Three cheers for women who say they don’t want to work. At least they’re honest.

One of my favorite twitter feeds is GSElevator. It’s stuff people overhear in the Goldman Sachs elevator, and most of it features bad behavior that confirms it was better for me to marry a farmer than the bankers I dated before him. But sometimes there is a gem like this one:  “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence because it’s fertilized with bullshit.”

That is how I feel about women watching other women run their lives.

I am constantly wondering about other peoples’ lives. I’m fascinated by how we don’t tell each other what sucks about our life. We don’t tell our partners why we hate ourselves. We don’t tell our friends why our marriage or our job sucks.

Mostly, I have to get this information from the National Enquirer, which is one of the only places that people are honest about their lives. Not out of choice, of course. But because the honesty is worth so much money. It’s not worth money to anyone if you tell the truth. It’s worth a lot to you, of course—it’s very freeing to be honest about everything. Believe me, the criticism I got for staying with my husband after he bruised me in a fight was a small price to pay for coming clean about our problems at the time.

So here are some things I know: Giselle says she earns millions of dollars a year (posing for photos like the one up top to promote breastfeeding) but she doesn’t spend any of her earnings on her household. Instead, her husband,Tom Brady, pays for everything because Giselle wants to feel taken care of.

I get it. And I like that she admits that. Most women want to be taken care of. It’s just not possible. I want to be taken care of. Sure, I’d still do this blog and I’d still do interesting things. But I’d like having money pouring in from a source that is not me. It’s the ultimate career luxury, right?

Here’s another thing I read in the Enquirer: Jennifer Lawrence said she is getting ready to stop doing movies so she can have kids. She said she’s much more interested in having a family than a career. This is, of course, a luxury she can have because she had a career early. She’s 23 years old and she already won an Oscar.

And she’s not an aberration in Hollywood. Mila Kunis said she’d rather have a great marriage and a couple of kids than make a movie. I love how she poses it as a dichotomy. Because she’s just being honest: You can’t have a great marriage and be a great parent and have a huge career.

You know that. It’s just very few people will come out and say that to you.

Some people will tell you that such an admission is a throwback to the 1950s and it’s discouraging. That’s true.

Except for one thing: divorce law protects women today. In the 1950s, if you allowed a guy to take care of you, if you put your career aside for kids, then there was no protection for you. So women went nuts – fighting for rights, fighting for jobs, fighting for an equal right to a piece of the pie. But now women are guaranteed money to raise the kids, whether the guy stays or not.

So now that we have laws that protect kids, why do we need to choose a job over family? We can get a divorce settlement that ensures we have money. Okay, so it’s not a ton of money, but if you didn’t want to work when you were married, you probably don’t want to work when you’re single with kids, and divorce law ensures that you can pay for your kids while you’re single. (And now, for the best link ever on this topic:  YungSnuggie’s comment about women being assured money for raising the kids. Scroll down the page – his comment is yellow.)

I know, there are exceptions. But most women want to cut back work to be home with kids. And most women want to put family before career. But very few women are brave enough to say that out loud.

Maybe the biggest problem in this scenario is that while cutting back work to spend time with kids presupposes you have a career you like. Which is pretty hard to pull together by your late 20s, when it’s time to start having kids. The pressure on women to have a big career before kids is extreme and something men do not experience. Most women want to have kids when they are 30, most women want to have a career when they are 30, and if they don’t have a career, they don’t have one to cut back on.

Which means there are a lot of women who simply don’t want to work. They have either proven themselves at work, or they didn’t find work they love. In either case, work is not important enough pull to them to leave the kids in daycare.

Let’s stop taking pot shots at women who don’t want to work. Let’s start respecting people who get an advanced degree and then don’t use it.

Do we ask people to commit to staying home eight hours a day with kids to justify having a family? Then why do we want people to work eight hours outside the home in order to justify getting a good education?

What I would like is for all the women to come out of the woodwork and start speaking like they are in the National Enquirer. I want the women who are breadwinners to confess if they wish they weren’t. Because every anonymous study in the world shows the vast majority  don’t want to be breadwinners.

And I want the women who love being breadwinners to tell everyone some statistics:

Number of nannies.

Total cost per year for childcare.

Number of dinners per week with the kids.

Number of children’s books you have memorized from reading aloud to kids so often.

So I will lead the way. When I had a startup and two young kids in 2009 I had two full-time nannies that cost a total of $110K a year. Anyone needs that if they have a job where they travel and they have a spouse who does not want to be at their beck and call.

I ate four times a week with my kids.

I memorized about 50 children’s books. Which you might think shows that I was snuggled on the sofa reading with my kids all the time, but it really shows how easy it is to give misleading statistics.

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  1. brooklynchick
    brooklynchick says:

    I have to admit, I am much more likely to take potshots at women who get their advanced degree, don’t use it, stay home, and THEN employ nannies so really they aren’t working NOR are they raising kids. Pick one. Otherwise you are an over-educated lady who lunches.

    Also, while I’m admitting stuff, I also don’t understand what you do when you stay home and your kids are in full-time school. 9-3 every day, what are you doing with that time? Again, that seems…wasteful.

    • Jake
      Jake says:

      Once all of our children were in full time school; my wife started doing some independent contractor work for a few hours every day. The other hours were spent either volunteering or doing errands/chores.

    • Claudia
      Claudia says:

      I run errands, make healthy food from scratch (we rarely have any fast food), volunteer, cultivate my mind studying things, write in my blog. Get up at 5.30 with my husband. No time for TV. My day ends around 5pm when my husband comes back home and we spend quality time together. Twice a week we become chauffeurs driving his daughters to different organized activities their mother makes them do “for fun” (no accountability). Every other weekend his kids visit and life must revolve around them so I can’t do anything around the house and when they leave, I must clean everything as they’re not the tidiest kids.

      For the record, I used to wonder the same things you do.

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      9 – 3 is very little time. You are cleaning your house, cooking dinner, doing laundry, maybe hitting the gym, going to the grocery store, running errands, managing your children’s lives. I have not been a stay at home mom but I have worked part time for a period of time and there was plenty to manage. Now that I work full time, so many things fall apart. Paperwork, fixing things around the house, cooking (hah!), you should have seen how bad my hair looked over the holidays because I just never made it to get a cut. The weekends become all about spending time on marriage & child rearing. Deep cleaning is not a weekend priority for me. Neither is fixing the long punchlist of handywork I need done to maintain my house. Mowing the lawn has been outsourced.

      • Lucy Chen
        Lucy Chen says:

        It seems we need what Giselle has in the photo, not that extreme, but still, we need to delegate more.
        As I settle down to my new home, I’ll look into employing a part-time cleaner, and in the longer term, a cook.
        I don’t mind spending all my current income on these, because if I don’t, I won’t have to time to make art, which means I will fall apart mentally, and I won’t grow my art business.

        • elizabeth
          elizabeth says:

          see I love this you have set your priorities and despite what anyone else thinks it works-as woman we dont need anyone else judging us-we are quite good at doing that to ourselves

        • Rachel C
          Rachel C says:

          I agree with this 100%. My first personal marker of “success” in my business is when I will be able to hire a housekeeper to clean. I happily delegate the things I don’t love and am terrible at anyway. I don’t need many things. Just the ability and time to focus on the things that I enjoy.

    • Alexis
      Alexis says:

      9-3 may “sound” like a huge swath of free time. Don’t be fooled by this. It may be one of the greatest lie of parenthood – you’ll have time when they go to school. Because no…no you won’t.

      For starters, when your kids enter grade school they are sick. Like constantly sick. Or they have a vacation day. Seriously, sometimes it feels like they’re hardly at school ever.

      Then there are the endless requests to help out at school – volunteer in the classroom, PTO activities, making lunch for teacher appreciation day, etc. It’s a whirling vortex of time suckage.

      Then, if your kids are like my kids, they’re desperate for playtime after school so the last thing I want to do is schlep them around running errands. Which means I do pretty much everything – oil changes, groceries, pay bills, etc. while they’re at school.

      Throw in going for a run here and there, doing some side projects here and there and booya – time=gone.

      • Angela
        Angela says:

        Alexis, thank you. Every word you said is true. It is a lie to think that those of us who are SAHM with kids in school waste the hours between 9-3. Besides all the duties you listed, with a 15 and 11 year old, I am NEEDED now more than ever. If I am not 100% present and alert, God only knows what my kids would be getting into and with whom they would be doing it.

    • D.S.
      D.S. says:

      One thing that fills in that time is the girl scout leader, PTA fundraiser organizer, baking for the bake sale, carting my kids around (cuz I will be working full time still) with their kids to soccer, or Wednesday church or fill in the blank.

      Stay at home moms and dads fill in the gaps for working parents in the PTA, school planning, fundraising and general watching out for the kids.

      As others have mentioned the school day from 9-3 allows them time to take care of the mundane tasks of housecleaning, repairs and oil changes and grocery getting while the rest of the family is out being kids or breadwinners. If they are doing it right they get around to stuff like deep cleaning, washing windows, dusting windowsills, cleaning dead bugs out of light fixtures etc, the kind of stuff we almost NEVER do as a two parent working household.

    • Help4NewMoms
      Help4NewMoms says:

      You are doing everything you did before the kids were in school but without a kid up your butt while you are doing it. Except, of course, if they are sick or have a doctor’s appt (that includes pediatrician, eye doctor, dermatologist, and/or dentist)

      • mh
        mh says:

        …orthodontist, asthma specialist, allergist, any type of remedial learning speciailist, any type of OT or PT…

        Home school is way easier.

    • Lauren
      Lauren says:

      You can be raising kids and still have nannies. That’s like saying a man who has an assistant isn’t working.

      It’s a big job and we should stop giving women crap for doing it differently than we think they should.

      • Help4NewMoms
        Help4NewMoms says:

        Excellent point! I often commented to my husband that I wanted a staff, too, while I was a SAHM. Eventually, I went out and got one! I do not know who brainwashed today’s generation of Moms that if they decided to stay at home they have to do everything and like it all the time, too.

    • Vanessa
      Vanessa says:

      It’s more like 9:15-2:30 if you want to be the one to pick your kids up from school. For the one month my homeschooled kids decided to try school I was surprised by how much time school took out of our day. The pick up process take half an hour. I couldn’t get to the market or started on errands until 9:30 after dropping them off (and walking my youngest in, after signing in at the front and signing out). So that leaves 5 hours and 15 minutes. I did get to more yoga classes that month than I ever get to homeschooling, but I also felt the need to volunteer in both kids’ classes (the teachers constantly email requests and sign-ups for parents to fill). I grouped both on the same day so on Thursdays I was working at the school 3 hours in the middle of the day (they both needed me mid-day). So that left an hour in the am after drop off and an hour at the end of the day after volunteering. Not much time to work a paying job on Thursdays…Wed is early release at the school, so they go from 9-2, which again leaves the hours from 9:15-1:30 to work. The time filled up pretty quickly running errands (and an hr of yoga) because my kids were tired after school and had homework to do, so taking them after hours would be cruel.
      Don’t forget play dates! Afterschool activities/homework/play dates take a lot of time, even doing only one of these per weekday.
      This means that I could get a job M/T/F from 9:15-2:30, and W 9:15-1:30.
      I definitely knew families at the school where the parents both worked but those kids sat in long lines after a full day of school waiting for their bus number to be called. And some faced a 1.5 hour bus ride before AND after school even though they lived within 2 miles of the school. Not what we want for our kids.

    • elizabeth
      elizabeth says:

      I dont know I just think if women started being kinder to women the world would be a better place….what is wrong with being educated and not working and having a nanny-if a person choses to become educated and not work what difference does it make? I mean any kind of an education is never a waste in my opinion-and what do people do all day-clean, cook, or not anything and you know what more power to people choosing to do what is right and comfortable for them despite what anyone else things-I think that thought process comes with age-as does kindness as you never know anyones journey;)

    • Morgan
      Morgan says:

      What’s wrong with being an over educated lady who lunches? If your husband can afford to pay for help and for you to be frivolous, why not??

    • Mina
      Mina says:

      So that a woman has options. In case the spouse becomes a total jerk, in case the spouse gets laid off, in case the spouse has serious medical issues, in case the spouse trades you in for a newer model. In case you need to walk away. Advanced degrees arm a woman with real options in this unpredictable world. Always great to NOT have to cash in all our options. Always nice to have options.

    • Heidi
      Heidi says:

      in defense of women who ‘do not work’ AND ‘have a nanny’ ( my mother was one) – although from the outside it might seem quite indulgent sometimes it is necessary. With 4 kids and a husband who had a full social calendar ( part of his job) , she has to return various social calls and made sure the house was in order for social engagements. This means it was necessary to have a nanny. And having a nanny does not lessen her worth as a mother – it just gave her more time to become a less stressed. less harassed wife and mother.

  2. ColumbiaGrad
    ColumbiaGrad says:

    Great post, Penelope. I am a highly educated, underemployed part-timer who gave up a “career” to be a stay-at-home parent. I love being a mom, I love spending time with my amazing children, and work is just something I do for a few days a week now that my children are school aged. I am often questioned by friends and colleagues why I’m not pursuing the corner office. I have no qualms with saying that being a mom is my true vocation. Ironically, every time I consider walking away from my part-time job, they offer me more money to work less. Hmm, maybe there is something to be said for honesty (as long as you are an efficient, exceptional employee). Sorry, but 2 nannies and 4 family meals a week just isn’t that appealing.

    • elizabeth
      elizabeth says:

      See this is great-reading this I dont think you gave up anything-you choose what was most important and you are happy-I think as woman we always think, like Penelope says, the grass is always greener-I think it is so awesome that some woman are able to have a big career and children and decide which is best for them to focus on-those woman are the really lucky ones-otherwise I think you always question yourself-should I have had kids or stayed home with them or should I have gone to law school-could I have been a partner…. I say enjoy your journey and know that you create your own-

  3. Kimberly Santini
    Kimberly Santini says:

    Penelope, I am going to take issue with your concept of a career. Because I do think it’s possible to balance both quality family time AND quality work time. The key word here is balance. There has to be compromises on both ends.

    I left the traditional workforce to be a stay at home Mom for my three kids. I built my own small business from home (I am an artist, a painter, but previously worked in customer support, building and managing technical help desks) while the youngest two were a baby and toddler. All three are now teenagers and my business continues to do well.

    I’m happy with my current scale, even though my income is far lower than when I was employed by someone else. The issue for me is quality of life. I find satisfaction in parenting, am able to be involved in my community and their lives at the level I wish, and have a career that is fulfilling.

    I do not make big bucks now (I was on track for that in my early 30s), but after we started our family that goal of a big paycheck seemed empty. We realized there was a side of enjoying and savoring life and relationships that money can’t buy and were able to scale down our lifestyle to accommodate this shift.

    And I adore my current self employment – I’m the meanest most demanding boss in the world, but there is nothing more satisfying (as you well know) as bringing your own vision to fruition. I love getting a paycheck because it is earned independently and from something I’ve created out of nothing. My income pays for music lessons (I have a son studying symphonic performance), dance (a daughter who wants to be a professional dancer), voice lessons and other activities my kids wish to pursue. And my kids know that they have these opportunities in their lives because their parents work hard to make them happen.

    Perhaps that’s the sort of honesty you are embracing in your article, perhaps it’s another reality altogether – modifying our career path mid-life to accommodate priority shifts. Saying it’s ok to settle for something that fills our heart instead of our bank accounts.

    But in answer to your questions – I never hired a nanny, rarely hired babysitters (traded kids often with friends and neighbors, though), sent my kids to a Montessori preschool ($4000/year), have family dinners at least 5 nites a week (and we cook the meals together – it used to be 7, but with their increased activities they are often not home at meal time) and I couldn’t tell you how many books were memorized but we can each randomly recite lines/phrases from our favorites as part of everyday conversation.

    I have no regrets. Other than buying a house in the midwest that doesn’t have a fireplace, but that’s a separate topic altogether!

    Thanks for always posting blogs that make me think – and for giving me the opportunity to speak up! Kim

    • Karen
      Karen says:

      Careers where you have control over your time allow for balance. Many careers do not. Working from home is not an option in so many careers. I say all this respectfully. Control over your time is a luxury. My boss wants “face time” and has said even in this improved economy, not showing up could lead to a layoff. Even high paying careers like the law (which P Trunk has pointed out so many times) don’t allow for “control over your time.” I used to really believe in the word “balance” but I don’t anymore. You know who used to sell “balance”? Oprah. Never had kids (and said they wouldn’t have gotten the time they deserved) and never got married. I’m thrilled for you and so happy that you are happy in your life and satisfied. I also understand what you mean about the chase of a paycheck feeling empty. But in my case, the paycheck in necessary.

      • julia
        julia says:

        You missed the point. The definition of career and career success that Penelope describes is so narrow. Redefine success into terms that actually work for your life, that actually allow you to feel that you are succeeding at your life. Paychecks are necessary, but there are infinite ways to get them.

  4. Kristine
    Kristine says:

    Good, provocative post.

    I don’t know that I agree with the contention about divorce law protecting women.

    In my experience this statement : “divorce law ensures that you can pay for your kids while you’re single” could not be further from the truth.

    State law varies widely and, being in the South, I am probably privy to some of the less progressive divorce situations so maybe my perspective is skewed.

    But blessings on those for whom that statement is true!

    • Josh
      Josh says:

      Yeah, “divorce law ensures that you can pay for your kids while you’re single” is a pretty aggressively uninformed claim. Single mothers can face numerous problems collecting their child support — I have one friend whose ex lives overseas and just doesn’t pay (U.S. divorce law is no help there!), and another whose ex’s employer routinely forgets to deduct payments from his paychecks (all the child support agency can do is call them, after a certain number of payments have been missed). Here in Wisconsin, budget cuts have left county child support agencies so understaffed that they can’t even answer the phones. And even if you do collect your child support without any hassle, a lot of women are looking at, like, a few hundred dollars a month, especially if they got married and divorced pretty young, when both partners weren’t making much.

      Anyway, just a bizarrely unsupported thing for Penelope to say and not even necessary for her to make her larger argument.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        First of all, if you marry a breadwinner then presumably they will earn money for the next 20 years, so you can collect money from them. If you marry someone who is not upstanding, or is earning money under the table, then if you try to collect child support form them you won’t be able to.

        I mean, at some point you have to just be careful to only have kids with people you can collect child support from, right? You have a choice about that when you decide to have kids in general. So much of this is about choices.

        And some is about luck, and it has nothing to do with being a stay-at-home spouse or not:

        There are no sure bets in careers. Choosing to be a mother and wife is not a sure bet just as choosing to be a marketing executive is not a sure bet. There are tons of 40-year-old unemployable fired marketing executives just like there are tons of 40-year-old unemployable divorced wives. No one gets a sure bet career. It’s not a special problem for housewives.


    • Felicia
      Felicia says:

      Yes, “divorce law protecting women” seems like a broad statement that could use more research if you are going to state that in a blog like this. In my personal experience as a single mother who co-parented two children and observing the experiences of others in similar situations, this is simply not black and white or true, and I think it would be much more helpful to your readers if you provided more research and information so that people going down this path would have more accurate information. Divorce can be like a death in the family, and in my experience the emotional and economic impact can be huge and far-reaching.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        When you get a divorce you do not maintain the same lifestyle that you had when you were married. Obviously. But most people who are divorced from a breadwinner are getting a percentage of the breadwinner’s income to raise the kids. So the kids aren’t starving.

        This is an issue of standard of living. If you get a divorce, your standard of living goes down. But that’s not an argument to running a family as if there will likely be a divorce and you should plan for it.

        If you are going to run your family like you’re planning for a divorce then why get married in the first place?


      • Morgan
        Morgan says:

        One of my closest girlfriends is a SAHM. She knew before she got married that she would never want to work so she asked her husband for a prenuptial agreement stating that she would get to keep the house and family car in case of divorce, he would pay for all household utilities and expenses PLUS give her 30% of his gross monthly income. In this day and age, I think the safest thing for a woman to do is get prenup! My friend’s agreement actually gives HER the upper hand and gives her husband insensitive to make her happy because if she leaves, his post-divorce standard of living will greatly decrease.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          I love this. Why don’t more stay-at-homers do this? It seems fine to me. But it only works if you are really marrying a breadwinner – not someone you just wish were a breadwinner.


        • dcline
          dcline says:

          This is a double good plan. Usually guys so stupid crazy in love as to sign such a lopsided agreement the first time wise the hell up and marry for money the second time. Just hope he doesn’t marry into a family rich and/or connected enough to put a lawyer pruning what the lecherous ex gets.

  5. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    I guess I’m considered the breadwinner (I make about $15K more than my husband). I don’t love or hate it – it doesn’t matter to me.

    I don’t know if my career counts as “big”, but my income (alone, not counting my husband’s) is in the top 90% of U.S. incomes.

    My answers to the questions:

    Total cost of childcare per year (1 school age, 1 in daycare): $20,000

    Dinners per week with kids: 2 weekday, 2 weekend

    Children’s books memorized: 0 (but I read a story to one of the kids at least 5 times a week)

    My husband and I go to work early (my husband at 5:30, me at 6:30) so we can be home more in the evening. We have a babysitter come over in the mornings for a couple hours. If I had a “normal” start time, I would see my kids for about 15 minutes during the week.

    • Stephanie
      Stephanie says:

      Oops – I meant to also say that I’m very content with my life. I enjoy my job very much. I also enjoy the time (amount and quality) I spend with my kids. Judge me if you want, but this is a good balance for me.

    • Frank Kelly
      Frank Kelly says:

      Sorry but this statement just blew my mind ” If I had a ‘normal’ start time, I would see my kids for about 15 minutes during the week.” . . . . I could never do that

  6. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I tried scaling back my career (which, honestly, I only pursued in the first place so I could work from home once I had kids), but we got in over our heads in debt. So now I’m working full time AND freelancing, trying to make ends meet. I’m older and more educated than my partner; I make more part-time than he does full-time. So it makes sense financially for me to work more and him to work less so he can watch our toddler during the day.

    But oh, how I wish it were the other way around. I hate that I’m missing days with her. I hate that I’m too tired to play in the evenings. I waited years to have a child, and even though I’m just down the hall, I feel like I’m missing so much.

    So yes. Though I’m independent as hell, I wish he were in a position to take care of me so I could focus on taking care of our kid.

  7. Claudia
    Claudia says:

    Loved this article.

    I got married at 42. I don’t have kids, don’t want kids, my husband can’t have more kids (has 2 from a previous marriage). I worked full time and had a 3 hour commute each day. Hated my job although I was making good money.

    I had to move to a different country to be with my husband. In here all my previous job experience and education is considered as “inexistent”. I would have to start from bottom-of-the barrel scratch at 43 to go back into the employee pool.

    Instead, my husband told me it’s a lot more valuable for him that I stay home and take care of the house so he doesn’t have to worry about one more thing in his life, focusing on his career.

    I don’t have the excuse of children for staying home and not working. I feel guilty about that (I was raised by one of those women who fought in the 60s-70s so I could choose what to do… but the message was always “don’t depend on a man to support yourself”). I am still not entirely comfortable not having my own money.

    Thankfully, new work paradigms exist so it’s not entirely impossible to balance both, if you want.

  8. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    I had to give up my “career” (it was off the rails anyway) at 31 when my autism-spectrum son was born. I railed at my fate at the time, since I had three degrees and thought I had a brilliant career ahead of me.

    But it ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me. Eventually, I started a home business as many hours per week as I felt like working. When that fizzled due to off-shoring , I wrote a few books and dabbled in some new business ideas.

    When my kids reached high school age, I decided to be responsible and take a job. That’s when I learned that I HATE jobs. I hate being owned by an organization. I have having a boss. I hate having my life dictated by someone else. I hate being away from home so much.

    I lasted six months before I quit.

    Now I’m running a new business from home, working about 6 hours per day for a great rate of pay, with holidays whenever I want. I’m in control. I have time for exercise, sleep, friends, my veggie garden, cooking from scratch, listening to my kids, joining clubs and music activities, my bucket list. It’s a great life.

    Sometimes things happen for a reason and life is trying to tell you something. I’m glad I had no choice but to listen.

    • Jari
      Jari says:

      I am wondering about your business. That is exactly how I would like to be living my life.

      I replied to the person below you first…but my question was for you.

  9. Kristine
    Kristine says:

    I am the breadwinner, and my husband works in advertising with long hours. Sine our son was born almost 6 years ago we’ve had a full time nanny (50+ hours/week) that was $60K/year. She fed my son breakfast, lunch and dinner – did everything for him (and for us). Until 3 months ago, we realized this was not fair to our son, so since I was the breadwinner, my husband quit his job to stay home and we got rid of the nanny. Who knew this would be such a difficult adjustment. The dream of sitting down at night to have dinner as a family is not easy- we didn’t even know what food our son likes. (hold your judgement). And I often am jealous of my husband for being under less stress than me and having more time with our son. But I’m not sure I would be 100% happy being home all day without the intellectual stimulation, but I know I’d like to at least try it to find out.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think this is really, really common for families who plan to have dual careers. It becomes clear, as the kids get older, that one career is more successful than the other career. And it also becomes clear that the cost of having two careers is too high for a family.

      So many people have really young kids and they write about how great their dual-career solution is. But it’s a different story when the kids get older and they can give you feedback about how much they are missing. Also, it’s simply untenable for two people to have huge careers and maintain a meaningful marriage and take care of kids. Which means that either the marriage falls apart or there is one person who acknowledges they will have to make career sacrifices for the other person’s career.

      Finally, the dual income couples where no one has a big career seem to me to be giving up everything – no one can stay home, and no one is earning enough to afford household help to make the absence of parents less of a problem.


      • Jon
        Jon says:

        Well, my dad is an engineer and my mom stayed home with us until we were mid elementary age (i am 32 now, my brother 27) and she went back to work as an admin full time. Amazingly, we lived in a decent house, went to private school, were able to do all our social things, never had significant debt, and ate dinner together every single night at a normal time.

        We must have been miracles on Earth….

          • victoria
            victoria says:

            That’s pretty much the template in my family now — midlevel jobs, private school, no debt.

            We moved to our current city (2M pop. MSA, relatively low COL) when the kiddo was a baby. My husband works what Penelope would classify as a mid-level job and has for the entire time we’ve been here. (He makes just under 100K and compared to the startups he worked at before we moved here the hours are super-reasonable, in the 40-45 hour a week range with some flexibility to work from home and minimal travel — that was the main reason for the move.) I worked freelance part-time from home until the kiddo was in pre-K, mostly to make sure my resume wasn’t blank; from the kiddo’s perspective I was a SAHM. When she started pre-K I started working in academic research for about 20 hours a week and now I work during school hours only. I don’t make a whole lot now but I have a good title, I like my work and my coworkers, I get to set my own schedule, and the benefits are excellent. We get her on the school bus in the morning, carpool together to work, and then I pick the kiddo up in the afternoon.

            We have no debt besides a mortgage, we eat dinner together pretty much every night, and the kiddo loves her (private, but not crazy expensive) school. If she weren’t happy I could stay home and homeschool her without changing our finances too much but as it is she seems to be living the life of Riley. I could see real benefits in having someone at home all the time to handle homemakery stuff, but I do like the intellectual stimulation of my work. I had my kiddo when I was 23 and we’re done, and I’m also thankful I won’t need to basically start a career from scratch around age 40.

            I remember seeing a comment somewhere — maybe Get Rich Slowly? — to the effect that once you have kids, family life suffers if the parents’ total working hours exceeds 60. I’ve known people who’ve maintained balance with more but they either had extended family care or a school situation they’re really happy with. (We’re around 80 at this point but family life is not stressful at all, and I chalk that up to everyone’s happiness with the school.) When you’re talking about little kids I think that’s a good rule of thumb, though.

        • Help4NewMoms
          Help4NewMoms says:

          My family was very similar…although during my Mom’s SAHM years, she was always going to classes at night trying to glean together enough credits to earn her degree – she did it too, by the time I got married. In any case, when I think about my Mom when she went back to work, came home, made dinner, every night, and still managed to maintain a meaningful relationship with her husband and her kids it amazes me that she was able to do it. The one characteristic I can point to is sacrifice and commitment. I think our generation of Moms have that same sacrifice and commitment to our families. I really do.

      • Lucy Chen
        Lucy Chen says:

        I’m just starting my art business now and hopefully will resume the dual income we had before having kids. It’d be interesting to see how it pans out. Because as an artist, I work from home, and my husband works from home, too.

  10. J
    J says:

    I don’t know about 3 cheers. It’s a bit depressing.

    The less women there are in higher position jobs the less likely is it that the work-home life situation will ever evolve to be a little more equal (or at least a little less patriarchal.)

    Secondly how many people in the world want to work that bad? Very few, maybe doing jobs they really love.

    I’d love to stay at home being supported to be creative all day or whatever (no kids, drawing, tv – whatever the choice) who wouldn’t?

    Does this survey count all the men in boring jobs that they’d love someone to pay them to leave so they engage in the recreational activity of their choice?

    This post seems far too biased, in trying to support the decision you have made. It seems to demand that we, the readers, validate it.

    Thats fine I guess, we can.

    But I really don’t know about the 3 cheers bit.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      To be clear, I didn’t make the decision. I’m the breadwinner. I got divorced and then chose to be the breadwinner again, in my second marriage.

      I work 60 – 70 hours a week right now, and I have lots of household help. Also, my salary has gone up since I had kids.

      So I am pretty much the opposite of this post.

      What I am trying to do is validate the fact that reams of data show that only 2% of women would choose to do what am doing if they had a choice. And I talk to women all the time who don’t want to work and are scared to say they don’t want to work. So I want to make it less scary – more socially acceptable.


      • Sharon
        Sharon says:

        I am tired of the discussion about women and all the hardships we have to face. Men have their own set too. But their response is to get busy, make choices and manage it. We have choices many before us didn’t. Its time to own them, and the consequences that are a part of that decision making!

        New flash: life isn’t perfect. Let perfection go. Define optimum success and build your life around that. The “system” and social expectations are perpetuated as much by women as by those around us. Stop blaming others and own your part in it. I view these as my personal leadership moments. Knowing what the barriers and realities are and then making the decision how to navigate it — what fights matter and are worth it, and what ones are left behind.

        How about a post on being truthful that you don’t want to stay home with your kids? And that a mid level role isn’t a bad thing or failure, if it means you get to be both an engaged parent and employee? A post that doesn’t suggest you are either top of the organization food chain or a mom. There really is something good and valuable in the middle too.

        How about a post on telling women to stop dissing on the women who like work, and celebrating the truths that come with that. The ones who don’t have nannies, but who successfully demand and rely on the relationships around them (largely their partners) to make it all work. In our life, the parallels and skill of being good managers at work, translate to home. We communicate a lot with one another, have a shared vision and plan and there are goals for what life looks like. Inherent in that are letting some things go because we don’t have the time or money to make them work and we have clear roles and responsibilities. Let’s celebrate those who let go of “perfection” and define it on their own terms.

        I confess that I love being a mom, but I also love my midlevel paying work. I am engaged and successful at both those things and have a strong marriage. We are so proud of our well adjusted teenager and love that she saw how hard we have worked to make our life work– and we hope she has seen that perfection is a poisonous goal. I have never had a nanny. I have not been a super mom. I have been dissed on (behind my back and with irrate phone calls) by other mom’s for taking in store bought cakes to school events and letting my daughter learn how to self manage and use the bus system. Sometimes, when I “entertain”, the bathroom is a bit messy and I serve take-out (gasp!). I have had to face criticism. But it was a choice i made and own. It has not always been easy. On down days, I have had to pause and be careful not to judge myself against others. I am grateful to those who said “hurray” at my non-conformist choices, but those people were few and far between. Frankly, the at-home moms were often the loudest critics and often felt like the mean or “popular” girls we all know from high school.

        How about a post on the idea that you don’t have to be Martha, Madonna and Mary Poppins all in one. That the real truth comes in the choices you make. Are you making and owning a life for yourself or are you blaming others for the the choices we all inevitably have to make? The best truth we can tell one another is that we are lucky to have choice and that it is time we owned that, and celebrated the diversity within that. Perfect is a lie. Define your own version of success, and stay focussed on the big picture vision and the measures that will tell you if you are being successful. Strive to be accountable for what you have, genuine and engaged in whatever you do, and patient and non-judgemental of those who might choose differently than you. We need to stop perpetuating the whining and finger wagging at one another if we are going to change this narrative.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Really? You get push back from the amount of time you work? I’m surprised, frankly.

          I actually think it’s totally okay – in our culture – to say you don’t want to stay home with kids. You can say kids are boring. Who would fault you for that? You can say you won’t be able to pay the mortgage to live in an expensive school district. No one would tell you to put your kids in a crappy school. So I think the world is pretty supportive of women working. Especially in mid-level jobs.

          I think the situation when the world does not get supportive is women in super-high level jobs. Because then you truly do not see your kids. People at the top of the Fortune 500 work 100-hour weeks in multiple time zones. So it’s a different ballgame.

          The issue in your case is not that society wants you to stay home with your kids. The issue is that it’s very difficult to run a household with two mid-level jobs, (see Jake’s comment above,) so few couples can sustain that.


          • rb
            rb says:

            I don’t mean to answer for Sharon, but YES working moms get flak from SAHMs. I pretty much avoid going to my kids’ school activities (not things like orchestra concerts but more like PTA meetings) because I’m sick of it. So this is another area that has become my husband’s area in our division of duties.

            And a dad at PTA meetings is like a hero anyway.

          • Jake
            Jake says:

            There are always toxic people on all sides of a topic. My wife is a SAHM and she has caught hell from these type of SAHM’s, too. Unlike toxic co-workers, they are much easier to avoid.

            Formula. C-Section’s. Epidurals. Are other great words for generating toxic responses.

          • Tzipporah
            Tzipporah says:

            “It’s very difficult to sustain a household with two mid-level careers?” Are you fucking kidding me? Do you realize that’s what most people in this country do? And that they define “mid-level” at a much lower pay-grade than you seem to?


        • Loribeth
          Loribeth says:

          I think it is time we stopped looking for others to validate and support our decisions.

          I don’t have a job, and I don’t have kids. I can’t tell you how many working women have told me that they couldn’t live with sponging off their husbands for support, suggesting that my choice, indeed the choice my husband and I made together, is not honorable because in in their eyes I’m not pulling my weight. There are reasons, behind that decision, but I shouldn’t have to validate that decision to anyone.

          Just because Penelope wrote a post about giving women credit who decide to put family before a career does not mean that she’s saying that putting a career before family is a less valid option. It’s just a different option. But the general media tends to hold women who work in higher esteem than those whose don’t, and I think that’s what Penelope is getting at.

          If you’re getting flack about the decision you made from the people around you, then change the people who are around you. It’s all about choices.

          We need to own up to our own choices, be it to work or not to work outside of the home. Own the decision and don’t give a flying fig what the rest of the world thinks about it.

      • Lucy Chen
        Lucy Chen says:

        I love working! I’d be happy working 70 hours (I was for a few months when I had help at home). That’s because, like you Penelope, I’m doing what I love. I love painting and I love writing my blog. So I’m ready to pay for support and help at home, so I can work.

  11. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    Unless you married a guy with (much) higher than average income, child support payments will not be enough to live on in the event there is a divorce. Most women end up working full time and scrambling to find child care while they work. Alimony is largely a thing of the past, and even getting half the assets is no guarantee of financial stability, because you need income, not savings, if you plan on supporting yourself for any length of time.
    Your post applies mostly to high income couples, not average middle class families. You were paying your nannies more than most families earn.

    • Morgan
      Morgan says:

      This is why low income families typically stay together. I have a girlfriend that is a SAHM. Her husband makes $10/HR and works 40 hours a week. They are also receive government assistance in the form of food stamps. They have 3 children and live in a small rental. Neither one of them have any college education. If they got divorced, they would not be able to survive. The husband couldn’t afford to pay child support plus his own personal living expenses. My girlfriend couldn’t afford to do anything with the small amount of child support she would receive except buy groceries. High income families have the luxury of divorce so yes this post by Penelope is direct towards them. Poor married people can’t afford divorce.

  12. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I stay at home full time and homeschool my two kids. I have stayed at home since my oldest was born back in 2007. My husband and I have always been on the same page. We didn’t always expect to homeschool (i.e. me being at home with them) after elementary school, but we love the lifestyle and our kids (and really, our family) has so much freedom we can’t imagine not doing it the entire time.

    We live on very little, we have very little debt. I have a BA, that I paid for myself. I don’t think I wasted my time or my money, I love to learn and I loved college. I had a pretty different college experience than most. I lived on my own in an apartment freshman year (that I paid for), and then I was married sophmore year. Right after I graduated, I had my son.

    I have met so many women who tell me (and then tell me they haven’t told their husbands) that they want to stay at home so bad. These women are the breadwinners in their home and don’t want to be. They are jealous of my lifestyle (and the fact that our family makes 1/3 of what they do) because I stay at home. They tell me they can never tell their husbands, because they wouldn’t let them stay at home. I’ve encouraged these friends to talk honestly with their husband, maybe they would be surprised if the husband knew their thoughts. They come back and tell me they said something, and the husband doesn’t care, they make the most money. Their lifestyle is more important than the wife’s desire to stay at home and raise their family. It’s very sad to me. It seems like this should definitely be something people talk about and agree on before they get married or at the very least before they have kids!
    Sarah M

  13. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    I quit my job after I gave birth to my first child and stayed home with my kids for 10 years. A couple of years ago I returned to school to earn a graduate degree in English and started teaching part time. That was manageable until my daughter became ill. She missed a couple of months of school and required regular doctor visits for an additional 6 months. Because I was a brand new part time employee with no benefits, I had no vacation time to draw on. If I had broken my teaching contract, I would probably not have been hired again. My husband filled in when he could, but my daughter needed someone at home with her during the day, and doctors don’t see patients outside regular working hours. So I pushed through it, and I felt like I was failing both my daughter and my students. I enjoy working part time and being available to my kids after school. I also enjoy being able to pick up the slack when a friend needs someone to spend a few hours with a sick child or pick up a child from violin practice. Although some of us claim to have found a balance between work and family, few of us are able to offer our time to support our friends or out communities.

  14. Ryan Biddulph
    Ryan Biddulph says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Ummm…most guys want this too ;) LOL….I mean, who wants to work? Even if you love what you do…..the second I am done, I am done…..I will cease the online gig and travel the world, doing philanthropic stuff, enjoy my spoils.

    Most people do not want to work. And heck, I am in love with what I do, but I would rather travel, and spend, and help in other ways.

    Thanks for the share!

    • Ashley
      Ashley says:

      Well the point just flew completely over your head. It’s NOT about being lazy and not “wanting” to work. It’s about raising your kids with your own hand, being a homemaker that provides for the best possible home life that the husband and children benefit from. My Grandmother was a homemaker and I can tell you she was NOT a lazy woman without career aspirations and I intend to be just like her.

      I cannot believe the amount of pathetically jealous and passive aggressive comments on here directed to those with the luxury of staying home. It’s really quite disgusting.

  15. Jake
    Jake says:

    We tried to do the dual careers for nearly 6 years. My wife started to stay home when she was 35

    My wife was 29 when we had our first child and she was 33 when we had our second child. Some company BS became the cataylst for switching to stay at home mom.

    I was surprised at how many working women came out the wood work when they found out she was doing it. They could talk to her since she had formally given up the career track for the mommy track.

    What was surprising/depressing is the true financial costs of dual-income situation with kids. Childcare is the obvious cost. But then you have increased taxes due to the progessive tax structure and the loss of deductions due to high income.

    When were figuring out what our finances would like like if she stayed home, we determined that 83% of her gross income was going to taxes and childcare. 6% went to her 401k. The remaining 11% was available for everything else.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks, Jake. I find your experience to be true for an incredibly large number of families. And also, I think it’s true that as soon as a woman scales back her career, other women will open up about it.

      The posturing that goes on about what can be done, or what we should be able to do is exhausting for everyone involved. I really appreciate you talking about the specifics of your own situation.


    • D.S.
      D.S. says:

      I may very well be making this calculation myself some day soon, and I have started to cultivate the list of things to include in the calculation, even things that have to be estimated because they are not certain.

      The childcare side of that equation will change drastically once kids are in school, I wonder what that staggering 83% of her income to childcare and taxes would be at year 1 of the youngest in full time school. I wonder how that compares to the potential set back in lifetime earnings she will see if she decides to go back to work at that time and has to take a cut from what she was making before due to the time away.

      If she is already at home will the decision to have a third child be a foregone conclusion? What about the expenses involved there?

      I hope you are making the financial sacrifices necessary to fund an IRA for her because they don’t loan you money for retirement, and if you are not that you calculated in the lost retirement revenue both company matching and her own contributions.

      Given the flexibility my husbands job requires for example we would not be able to do away with the second vehicle, which admittedly would be a huge area of cost savings!

      • Jake
        Jake says:

        The childcare cost decreases but does not go away with them entering full-time school. When we switched to SAHM; full-time usage of bfore school, after school, school holiday & summer vacation care would run about 33% less than year round daycare for a preschooler. School care is more flexible than daycare for scheduling.

        The tax stuff never goes away. 7% to social security/Medicare. All of her income would fall into the 25% & 28% Federal tax brackets. Our State/Local income tax would be nearly 8%.

        The decrease in future earnings was a initial concern. A couple of things decreased our concerns. First, her corporate career and income growth were already being hurt. They noticed that her position was no longer her only priority. She was moved out of the fast track for promotions and pay increases. Second, It dawned on us: she could take whatever job she wanted when she went back to work because any income would be an improvement.

        For the first few years; she did not have any retirement contributions. The youngest child started FT school this year. She has started working a few hours every day for a small business so the retirement savings have started back up. She is loving it because she has incredible flexibility in setting her schedule. Of course this job does not pay as well as her previous work.

    • kelsey
      kelsey says:

      I am about to turn 29. I love reading Penelope’s post because they give me something to think about. I recently received a bonus and a promotion. I have only been working at my job 6 months. My husband has been at his job 1 year. They withheld his promotion. I make 10,000 less than he does but we live in a big city. We could barely get by on his salary. We have talked about kids but my husband is too unstable with his career. One minute he wants to get his PhD. The next minute he wants to spend 3 months at language school. I hope if we had kids he would be more motivated at work. I want children, but I can’t trust our income. Would Penelope say I married the wrong person?

      • AJ
        AJ says:

        It would definitely be a bad idea to just get pregnant and have a kid in hopes that your husband gets more motivated. Ambition is a pretty set trait, so if he’s always been laid back about his career then you’ll likely have to accept being the breadwinner. You need to have a talk about what you both want for your life together so you can see how he feels about raising a family. Then you’ll know whether or not he’s prepared to give you what you need.

      • D.S.
        D.S. says:

        Are you unhappy with the idea of being the sole breadwinner?

        If you wouldn’t be unhappy with it, maybe you work to improve your salary and decrease your combined expenses to the point that you can both live on one income.

        If one of you loses your job you will be having to do that anyways.

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        Kelsey I am in a similar situation, and have been for about a decade. Last week I had to tell DH we just shouldn’t start a family – something that won’t surprise anyone who knows us well. It’s been an emotional time and decision to make, and we’re not quite in agreement about this yet. He’s just the right person for me in so many ways, but not the right partner with which to start a family.

        He wants a child but isn’t up for working the career-oriented jobs for years on end that it would take. I’m extremely motivated about my career, but it’s in a very low/irregular-paying field. I’ve had some success (more than many do) but the income is not enough to support a three people steadily. I’m also not willing to sacrifice my career and start over. The frustrating aspect of this is that his career COULD support a family, he just hates working full-time (middle-level project manager).

        He’s always talking about wanting to do a masters or PhD or go back to school. He doesn’t seem to get there are choices that have to be made, and you can’t do and have everything at once. As a woman I suppose it’s something we are more used to doing.

    • Help4NewMoms
      Help4NewMoms says:

      I always get nervous when the determination if a woman decides to leave a job to become a SAHM becomes financial. Not every decision is a financial decision.

      Is a woman’s job-worth dependent on whether she can afford to replace herself? A job is worth much more than simply the money. It is her experience, which she loses when she leaves, pension, if any, self-respect, fulfillment, power in the relationship…a funny thing happens when a women does not make money any more…her spouse starts to feel that she should not spend money.

      Sometimes, after a few years have passed, the spouse may feel that she has an “easier” job and resentment builds up…ruining the marriage or even making the women that he works with seem more attractive…

      Before you chuck that job for just financial reasons keep in mind that high childcare bills at the full-time level do not last forever… perhaps hanging in there in the early childhood years is a better decision for the long-term of the family and the relationship..

      Imagine a woman keeping a job even her if salary did NOT cover the costs of childcare for the long-term picture….gasp! You see, if we focus on the money, we lose sight of the whole picture. That would be like saying a SAHM can not have housekeeping help because she makes no money and can’t pay for it.

      Whether a woman keeps a job or not is much more than a financial decision, especially in the long-term.

      Btw, my husband and I did exactly as you and your wife and are still happily married…simply offering another point of view.

      • D.S.
        D.S. says:

        Good point, I had not given that a lot of consideration before. Sometimes you don’t know which personality type you are till you give it a shot. Maybe your marriage suffers more by being SAH, than your family suffers by having two working parents. Maybe your husband won’t be one to belittle you for spending “his” money, and maybe you won’t be the SAH who lets her appearance and positive attitude go by the wayside because you don’t have to “put it on” for work anymore.

  16. Jennie L
    Jennie L says:

    Thank you for this post and thanks for all the honest replies…they’ve given me a lot to think about. The feelings you’ve identified transfer to couples with no children. I have a graduate degree and have held decent jobs throughout my life, always saving for retirement and emergencies. I married at 35 and we knew we wouldn’t have children. I’m 42 now and yearn to stay at home, but it’s embarrassing to admit since it is on some level wanting to be taken care of, and also misunderstood since in choosing to be childless I appear to have chosen focusing on my career. My idea opting out of employment for a few years goes against my upbringing to be an independent woman “making a difference” with her work and will probably appear selfish to my husband and his family, even if I maintain the same level of contribution to our shared expenses. Hats off to women who have managed to find the balance that works for them and are happy with it…I feel like I’ve worked hard to be independent and yet am too scared to exert independence from paid employment…how screwed up is that?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I coach so many childless women who don’t want to work that sometimes I think I should start a support group so they could all see how many of them there are.

      It’s like there’s a rule or something that if you don’t have kids you have to work. But life doesn’t turn out that way. Some people like to be alone all day. Some people like to be in their heads all day. Some people are really happy running their lives around their spouse – it’s really fulfilling to them.

      And these are not stupid women I am talking to. These are educated, successful women who hate the game they are playing. I hate that the option to not want to work has been pulled out from under us.

      I feel like there’s a huge swath of people who would gladly take good care of a spouse and a relationship in order to be taken care of financially. We degrade the idea of emotional care taking in our society. And we disregard the needs of people who like to spend huge amounts of time alone, thinking.


      • Jen
        Jen says:

        YES! Jennie, I’m in the same boat and couldn’t agree more. Penelope, I would love to attend that support group. I would love nothing more than to spend all day at home alone, thinking and reading. Seriously.

        • J.E.
          J.E. says:

          Yes, I feel like I could belong to a group like this too (my reply is further down the list of replies).

          • Jennifa
            Jennifa says:

            Me too!

            Early 40’s, no kids. My husband made much less than me a few years ago and we discussed him just staying home full-time. But he said I’m so flakey he did not trust that I would keep my job. But he would have loved it, staying home cooking, shopping, keeping house and planning our social calendar, helping his mom out more with chores at her house, helping all our neighbors with things, he loves that stuff.

            We live modestly, and neither of us is in the ‘big leagues’. We are just regular non-management workers. But you never know if you have enough money saved for emergencies, or retirement if the stock market crashes again. So you keep working, the world shows no mercy to an old fool that could not manage their money.

            My father never saved any money, and was a complete ass to just about everyone. Now in his mid-60’s, he has spent time in a homeless shelter, because he is still such an ass. I guess my point is, everybody needs people to make money for them, and to help take care of them. Everybody. Plan accordingly.

      • Lauren
        Lauren says:

        PENELOPE! Please start that support group. Or at least connect us somehow, so we can support each other.

        Today I was driving home, and I saw one of those vans with the family stickers on the back (THE WORST). I got to thinking: I want to stay home/not work. Can I do that and feel good about myself if I don’t have children?

        I am 25, Stanford educated. I always thought I would be a stay at home mom. This was revolutionary to say at Stanford where everyone – including me – pursues their passions. I was open about my desire to stay home because I figured, if I can’t say it, how am I supposed to do it?!

        One year after graduating, I contracted a serious chronic health issue (terrible nerve pain in my foot) after a “simple” stress fracture. I freelance from home on a limited basis and live with my parents to make ends meet. I still don’t want to work, but now I’m not as able to take care of other people. Even keeping my room clean is a challenge – how am I supposed to be a mother/wife? Cue existential angst.

        Because of these health challenges, I’m not sure I want to have children. Will it be worth how hard it will be on my body? It will likely depend on my financial situation. My partner will have to make enough to support our family, which will have unique needs (cue more $$$$). My boyfriend is pursuing engineering and we live in a small town, so I’m hoping his single income will be enough. But I would need to hire help for cleaning, yard work, some food prep, childcare for when I am receiving medical treatment (and probably on a regular basis, because I have limited energy and physical ability).

        Regardless of whether we have kids or not, I will probably work very little, and hopefully not have to.

        In the U.S., especially in educated circles, there is enormous pressure to be working. I work at not feeling bad for all the help I need, and fostering self esteem internally, without all the outside praise.

        I did a lot of high profile work in my community growing up, and at Stanford, which gave me outside recognition and praise. Currently, I am working on realizing that I can ask for help, accept help, and not have to “do” so much to earn my keep. It’s hard!

        I contribute in valuable ways that are mostly invisible to the outside world. I provide emotional support; manage plans and logistics; manage all the things, really; help my boyfriend with his career development; etc. My boyfriend must notice this, as he wants me to be his life partner, even though I can’t offer a lot that we expect from people.

        Good thing I love being alone and in my head all day, falling into internet research holes and laying out in the sun. If I can’t work, the least I can do is take care of myself so I’m an enjoyable human to be around.

      • Lauren
        Lauren says:

        Also, it’s challenging to socialize with new people because they always ask, “What do you do?” People who work don’t seem to understand how to talk to people who don’t work (I always worked, and the way I am received socially now that I don’t is like NIGHT AND DAY).

        “What do you do?” functions in my social circles to mean, “What do you care about/how do you spend your time?” which serves as an entry point to deeper conversation. If people can’t initially connect with me at a shallow level, it’s difficult to form deep connections. I have tons of interests – people just have no way of knowing what they are, because we don’t ask, “What are your interests?” or “How do you like to spend your time?”

        • Lauren
          Lauren says:

          I cringe to think of all the people I wrote off or didn’t get to know as well as I should’ve because I didn’t get an interesting answer to the question of “What do you do?” It’s not even that interesting of a question!

      • Sandra
        Sandra says:

        One of the happiest of years of my life was when I was unemployed and stayed at home and took care of my partner. Made breakfast, did the ironing, went shopping, made dinner, ran errands, laundry. I was never, ever bored. Loved that I was helping make someone’s life easier and a bit more gentle. No kids at the time, so I know way, way less stress. I think really it’s what I always wanted, but thought it wasn’t “enough”. I work at home one day a week and cherish the day.

      • Rachel
        Rachel says:

        The thing I feel like this article is missing is that BOTH men and women have the desire to avoid the pressures of a career by staying home. Not all men would enjoy staying home, but like you said, not all women do either. Like Ryan Biddulph says above, I am guessing there are a lot of guys that would happily stay home, work on self-indulgent projects, cook, and run errands all day if their financial needs were taken care of.
        Almost zero men are motivated to pursue this type of arrangement because our culture would castrate them for it. Look at how stay at home Dad’s are treated – much less if they wanted to stay home without kids. That’s who really needs the support group – men who don’t want to work.

        Of course I feel this way because of my own personal experience :) My husband makes 37k and is fairly unambitious – he is an ISTJ high school teacher that doesn’t worry about money and wants to make a positive impact on the world. I make 70k and am an INTJ that gets a huge thrill from professional success. I am trying to put together a plan for when we have kids in 3-6 years. That plan might include my husband staying home, which I think he would love.

      • Fernanda
        Fernanda says:

        I nearly fell over with this part of the thread. I have been struggling for 6 years trying to find “my career” and having conflicted feelings about being taken care of.
        We don’t have children, my husband likes to take care of me but I just can’t accept that.

        I feel I have to get a good job, a well paid job because if I don’t I’m unsafe financially.

        Sometimes I wonder if I’m lazy because I’ve been “stuck” at my current job for so many years. A job that has slowly sucked the soul out of me, but the catch is: it gives me enough income and it is insanely flexible which allows me to pursue all my other interests.

        However, we are going on sabbatical and I will have to quit this job and everything in my head tells me I should not come back to it because it’s killing every creative atom in my body. But I can’t face going into the job market at 40, I feel like the SAHM who is going out to job market after a long period, except and I never was a SAHM!

        My husband makes a decent salary and he keeps telling me that if I quit we will be ok. I just don’t feel it’s wise to depend on him. I read the book ” overcoming underearning”, there are no guarantees in life. Prince charming is a dangerous figment of women’s imagination.

        But it feels good to read this, or just say it “I-don’t-want-to-work”

        I think all my conflicts rise from that simple truth, I’m an INFP,
        I’m in my head all the time, I know how to do a little bit of everything but I have not specialized in anything. I’m pursuing web development but I feel out of place and overwhelmed with the competitiveness of the field. I have a graduate degree, I speak 3 languages, I write, play guitar. I worked with very large corporations in my 30’s but I’m at a loss, I feel I should be somewhere by now but I’m just not motivated to go back to a 9 – 5 job.

        I’m just terrified that I could find myself alone, with no career,
        no options, no job and so I can’t / won’t let my husband take care of me.

        • Kelly
          Kelly says:

          Wow… I could have written this. And sort of did! I actually started a blog in part, because I wanted to talk about the conflict I had over being “taken care of”. I’m also writing about being female and middle aged and etc… But the burning desire to write came from an intense feeling of insecurity about having no job/career anymore. I’d love it if you’d check out my latest blogs “The Green Grass: Part 1” and “The Green Grass Part 2: I’m a Loser”. Give some feedback. Thanks! Kelly

  17. Karen
    Karen says:

    You know Penelope, even if women want to put family first, make career a part time thing to keep themselves interesting & interested and have wealthy husbands, that’s a “have your cake and eat it too” life. It ain’t REAL or a REAL option for most. I’m sure there are men who would like to have a sweet devoted homemaker wife, a career where they are drowning in money, the freedom to cavort with other ladies who are all varieties of feminity, and kids to adore them. Oh yeah, kinda like the NBA players referred to in the link you shared (which was awesome) I mean it’s their reality but even that has a price. For the record, I’d NEVER EVER want to be married to an NBA star. The energy it must take to fight off the other women, the gossip, the lifestyle of things and loneliness. Sounds dreadful.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Everything in life is a tradeoff. To get the guy who will support you financially, maybe you have to live in a really really cheap city with terrible schools so he can pay for it. Or maybe you have to starve yourself to look like a model to fend off all the other women. Or maybe you have to deal with that the guy is a bore.

      Whatever. We each give things up when we pick a spouse. The whole world is about what are we willing to give up in order to get what we want.

      And, p.s. I’m so glad to hear you clicked the link to the NBA guy. I like that we are all reading stuff like that together!


      • redrock
        redrock says:

        But, isn’t this exactly the freedom women have fought for in the last century: to decide what they compromise on.

        Not to have only that one decision to make: what do I sacrifice/compromise to get the guy who provides for me? But also: maybe I don’t have to compromise on choice of husband but can choose a very different path.

  18. Andrea K
    Andrea K says:

    My husband and I are both 32. We have a 17 month old daughter and another one the way, due in March. We both work full time in Boston/Cambridge and live in the suburbs. Current daycare costs are $26k+/year. After maternity leave ends with the second one we’re switching to a nanny, which will cost $43,200/yr (not including backup care). I spent my 20s building a career that would support my continuing to work full time after I had kids – financially and flexibility-wise. I work early hours – 7:30-4, and after commuting I have 2 hours per day with my daughter, which is just perfect for me. My career is going well, but I’m not logging long hours or traveling like crazy. My plan is to continue working full time, but “lean out” for a couple of years, then lean back in whenever I feel up to it – which may be never! We spend a lot of quality time together on the weekends. It’s perfect and I wouldn’t have it any other way! And yes – I truly prefer to work full time, even though my husband is the breadwinner by far. Sorry if that makes me terrible, but I’m just not cut out to stay home or even scale down to part time.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Andrea above, I’m with you! And I know plenty of people like me. We WANT to work. It’s part of who we are. I adore my children – #3 is on the way – but I can’t imagine staying home with them full-time. I do find it sad that so many women ‘opt out’ when they have children. Daycare is not a four-letter word!

      Not everyone aspires to be a CEO. There are millions of jobs that pay a decent salary, bring fulfillment and still allow people to work 40 hours or less each week. 40 hours per week is doable. I love my time with my kids in the mornings and evenings and on weekends.

      This is the second post this week that’s been very down on working moms and dual-income families. It kind of makes me want to unsubscribe!

  19. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    Great post Penelope! I see it as totally necessary to start an open dialogue among women, regardless of their chosen life/career/family path to overcome the sadly ubiquitous stigmas we all live with for one reason or another. I hate that women are holding women back simply because we haven’t learned to be happy for others or accepting of someone else’s priorities, and instead we judge harshly and guard our lives carefully. I am a late-20’s ENTJ who “wants it all” (career/family/etc) and I find it extremely difficult to find women who are willing to be honest enough with themselves and others to be a helpful mentor, resource or inspiration to the younger gen.

  20. Karen
    Karen says:

    Just started working full time again (2 1/2 months) No help. My house is a mess and cooking is now a joke. 2014 help must come! Here’s the fallout of having a messy house for my OCD judgmental self. I now consider having kids come over to play a chore because I have to clean up so much more. That’s a serious social side effect for my child and for our family.

  21. rb
    rb says:

    I’m a female breadwinner, earning about 4x as much as my husband. Our combined income is in the mid six figures.
    I pay $200/week for a babysitter to take my kids to school in the morning. They participate in after school activities (classes, clubs, music lessons) some days, other days they work on their homework. So we do not have afterschool childcare per se.

    I travel for work some weeks (right now about one week per month) so on those days I don’t have dinner with my kids. The rest of the weeks I have dinner with them about 6 1/2 nights per week – I tend to have one night out with friends every couple of weeks when I’m not traveling because I am an extrovert (ENTJ) and need social time (my ISFJ husband does not need much social time.) I make dinner most nights. I work east coast hours so my staff on the east coast are usually gone by about 3 my time, I catch up on my own work from 3 to about 5, and then I usually have time to make dinner (no prepared food, we eat healthy.)

    It’s easier now that my kids are 11 and 13. When our first was a baby, my husband was laid off due to the .com bomb, so he was an “accidental” stay at home dad for a few years. I learned a lot about parenting from that time period.

    First, he felt absolutely no guilt about getting other people to watch the kids. We belonged to a gym that offered free childcare for 1.5hrs, and he religiously worked out 1.5hrs per day just to get a break. (Cut hubby, happy wife!)

    The other thing I learned was that I can’t be the breadwinner and make every parenting decision. I think a lot of moms want to hover and tell the dads they are doing it wrong, and trust me, this is a good way to get your husband not to contribute to caring for your kids. So I had to step back and let him do it his way.

    As a result we continue to have a much more egalitarian parenting relationship. That was what enabled me to take the somewhat travel-heavy position I have now.

    • rb
      rb says:

      PS when my husband first went back to work (when both of our kids were in preschool) was when our lives were the most complicated. We made it work but there was a lot of juggling involved. At that time, I took a lateral work change that meant I traveled less. It wasn’t an optimal career move for me at the time, but several years later it led to a really great opportunity that I was able to take because my kids were older and more independent.

      It’s good to remember that as your kids get older, their needs change and it will generally get easier.

      • Help4NewMoms
        Help4NewMoms says:

        You make the perfect point as to why it is valuable to have one spouse be a caregiver. The problem with the spouses who have had a caregiver home for a long time is that they seem to forget, or never really knew, how hard it would be to do the juggling if they had to pitch in. Thanks for articulating it so well. and kudos for your be willing to adjust your schedule when your spouse went back to work. Many of moms I talk to say that their husbands want them to go back to work once the kids are all in school but can not or will not adjust their schedule in any way.

  22. NB
    NB says:

    Is January the sweeps month for internet traffic? Or is this for your investors? I have a such a cynical response when you do link bait and my trust in your brand goes way down.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Newsflash: Here are the posts that get the most traffic on my site, in order:

      How to write a killer cover letter
      How to do a phone interview
      10 tips for time management

      You get the picture, right? That’s how I get traffic on a daily basis. A post like the one I wrote today is a public service announcement. The title is terrible for SEO. It will never rank high in google and no sites will link to it because it is messaging they don’t want to be associated with.

      And obviously, the is terrible for my brand. I am someone who makes a living raising money to run startups. Of course my investors hate seeing a post like this. They think I’ll stop working.


  23. tinyflame
    tinyflame says:

    I am a breadwinning mother. I hate it. I am extremely unfulfilled and unhappy with the current situation.

    My husband is a part-time SAHD and finds construction work when he can (he was laid off from a construction industry desk job about two years ago). He is applying for a particular state license now so that hopefully more work will come his way.

    I am an ENFJ, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to quit my job and focus on what I love (my family, my children). I fantasize about getting fired. :)

  24. redrock
    redrock says:

    actually I don’t buy that most women don’t want to work and want to be taken care of. If you interview people and ask the question: would you rather work or have a nice easy life staying at home? Sure, many will answer: YES! totally, sounds so nice. In the end, if a life decision has to be made – few would decide to take this path. Just ask people who are unemployed and even if they don’t have substantial financial pressures at the time – many would happily work rather then not. What you are suggesting is the life of nobility – hundred years ago it was reserved for the few rich people, and it is still today. It is not a sustainable life model for the masses.

    • D.S.
      D.S. says:

      I buy that plenty of women when asked say they would rather stay at home, but I don’t know what the yardstick is, how many men would say the same thing? What if you take into account personality type? Within the same personality type, women or men, how many would say they would rather stop working?

      I doubt a man honest about this admitting he would rather not work gets many accolades.

  25. Jen
    Jen says:

    To those pointing out that this isn’t realistic: so what? I mean, isn’t that the point? Just because it isn’t realistic for me to not want to work, that doesn’t stop me from wanting. And wouldn’t we all be better off we could talk about it and not feel guilty?

  26. Ruth Zive
    Ruth Zive says:

    Here’s what I did (not by choice – it just worked out this way due to some messed up circumstances that I did my best to mitigate).

    I got an advanced education. Got married. Worked for a bunch of years. Had kids. Got divorced. Got remarried. Had more kids.

    From the first child born through to the last, I worked very part time, flexibly, often from home. I had to compromise my career, FOR SURE, in order to do that. But my kids were my priority. I worked only to keep my foot in the door.

    Once my youngest was in school full time (seven), I ramped up my career, launched a business, and now I’m going full swing.

    This formula worked well for me. It was sometimes a very precarious balancing act, but I think it always is for women/mothers.

  27. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    Yeah, I am a breadwinner and a woman and I’m happy and I have a toddler. I eat 7 days a week with my family. I have no nannies, but I did let my parents buy a house close to work and we pay them back like a mortgage to afford living so close. I work in nonprofit 7 hours a day and take my lunchtimes to jog so I feel balanced again.
    Daycare costs $1300/month. I live in Canada so I got the first year off, though I made 55% of my income, which at that time was only parttime and not much, so it was almost zero.
    The cost of housing in Canada and basic essentials are more, and yet together we make about $110k/yr.
    The only catch is that we will be having another soon and daycare would be double. So maybe we’ll pay for a nanny until my oldest gets into school then the youngest will be in daycare just like we do now.

    I guess I make it work because I am educated and have a job I love with low hours and good enough pay and my parents helped us to have a very low “mortgage”.

  28. d vieau
    d vieau says:

    My 20’s something married daughter is upset because I suggested her friend, who got a free ride for a masters degree, then married a doctor and decided not to work (raise a family instead), should pay back the taxpayers who funded her graduate degree. “Why shouldn’t a women be allowed an education then raise a family, not work?” I support education regardless of career choice. But her friend’s eduation was likey at the expense of another student not being accepted into the program, who could otherwise have put the education (medical field) to work for many others’ benefit. My position, that a free education should have a greater purpose than one individual’s fullfillment) is gender neutral. Am I missing a neutron connection?

    • K
      K says:

      No this makes sense. I applied for a grant to be a higher math teacher, and the free education came with a caveat: I had to teach math in a “high risk” school district for at least 4 years after graduation, or I would have to pay back the money.
      I ended up backing out because I decided I didn’t want to teach, but I thought the program was fair. This BS about getting a free medical degree and then deciding to stay home is just that – BS

    • Linda Lou
      Linda Lou says:

      If she got a free ride for a master’s degree, in all likelihood she was WORKING for less than minimum wage on the professor’s research. His grants paid for her small stipend and tuition remission, in return for her labor on his research.

      Regardless, in this country we don’t have to commit to working x years in the field in return for our free advanced degree. Yes it’s wasteful but everything is imperfect.

  29. Marti
    Marti says:

    Somehow I ended up married at 22 with a guy who is the breadwinner to this day. I had kids at 24 and 27. I never left the workforce altogether, but I cut back hours. I was so junior that no one cared.

    Now, the kids are both in school and we only need and afterschool nanny.

    Currently, I am 32 with a very flexible full time job, 2 kids in school and a husband who is happy working a lot.

    I am very satisfied with where I am, but it was all dumb luck. I wouldn’t change a thing.

  30. Kater Cheek
    Kater Cheek says:

    I used to be a SAHM, and it wasn’t easy. It’s easier than being a working mom, but not nearly as easy as merely working full time without kids.

    I did have a lot of time when my kids were at school, but I filled every minute of it. When you earn $0 per hour, (and if you’re a type A person like me) you feel compelled to do more, more, more, more to justify the money you aren’t making. Nothing I did ever felt like enough. I felt pressure, both external and internal, to justify my time.

    I miss my homecooked meals. I miss my garden and my clean house and the 10 extra hours a week I spent working on my side career (novelist, which I still do). I believe that the work spent raising a family is important work, but this culture values money more than anything else.

    Notice this sentence: “How much are you worth?”

    It means both “money you have” and “value as a human being.” You can’t separate the two.

    In some ways, I miss being a homemaker, because I was very good at it. But I don’t miss never feeling as though I was doing enough. I could work 16 hours a day, and my salary was still the same as the cat’s.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I tried the SAHM gig and I couldn’t.

      With a job there is so much more stability in our household, emotionally and of course financially.

      When I see women running a household well, taking care of kids, being great moms, etc. I have so much respect for that.

      I know how to work and earn money. I can handle my kid in small amounts. And I feel more confident when I am making money (even if it’s more than my husband) because I feel like if an emergency happens the world won’t crumble. And I can take care of us if we need to go to the doctor. I can buy supplements to fend off depression.

      I am not sure why for you the work of being a stay at home mom is easier (I am jealous, you must have a very specific personality for it) but I seriously think it’s crazy amounts of work in all aspects.

      And then, your husband gets off work and instead of saying “ok bye! you take care of everyone! or take care of me!” many of you continue to give emotionally and listen to your husband’s bad day at work, etc.

      Hat tip to you!

  31. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    I feel like I fit your response to Jennie L. I’m 34 married and don’t have children and yet I’m not all in love with what I do. I’ll never be rich because I’d rather have a life than spend hours building a big career. I have a job that doesn’t pay a lot, but I leave at 5 p.m. on the dot every day and I leave work at work. It’s comfortable and low stress and I like who I work with, but I think do think about all the errands and things I could be doing during the day. My husband makes about four times what I do and it’s his salary that pays all our big expenses. I guess what holds me back from not working is fear. Fear of not having my own stream of money to spend and always having to ask for money for everything from gas for my car to a cup of coffee. Fear that what if my husband were to do a complete turnaround and change into someone I could no longer be married to. He hasn’t ever given me any sign of this, but I have friends who were married to people they thought they knew and loved only to have that person change into someone they barely recognized. If this happened and I hadn’t been working would I able to find work if I had to? Plus it’s like I have said here and elsewhere, there is that feeling that if there are no children involved then you are “supposed” to be working outside the home. Sometimes it feels as if I stay in my current position more out a need for a financial security blanket.

    • Just another reader
      Just another reader says:

      Your post summarizes what I think about most, but talk about least. I spend 50% of my waking life thinking about variants of this issue.

      To have kids or not to have kids? If I have kids, I want to stay at home and take care of them. Isn’t spending time with them, and raising them, the point of having kids? If I put them in daycare all day, why bother even having them? Seriously, isn’t it exhausting to have to cater to them on nights and weekends after a week of work? I’d much rather spend my time after work relaxing and doing whatever I want. I’ve never yearned for kids like my friends.

      Here’s my problem – now, in my mid 30s, all of a sudden I’m worried I’m about to miss out. And I never believed in the biological clock until I started having dreams about having children. It’s a real thing.

      My husband wants to move somewhere cheaper to live, where I wouldn’t have to work, and could re-group. Figure out what to do next, consider having children, and if I want, re-enter the workforce at some point by starting a home business, or working at Starbucks. I’m kind of joking, but he doesn’t care.

      He makes about 50% more than me and we can almost live off his income now, but could easily do so if we lived somewhere cheaper. (We live in the heart one of the most expensive (and exciting!) cities in the country – so pretty much anywhere else would be cheaper.)

      But then I think about my graduate degree, all my experience, my career. I lead people now. People actually think I know things. And like one of the other responses said – no marriage is a sure thing. What if something goes wrong? If I stay in the workforce, maybe my career would grow.

      Back to this – I’m so exhausted. I’ve been working so hard, and always for someone else. I have ideas and dreams of doing other things, but I never do anything about them because I’m always working.

      Welcome to my whirlwind.

      • Shandra
        Shandra says:

        ” Isn’t spending time with them, and raising them, the point of having kids? If I put them in daycare all day, why bother even having them? Seriously, isn’t it exhausting to have to cater to them on nights and weekends after a week of work?”

        I work FT and have two kids 5 years apart, the youngest of whom is a tot.

        1. No, being a stay-at-home parent is not the ‘point’ of having kids; no one ever says that’s the point for dads.

        I do sometimes think a 3/4 job would be nicer, but we still get lots of time together. Right off the top, 2/7 or 28% of the week is weekend, plus we have family breakfast together and family dinners 3/5 of the weeknights, and holidays, and I had mat leave.

        Some of the time they are apart would have been not quality us time anyway, like naptime when they are little, or time I would have had to have them in activities for socialization/learning, or time I would be peeking at my computer, hanging out with other moms, if you believe in group schools of any kind really, in school. When I went back to work I figured I was missing out on about 5 hrs of quality time a day max, or 25 hrs/week. 25 hours a week is totally not insignificant, but it wasn’t worth eliminating my career over, to me.

        2. The “why bother ever having them” is interesting. I don’t have my kids so they can amuse me all day or so that they give meaning to my life or so that I can teach the alphabet or perceive myself as “the best mother.” I have no objection to those things happening, but I had kids at least in part to provide them with a loving and caring family and to provide them with what they need to grow into happy, caring adults (hopefully…there are no guarantees). I really wonder at people who have kids in order to fill their days.

        I do think making sure they are really well cared for is my job. Finding the right other people to help do that is just fine with me. Extended family and “members of the tribe” have throughout most of human history helped with childrearing. Our daycare is a Montessori, so that works for us.

        3. For me, when I was home full time, when my husband got home or on weekends I was kind of tired out and did want some time for adult stuff. When I work, I come home super eager to see my kids, and I do think that seeing that light in my eyes has given them the (correct) impression that I love them and really love to spend time with them.

        So sure, sometimes it is tiring, but mostly evenings and weekends with kids are pretty happy times, for me.

        • J.E.
          J.E. says:

          I’m iffy on even wanting kids, and I’ve always felt that if you aren’t 100 % wanting to be a parent then don’t have kids. So far I haven’t felt that pull so no kids. As for my job, it’s in no way a big job. I don’t want a job that entails a ton of responsibility, which for me equals stress, so I’m not concerned with ever being a leader/boss and having people work for me. I’d much rather just be a worker. That being said I’m naturally not making a lot of money. After taxes I make about $23,000 annually. My husband makes four times what I make and it’s his salary that pays for our house, utilities and all the major home expenses. Like I said I’m afraid of losing the financial security blanket I have and my own spending money, but I also kind of lucked into my job (if a $23K job could be considered luck :-) ) in that it’s flexible, low stress, at a college so I get lots of holiday time off and worry that if I left the workforce and then had to get back in I wouldn’t find something as “nice” as I have now. At the same time I think about all that I could be getting done during the days to make our life smoother. I hate having to cram lots of chores into the weekend when I’d rather enjoy time with my husband when we are not both tired from work. I too wish for the ability to be more open about not wanting to work in the traditional sense. It doesn’t mean I’m lazy, without ambition, or don’t know how to take care of myself. I think a sizable number of people feel guilty for feeling this way and keep it quiet and don’t realize that there are a lot more of us out there. Not everyone is cut out to go to a traditional out of the home job, just as I think not everyone is cut out to be a parent or go to college. For some, their strength is keeping a home running smoothly and nurturing a spouse-notice I don’t say baby a spouse. It’s providing support and stability so they can succeed at their strengths. To me that’s teamwork. I think women especially feel guilt/shame for not wanting to work because they feel they are doing a disservice to all the women who fought for women’s equality and right to work. To me they fought so that whether to work or not could be a choice women made for themselves and if they wanted to work, to have every avenue open to them to succeed at whatever they chose to do. I’m glad this discussion is happening and no one should be made to feel guilty about what their natural strengths and inclinations are. Glad to see all the discussion!

  32. Tenzin Thinley
    Tenzin Thinley says:

    I think at the core of our being men want to be providers, to be the safety net and to protect while women want to feel protected, to find congruency in her spouse’s and her goals in life and to nurture the family. Men want to feel the support in going for his vision as much as a woman in hers. It’s society, oprah, listening to everybody else that has caused such a dysfunctionality in relationships, because we keep throwing issues against each other contrived by outsiders. The result is we are surrounded by men who have lost their masculinity and women who cannot be attracted to them.

    • D.S.
      D.S. says:

      Tenzin, you say “I think at the core of our being men want to be providers, to be the safety net and to protect while women want to feel protected”

      It definitely seems that way from the outside superficial surface of life, especially the heavily Christian influenced surface. In reality the personality type of “Protector” is not relegated to men.

      The stereotypes you throw around “men who have lost their masculinity” and “women who cannot be attracted to them” do not reflect the realities of my life and I suspect you have some very specific definitions of masculinity for yourself which you are imposing on others with that statement. Well guess what everyone else does too.

      As long as I think of MY husband as masculine, what matter does your definition make?

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      Sorry, my husband’s not like this at all. I am more ambitious than him (he makes more because he’s older and has more degrees, but give me time) and he likes that I am hard working. He doesn’t want to have to support someone. He doesn’t want to work excruciating hours and never see his kid any more than I do. That’s why we both work average hours and we both get to see her.

      • Geoff
        Geoff says:

        I am a married man with medium career prospects, and believe that staying home with the kids would be best for them and me. I want my wife to be the bread winner, because my career is too stressful and I am good with kids. Thanks to who wrote this for giving me an opportunity to admit that “I would rather be a SAHD.” I can’t wait to give my wife the news and start my life over with the kids.

  33. Jen
    Jen says:

    I’m a working mom with a two year old and a baby on the way. When the baby arrives, I’m quitting and I can’t wait! There is just not enough time in the day for me to do a good job and work and also do a good job being a mom. My job as mom will take priority every time which means that at work I am really half assing it – will anyone notice if I sneak out at 4:15 every day so my little one isn’t stuck at daycare too late? “Working from home” to compensate for missing another day of work because daycare has a holiday, or little one isn’t feeling well, etc. I’m an ENTJ, so half-assing something like this really causes me some pain.

    I am very fortunate in that money is not an issue for my family, but I do still have some anxiety about sacrificing my career because of the “what ifs” that life sometimes throws at you. Here are the stats you asked for:

    I make in the low six figures. Once baby number two comes along, almost all of that will disappear after taxes and childcare.
    Childcare: daycare from 7:45 to 6pm daily, $1,600 per kid.
    Number of meals together: all on the weekend. My husband and I never go out because I can bear the thought of asking my child to stay with a babysitter after being at daycare all week. During the week… I guess every day, but that means microwaving leftovers for the tot and cereal for me.
    Number of children’s books memorized: Just two, but only because the little one wants the same thing read to him every night. Even though travel is a big part of my job, I told my current employer I wouldn’t do it anymore so that I can always be home for bedtime.

    • Jen
      Jen says:

      Forgot to add that my husband is the primary breadwinner. He has one of the “big” jobs that Penelope is always referring to.

  34. Ali
    Ali says:

    Penelope, thanks for your post this morning. How refreshing. I don’t want to work! I want to have kids and spend time with my family. Fortunately, I’ve found a path that will enable me to work part-time hours while taking care of a household. Thank you for motivating me to continue my journey, even if it is not the most popular or acceptable way.

  35. Help4NewMoms
    Help4NewMoms says:

    Ok, first off, this quote “Do we ask people to commit to staying home eight hours a day with kids to justify having a family? Then why do we want people to work eight hours outside the home in order to justify getting a good education?” is just about the wisest thing ever written on this subject. yes, yes, yes.

    Second, being a SAHM IS work. If a woman with a family does not want to work outside the home it is not because she wants to escape work because she is working…she simply doesn’t want to do both!

  36. Victoria Pynchon
    Victoria Pynchon says:

    Re: how women fare today if they divorce: 60% of people under poverty guidelines are divorced women and children. Single mothers support up to four children on an average after-tax annual income of $12,200. 65% divorced mothers receive no child support.

  37. D.S.
    D.S. says:

    I read the Jenifer Lawrence Wikipedia page, and when I got to her current and announced projects it really didn’t sound like someone taking their foot off the gas…

    “Lawrence will be starring in and producing the film adaptation of Claire Bidwell Smith’s memoir The Rules of Inheritance, directed by Susanne Bier.[56] In September 2013, it was announced that Lawrence was to star in the adaptation of the novel East of Eden with director Gary Ross. The film is based on the John Steinbeck novel and was already adapted to film in 1955, starring James Dean (although the film only adapted the latter half of the novel).[57] Additionally, she was chosen to star in Burial Rites, a film adaptation of Hannah Kent’s debut novel, where she would be joined again by Gary Ross.[58]

    In 2014, Lawrence will be reprising her role as Mystique in the film X-Men: Days of Future Past, with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. She will also be starring in her third collaboration film directed by David O. Russell, titled The Ends of the Earth.[59] In addition, Lawrence will play Jeannette Walls in the film adaptation of Walls’ best-selling memoir The Glass Castle.[60]”

    According to this website, the rumors of wedding and baby plans are both false

  38. Geald
    Geald says:

    You want honest, my last child is off to highschool this year and is independent. My days now is housework for 1 to 2 hours plus the main meal. Without little kids around housework is quick an easy plus I dont have alot of clutter. I have been a stay at home mum for 22 years now, I have a very loving supportive breadwinning hubsand. He wants me to use my time now to take care of myself because he puts value on my roll as a mother. Also our 2 old children had some major issues as teenagers and I am resting up ready for my last child teen years. See I dont care if you got a degree if you should use it or not, what everyone is really missing the real point, if you bring little humans into this world that should make them first, your talking about wasting a degree, what about wasting your childs childhood.

    • Lucy Chen
      Lucy Chen says:

      Can’t agree more!
      Besides, I don’t see much value in a degree per se. I have a degree in finance and used to be a banker, but the value from that part of life living in accordance with others expectation is that now I have experience of inner struggle to draw from for my paintings.
      I learn a lot more from MOOC courses and other paid online learnings (such as Penelope’s Quistic courses) than from the degree.
      Wasting a degree? I say feel free to trash it.

    • ps
      ps says:

      I think this idea that you are ‘wasting your childs childhood’ if you don’t devote every second of your life to them is ridiculous. It’s possible to be a good parent without staying at home with the child.

  39. Gretchen
    Gretchen says:

    Of course people don’t WANT to work, but the alternative is not having enough money to do the things we want to do, like, uhm…retire before I’m 90…send my kid to college, not really worry about money and buy what I want when it want it for the most part.

    We could live on my husband’s salary, but it would be a lot harder. I’d have to give a whole lot of things way more thought than I care to.

    I’m not the breadwinner, but our breakdown is about 47/53 percent.

    I eat 3 dinners a week with my kid, BUT 7 breakfasts.

    Childcare costs around 6K a year (after school and summer camp). For the record, before my kid was school age I did stay home and consulted part time from home, so the sketch was different then with the earnings breakdown at 25/75 and no childcare cost except limited preschool just for fun and enrichment.

    I don’t have books memorized because the books she reads now are more complicated and we have a wide variety of books, but I do read at least 2 stories to/with her every night.

    With our salaries at close to equal, the time we share with our child is equal, too, I take the breakfasts he takes the dinners (except for the 3 nights a week we’re all together) and he gets loads of vacation so she gets 3 weeks at home with him during the summer so she has both the day camp AND the lazy days of summer experience, plus a week where we all go off somewhere together.

    Of course, I wish I didn’t have to work, like in a fantasy land of being a celebrity or millionaire or something, but I think our mostly egalitarian earnings and childcare works well for us.

  40. Rachel Gray
    Rachel Gray says:

    Wonderful post. I am so thankful that someone out there is writing things that make sense. It is like a breath of fresh air.

    Penelope, you will probably not answer me but I have to ask. I have been waiting for a long time for you to present some more profound arguments about the way our society is structured.

    For years you’ve said that corporate careers don’t work for women. The other day you say they don’t work for men, either. It seems to me that corporate jobs are not working well for anybody. And you say that school– which is set up to take care of kids while parents work– doesn’t work for families. I agree!

    I personally think that corporations are never going to provide the kind of jobs that make for a happy society. I don’t understand why people shouldn’t have the option to stay at home with their kids– why aren’t we all up in arms about the fact that it’s nearly impossible to support a family on one income? I am not sure how this happened to us, but I am sure that it is a bad thing. I don’t have a clear answer on how to change things. But I am completely convinced that this is a huge problem which is the result of our economic and political system.

    Penelope, you are really really good at pointing out the specific problems that modern work poses to families. I’m just wondering if you have any theories about why things are this way, or how to change them. Obviously you have lots of suggestions about how to work around the system, but do you have anything bigger lurking somewhere?

    Disclosure: I am a SAHM (baby is one year old). My husband who plans to quit his IT job in a few months in order to write philosophy books. As you suggest, we will need to live in a cheap neighbourhood to make this work. (We plan to homeschool anyway). I had a string of unconnected, stupid jobs, before I got married, and I am so thankful that I can now give up the charade and just take care of my baby. I wish that I had read your advice when I was 20 instead of 30. (Not that I would have listened, I was so brainwashed by the ‘have-a-career’ pressure.)

    • J.E.
      J.E. says:

      Yes! I don’t feel that corporate jobs are working that well for women or men. In the old days, if you were a loyal employee you were taken care of by your employer and had security. These days with swift and massive layoffs and restructuring, employee loyalty doesn’t mean much. It’s getting to where less and less people are willing to give up large chunks of their lives working for an employer/company who could turn around and basically screw them. In the same way that Penelope talks about families having to structure their lives around a school schedule, the same can be said for adults and work. So much is scheduled around the assumption that you work Monday-Friday until 5 p.m. I don’t think the traditional 40 hour Monday-Friday work week is suitable for everyone and I think more and more are starting to realize that. I think we could be seeing a change in what it means to “work.” I don’t have the answers, but I find it interesting.

  41. Jana Miller
    Jana Miller says:

    I stayed at home by choice with my kids until they turned 18. I homeschooled through junior high and then they did a hybrid school. I’m now working part time. It’s satisfying work and I love it. I don’t make very much but I don’t care because my husband provides for our family. And I have flexibility in my job that allows me to travel when he has conferences.

    No regrets here. And I love my life now. It’s much easier than raising kids.

  42. Claire
    Claire says:

    My husband and I are both ENTJ. We both have high ranking jobs at Fortune 100 companies. We married when I was 34 and he was 39 and unfortunately we weren’t able to have kids, we have ‘unexplained fertility’. We make about the same money, some years he makes a little more, some years I make a little more. We live a really great lifestyle. I don’t know what I would do if I stayed home, but I like the idea that I could stay home however we would have half the money we have now so we couldn’t live as luxuriously as we do now. Likely I would find a way to work again because I love it and then I’d be right back in the grind. At this point in our lives we aren’t looking to have a baby, we feel like we’re too old and all of our friends kids are 15+ years old. Nothing is perfect, but we’re happy and healthy and we have a lot of money so it’s something.

  43. Maggie McGary
    Maggie McGary says:

    Unless Wisconsin is totally different than other states, I’m pretty sure you have it backwards: these days, women fare WORSE after a divorce, not better. It used to be that women were usually guaranteed alimony at custody of their kids; these days, you’re lucky if you get restorative alimony and even if you were a stay-home mom for your whole marriage and your husband didn’t lift a finger parenting, he can still fight for, and probably get, full or at least partial custody–which means you get only partial child support even if you do get to keep your kids. As someone who was a stay-home mom for eight years and went through a divorce, there’s no way I could have supported myself on the proceeds of my divorce–not working was no longer an option. And anyone thinks you somehow get “merit pay” during a divorce for having been the sole childcare provider while your husband built his career, you’re sadly mistaken; it is way easier for your ex to get partial custody and maintain his income than it is for you, the stay-home spouse, to start your career over and be earning anywhere near what you would be making if you’d have had a stay-home spouse doing all the childcare.

    • Gretchen
      Gretchen says:

      Yep. Just more wacky confirmation-bias driven citations and “advice” for those fragile enough to take it.

  44. karelys
    karelys says:

    Just don’t take potshots at people for their preferences. Why?

    If you compare yourself then that’s your loss.

    Anyway, I feel like most women who don’t have a partner that can take care of them want to stay home and then when they find out how emotionally taxing that is, then they want to work.

    I think everyone wants to be taken care of. Anyone. Not having the financial stress is awesome. And for some people that means two income households. And divided home and child rearing labor between the parents and the caregivers and the cleaners, etc.

    If women want to be taken care of and want to be able to say it out loud, ok. They should be able to.
    But they should be able to stomach and accept when men say:

    “I don’t want to work. I want to be financially taken care of so I can live a satisfying life doing only what I find interesting and rewarding.”

  45. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Your ideas and the way you write them make me feel so happy that I’m almost crying. You are a great role model and advocate for women and my favorite celebrity. I am going to go kiss my husband now because I finally feel that it’s okay that all I want is to be with him.

  46. Mark K.
    Mark K. says:

    This was a great post.

    I stay home while my wife works. Here’s how I’d answer Penelope’s questions as they pertain to my wife:

    Number of nannies. 0

    Total cost per year for childcare. 0, over and above what is necessary.

    Number of dinners per week with the kids. 2

    Number of children’s books you have memorized from reading aloud to kids so often. Maybe 5.

  47. Kim
    Kim says:

    I know stories of stay at home dads; stay at home moms; parents who switched being the primary breadwinner and had the other one stay at home; a couple with no kids where the male spouse chose to opt out of the workforce to support his wife’s high flying executive career. With each story, comes a unique perspective. I am 45 and a first time mom who has a 3-year old. I’ve dabbled in PT work (left the consulting industry at 41) since becoming a mom but will be returing FT because I am divorcing.

    The beauty of this country and if your economic situation allows it, is to have choice…to craft your definition of success in terms of your values and priorities whatever they may be. The key is to have courage to be self-aware and understand if you are truly living the life you want to be living and what you hope for your family. Once you have kids, I realize that there is a selflessness that needs to show up too, as I remember my dad taking jobs growing up, that perhaps were not his passion but he did so to pay the bills. I also remember a high flying female executive telling me she made time for her job and kids, but it was her friendships that sufferred.

    Penelope, personally, I was struck by one of your earlier posts, The Pursuit of Happiness Makes Life Shallow ( This present and past post remind me of the value of “paying attention” and “being present” and what happens when you do so — you can witness the most beautiful moments that hit you just right and fill you with gratitude. For me personally, not being a crazy consultant, has allowed me to pay attention more and catch more moments with my son, that I might have otherwise missed and this has been important to me. The PT work at my kitchen counter kept a different part of my brain active. I recognize it is a privelige to be able to stay at home, let alone to have an opportunity to work on the side too. However, my goal when I return is to find something that doesn’t distract me from being present to my son or my own life for that matter. Because for me, personally, I am know if I am crazy busy with my career, I am too much MIA from other parts of life that I value.

    • Margaret Patton
      Margaret Patton says:

      This is a really great comment, and I think one thing that should go along with it is an example of where women have extremely few choices. There’s an amazing article in the New Yorker about Saudi women and the right to work.

      Work provides structure, camaraderie, and an income stream. These women were experiencing crushing boredom, social isolation, and depression before they were able to get into the work force.

      I dream about not working, too, but I’m glad I have the choice to work.

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