I’ve been hypothesizing that part of my mother’s generation’s unhappiness was because they all just embraced one role–motherhood, and forgot to nurture their other roles. (Anecdotally, my husband and I would only have sex on days I worked–days that I stayed home with my son it would be 50/50 if I showered, I was SO exhausted, and the house was a mess. Days I worked–I looked great, was energized by my time with peers, and the house was clean thanks to the nanny. My son would also welcome me home with infinite hugs, kisses, and stories.) So my belief is that working outside of the home, mostly regardless of the income or days per week, is VERY good for women whereas being a SAHM can be problematic, both in the short- and long-term.

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