Open letter to the guy who refuses to be the sole breadwinner

I coach so many women who say they want career advice, but what they really want is permission to not work. These women can see that the jobs they always dreamed of having are not compatible with raising kids, ant that makes the work world feel very disappointing.

So we agree that they don’t really want to work. And their husband makes enough money to support the family. And then—this happens all the time—the guy says he doesn’t want to be the only one earning money. So this is my letter to all those husbands:

Dear Mr.

Do you want kids? If you don’t want kids, you should only date women who are past child bearing age. A huge number of women who are 23 say they might be okay not having kids, but 80% of women over 40 have kids. So realistically speaking, if you date a  woman under age 35, assume she’ll decide she wants kids. Because she might not but the odds are she will.

Do you want to stay home with the kids? I bet the answer is no. So you probably think both parents are going to have careers and both will take care of kids.

But that’s not how the world works. Kids are a full-time job, which means until the kids are school-age, someone needs to take care of them. A deluge of research says that  there should be  a single caregiver until the child is three.

If you ignore that research and your wife works, you will pay for childcare the whole time your wife works. Which means if your wife works full time and makes $50K a year, she’ll make $35K after taxes, and a huge percentage of that will go to childcare — to leave your child with someone who probably does not make a living wage.

Let’s say your wife takes maternity leave and then goes back to work. Someone has to pick up the baby at childcare at 5pm every day. No being late. Whoever does that cannot have a high-paying job, because people don’t get paid a lot to leave at 4:30 every day. If parents switch off pickup days, it means both parents have a job that is not high paying. Or the parents have a fight every day at 4pm because neither feels able to leave work.

So one person has to leave work at 4:30pm every day. That will be your wife, of course, because she doesn’t even want to be at work in the first place. This means your wife’s salary will never be particularly large because she can never be fully committed to work.

Of course you already knew she was not fully committed to work because when you married her you knew she was not passionate about making a ton of money. She was interested in other things. You could have married someone who loved making money, but then she’d be threatening to you, and she’d make you stay home with the kids. And you wouldn’t like that. That’s why you picked this particular woman for your wife.

So you have a wife who doesn’t want to work. She wants to take care of your kids. And you want her to take care of the kids AND work. Because you don’t want all the responsibility of earning the money.

But you are not going to split the responsibility of childcare in half, because then your career would be nothing, so your wife is taking the responsibility of taking care of kids. Which means all that’s left for you is to take responsibility for earning the money.

Look: you can divide everything in half and have two half-time parents working half-speed at their jobs. Or you can have each parent specializing and the kids get a full-time parent and the family has a full-time breadwinner.

Obviously the family works better with parents who take full responsibility for their half of the deal. Research abounds to show that marriages stay together better with a stay-at-home parent. And increasingly educated couples are keeping one parent at home. And most women aspire to stay home.

Want to look at what part-time work looks like for a mother? Look at all the law-firms that tried it: the women worked full-time and got paid for part-time. Because good part-time jobs do not really exist. You cannot leave work at 3pm when school gets out because there’s always going to be a twenty-five year old who will do the job full-time.

Want to know what two parents working looks like? Google latchkey kid. And you know where you got the idea that splitting things 50/50 is a good idea? From people who didn’t split everything 50/50. Why? Because it’s impossible.

There are two jobs for adults in a family. Kids or money. Grow up and take one of those jobs. Because while yes, it is a lot of pressure to be an adult and earn the money, it’s a lot harder to be a kid who doesn’t have a parent around when they need one.

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  1. Jack
    Jack says:

    I am the sole breadwinner. I would love to stay home with my son. My wife and I worked hard for many years so that we could afford for her to stay home. I agree, it’s a tough decision for all involved, but you put on your big boy, or girl, panties, and make it.

    But please leave latchkey kids out of the discussion. Single parents around the world exert superhuman effort to provide for their children in difficult situations. They don’t need more guilt for not having a spouse to help them. And latchkey kids turn out just fine. I should know, I was one.

    • Anna
      Anna says:

      Jack, if you read Penelope’s email it’s not meant for single parents. It’s meant for couples. It’s about making a better decision when you have BOTH people (mom and dad, mom and mom, dad and dad, whichever variation applies .. and please note, if you have any issues with gay parent families, please keep them to yourself) ready and available. The decision is that between the two people, one has to choose kids and the other money. So, please stop taking the article out of context. It’s annoying and petty and adds nothing useful to any possible debate.

      • Lisa Deveaux
        Lisa Deveaux says:

        The dialogue should be expanded to address latch key kids. Many latch key kids turn out just fine, however each decision is personal and should be addressed uniquely. No two marriages are alike.

      • Bill
        Bill says:

        If I have an opinion about homosexual parents, why should I not be allowed to express them? Solely because you may or may not agree? Wow. Talk about close mined. Whatever……………

    • Miss M
      Miss M says:

      I was a latchkey kid, too. A latchkey kid who turned out fine.

      A latchkey kid who would have loved to have my mom at home. A latchkey kid who had to use secret phone ring combinations to know who was calling, because a man who lived in my (very nice) neighborhood was watching me and calling me when I was home alone.

      I was terrified. Yeah, I did turn out fine. But I would much rather have had my mom (she had to work, because things were uncertain).

  2. jdmitch
    jdmitch says:

    where’s the equal-vitriol for the women who take for granted husbands that are willing to make the personal sacrifices to be the sole earner?

    • galeforcewind
      galeforcewind says:

      Have you heard that complaint much? I’ve never had any female person I know who is able to be supported by her husband’s income be thankless or unappreciative of what the husband brings to the relationship. Maybe your world is different than mine …

        • Teach By Type
          Teach By Type says:

          I think a common problem is the husbands think they’re doing this for the wives, but really it’s about what’s best for the children.

          If the husband is providing so the kids can have a stay at home mom, the benefits are not lost if the marriage ends in divorce. Although, I am sorry your marriage ended.

          The husband’s contribution as the breadwinner is equal in value to the wife’s contribution as a stay at home mom, but many men (perhaps not you) and much of society suggest otherwise. Because only one has a dollar value associated with it.

          • Jen A.
            Jen A. says:

            I have to agree with jdmitch, some women are not happy even when the man is a breadwinner. I have a very close friend who is going through a divorce after 5 years of marriage. He was the sole breadwinner and his wife was a stay at home mommy. Her biggest complaints are that he’s not home enough…..well maybe it’s because he’s working all day so you don’t have to! He even supported her to obtain her cma license because he thought maybe she wasn’t happy being home all day and wanted a career. Needless to say, she’s been certified for well over a year and has made no attempt to use it. Some couples just don’t work well together no matter what and some women/men just aren’t happy regardless of what you do.

        • Mel
          Mel says:

          No offense, but I don’t feel sorry for men like you. You chose these obvious vampire women over the nice ones, then complain when you get screwed over. Give it a rest and take some accountability for your poor life choices.

          • JustSayin
            JustSayin says:

            This letter advises men how to accommodate women because women want to make a choice. How about thinking from the point of view of the man? Maybe start addressing such letters to women. Why didn’t the letter say – Dear Women, Stop working and stay at home?

            Always blaming or faulting the men tends to be grating especially in a society that is so into equality. It does disservice to men.

          • jdmitch
            jdmitch says:

            You realize, your is a prime example of the double standard we have in this society towards men and women?

            We blame the man for “poor life choices” in regards to choosing a mate (if she turns out to be a vampire)… but if the man turns out to be a loser we don’t blame the woman for poor life choices (we again blame the man)… her actions (including the choice to become a vampire) are 100% her choices, not mine.

            The point of my comment is that this article is heavily laced with vitriol towards men who won’t step up to be a sole bread winner… however, there’s zero vitriol towards women who take advantage of that situation.

    • Brandon
      Brandon says:

      Probably on an article that’s about that topic. You know, it’s okay to have conversations about specific things right?

      Also, what vitriol? Your standards for vitriol must be pretty low

  3. Ann
    Ann says:

    Anna: you may have not read Jack’s comment closely. His wife IS staying home, but he would be equally willing to be primary caregiver.

    My comment is that Penelope’s argument for a stay-at-home parent also works for parents where neither is a high-wage earner. My son was primary care-giver for his 3 daughters while my daughter-in-law worked at a not-for-profit. The 3 are now in high school, (so dad went back to work full time) All 3 are well-adjusted, do well in school and have a nice circle of friends. Also crucial were several sets of grandparents to assist with chauffeuring, soccer and swim team fees, babysitting, etc.

  4. Sheri
    Sheri says:

    I am in love with this post, even though it brought me to tears! Unfortunately our son is 18 and I have always been the sole breadwinner in our family waiting patiently for my husband to pull it together and settle on a career. Keep preaching to the next generation – just because we can make the money and do a half-assed job raising our kids doesn’t mean we should.

  5. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Penelope for President! Common sense spoken plainly and truthfully. Men have received some benefits but have also been undermined by the huge changes over the past fifty years for women in the working force. Women’s lib has supplied huge opportunities for women but has also confused some issues and muddied the waters around child rearing. The hard edges of Reality are difficult to work around sometimes. Especially when they keep bumping into your children.In the end, I always say ” Who is raising your kids?” Its not really you, if you are away from them every day for ten or more hours. Having dinner and putting them to bed is not raising them. They are being raised by their caregivers, whoever they are. I have worked full time, part time and not at all during different stages of my still minor children’s lives and find that the two day a week position I hold now is perfect time-wise but my husband is hungry to have me back in the saddle full time in order to better help us face the looming demands of College for two kids and yes, our own retirement. I really think Men are scared now. They have had their power in the marketplace undermined by a variety of market forces and have also been brainwashed to believe that they should NOT have to be the sole breadwinner. We need to help our husbands see that they CAN do it! We need to be a team.

  6. alan
    alan says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes!

    As a sole bread winner husband and father and grandfather, I completely agree, for all the reasons you gave, and then want to add that screen time is not like time with mommy or daddy…

    what do we think today’s kids will know, based on their experiences with their parents, about being a parent?!

    my kids, now in their thirties, are better for having had a stay at home mom who did some part time work over the years…

    • Julia
      Julia says:

      Well, I’m glad that was what worked for your family, but there’s research to show that kids benefit when mom works outside of the home.

      • Lisa
        Lisa says:

        Yes, research has shown that daughters of working women are more likely to work themselves. But that is not everyone’s definition of “success.”

        • Donna
          Donna says:

          Lisa, I would measure success as being able to provide a basic standard of living for your family. There are many women who don’t have to worry about that because perhaps their husband provides for them or they were gifted $ from parents (college, wedding, down payment on a house) aka dowry.

          I had none of these things and neither did my husband, we both work because it’s necessary where we live, it’s not optional.

          I was raise by a stay at home mom to be a stay at home mom. I just thank god I have/had drive to put myself through college. Both my sisters (44 & 47) still live at home because the right man never came along to support them.

          I wonder if there should be another letter to men, marry a women with somewhat well off parents and a stay at home mom, they’ll never let their daughter work and they’ll probably help you out quite a bit.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for all these nice comments! I actually held on to this post for weeks because I was dreading everyone screaming at me about it. And I posted on a day when I can monitor comments closely all day long. I am shocked — in a good way! — at the positive response to the post. And I like hearing peoples’ experiences with their own family. We learn so much from each others’ stories.


      • Agnes
        Agnes says:

        As a grandmother I have read with interest your comments and others. I am an American living in France married to a French man. Fourty years ago women just didn’t work when they had kids. Today all do and you don’t see children on the streets. Schools are open from 7 am to 7 pm . The kids are taken care of but to
        me there is no society left, everyone is in a box. My daughter married an American and lives in New York.
        Interesting enough my son in law stayed at home taking care of the first child for a year while my daughter continued working. He now is back at work while my daughter takes care of their three little boys. I think in America it is very tough to have kids today. People are working hard and I feel for the single parents struggling on their own. I also have seen kids of my friends wondering if they want children. France gives you a choice but very few parents stay at home. The state has made it too easy to work and have kids. Two incomes
        are needed but you never see the kids except the month of August when all of France shuts down and the kids are with their parents.

        Enjoy your kids whatever the situation and don’t worry too much.

  7. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    Thank You!! I am in complete agreement! I have always agreed with this but my husband has never been on board with that idea. It’s years later and he resents me for asking too much of him since he works all the time and I resent him since I have to work full-time plus be the main, if not, only parent of our son. Now, my husband made it clear that he would like to separate.

  8. Vanessa
    Vanessa says:

    This is by far my favorite post you’ve ever written- thank you for saying what so many will not admit, even to themselves.

    I’m fortunate to have a husband who supports my staying home, and I’m grateful. But really, it was a decision I made to marry a man who agreed that our children would not be latchkey or daycare kids.

    I see an open letter to women who aren’t yet married and think they may not want kids in your near future….

  9. Stephenie
    Stephenie says:

    I would like to wall paper every city with this post. It is better to realize this is how it is up front than figure it out later on. Right now before and after school child care in my city costs more than religious private school tuition. Summer child care for a 9 year old costs more than my mortgage payment each month. The numbers just don’t add up to having both parents work, or at least not both full time. After you calculate all the other hidden costs of the second income, such as the additional transportation, wardrobe, food and conveniences that are life savers for the working family, the second income is gone. There is no benefit to it. Furthermore the stress levels are higher and you depend on someone else influencing your children rather than you. A stay at home mom can help cut costs and do a better job raising the children, keeping them healthy and safe and thus preventing a lot of other expensive problems later on. Also, employers don’t like parents who have to take days off for sick kids. Multiply the number of sick days you need by the number of kids you have and include yourself. Each kid will get sick in succession, not all at once, and then at the end of it all, mom gets sick too. Your boss will be asking you to give a specific date and time for when you will stop running a fever and puking your guts out, because of course you planned this.

  10. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    This article made me cry. I was offered a high- paying job with 20% travel when my son was entering 1st grade. My husband worked a higher level job with up to 50% travel, and an income that more than paid the bills. We agreed I would give up work so I could help our child navigate school. After awhile, my husband started to accuse me of “not pulling my weight” despite the fact my “workday” never ended, and I would fall on the couch exhausted at 8 PM. He would harp on any undone chore. As soon as my son was in college, he left me. Now that I am fully able to commit to my career fully, I cannot find work because I “haven’t worked” in so long!

    • B
      B says:

      Your son is better off for the sacrifice you made. Your husband didn’t keep up with his end of the agreement. You WILL get back on your feet. Good luck.

  11. Emmphx
    Emmphx says:

    I make 6 figures+ now and low six figures when I had my kids 26 years ago. I had absolutely no problem leaving at 5 to pick up the kids. Nor did my husband. He did the morning dropoff because I am not a morning person. As the kids got older, there was the internet and so we worked from home taking turns as well. At work these days, I see men and women leave at 2 each day to be home when the school kids get home. After ferrying the kids wherever, or getting them settled after snacks, they are soon logging back on to work from home for an hour or two. Everyone seems to respect everyone else’s schedule. Even the big bosses do it. I work for a Fortune 100 company and I am an engineer. My husband is also an engineer. You can raise fabulous kids with an equal co-parent and have a good, even great career. My kids? The daughter is a public defender now and the son is a CPA with an MBA. My son was also disabled with severe speech issues and the world’s worst case of ADHD. I worked part-time when he was in preschool because he had to go to the speech therapist 3x a week. We did not miss a single concert, ball game, etc. My kids had the usual extras but nothing special. (ie my daughter still drives my 16 year old car I gave her in college.) And sick time? My employer sends a nurse’s aide to your house if you want it…with no expectation that you have to use it. Most people only use it if there is an extenuating circumstance, like the other parent is out of town, or is sick himself. Go for the STEM jobs, ladies. They are so much more flexible. And the pay is great.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is an interesting comment. My first thought is, yes, women engineers do very very well. It’s the only industry where women get paid more than men, consistently. And in an effort to keep women engineers companies will become very flexible. Also, engineering work is inherently project based which is conducive to moving in and out of the labor force.

      The other thing that’s instructive about this comment is this woman was able to work part-time for a portion of her children’s lives. I think most women who look like they “have it all” actually worked part-time for a lot of their career while they were raising kids, and for some fluke (in this case, one of the relatively small percentage of women who are great engineers) they can go part-time in a world where part-time jobs are scarce.

      This is a great model – become an engineer. It’s just that based on evolution (where men stay in the tribe and women leave) we know that women tend to have personality types with good social skills and men tend to have personality types that are good for engineering.)


      • Anna
        Anna says:

        I’m an INTJ with a PhD in maths and two kids under six, working as a risk management consultant. After my second maternity leave I managed to negotiate a 3-day workweek, advising other consultants on some of the most challenging aspects of their projects while leaving the day-to-day client interaction to them. It’s still exciting and challenging but does not require the crazy hours that come with a client-facing role. Of course I’m not going to be the one with the biggest bonus at the end of the year, but I get to solve problems all day and then leave at 5.30 – what’s not to like? So here’s another vote for STEM-flavored careers!

        • Jennifer
          Jennifer says:

          I’m also a happy working mom. I have a fulfilling job that lets me spend lots of time with my children. I also have a husband who works from home, giving us some added support and flexibility. And, admittedly, I have employed a nanny on a full or part-time basis for years. The nanny runs the children around to practices and extracurricular activities. I have breakfast and dinner with my children every night and have memorized lots of bedtime stories. I don’t miss school/sport performances.

          One reason this works for me, is that I joined the “pink ghetto” of my office. It turns out the women choose to work in my section, because it has very clear deadlines that allow for planning around parenting duties. I also never tell my boss “no.” For that reason, I was able to work out a schedule where I have every other Friday off in exchange for slightly less pay.

          Women out there who want to work should know that there are happy working moms in the world. I’m one of them! Yes, I have a nanny. But, she runs errands for me so my weekends are fully devoted to my children. And on any given day or week, I cannot say it is all balanced and happy. But, over the course of the year, I feel pretty good about how things are going.

          • Deanna
            Deanna says:


            Similar story here. My husband works from home, I work a four day work week and work half day from home on Fridays. My parents are my childcare after school and they fill in the gaps. I don’t travel and I work with lots of women who have grown children and have not forgotten how hard it is. We live in Orange County (SoCal) and there are very few women who stay home. I’ve noticed many them get $ from their parents to make ends meet. And many are awful to their husbands. A huge part of the job is cooking and cleaning and not just child raising. No one wants to work. How many lottery winners keep their jobs? Very few.

            I think many women fantasize how fun it would be to “not work” but the reality of staying home and being a housewife is hard work. If your husband wants a clean house and good meals, yuck. Being a mom is not a full-time job, it is for a the first 7 years and slowly moves into a consultant role. My kids are 11 and 9, they can do laundry, clean a house and make easy meals. If I stayed home, I doubt that would be the case.

        • DElizabeth
          DElizabeth says:

          +1 for STEM!

          I am in my 9th year of working full time for Fortune 500/1000 tech companies (after 6 years at a tech start-up where I was on site consulting every day). I am a liberal arts major who realized immediately out of college that helping regular people understand engineers & technologists was a lucrative, satisfying, and eternally in-demand skillset. :-)

          I work full-time from home with periodic travel (a few days every 4-6 weeks) and have a husband who works full-time (with 3 work from home days). We have two kids age 5 and 1. I am highly aware of how fortunate/privileged we are and also how insane it can be when kids are sick etc. even with all of our support (including high quality daycare, grandparents 5 minutes away so the kids don’t have to be in their high-quality daycare more than about 5-6 hours a day, and two primarily working-from-home parents so we can take over from the grandparents right away vs. losing another hour every day commuting).

          The funny thing is that even with all of these benefits & flexibility, we have started talking about my husband taking a break to stay home with the kids for a while. Personality-wise and income-wise that is the logical choice for us. But in the meantime, we are extremely grateful that my career, especially, allows our family to earn a great living with excellent flexibility.

          Love this post, love the comments, and I’m very curious to see where my family ends up. Having kids definitely means that all parties have to put on their big-girl / big-boy pants and make the really tough decisions. :-)

      • Maria
        Maria says:

        I’ll jump on the STEM wagon. Female engineer with multiple graduate degrees. I have a different perspective since I’m a single mom. Had a great and very fulfilling job but knew I didn’t want to continue working 60+ hours / week with kids. So, I started my own firm / business. Still engineering, but consulting. My hourly rate is the same but I can pick and choose projects and flex my hours. My LO goes to pre-school twice a week and I have a cadre of sitters for when I can’t work at night but I wouldn’t change a thing.

          • Julia
            Julia says:

            I know a woman who took her first dance lesson at almost 40 and became a professional dancer. I don’t know about this “way too late” argument.

          • msLaura
            msLaura says:

            I’m 46 and studying to become a front end web developer. Should be about a year total, and I’m doing it while I close down my retail business. Yes, I have a background in science, so I have an affinity for STEM, but these are all new skills. There are amazing tools, all you have to do is apply yourself. I’m loving Khan Academy and Udacity. Healthcare takes longer, otherwise I’d be fulfilling my first dream of med school. Web development is fine though, I love that too, and takes much less time to employment.

          • Sarah Beth
            Sarah Beth says:

            I’d have to say I’m way too poor to go through engineering school. Forget being unwilling since I’m changing careers – it’s just not feasible to get yet another degree while still paying for the first one.

      • Maria
        Maria says:

        I am so glad. The “engineer” commented on this post. Because she described how it is worked for our family as well. I am not an engineer, but I am an operational and financial auditor. I also make 6+ figure salary. And yes, I have taken time off and worked part time when my kids were less than 3 year old. Then I came back to the work force and now I have a pretty flexible job that allows me to work from where ever I want. I come to the office mostly to see my team, coach and guide them. But otherwise if they are on assigments, I dont need to be in the office itself. I have two bosses, and both of them are in different continents. I see them once a quarter or so. I am also not a morning person, so my husband, who is an engineer and has also a very flexible job, takes the kids to school. We both go to most of the school and extracurricular events. It is sort of a date and fun time to us. It was not always easy. It took us about two years to find this balance. And since 5 years or so it is working pretty great. I am so grateful for how this all has turned out. The main reason it tooks us long to figure this out is because my mother in law had her very strong opinion I should stay at home, and my husband was confused. My husband makes enough to be the breadwinner. But I never wanted to stay at home full time. My mom never stayed at home full-time so she was a huge support to me. She made me realized that there are jobs out there that support women. Although, she is 33 years older than me, she sees the world is changing and tele-working and home office are hot trends. She just said go for it! It will all fall into place, and it did!

      • Julia
        Julia says:

        Another “me too” but not STEM. This sounds like our arrangement, but I work in (non-stem, non-tenure track) academia. I work 80%, so part-time but with minimal income sacrifice, and have excellent benefits that make up for the lost income (and I really do work 32 hours/week. I almost never take work home). There are a lot of moms (and dads) in the offices around me, and I feel like we’ve figured out a secret that the lawyers and others in stressful “corporate ladder” jobs haven’t. Adequate income, influential and meaningful work, extremely flexible schedule, and a culture that supports parents to do what they need to do. I have to reiterate that I’m in a non-stem academic field, because I think you’re right about the hard sciences (chemistry) not yet knowing how to keep women in the field. I should also reiterate the part about not being tenure track. There are lots of opportunities to use a PhD and work in academic settings that have nothing to do with “publish or perish” lifestyle. I completely disagree with the idea that you have to take on that approach to be successful in academia. Lots of us are doing world-changing research without having to teach or advise students or do university service or meet some unrealistic demands for publishing some quantity of garbage journal articles. Shhh… don’t let our secret out.

      • A N
        A N says:

        I am a PhD biomedical engineer and looking for the types of jobs all of you STEM women are talking about. Currently considering staying in academia, but also thinking about getting into industry. Where is all this money that everyone is speaking of, while also having a somewhat flexible job? I would love to find a fulfilling option outside of academia that would allow me to have a great career, be well paid, and have an opportunity to downsize my schedule if i need to eventually.

    • Teach By Type
      Teach By Type says:

      Engineering is really is a great option for females wanting to have kids. I had a ton of flexibility as a software engineer. Worked lots of hours, but on my own terms. It was awesome. Then I went into management long before I was thinking of having children. Lost the flexibility that would have enabled me to work and be there for the children. If I could go back in time, I would have have kept my engineering role.



      • Another engineer
        Another engineer says:

        Yup. I’m a female engineer, married with no kids (didn’t want them), but the other women in my group leave at 3 or 4 multiple times a week to wait for their kids, and then when necessary finish work in the evening after spending quality time with them.

        One is married to another engineer who works from home, but still gets to leave early to be in school functions etc. I love the fact that I remained in a technical (as opposed to managerial) track. Lots of interesting challenges to tackle and flexibility in working hours (no more than 40 a week). And when I’m bored there’s always another department of the company interested in bringing you on board.

        Another friend with a 1-year old works part time as a Python programmer, also earning 6 figures, and enjoying her son more because she gets to do something intellectually challenging for 4 hours a day. It’s never too late to switch to a career in engineering if you like programming, for example. Just saying :-).

  12. Craig de Paola
    Craig de Paola says:

    PT you are genuinely the very best, this was amazing & compelling reading as usual – love your work! Are you planning to visit Australia (seminars / presenting etc..) any time soon at all??

  13. Jack
    Jack says:

    Your numbers (Which means if your wife works full time and makes $50K a year, she’ll make $35K after taxes) do not cover the full impact of taxes. The dual income will drive up the taxes on his income due to the higher brackets and the loss of deductions.

    7.5 years ago, we ran the numbers on my wife’s $55k a year job. We figure out that she was contributing 11% of her salary to our monthly income and 5% to her 401k. Everything else was going to childcare and income taxes.

    It was far easier to switch to one income than I thought it would be. It was a little saddening to see how little was actually gained from having two incomes.

  14. BK
    BK says:

    In some ways, my wife and I managed to have the best of both worlds. She works nights in social services (and actually gets to sleep at work since she is just there to keep an eye on her clients) and I work full-time days. We don’t pay any daycare costs because I am able to go into work a little later on the mornings when my wife worked the night before, and I can take my daughter to school before my wife comes home from work.

    However, the interesting thing is that my wife doesn’t really feel fulfilled in her job and would love to go back to work full-time during the day at this point (my daughter is old enough that being in daycare for a couple of hours a day wouldn’t be a big deal at all). I completely get what Penelope is saying and understand that being a stay at home mom (or dad) is a noble pursuit, but I find it strange how things have changed so much in the last 20 or 30 years.

    I really do think that many men my age (I’m Generation X) still believe what the women’s movement told us for so long – that women can and should have great careers and be on an equal footing to men when it comes to their ability to earn money and pursue high-powered careers. But now so many women are starting to feel differently. It all seems very strange. I thought I was being liberated in thinking that my wife’s career should be equally important to her and not feeling inadequate if she earned more than me (which she doesn’t, but I am pretty sure it wouldn’t bother me if she did).

    I agree with some of the other commenters who said that today’s men feel a little uncomfortable and unsure of what their gender roles should be. When I help out around the house “too much,” my wife tells me I’m effeminate. If I slack off a little bit with cooking and cleaning, I’m inconsiderate. I also think it bothers her that I am not a handyman type – yet I believe she also wants a sensitive guy who is perfectly capable of cooking and cleaning. It seems like she wants it all, yet I’m not capable of being a sensitive, educated blue collar tradesman who cooks, cleans, looks after my daughter and entertains the family. I am willing to do my part, but I’m a white collar guy and I suck at fixing things. That really seems to bother my wife for some reason.

  15. Samantha
    Samantha says:

    I clicked on the link that said that “most women aspire to stay home,” and it linked to another of your blog posts. Then I clicked on a link there, and it led to a 1997-2012 Pew Research Center study. That study said that only 36% of full-time moms say that they are happy with their current situation. Unmarried moms also want to work full-time 49% of the time. So it seems that the stats are off.

    If the stats are off, then so is the advice. I keep trying to open my mind to this concept that women have an innate desire to be primary caregivers, which you push over and over, but it rings hollow.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The Pew Research says most women with kids want part-time work. But there is no part-time work. So if you ask women who can only choose between full-time work or no work, most would choose no work, if they felt that was truly an option.

      As reflected in the STEM comments above, most women want a fulfilling part-time job. But there are pretty much none – especially for women whose career entailed climbing a ladder, which is not really an inherent part of STEM (in my mind STEM = solving problems rather than managing and leading).


      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I think your concept of STEM is not up to date. Firstly, this is the first time I have heard of women salaries in STEm being higher then mens – every statistic I have seen is either equal pay or slightly lower for women. Secondly, careers in STEM cover an extremely broad range of jobs – from the civil engineer at the bridge building site (who will by the way lead and team build), to the computer scientist programming apps for 2 hours a day, to the lighting engineer at the movie set, to the chemical engineering running a processing plant, the biomedical engineer working with medical patient. Yes, it is about problem solving but very few engineers nowadays sit in their quiet office and think. The crazy engineers from the movies and the physicists in BigBandTheory are outliers.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          Yeah. I think you’re right. I think it’s only engineering. Because academia hasn’t figured out how to retain women. My favorite statistic: there are more women than men in chemistry PHd programs, but nearly all the full professors are still men. Women don’t want to do the massive amount of research and publication you need to do to get to the top.


          • Redrock
            Redrock says:

            There are many reasons women are clearly underrepresented in the higher ransk of academia. Not wanting to do the work is not one of them. Partially it is cummulative effects of socialization (girls don’t do math….), part is that there still is glass ceiling in some respects, more difficult to find a good mentor or champion to introduce you to the funding agencies, some decide to take a job which gives more immediate benefits, some want to stay home with family and kids – many female professors have husbands who stay at home. Part of the waning numbers as one moves along the ranks is perception of women that they have to be just super and superexcellent to make it while many men think good is good enough. By the way – the leaky pipeline starts with girls age 12, when their interest in STEM starts dropping – which is coincidentally also the time girls are starting to get teased for being good in math or science.

            P.S. There are many male students who realize during their PhD that life as a professor is not what they aspire to in their lives.

  16. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    One huge problem is that boys are raised with the expectation that they will not be the sole breadwinner because: feminism. Parents of boys need to raise them with the expectation that they will support a family and make sure that they are on track to do so. Even personalities that aren’t naturally high-earners can make it work if they’re strategic about it from an early age with the help of their parents. And parents ought to be deeply invested in preparing their sons for a successful marriage since it’s so important for their careers and happiness. This isn’t a new concept, but it’s a forgotten one, and there are many, many sad people around as a result!

  17. Muriel
    Muriel says:

    And how about doing like you Penelope, be a stay at home mum and set-up a business from home?
    I like this better. I am working towards it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      All people who look like they have a magic solution, have a lot behind the curtain. And that’s true for me, too.

      I had a very big career and relative to that I am working very part-time.

      But also, i was laying the groundwork for my own business 15 years before I had kids; my “stay-at-home business” is actually my fourth business. And to get here I gave uo seeing my kids when they were toddlers because I was working such long hours.

      Which is all to say that I don’t recommend that anyone intentionally try to do what I did. It takes too long and the cost is too high.

      When you look at women with side businesses, the majority of those businesses help psychologically but not financially. And I think if we were more accepting of stay-at-home parents people wouldn’t need to go through the charade of having a side business.


      • A. O'Brien
        A. O'Brien says:

        Yeah, I have to disagree with you here, Penelope. I have a side business (on top of my full time job) that only requires me 1 hour per week answering questions by email. It’s an online training program that’s basically self-study and earns me $30K a year — I could easily triple that earning if I opened the additional training programs that the participants of my course ask for.

        Penelope’s sacrifices to get to have a home-based business aren’t representative of what other women will face. I happen to be part of an online community where you’ll find many other people like me (, who built a successful work-from-home business without the need to find investors or work crazy hours building startups.

  18. Craig
    Craig says:

    This post is an example of a lot of what’s wrong with Penelope’s advice – hindsight is 20/20, but the people who it would benefit the most are least likely to take it seriously. I could not imagine that my 25 year old self would have been moved by this “open letter”, but that’s really the age where you have to start this kind of family and financial planning. It doesn’t help that I grew up in the midst of GenX attitudes regarding feminism (as noted in other comments). It’s easy to say 20-30 years after the fact that “you should have known” that most women want kids, want to stay home with them, etc, but it’s hard to imagine that I would have known or believed that at the time. Do young men think differently about these things now or will they really be moved by this open letter? I guess that’s also hard for me to believe.

    • Caitlin
      Caitlin says:

      I totally agree! That’s why parents who understand this need to work hard to instill it in their kids. And it takes real intentionality since it’s going against the grain. I mentioned above that sons need to be raised with the expectation of providing for families, but I got to thinking that daughters also need to be taught how they absolutely should not marry someone who doesn’t plan to support them while they have young children. People clamor on about giving girls options while depriving them of one of the most important ones- to care for young children, should that be what they choose. It’s so ironic to be liberated and yet indentured because no one was straight-forward about these things when we were children.

      • Craig
        Craig says:

        We probably aren’t in complete agreement, for a couple of reasons:
        1. For one thing, unless you raise your kids in an insular environment, it seems likely to me that trying to instill advice to them that goes completely against the mainstream views will be rejected. If you tell your daughters to find a man who can support them and future children while their peers are off getting education and starting careers, the peer influence will be powerful.
        2. If we fully follow through the implications of PT’s views, it really looks like rolling back the clock in terms of representation of women in highly visible places in society. I’m not just talking about the corporate office. For example, unless you are part of the extreme minority of people with enough money to finance medical or law school for your children, these students will rack up a ton of debt that will likely exist past your prime childbearing years. You’ve got to keep working to service this kind of debt, unless you are incredibly lucky in who you marry. Should we advise women who think they ever want children to not aspire to be a doctor or attorney? Sure, maybe we have too many attorneys, but this is also how political careers start. Is it a good idea for there to be fewer women in politics?

        • Caitlin
          Caitlin says:

          It’s not about whether we should tell women they should be educated. The point is that most people get married, and that people in strong marriages are happy and successful in the long-term, so we need to equip people to be in strong marriages. But, like PT keeps pointing out, marriage requires a huge amount of work and relationship skills on top of an intelligent set-up. Since most women want children and also want to be available for their children, they have to marry men who are willing to let them do that. This means that the man has to be, at minimum, willing to be the sole-breadwinner for a period of time. If a guy doesn’t say he’s willing to take this on before he’s married, it would be totally stupid to expect him to change his mind in the thick of transitioning into parenthood when bills are high and the pressure is on. So being willing to be a bread-winner should be a litmus test for marriage. And then if the woman wants to keep working instead of scaling back, fine.

        • Caitlin
          Caitlin says:

          Also, if someone is going to take on a lot of debt for schooling, it should be an intelligent investment made with a realistic understanding of their long-term goals in mind. Obviously. Because who wants to be an indentured servant to school debt when you’re not getting what you want out of it anymore? So, you have to know whether you want kids and whether you have a personality that doesn’t mind outsourcing the parenting of your kids. Unless you know you’re someone who wants to do that, you shouldn’t set yourself up to be unhappy because you have to work to pay debt on something that you no longer care about.

      • R and D Coaching
        R and D Coaching says:

        I don’t think it’s safe to assume all females will and should stay home with their children.

        Some personality types are more suited for that than others. If an E/NTJ female marries an INFJ male, he would probably be more interested in staying home as it would be a challenge for him to compartmentalize work and children. Where as the E/INTJ could do that quite well.

        Obviously the more money you have, the more options you have. Even if you don’t use your ability to earn money, having the ability to do so is huge. Perhaps that’s what we should be teaching, and let them figure out the rest when they mature.

  19. Peter Degen-Portnoy
    Peter Degen-Portnoy says:

    Right on the money, P. Well done. I fully agree with the analysis, sentiment, focus and prioritization.

  20. Steve
    Steve says:

    My (female) partner is a C-level executive at a largish (>$ 1 billion) company. Like Ms. Trunk and her partner, we are a straight, unmarried couple with kids. We are with our kids each night from 6 PM until they go to bed and, of course, on weekends and holidays. I leave for work early but she takes the kids to school each weekday because it’s important to her to spend that extra time in the morning with the kids.

    That means she is at her office from 9:30 AM until 5:30 PM. To make this work, she works an additional 4 hours from 8 PM to midnight, after kids go to bed and the kids have a full-time nanny. We are fortunate that her company allows her flexibility in her schedule. I’m aware that the flexibility she has is partly related to her senior role.

    A downside is that we see little of each other, other than the time we spend together with the kids but, so far, this has worked for us. The kids are in elementary school now and we know that as the kids age, responsibilities will change.

  21. Maya S
    Maya S says:

    This topic hits very close to home.

    I remember being pregnant with my first child, sitting in a donut shop and talking with my husband.

    At the time I was the main breadwinner with a demanding job. He was planning to quit work within the year, go back to graduate school, and change careers.

    I had my doubts about this plan, but was trying to be supportive. However, as I explained in the donut shop, once he was back in the workforce, I wanted to go part-time and take care of our son.

    He became argumentative, telling me this was “unfair” and I needed to “pull my weight.” He argued that if I “got to” work part-time, he should also “get to” do this — even though he was switching careers and it wouldn’t be feasible for years.

    I was stunned and embarrassed by his reaction, acutely conscious of an elderly man in the booth behind us, listening to my husband yell about “fairness” to his pregnant wife. To a man of his generation, my husband surely sounded like a huge baby, and I the woman stupid enough to marry him.

    Within five years, we were divorced. These days, we’re amicable co-parents, and I have a family-friendly job.

    And I’ve concluded that my husband’s reaction wasn’t entirely his fault. His smart, high-earning wife was pulling a bait-and-switch nothing in modern culture had prepared him for. As far was work and money went, we had been genderless equals. But with the arrival of baby, things got gendered real fast.

    When I got married, I was equally clueless. The idea that I would want to spend time with my kids — rather than take the Big Job I was quite capable of doing — was un-P.C. and never once mentioned in 20 years of schooling.

    I’d like to print this post and give it to my son and daughter when they’re older, as food for thought.

    I wish someone had given it to me.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Your bait-and-switch comment is so true. And it does seem to be a child rearing problem — if we raise kids to think all adults must have full-time jobs then we raise kids to think parenting full-time isn’t a respectable life choice.


    • Mel
      Mel says:

      Yes, the bait-and-switch comment hit home for me. This past year I found myself doing that to my boyfriend (I, with the fancy, high-flying career). I started to notice an ever so subtle change in his attitude, language…nothing bad…it was just a sort of…male version of “leaning in.” I’ve since been realistic with myself and have initiated some talks about my expectations, but I know that more talks, attitude-adjustments (on my end) are needed so I don’t find myself in the above situation (or at least mitigate that risk).

  22. Anne-Marie
    Anne-Marie says:

    Sounds like more people need to discuss what their post-children lives will be like, BEFORE they have children… I am shocked to hear that “most women aspire to stay at home” – I certainly do not fit into that category… I would prefer to not have children (and lets’s face it, the world has enough people anyway) than to give up my career. Child-rearing should be the responsibility of both parents by default, and more businesses should come to the table in relation to flexible work for everyone. The current system puts so much pressure and burden on women to take full responsibility for children, to the detriment of their own lives.

    • Jen
      Jen says:

      The problem with discussions BEFORE children arrive is that it is completely hypothetical. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t know how challenging it is to be out of the door in time for childcare pickup (which Penelope rightly points out are COMPLETELY non negotiable). You don’t know how inadequate some in-home carers can be (notwithstanding the best of their intentions). You don’t know about the homework load your kids will get when they start school, and about how kids increase their anxiety levels when things aren’t quite right, and about how hard it is to pack lunches and have dinners ready when you have been priviliged to earn a great salary and have choice about eating out and many other short cuts no longer an option when you have to feed young kids. You might have had pets, but you don’t know about the relentless 24x7x365 care that comes with being a parent. It. Wears. You. Down. It took me seven years to admit it, but no matter my Masters degree I can’t be superwoman to everyone. This. Is. Hard. Parenting. Is Hard. The hardest job of all.

    • Teach By Type
      Teach By Type says:

      I’m not sure many women have the self knowledge to predict what they’ll want or need after having children. I’m assuming not since so many twenty somethings are uncertain as to whether or not they want kids.

      My husband accuses me of bait and switch. What he fails to consider is I didn’t know he was going to be a workaholic and at sea 6 months of the year while I took on the role of custodial stepmom to two with a baby on the way, after relocating for him to a state with limited opportunities in my field. My career didn’t stand a chance.

      My guess is certain personality types know early on they want to be a stay at home mom, and the rest figure it out as it unfolds.


  23. Teach By Type
    Teach By Type says:

    YES! Thank you for giving me the words for my next argument with my Husband over me not “producing”, as he likes to say.

    I would also add teens greatly benefit from having a parent home after school to help them deal with the temptations and drama they face once entering middle school.

    Every time my Husband gives me a hard time for not producing, I tell him he should have married an ENTJ:

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      See my comment above. My husband wore me down with comments about “not pulling my weight”. Meanwhile, I was supporting our gifted son through private schools in which he was always #1 or #2 in his class. He graduated Summa Cum Laude in undergrad, and aced one of the most exclusive Master’s programs in the country. He is well on his way to a great career. Meanwhile, my ex’s comments haunt me, and my career is gone. I live on alimony that won’t last forever. Please nip this in the bud!

      • Mellie
        Mellie says:

        I’m nipping it the bud now by aggressively working and investing BEFORE marriage and kids so I have my own financial safety net.

  24. WritersWhoLaunch
    WritersWhoLaunch says:

    I’m a full-time stay at home Mom with an 8-month old and 4-year old, with no childcare, and am a successful freelance writer. My husband is self-employed as well. We split-up chores (I do the bulk of them) and I do the majority of the child-rearing. It’s not “balanced” but we’ve assumed various responsibilities and roles that work for us. We worked hard, and deliberately, to create this life.

    There is a lot of reality of what it takes to work full-time and raise children woven into this post. But I disagree that women in their 20s will, or should, abandon their aspirations in hopes of having the family that may or may not show up for them. My 25-year-old self knew I would want more flexibility whether to have a family or travel, and that’s what I focused on. Flexibility. I did not focus on finding a man to fund my dreams. I also disagree we should tell our daughters to give-up a career if she wants to have children.

    I’ve seen many friends and family members get divorced, expect alimony due to the fact they’ve been home with the kids, and then find out that the legal system considers it a choice to stay home when you were capable of working. They were left with very little and no job prospects. Men also get laid off and emergencies arise all the time. It’s not practical or realistic for women to simply stop working. They should be able to financially take care of themselves and their families if needed or wanted. That is the lesson for my daughter.

    Here’s what I advocate. Women should be realistic about what it takes to raise young children, and create their own flexible careers that scale up and down as needed. To do that, women should focus on developing the lifelong skills to create a business that fits their lifestyle whether that’s travel, having a family or anything else. Those skills create the flexibility and freedom required to step in and out of the traditional workforce.

    But come on. Let’s be realistic. Women should not form their life around a future they can’t see or even have yet, and may never have, because there are too just many variables in play.

    In turn, men should step-up and assume more responsibilities that fit the situation at hand whether that’s earning money or doing laundry. But life is always in transition. It shouldn’t be up to just the man or woman to manage all of the transitioning in a family. It’s a team effort, even if it means one person is leading the ship while the other is keeping it all running behind the scenes.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think you have made choices you’re not owning up to. And I’m making a point of this because I think it’s really really important to be honest about choices we make. What we give up.

      I’ve been a freelance writer. I know you can’t support a family freelance writing. Unless you are a big name, you don’t get long-format $2/word assignments. Without those, you can’t support a family.

      There was a great article in the New Yorker about how famous writers are not able to support a family writing books regularly. (Advances aren’t enough.) So surely freelance writers cannot support a family. Writers who seem like they are supporting themselves on writing (e.g. Malcolm Gladwell) actually make most of their money from speaking.

      The majority of freelance writers who get magazine assignments (the highest paying) live in Montclair and have a husband in finance. You think I’m joking, but read the bylines in magazine, they all say Montclair. Because freelance writing is a job you do for fun as a stay-at-home parent.

      So in fact you are not maintaining your ability to support a family. And, I think you are doing what a lot of people do when they are the primary caretaker — something on the side that does not support a family but feels good to do.

      There’s a big difference. If you were really supporting a family freelance writing and taking care of two kids under five, you’d be dying from stress right now.

      My point: most women who look like they are taking care of kids and having a great career are actually making very little money. And that’s fine. But let’s be honest about it.

      And another thing: no one should set up their marriage with a safety net in case there’s a divorce. Because marriage is really hard, and if you have a safety net sitting there, you’ll use it.


      • WritersWhoLaunch
        WritersWhoLaunch says:

        I think I understand what you mean. I’ve definitely made choices. But I also made a choice not to just give-up on my career altogether and keep one foot in the workforce. I could support our whole family right now if we moved somewhere cheaper based on the work I have. But yes, I make a choice to not work in advertising (which is what I did before) in order to have flexibility and hopefully have a family (which I did).

      • Christine
        Christine says:

        Penelope I find your comments here about setting up a safety net in case your marriage fails a real tragic piece of advice. In my life now in my mid 40’s I see many women disadvantaged by just this advice. Women are finding that alimony runs out and they need to find a career at a time in life where their skills are rusty or non existent because they did stay home. I find interesting points in your article and know it was intentioned for a certain demographic but please don’t disparage women who are trying to find a path through a very difficult equation in balancing all these demands. Today there is no right answer and depends so much on the 2 parents involved; their childcare options; extended family support; comparable family incomes and what you’ve presented here is one part of the view and attacking those who are sharing their own insights really doesn’t expand the conversation.

        • Pris
          Pris says:

          I agree with Christine. The lack of safety net doesn’t mean the same for men and women in this scenario. I agree with a gendered and realistic view of the marriage dynamics, but I also think it’s incredibly risky for women to depend that much on their husbands. Shit happens.

      • Jennifer
        Jennifer says:

        Um, I did. And not with long-form journalism, either.

        I write for trades, and business-legal stuff. And I made buckets of money for about ten years. I make less now — the result of some of my best pubs being sold to dumb publisher who is running them into the ground. But them’s the breaks.

        So, the freelance writing supporting a family thing is possible. But it’s a niche. It’s not something I could have planned; more something I lucked into. I started the writing as a side business, and lucked into the lucrative part.

      • Mellie
        Mellie says:

        PT, you’re last comment I agree with…there is an entire industry built off of the ultimate divorce safety net: the pre-nuptial agreement.

      • Laura
        Laura says:

        Thank you, Penelope, for saying that most women with young children who look like they’re working are actually making very little money. I would add, although maybe it’s implied, that they are also not working full time.

        I didn’t realize until after I had my first child, over 6 months ago, that all of my “have it all” friends were on 1-3 day per week work schedules. The realization hit me like a truck. Because no one talks about it. All you see is “so and so is working and she has two young kids.” My friends and I are all Ivy League educated women with demanding careers. And yet I was the only one who would be returning to a full-time work schedule after having a baby. The other moms were freelancing in PR, putting in random shifts as pharmacists, scaling back to 2 days a week as dentists, etc. Worse, for some, their husbands were subsidizing their work. As in, the women don’t make enough while working to cover childcare costs. I wish people would admit this more. It’s hard because there is such a veneer of “having it all” and it’s all lies.

    • Craig
      Craig says:

      This is kind of related to my earlier comment about this “open letter”. It assumes certain things to be self evident and obvious (e.g. women want kids, women want to stay home) that most 20-somethings would find debatable. I think that 20-something’s likely don’t fully know what they want yet, and can’t anticipate what their “future selves” would want. This was articulated in the following 10 second video clip from political commentator Michelle Goldberg in answer to the question “What have you learned in the last 10 years?”:

      • Ana
        Ana says:

        Absolutely. There is no way I would have known in my twenties what I wanted out of life. Heck, kids didn’t figure in my scheme of things whatsoever. I was this smart, hard nosed career woman who pitied all those poor souls wading their way through parenthood and wondered what made them get into it. And then when I hit the wrong side of my thirties, something snapped, I *gasp* wanted a child, and then once she was born, wanted nothing more than to care for her, to hell with the corporate career. The only regret I ,have now is why I didn’t have her earlier. Yeah, life happens, people change.

        I am very surprised when people say they know exactly what they want for their future. Because realistically speaking, I don’t think you can know for sure.

  25. Maria Killam
    Maria Killam says:

    I love this post, it’s so smart. You ended it so perfect: There are two jobs for adults in a family. Kids or money. Grow up and take one of those jobs. Because while yes, it is a lot of pressure to be an adult and earn the money, it’s a lot harder to be a kid who doesn’t have a parent around when they need one.

    Grow up. I love that! Maria

  26. Maria
    Maria says:

    Lordy, Lordy…where do I begin? Being a single mom working 2 jobs and giving half my paycheck to the babysitter? My ex wanting me to pay him to pick up his child for visitation because he claimed I didn’t have to pay the babysitter? Getting fired for taking too many sick days because my child was sick and the babysitter still charged me to keep the spot open?

    When I became self employed, taking my child to work, to the office, staying at home and working did life get more sane. Marriage is not always the answer, domestic violence, abuse, getting thrown out of the house, having furniture thrown out after you, in front of the kids (Penelope), perhaps, the solution is redefining child rearing careers.

    Women can work from home, can build businesses and men don’t have to feel like the only breadwinner, but rather, investor in the family business.

    I raised my young child before the internet had matured. I began working from home on and off (sometimes working for someone else supplemented my meager income). Ultimately, life is about choices. Raising a healthy, well balanced child on less income is worth more than having a higher income while your child is in therapy, prison, or rehab.

    Women are exhausted or have watched their exhausted mothers try to have it all and swore this would not be their fate. They have learned multi-tasking is over-rated, and it’s no vacation. Perhaps explaining to men that there is a compromise, and the money saved on child care, maid service, nanny, cook and chauffeur will more than make up for the loss of income.

    It is wise, to encourage those same women to take charge of their careers and be creative with how they go about it. With so many opportunities online, test marketing a product or service will keep them employable for when they join the ranks of the 50% divorces as the rate of men who have office affairs increase.

    Call it career insurance.

  27. Alainne
    Alainne says:

    Maybe it is because I live in Germany, which has socialism and all ;) but…I work as an attorney, 8:30-4:30 every day. Husband is in IT and has similar hours. Our two kids, 5 and 2, are in daycare from 8 to 5. I was home with each of them for about 6 months before they started dayare without any damage to my career. We have a housecleaner that comes once a week so we don’t have to do anything more than laundry and picking up/washing dishes/cooking. We get to spend our evenings focused on the kids, we both have fairly rewarding and lucrative jobs, and it works.

    Am I/Are we the exception that proves the rule?

    • Leonie
      Leonie says:

      I don’t think you’re the exception.

      Keep in mind that Penelope is offering practical advice in the U.S. where childcare is a major expense, maternity leave is almost nonexistent and paternity leave is a joke. Unless you have a very strong family support system, it becomes super difficult to justify both parents working if you want to maintain any quality of life. In the developed world – this is an american problem.

      • cym
        cym says:

        Somehow it’s true in countries where there are more women career climbers – higher percentage of women in executive positions than in the US and all that – there are also more men who can be far more relaxed about being the sole bread winner and not get bitter. Usually they get paternity too.

  28. Megeranski
    Megeranski says:

    Facebook readers seem to dislike this article, vs. response here. Interesting.

    My two cents: if I wanted to read articles about child-rearing I would go elsewhere.

  29. Maria
    Maria says:

    I dont agree with Penelope´s point of view. You can have a career and a family and be happy. Easy? no! But heck what is good and easy in life?! Can you get there? Yes! But planning, love, willingnes and patience is needed. Yes, a lot of willingnes is needed. If you dont want your job, if it does not give you pleasure and hapinness… then what is the whole point of doing all the planning to be a working mom. As others has pointed out, it is possible to be a working, happy, good mom. Of course, it needs planning and coordinationa but it is possible and so rewarding!

    • JJ
      JJ says:

      I agree with this. I have been in Corporate America all my life and have seen women give birth and go back to work, be happy and good mothers. Both my parents worked growing up and I never felt that I didn’t get enough attention. They were always there for me. No, it isn’t easy but if you want kids then you have to know raising them isn’t going to be easy no matter what you do.

  30. Gina
    Gina says:

    What a powerful article! I am so grateful I was able to stay at home with my four children (now 20-26). My husband had an average income in the early years, but he continued to focus on building his business to a successful level rather than share day to day childcare with me. I find it interesting that most of the women who say they’re working full time while successfully raising children are merely describing their schedules, not the quality nurturing time they’re able to share with their children.

    • jane
      jane says:

      You over there, throwing passive-aggressive shade with “..merely describing their schedules, not the quality nurturing time…” — knock that crap off!

      I’m glad you’re happy with your choices. That doesn’t mean your choices are the only valid ones.

      This world would be a lot more pleasant if we all minded our own business, and let others mommy in the way that works best for themselves and their families.

      • Rachel
        Rachel says:

        Thank you Jane! Gina’s comment is brutal.
        Gina – practice saying “Good for you, not for me” instead of assuming that another woman’s success being a working mom needs to be torn apart.

  31. Lindsay M.
    Lindsay M. says:

    Penelope, I’m glad you posted this thought provoking piece. A few questions –

    – Sure, it may be repugnant, as you argue here, for a guy to refuse to be the sole breadwinner. But do you think it’s acceptable for him to insist on being the sole breadwinner?

    – My parents met in law school and started a practice together, but my mom left the workforce to stay at home with me and my two younger siblings when I was 5. I know she doesn’t regret her decision, and was a great, very involved mom. But now that we’re all grown and out of the house, she’s floundering a bit for what to do with herself and feels vaguely unfulfilled, leading her to be a little over-interested in her kid’s lives. My dad, meanwhile, has never been happier in his career, which makes my relationship with him easier. Staying home might be a good solution for a couple decades, but do you think it’s still a good solution for when after the kids are grown?

    – Finally, do you wish that you followed your own advice? :)

    • Leonie
      Leonie says:

      The question of how to transition to the next phase of life after the children are grown is a valid one. I hope Penelope will address this, perhaps in a follow-up post?

      Like any new phase in a life, it’s a transition that many people have difficulty navigating. It seems like your mom is one of those people.

      You do bring up a good point that when one spouse makes the decision to become the primary caregiver, it’s also important to have a plan for the time when children no longer need your full time attention.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Transitions are a part of living. The only way to avoid transitions is to avoid personal growth.


        • Leonie
          Leonie says:

          Penelope, that response is very dismissive of a very real concern that most women have when deciding to stay home with children. This seems to be a blind spot for you because you lump it into the category of planning for a divorce. Rather, this is being realistic about the demands of different stages of life.

          I agree with you that it’s invaluable for a parent to stay with home with young children. In fact, I’m doing that right now with my daughter.

          However, I’m not going to lie and say that the thought of rejoining the workforce after being home for so long isn’t intimidating. My current plan is to slowly work on a masters degree in a STEM field and “graduate” the year that I’m ready to rejoin the workforce. Logically, I know that this path will likely lead to high paying job, but it’s still a little bit scary.

          Another concern: Now that I am a mother the threshold salary that I feel I need to earn to make it worthwhile to rejoin the workforce is much much higher than it would have been before I had a baby. That caught me a little bit by surprise.

          Anyways, my point is that the transition from working to becoming a stay at home parent is a very valid life choice. Talking about and planning for the eventual transition back to the workforce makes it less stressful and scary for many of us. It does not mean we’re shying away from personal growth – just the opposite.

  32. Tami
    Tami says:

    I find this post discouraging and not reflective of my personal experiences. My husband and I each earn above $100k and we share parenting responsibilities/income providing 40%/60% (he makes a little more and spends a little less time with the kids). We each work in the office 3 days a week (1.5 hour commute each way) and work from home two days a week. This enables us to both have successful careers and spend time with our families, pick the kids up from daycare/after-care at school, etc. Is the juggle easy? No. But most things in life that are fulfilling take effort. Point is that it is certainly do-able.

    • Tami
      Tami says:

      BTW, as I was writing this, my husband (who is WFH today) just texted me that he put the last load of laundry in. Being equal partners in everything — even laundry — is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s important to know when we are hearing from outliers, and this example is an outlier.

      There are very few couples that would be happy with this setup. In most couples, one partner would not want to give up being in the office five days a week because it’s so bad for a career. And in most couples one partner does not like doing anything that pays $100+ a year.

      It’s a rare couple where there is motivation on both sides to share both work and childcare 50/50. People say they want that in theory, but in practice, most don’t.

      I’m obsessed with identifying outliers because so many people think they can work things out but their plan is largely unrealistic.


      • Tami
        Tami says:

        Perhaps we are outliers (I’m an INTJ, and I know female INTJ’s are rare). I disagree with the notion that you can’t get ahead if you work from home a few days a week. My husband manages 20+ people and genuinely enjoys the days he can work from home, avoid the long commute, and have time to actually get work done aside from meeting after meeting. The idea that face time matters more than efficiency and productivity is a relic of the past. Workplaces that evolve to recognize this fact have happier and more dedicated employees who get stuff done.

  33. AJK
    AJK says:

    I’m sorry but this is horrendous. Let’s look at the facts through a different lens:

    “80% of women over 40 have kids” – that’s great, but 50% of those pregnancies/kids are unplanned. It takes two to tango – planned or unplanned.

    “marriages stay together better with a stay-at-home parent” – ok…but read this – they stay because they’re basically trapped: “Stay-at-Home Mom Facing Divorce? Don’t Expect Alimony”

    Not to mention – just because something works for one person, doesn’t mean it works for everyone else.

    On top of that, research gets debunked ALL THE TIME. Let’s not be too quick to bet the farm on the latest learnings of sociology.

    I really love you Penelope but I’m getting tired of the misogynistic diatribes. Please stop using this blog as a way to atone for not being present in the first few years of your children’s lives. We get it. You have an overwhelming sense of guilt. You’re going to have to work it out. You have this great platform and you’re pissing it away, losing more credibility with every single post. Where are those great and unique insights drawn from disparate data sources? Where are the big ideas that made you famous? I haven’t seen one in a while. And I miss it.

  34. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    Guess we are more outliers than I thought. Two tech CFOs at $100K+ for the last 20 years or so. 50/50 with kids and household activities. Four kids (26,23, 20 and 16), one with special needs.

    A major sacrifice was relocating from Silicon Valley to the Midwest when the kids were younger. We’ve been in Madison for 10+ years where the commutes are less than 15 minutes.

    While it hasn’t ever been simple (what is?), we managed the trade-offs and have always communicated pretty well. Figure out what you want and go for it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think I’m starting to see a pattern: people who are able to have a roughly even split with their spouse are with someone who wants the same life they do — the same career aspirations, the same desire to take care of the kids. There is no whiz-bang high-flying career, and there is no one who wants to spend all their time taking care of children.


  35. Sonya
    Sonya says:

    Very valid article and I’m glad the discussion is being made. I thought my mom was awful and detached from us growing up. She always worked some type of secretarial jobs but was AWOL in many ways. My dad was always involved in jobs that were high earning/long hours but would juggle everything (because he could and wanted to) to take care of us kids. He’d work nights, sit us in his office, etc., whatever it took. So now I’m a mom but I knew I wanted to be very present in my kids’ lives. Before I was married I let my husband know it was a deal-breaker for me but that intended to help (work nights, bring kids to work, IDK). I was the main bread winner when I lost my job and it terrified my husband that I wanted to be self-employed. 16 years later and he’s embarrassed by his immaturity back then. I stayed home with our 7+ kids and built a real estate business so my husband could retire. I sometimes wish I was more attentive to details like dinner or cooking or shopping, but I’m just not. Some husbands need wives who are, as sexist as that sounds.
    However, now that I’m raising daughters, I do see glimpses of their personalities and they aren’t like mine. One of my daughters is the spitting image of my mom that seemed so detached from her kids. I’m not sure what kind of mother she will be, or should be. She likes to be the life of the party and loves to serve others–but likes the attention. Being a mother isn’t rewarding in a social way, IMO.
    My sons are pretty sexist though. They think their wives won’t work and that I boss my husband around too much since we work together.

  36. Techkim
    Techkim says:

    I am the sole bread winner and do child care HA!
    Tell that to my daycare parents. money or children. They are just holding out until the child can go to free daycare, I mean public school.
    I after 13 yrs want to quite. I want to spend one on one time with my own children but 10 hour days not going to happen.
    At least the bright side I don’t have to pay for child care right.

  37. Amy Beall
    Amy Beall says:

    Perfect! This isn’t just about one person “staying home” and the other “working”. This is about fair division of labor. Some families are lucky to have both parents pulling their own weight. Other families have a lazy-ass who is constantly looking for someone else to take responsibility and do 90% of the work. I totally agree with you: pick a side, put on your big boy/girl pants, and be an adult.

  38. Meg
    Meg says:

    I make more than my husband and we’d planned when we have kids that he stay home with them (or him/her if it’s a singular kid). I was feeling guilty about that and that maybe we should make childcare work somehow (unlikely since it’s VERY expensive where we live) and this post made me feel better about our decision. thank you

  39. suzanne
    suzanne says:

    my three kids are big kids now – 22, 18 and 15. i have three university degrees and plenty of skills suited to the workforce but haven’t ventured there since our first was born. my husband has been the sole breadwinner and has never complained. this post is making me really appreciate that fact.

    penelope is the first person to make me feel brave to have chosen to be a full-time parent when people around me expected more. other than my husband and a handful of people I’ve never felt societies blessing for forgoing a career to be a full time parent. it’s better now, but i loathed it when people would ask “so what do you do?” my self-esteem and their interest in me would dwindle once i explained.
    these days, i’ve somewhat remedied that by talking about my volunteer work, or calling myself a full-time home and family manager instead of a stay at home mom. or sometimes i say i run a really nice bed and breakfast (that also provides life coaching and spiritual counselling) just for fun.

    staying at home suited my personality type and our circumstances. I have never been ambitious for money or career but my husband is. also, he realizes he has been able to get promoted because i’m at home picking up the slack (without resentment). i know our scenario is not suited for everyone, and i love hearing about all the different ways couples have divided the labour to make things work so that each parent can feel fulfilled and the kids are well-cared for.

    thank you penelope. you make me feel courageous for my decision.

  40. Amy
    Amy says:

    This is a classic debate women have had for ages about how much to work and how much to be with the kids. This is really a rich person’s question, as in previous, poorer generations there was no question that everyone in the family had to earn, and women had work that either allowed them to be around for the kids (farming, piecework at home) or not (pushcart merchants, factory workers). I like to think that it’s nice we are even having this discussion, as it means that women finally have choices. When my mom graduated from college in the early 1960s there were two jobs available for the women who hadn’t snagged a husband yet: teacher or secretary. If the marriage didn’t work out, as it didn’t for my mother, my grandmother, my aunt, and many of their friends of that era, they were screwed. Without a career, they had no ability to make enough money to support a family on their own, and oftentimes zero support from the childrens’ father. And being ten years older and saddled with children requiring support did not make them the most attractive candidates for remarriage (your own experience notwithstanding). Of course, without financial resources of their own, protecting themselves and their children from an abusive or neglectful spouse was all the more difficult, causing many to stay in destructive relationships.
    I grew up knowing that I had to have the type of career that would allow me to take care of myself and my children in the future, no matter what happened in marriage. I view it as the most important type of insurance a woman can have. The more education, resume and skills a woman can collect, the easier it is to maintain an income and an entry path back to more full-time work should she ever want or need to do that in the future. Having options is important.
    Yes of course it’s challenging when you have children. I love my children and providing a solid, nurturing home environment for them is my number one priority in life. However, for me personally, I never wanted to stay home full time with my kids. I always have felt that I am a better mother when the huge responsibilities for home care and childcare are shared with hired employees. I like missing my kids when I’m not with them during the day. I feel I have more patience and interest in them when I am not inundated and overwhelmed and exhausted by all of their needs at once. So over the past seven years, as my children have grown, I have transitioned from full-time high earning work on Wall Street to a more flexible financial services position at a smaller, more entrepreneurial firm (yes, they do exist). Yes, I have taken a cut in pay, but I still am earning six figures. The only reason I have been able to secure this kind of part-time work is due to the resume I built over the course of my full-time career, and the friends and contacts I gained during my career, who offered me flexible jobs when I needed them post-kids.
    At the moment I am really lucky to have the ability to scale back, as I have a husband who works full time at a job he loves, and he is the primary breadwinner. He is good with this arrangement although he regrets not being around for the kids during the week. I know I am very lucky in this respect. But I still feel very strongly that women should be prepared for a lifetime of fulfilling and interesting work- to varying degrees over the course of their lives- for their own self esteem and in order to maintain their options should life not work out the way they would like it to. Figuring out the right balance of that is the constant exercise I find myself engaged in.

    • Jordan
      Jordan says:

      Thank you so much for saying this, Amy. Women need resources if the marriage doesn’t work out. As the oldest of six children who grew up in a single-mom household, I can’t imagine not having had a work life of my own, even though we could easily live (we are really frugal) on my husband’s income alone. My kids are in their 20s now and I worked full- or part-time all during their childhood. If I hadn’t, I would not be at the director-level position I’m in now.

  41. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I think some of this correlates with the concept of ‘delayed adulthood’ that is currently happening in my generation. I see a lot of similarities. My husband and I married when we were 19 and 20 and dated completely with the intention of marriage. We’ll celebrate 11 years this summer. I did not waste my time with men after the first or second date when I saw red flags. You are right in that my husband would be horrified if I made more money than him (but that’s not probable, he’s an ENTJ), and he was the one who suggested to ME that I stay home AND homeschool. I laughed at him at first but I was a latchkey kid with a single mom and he grew up in a very stable nuclear family. He saw the value of a parent staying home to raise kids until school-age (and funny enough, he was homeschooled until 3rd grade when his mom went back to work and he went to school….he always wished he had continued to be homeschooled, he hated school).

    On the other hand, I’d be completely horrified if I had married someone who just worked, and I worked, and I was expected to do the majority of housework and parenting, as well. That’s not equal, that’s a huge burden that will just cause resentment in the marriage. I see friends’ marriages that I feel pity for because the guy wants the wife to work, and when they’re home they sit around and play video games all night long, and don’t engage with kids or their spouses–delayed adulthood. Grow up, baby boys! Time to be a man and take some imitative. We’re not your moms, and you’re not 6. Major applause for the men who don’t treat their families and spouses this way!!

  42. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    So true. I have four small children and run a mildly successful blog (about 30k last year) so I can stay home. My husband is a perpetual student and low earner, but we live on family property so our expenses are low. If he was earning even 50k plus I’d quit in a heartbeat. Though I have achieved success and popularity in my niche, I only do it to allow me to be home.

    And doing both stresses me to death.

    I work very hard at my blog so feel the pull there’s never enough time.

    But parenting is my passion and hate when work (what I do to parent at home) fights for my attention.

  43. Deborah
    Deborah says:

    Hi Penelope
    This is an endlessly fascinating topic to me, as a mid-40s woman raised to believe the ‘having it all’ myth. I can’t pretend to have worked it all out – only that what I and my husband are doing (he works full time, I am at home mostly looking after our 3 children) is working for us at the moment. The tipping point for me in stepping back from FT work was realising that school holidays, of which there are about 12 weeks across the year here in Australia, were going to have to be accommodated for the next 10 years of my kids’ school life. Plus the school day ends at 3.30pm and after that are numerous activities and homework that need to be supervised. All of this was going to have to fall to me, alone, as my husband’s job (he is a doctor in private practice) is incompatible with taking vast amounts of time off.

    Not, I hasten to add, that I am in any way complaining – his income enables us to live well, he is happy doing a job he is passionate about, he helps out as much as possible, and I am happy that I can be available to look after all the administrative / social and emotional ‘work’ of running a family. I do however want something for myself, plus I find it difficult to answer the ‘what do you do?’ questions at parties.

    Just finally, I’d like to recommend a book to you called ‘The Wife Drought’, by Australian political journalist and columnist Annabel Crabb (link below). She traverses a lot of this territory, trying to determine how social and cultural beliefs inhibit the ability of women who have children to work full time or at the same intensity as men who have children. Where she and you may differ is she argues that these same cultural belief systems equally work against men who want to take a step back from full time work in order to more actively engage in parenting, and these should be challenged. It’s full of great anecdotes plus some well researched statistics around workforce participation, plus she has a very engaging writing style.

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