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. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Question for Penelope: What’s a good response to “What do you do?” at parties when you’re not a breadwinner? Is there a better response than, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” Because that’s such a lame thing to say.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Saying you are a stay at home mom is not lame. Why do you care what others think? Be proud! I’m a sahm, part time writer, part time musician…you are whatever you want to be and you have the freedom to do as you please. I also like to throw in that I am a radical unschooling parent just to ruffle some feathers.

  2. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    Median earnings per worker in the USA is something like $25K-$30K. For decades now, the cost of housing, healthcare and education have gone up but income has remained stagnant. A lot of jobs that could support families have been automated away or outsourced to other countries. Carrier Heating & Cooling just announced it will close two plants in Indiana, where the workers earned over $20 per hour, and will relocate those jobs to Mexico, where the pay is $3 per hour. This is nothing new and is the reason why we now have a “Rust Belt” in the USA that wasn’t there 30 years ago.

    Unemployment, while perhaps not the 42% Donald Trump claims, is MUCH higher than reported, because they leave so many people out of the calculation. The truth can be found in the labor PARTICIPATION RATE, which is the lowest it’s been since the 60’s.

    Those hardest hit in this complete gutting of the middle class have been the men, who have lost the most jobs and taken the most brutal cuts in pay. So criticizing men who “refuse” to be the breadwinner makes no sense in a country where 90% of men simply cannot be family breadwinners even if they want to. Those dreams are completely out of their reach now.

    I mean, this whole article is targeted toward statistical outliers.

  3. Aaron
    Aaron says:

    I’d be a lot more moved by this argument if there were a mass movement among people in this age bracket to be good relationship partners. Maybe that should be your next open letter… if you are going to be a SAHM, great. Here is how you do it… let’s start by not getting all bent out of shape when your husband in the labor force doesn’t come home after his 50 hour week + commute, turn around, and do all the dishes too.

    Happy to do this specialization thing. If I feel supported in doing so. But if it’s going to be the kind of thing where I get to make all the money *and* more than my share of everything else, meh. I’d rather be single.

    • CristenH
      CristenH says:

      My husband is our sole breadwinner, gone 12 hours each weekday, and even still often working from home.
      I homeschool our three young kids. Over the course of my day I manage all the domestic duties, as well as keeping kids engaged and supporting their learning.
      And, I leave the dishes for him.
      (Not all of them, just what I can’t easily get to.)
      Can you imagine what happens to a house while feeding, creating and playing with three small kids and one large dog? Not to mention the laundry, shopping and meal planning.
      I am not complaining. Especially because my husband can imagine this, and is happy to come home to a task so easy to tackle that contributes so much to our home life and partnership.
      If a working partner is undone by being asked to do dishes, there must be something more going on. Dishes are seriously the low hanging fruit.

  4. harris497
    harris497 says:

    We can’t have it all. We dream about it; try hard to achieve it; and even lie to ourselves about it, but something or someone has to give when it comes to kids and couples. My wife is a veterinarian who homeschools. I don’t make much, so as they say in the islands, we eat little and live long. No big vacations, no designer anything, but my kids are well adjusted compared to their peers, and once mom and dad are not too stressed out about money, life is good. Mom even does some relief work with local veterinarians when things get too tight – our eldest child at home is now a 17 year old Senior about to go to college, so that works.
    We can’t have it all but I believe that we can have what matters most to us if we are willing to compromise on “stuff.”

  5. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Fascinating comments on a really thought-provoking post.

    But you’re outright wrong about the shared parenting (50/50, 60/40 or whatever) split, especially when everytime someone says they are making it work you dismiss them as outliers, so statistically insignificant. The reality is while I agree the majority of couples would split along traditional lines, there are still a significant number who would want to make shared parenting work. In particular men who do want to be around their kids more. Traditionally this was close to impossible due to lack of well paying flexible jobs, parenting leave policies, people’s attitudes and lack of examples. But the tide is changing on this, esp as people get more flexibility in very well paying jobs. Sure you’re not going to find a good CEO doing any heavy lifting parenting but there’s plenty of roles that are more family friendly, esp in STEM fields. In fact these days I get more freelance tech work offers to cover men who are increasingly taking up their parental leave options. (And for the record I am also one of the shared parenting lot, constantly experimenting, this year seems the best chance to get best balance of time with kids & making 150K between us).

    Overall, like personality types there’s no one-size fits all. It is more useful to talk about how do you be realistic about what parenting and work involves, but please don’t dismiss all the options just because they are not the majority.

  6. D
    D says:

    Well said. When we married I made more money than my husband. We had two children 2 years apart to “minimize my work loss” – to get it over with in one spurt. I never anticipated or thought I would want to stay at home. Of course as we realized we wanted to unschool and that our children were not neurotypical, found that one had significant allergies and health issues, and so on, we evaluated and knew that my husband had more long term earning potential. I could make decent money in a big city, but not in our smaller city. And I am 10 years older than my husband, and older women don’t have the same income growth potential as older men. So it made sense for me to stay home with kids while my husband pursued his career. While the first few years we sacrificed a second income, the reality is that having a full time wife at home means my husbands income potential and advancement had a significant advantage over men who had a family with a full-time working wife. Yes, I have spent now over 10 years as a full-time homeschooling/parent/caregiver so my earning potential if I “had to” go back to work full time *in the exact career I left* is reduced, but just being an aging woman would do that too. BUT my husband has had the advantage of being able to focus on his job. He doesn’t have to pick up the kids from anywhere, ever. He doesn’t have to have dinner on the table, ever. He helps with things around the house when he can, but he can travel at the drop of a hat to a client. He can have business lunches and late client dinners. He can work all night after kids go to bed. Another thing is executives used to have secretaries. Who has a secretary anymore? My husband also has the advantage that he has a highly educated wife who can help with work issues, employee issues, proofread, bounce ideas off of – not to mention manage all of the finances, insurance, retirement, savings, medical stuff, appointments, budgeting, home care and kids activities/education/interests. His salary in the 13 years has skyrocketed because of that – and he still has a good 30 years of income increase to go before retirement, whereas my income from age 50-70 wouldn’t likely change that much. We went from solidly middle class when the kids were born into the top 5% and a lot of that has to do with our family and home dynamic and his ability to focus on his career. My husband has a career he loves, he is able to focus all of his downtime on his family. We view this as a team effort, and really enjoy the benefits of this lifestyle we choose – we both know how difficult all of this would be if we both worked full time and the kids were in school. We are very close as a family, and we feel lucky lucky lucky. But it wasn’t really luck, but that we looked at it logically and realized the advantages long-term of this plan. And it is working for us!

  7. MH
    MH says:

    I married a man who insisted I work. So, I took a shitty full time teaching job so that I could race home everyday before my son came home from school. Looking back I was essentially raising other peoples children so that I could have those summer and spring vacations with my child.
    Can’t lie I got a lot of flack at work for not staying later and martyring myself. Because you know it’s all about the kids just not your own. Looking back I would have insisted on staying home.

  8. barb
    barb says:

    Mom(INTJ) had a great career managing construction projects in LA, met my Dad (ENFP), moved to the country and never looked back. She stayed home and ran the family business/ tax haven, a family farm. It didn’t make any money per se, but it allowed a lifestyle and had the benefit of a great real estate investment (water rights, acreage, views) Dad had built up experience through his mid 30’s moving around every 18 months working a huge corporate job. He downsized his career to be a big fish in a small pond as a cost of living/quality of life choice. My success can be directly linked to our family arrangement. Dad travelled tons internationally for work and taught me foreign languages and business etiquette; good for growing up in a small town. I got to know him better as his career slowed down. Mom supported education and logistics. I graduated high school with 2 years of college prerequisites complete through running start, allowing our family to afford college, and I could get work experience throughout. Graduated with no debt and a job offer in 2009 (terrible job market, remember)
    Their marriage was strong in many ways because they were interdependent, neither could sustain their path without the other.

  9. Lisa C.
    Lisa C. says:

    I have to say I’m really getting annoyed with this wave of women who, in fact, worked full time and raised children and are now trying to tell a new generation of young mothers that it’s impossible.

    The fact is, it is not. Both my husband and I had careers *and* a child. Did we make sacrifices? Sure. But it all worked out, and our son is now in college, thriving and happy.

    There are also answers other than day care, so one spouse isn’t necessarily picking up a child from day care at 5 p.m. We had a part-time, in-home babysitter. It worked out great.

    The point for moms (and dads) is this: If you want to say home, figure out a way to make it happen. It’s doable.

    If you want to work, figure out a way to make it happen. IT’S DOABLE.

    And for all the women who have raised their kids while working and are now sitting on the sidelines telling new moms it’s impossible: Shame on you.

  10. Mika Hakkinen
    Mika Hakkinen says:

    Quote: “You could have married someone who loved making money, but then she’d be threatening to you”

    Nice way to trash all men. You know, the ones who work so you don’t have to.

  11. Grace
    Grace says:

    Fantastic post.

    My fiance and I are planning to have 2-3 children. He is entrepreneurial, “works from home”, and says this will give him flexibility for children while being the primary breadwinner. However, I feel this is unrealistic and he (INTJ) will be unhappy, bored, and a poor caregiver.

    I believe women (who plan on having children – and most women should plan, regardless of “leaning in”) are better at visualizing their lives as seasons. I am content with finishing up this season of university, moving into a season of motherhood, followed by a season of pursuing fulfilling + moneymaking work.

    It just makes sense.

    *”And” instead of “ant” in the first paragraph.

  12. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Thanks for the post. Being an adult really means making hard choices.

    My parents were both military officers. When my mother had 20 years in the service and could retire with a pension, she applied for retirement.

    My father did not want her to retire because he wanted to have a working wife. My mother said that she was not happy working when she can stay at home with her family, and many junior officers were being promoted over her.

    She continued with her retirement, but since that time, our father started having affairs. Before he retired, he sought an annulment of their marriage (we don’t have divorce). He remarried another woman, and they both passed away last year.

    We’re not latchkey kids because we always had relatives who acted as nannies and household help in our house.

    If I have children, I will choose the job of taking care of children over earning money, so that’s why I am learning how to earn money while I still don’t have children.

  13. Jojo
    Jojo says:

    I think Penelope you are not taking personality types into consideration. The reality is that I think those who want to stay home or work is pretty evenly split across both men and women. The only reason we see women staying more at home is cultural norms and pressures.

    A better article would be what really impassions you? Because I have met plenty of women to whom motherhood neither completed or fulfilled them and they were waiting for their kids to be grown up enough so they could start pursuing their career again. Sometimes wanting kids is a part of what you want, its not the whole pie.

    And also some women would prefer to be working and have their partners stay home.

    Again it is problematic that you focus so much on the fact that women should stay at home. Maybe a better article would be how men can help out more or choose to stay at home.

    Personally there’s nothing that bores me more than staying at home, I’ve always had an energetic go getter personality and the idea of spending years at home with kids makes me feel like -__-

    Also if keep telling, pressuring, encouraging women to stay at home we are never going to get enough women in any fields or high positions. And its also such a discouraging thing to tell young girls. It’s like telling them “do whatever you want, but don’t take it seriously because nothing you do will be real”.

    I mean thats just horrible. So I don’t like this article at all.

  14. Mary
    Mary says:

    A few thoughts: 1) there is no empirical proof that having a stay-at-home parent improves outcomes for children. The links in the blog post are not to some definitive study where kids who didn’t go to daycare come out better than those who did. 2) This analysis may make sense for women earning $50k or less, but the cost-benefit analysis changes when you get into six-figure incomes. First, households with that sort of income can usually afford a nanny, which provides closer to the single caretaker ideal. Second, it’s a lot easier to return to a $50k salary than a six-figure one after a few years off. 3) Penelope always seems to assume that six-figure jobs all require an extraordinary commitment in terms of time and effort. I haven’t found that to be true, and several other commenters have said the same. Maybe we are “outliers,” but many, many families I know have a similar situation. I would hate for younger people to read this blog post with its stark portrayal of the potential for a happy balance between work and family and think that it’s true across the board. You may not be able to “have it all” but you can come pretty darn close!

  15. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I loved your post!!!
    Hi Penelope, I’m Lisa, I’m a full time mother, my kid is 2 years, but since a while ago I started to think about to join a friend’s bussines job, I could do the job at home because is an online bussines about how to make moccasins and check some designs, I think and believe that it may work, I mean me being a mom and having a job at the same time, the moccasins bussines looks good, is something I wear and that I completly recomend, but I still have my doubts about if ot may work, my husband works full time and I’m a little bit scared to take this step. Anyway, thank you very much for posting this article, it helped me a lot to understand the importance of the 50/50 responsabilities.

  16. Seva
    Seva says:

    Sometimes it’s more complicated than that.

    There is a lot of pressure on women today to conform to a variety of incompatible norms.

    My wife and I were both career people when we married, but she felt incredible pressure, internal and external, to have kids. So we did. Though I had been ambivalent, the moment I saw our first, I fell in love, and having come from a large family, was more than qualified in baby care.

    I’d have been deliriously happy to end my career and stay at home to take care of them while she pursued hers. But she felt incredible pressure to be a mom and to demonstrate competence in motherhood. So she stayed home and was absolutely-freaking-miserable as a stay-at-home mom, even as I was absolutely-freaking-miserable being away all day working. And in the midst of it all, she was furious that I wasn’t available to help out for ten to twelve hours a day, because she found full-time parenting to be grating and next to impossible. She held it against me.

    Finally, when everything was about to blow up and she’d reached the end of her rope, I came home and she returned to work. Because she just couldn’t handle it any longer and was desperately embarrassed not to be a career woman at the same time.

    And then it flip-flopped and she was suddenly resentful that I spent all day “lazing around playing with the kids” while she had to work all the time. Full-time parenthood went, just like that, from “a much harder job than yours” to “your lazy do-nothing days while I slave away at work.”

    And she began to feel once again an incredible misguided shame at not being a stay-at-home mom and to ask me to try to get back into the workforce.

    Long story short, the whole thing turned into a giant breakdown in the relationship and it’s not at all clear that we can restore it. In our case, the kids killed the marriage, not because I was somehow a rotten breadwinner, or a rotten stay-at-home father. In fact, I switched on command and did both without complaint.

    But the pressure that she placed on herself, and felt from society, and the incredible shame that was associated with it, became too much to bear and somehow I (as the “entitled” male) was always at fault.

    And now that she’s ended the relationship and I’m paying child support and alimony (which I actually pay a year in advance, so I’m well beyond caught up), it’s still my fault. Now it’s my fault that I’ve saddled her with both career *and* kids in all my selfishness. Even though—because we have joint 50/50 custody—I am in exactly the same boat. Somehow it is still all my fault.

    It would be nice if as a society we could release the pressure on women to be perfect, to have perfect careers, and to be perfect moms. Sometimes it’s not about a deadbeat/lazy/unhelpful/uninvolved guy at all. Sometimes its that women just can’t win, and they’ve had it beaten into their heads and hearts that if they feel shitty about things, it’s probably the fault of the man in their life—even though as parents, everyone (as you suggest) is in the same boat: tradeoffs, division of labor, muddle through.

    But guys don’t get punished for the “muddle through” part. Well, except by their partners sometimes.

    • meistergedanken
      meistergedanken says:

      Sounds like you married an entitled bitch. My condolences.
      Unfortunately society in its current state manufactures multitudes of such harpies.

      The problem is giving these women what they say they want. It’s better to disregard what they say and seize your own happiness. At least then you’ll have your own self-respect – and maybe respect from her as well.

  17. leafiewonder
    leafiewonder says:

    Thank you for the post Penelope. Appreciate it.

    Btw, is there going to be a work-balance seminar for ISTJs?


  18. mzs
    mzs says:

    I am man and I agree to this, in fact, I am looking for a girl who is happy to be at home and school my kids and lets me worry about the bread, butter and the dangers of the world… but looking at the recent trend(in India) it is cool for a woman to manage work AND manage home.
    Most of the girls(graduates, I don’t prefer anything more :) I have met seem career oriented. I then just strike her off from my list of potential partners as I hate to ask her to sacrifice her career and be a mum.

    But the result I see is, many such girls stay unmarried for long and they wonder why.. We(men) ask why would I need an earning partner when my income is enough to run the home?

    I am convinced that it is unfair to expect a woman to work at both home and office. My Mother is my prime example of a woman who choose to take care of kids, and just did it well!
    In the process however she quit her career(science grad), but she developed her own household(over 30 years), this generated a lot of respect for her in my community, other young parents are amazed how could she handle all five boys, well if the mother can spend her time with the kids than on the TV shows, shopping she could do it too.

  19. meistergedanken
    meistergedanken says:

    “There are two jobs for adults in a family. Kids or money. Grow up and take one of those jobs.”

    Those stupid men, listening to [and believing] all those feminists’ proclamations over the last thirty years! Amirite?

    Sure, I’ll make the money so she can take care of the kids – but not if it means I have to pay off all the student loans for her [now] worthless college degree on top of everything else.

    Sounds like what you really should be doing is telling younger women to not waste their time in college racking up debt if they want children. Then they can always go to college after the children are in high school or later if they really want to.

    That would probably make heads explode, though. Too logical .

  20. Ian Boreham
    Ian Boreham says:

    Not sure if this post is deliberately antagonistic (starting to see a pattern here – is that covered in the course?), but essentially you are saying ‘man up’ when it comes to taking career responsibility. I have no issues with this. Cannot really see why a bloke wouldn’t want this apart from having financial concerns and concerns over job security. There’s another side of ‘man up’ though which is more supportive of woman’s careers and tries to derive a more equitable balance in relationships and domestic duties. Not sure if you are implying this is not achievable / realistic but I think a lot of couples are working well today to achieve this balance. You obviously have your own experiences and opinions about whether this is detrimental to children but I see a lot of situations that are working well.

  21. cullen
    cullen says:

    Ho-ho-hooooooly shit. This article is bullshit from top to bottom. My mother raised me for four years with my father – both had FULL-TIME JOBS and worked 5 days a week. When I was 4, my sister was born, and my old man moved out. He stopped working entirely and has been on disability ever since. My mother raised my sister and I on her own while juggling full-time working for the state of Alabama for another five years after that. Then she married my now-stepfather, who is retired military and currently an active contractor. Every weekend our family did something to bond, even if it was small. Playing Rock Band, driving to another state for the day, going apple picking. With both parents working FULL TIME, they found plenty of opportunities to bond with my brother, my sister, and I. I love my ma and pa. They’re superheroes, and they’re what every American family should be. My mom didn’t work for one year out of my entire life. One single year. And the pain of not working was so much that she literally HAD to go back. Now my mother’s career as a military contractor has grown so much that the DOD is paying for her to live and work in Japan with my younger sister AND my dog for the next 4 years.

    Being a woman, having a promising career, and building a family are all possible, and all at the same time. Really, this article should read: “If you aren’t a total fucking pussy and can handle a little bit of extra stress, going to work as a woman, even just a part-time job, can be rewarding and provides the household with extra income for fun shit on the weekends that brings families together.”

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