I’m going to tell you right off the bat that this post is for people who have a spouse who makes money. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. But it’s gotta be about $55K, which is what you have to earn in order to feed and clothe a family. No extras. Just that.

If you have a spouse earning that much money, then you don’t have to work. You can stay home and take care of the kids. I am giving you permission, since society does not really do that anymore.

Here are ten reasons people tell me they need to get a job. But they are all bad reasons—every one of them—and if any of these is your reason, then you should just stay home with the kids. You’ll be happier.

I want to feel independent.
Once you have kids, there is no such thing as independence. The kids have two parents and the parents will always, for the rest of their lives, be parenting together. Also, making the money doesn’t make you independent. Because when a kid is sick, one parent will work and make money, and the other parent will go get the kid at school. On that day, the working parent is dependent on the sick-day parent. The idea of independence is a feminist chimera.

I want to be okay if we get a divorce.
If you live your life preparing for a divorce, you’ll get one. And there’s nothing to make you not okay like having to arrange your family holiday with your ex’s new spouse who just planned a trip to Mexico and your kids want to go. So very little is okay after a divorce. But also, if you can feel okay during a marriage then you can feel okay after a divorce. Feeling okay is a state of mind. So focus on having a good marriage instead of a preparing for a good divorce.

My spouse doesn’t want to have all the financial responsibility.
The marriages that work the best are when people divide the labor. One person is in charge of the kids and one is in charge of earning money. It’s very difficult to do either of those jobs. But it doesn’t make life easier to decide you’re going to do both jobs. A better decision is to do one of the jobs really well and leave the other to your spouse. Adult life is hard. But it’s not as hard if you divide up the work load.

When we got married I promised I’d keep working.
Deals change. People change. The hardest part about marriage is that people always change but almost never how you expect. Adapting is a gracious response to the natural shift in personal desires as time goes on. In other words: tell your spouse you are not keeping that promise. And say you’re sorry.

It would be wasting my education to not have a job.
You do not need to earn money to justify being educated. Education is something that makes life more full and interesting. You deserve that just because you’re who you are: curious, challenging, and thoughtful. You do not need to have a job in order to pay an imaginary education toll.

I want people to respect me.
A job doesn’t get you respect. Respect comes from inside you. And that respect could get you a good job if you wanted one. Because people who have good self-esteem get good jobs. But if you are just getting a job to get respect, then you probably wouldn’t need one after you found the respect from inside yourself. Moreover, people who look for external validation are at risk for depression.

I want to do something bigger than just raise kids.
This is one of the most commonly held, but completely false, reasons. Because if you are smart and bright then people have been telling you since you were little that you’re going to do something big. But what they didn’t tell you is that doing something big that people notice requires the type of singular, impassioned focus that is not child-friendly and not part-time. Doing something big requires a big commitment, and that’s probably why you are making a big commitment to your kids right now. Because you can see that.

I want to earn a little bit of money.
It’s part of being human to always want 20% more. It’s science. As soon as you earn 20% more, you’ll get used to it and you’ll want 20% more again. It’s a hamster wheel with no end in sight. Think about this: Imagine you are a cave person and you collected berries, and you said, “This is enough. Let’s stop working.” When there was a shortage of food, you’d die. But the person who always thinks she needs 20% more would live. That’s why always wanting to earn more money is in your DNA. And you need to override that with the logic of modern knowledge.

I want to be a good role model for my kids.
This statement presupposes that being a stay-at-home parent is not a good role model. Which is, of course, a despicable idea. Because it’s a dishonor to kids and family to say stay-at-home parenting is not useful. But also, taking care of kids is way more difficult and more meaningful than going to work. So do the hard task of showing your kids that making them important is being a good role model.

All my friends have jobs.
Get new friends. We shift friends all the time because, unlike family, friends are mostly about proximity and life timing. If you’re at the same place in life that your friends are, you’ll feel more stable and happy with your choices. So stop hanging around people who have huge jobs. They won’t see their kids and they’ll tell you all the time how their kids are doing great without much parental involvement, which will mean that you are unnecessary. Get friends who make the same types of life choices you make. Happiness is relative to the people around you. Get people who value what you value and you’ll be happier. Without the job.

Now you are going to ask, why is Penelope working? What is Penelope’s reason that she is working instead of being with her kids all day?

The answer is: I like working.

But it’s not a real answer because for the last week I didn’t like working, so I didn’t. No emails. No blog posts. Just turkeys and pancakes and pig litters and snowmen. And sex with a good attitude. Because I am much more easy-going about sex when I don’t have to pause in the middle of work to take off my clothes.

So I’m a big fat liar maybe. I don’t know why I’m working. And maybe my family would be happier if I didn’t work and used that extra time to reap all those mental health benefits from going to the gym every day.

But I really liked writing this post. I liked the process of listing all the bad reasons. And I liked the process of telling you that I haven’t found a good, honest reason to work.

I like talking to you. That’s why I work. Because I like talking to you and I like that you listen.

 

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  1. HousewifeByChance
    HousewifeByChance says:

    Amazing post. So raw and real without trying. It’s truly something I have re-read several times already because it feels like you’re talking to me! As I grow in confidence – and competence – in my current station in life, having left a demanding corporate job behind in order to work freelance and part-time at home with school-age children, your reasons enumerate so much of the noise inside my mind.

  2. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Thank you for this post, even though it’s not meant for me. We live in a developing country so our standard of living is lower. I earn around $8,00o a year but it is more than enough to feed, clothe, and shelter a family.

    From this post, it seems that there are only two good reasons to work. First, we need the money. Second, we like to work.

  3. Jim
    Jim says:

    Insurance may not be a reason to get a “real” job, Penelope. But it does have merit. The individual market, meaning you and me, got reamed with Obamacare. In Texas there are now no individual PPO plans available. Which means we all have to go to HMO’s with much greater restrictions.
    For what I pay monthly now I have a $6400 deductible. That is insane. But it is the only game in town. My friend, a corporate guy all the way, pays about the same premium but has a $1000 deductible for his entire family.
    I am not railing Obamacare. I am just stating one of the very real trade offs between self-employment and corporate. And I would not be employable by a corporation due to choices I made long ago. It is all good. But as you state so often, there are tradeoffs.

  4. Don Becker
    Don Becker says:

    I work to live although I enjoy my job as well. I liked your list and I don’t think any of those reasons are why I work. I live alone now and that makes work much more convenient. I enjoyed the post and reading the comments. Sorry I haven’t replied in a while Penelope. Keep up your work for us, okay?

  5. Dana
    Dana says:

    Forgive me for not reading every comment- perhaps this was mentioned above.

    My single biggest lingering concern is having a dignified old age and/or final illness. I am not interested in a traditional retirement, but at some point, I will need to stop working. Maybe it’s 70 or 80 or 100, but it will happen. Nothing is certain, but I feel like I will have a better shot at paying for my care and medical needs if my husband and I both continue to stockpile funds for the future.

    I watched my MIL die of cancer while she drained her bank account and the energy/resources of her children. She died with nothing- and she was in Canada where at least she wasn’t in deep debt from the medical treatments. I look at my parents and think that there will be a time I will want to step in and help them. I look at my kids and think that maybe they will need me for a health crisis.

    Right now just seems like the time to make hay. The sun is shining on us for the moment.

  6. Jill Koskela
    Jill Koskela says:

    Penelope- Thank you for this post. I have been struggling with this for so long as a stay at home mom. I always felt in the six years I have been home with my three children that I was just wasting my potential. I then figured out this year that I have a lot of potential but now I am putting it to good use by homeschooling. However, at least a couple of times a week I would love to send them back to school so I can have my life back. Anyway, you have made me feel valued as an asset by being a stay at home parent and I appreciate that.

  7. Sidney
    Sidney says:

    Thank you for this post, Penelope. It is very validating. I do agree that every family will and should make the decision about who works for money and who does not for themselves. Just like they made the decision of what kind of job to pursue before having kids.
    I made the decision to have children because I wanted to put my energy into them. When they came along, putting my energy into a job was no longer fulfilling. I pushed myself to continue doing it for all the reasons you listed in your post and I compromised my health, sanity and the health and sanity of my kids (read: I had a total nervous breakdown)(yes, that is a real thing and it really happens).
    I’m now managing our household and am SO much happier. I will probably do some work for money at some point, but it will not be a job and it will be on my terms. I recognize my privilege at having this choice, and am so thankful for it. It has given me back to myself. Thank you again for posting.

  8. Karen
    Karen says:

    I love this. It’s just what we talked about in our call, too. And you were right. Again. I should call you again sometime. It was fun. I recommend it.

  9. Michael
    Michael says:

    Penelope,

    Great Post!

    What about “My Parents Expect me to get a job as a XXX”? There are so many people I know who get stuck in the mode of doing what the family has always done. For example, Dad, grandfather, uncle are all surgeons, so the heavy gets laid on the kids that they too must do what is expected. Hogwash I say.

    Keep on writing.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yes. Good one. This happens all the time, of course. But I think it probably falls under the “I want respect” heading.

      Penelope

  10. Marion Isobel
    Marion Isobel says:

    So…stay at home because it’s a very tough “job” and because your spouse will take care of everything. Don’t worry about safety net in case of divorce, more money (in case someone gets cancer, etc) because things will be fine as long as you have low expectations in relationships and you live a very frugal life. In other words, raise kids then die.

    I’m only okay with women staying at home if: a. they have a very rich spouse, b. they’re disabled, c. they have disabled children or those with special needs.

    Other than that, work gurl! You have no choice just like men have no choice. No wonder we have very few women leaders, filmmakers, doctors, presidents. Is this feminist rah-rah? Probably! But having the “im a woman so it’s ok if I don’t work” card is just so lame.

    You don’t have to be the best in your field (when you said success for women= laser focus). For me, success means trying so hard at achieving what you want (other than raising kids, please!). Does this mean we are devaluing feminine duties? Nope! It just means let’s not be obsessive about it! That’s the only way we can be more and do more.

    If you are sure that mothering is everything you want to do until you’re old and wrinkly, then congratulations! You are a winner. You lived a fulfilling life. However, if you feel that there’s something you really need/want to do for whatever reason (like earn money you can give to your kids in case they get cancer), then you must do it. Don’t just try and fail and say “”welp, I tried” and use the “I’m a mother” card for eternity.

  11. Chris Basham
    Chris Basham says:

    I lived my life as if my marriage would last forever. I quit my job to go where my husband wanted to go. I stayed home with my children (and I loved that!) and when my husband moved us to a town where job opportunities would be nonexistent for me I supported and loved him and did part-time, freelance work as I could get it and eventually when I suddenly realized my entire marriage was a sham I was nearing 40 and had no substantive, modern work experience and no money for that divorce–so it took me five years of begging, legal wrangling, watching my husband work to turn my children against me, and enduring abuse to be free. I am lucky to be alive, today. I am aware of that, and if I forgot my friends and coworkers and medical professionals and social workers would remind me. But if I’d kept a job the whole time, I could have…gotten a small rental and insisted my ex share custody, calmly, with little drama and less negative impact on me AND my children. People who divorce are not always those who plan their lives as if they might get one. But life after divorce is a lot more financially stable, calm and drama-free for those who were not caught utterly flat-footed, and exhausted by trying to hold up both sides of a marriage on their own.

  12. Tressie @job coach
    Tressie @job coach says:

    I completely agree with the points. Job helps us to gain experience in our chosen field, it also helps us to find out what we don’t like. Then, we decide what do we enjoy while working in that particular field.

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