Setting monetary values on stay-at-home spouses
By Cheryl Lavin September 25, 2012 7:28AM
Updated: October 26, 2012 6:13AM
We recently heard from Margaret, a stay-at-home wife and mother for most of her 27-year marriage. One day, her husband Drake told her to get a job and cut off her household allowance.
It brought up the subject of what a stay-at-home spouse contributes to a marriage and what it’s worth. Here’s what you had to say:
ALEX: My mother worked on and off throughout my formative years, but my dad was the primary wage earner. He managed both finances and the budget. When my mother needed money for anything, she had to ask my dad for it, and they’d frequently argue about how much it cost.
Watching them bicker over finances is probably the reason that I’ve always worked and had my own money. I don’t ever want to have to depend on anyone for my financial security.
SHANNON: Two professional friends of mine got married and had babies. She earned significantly more than he did and was more career-driven, so they decided he would be a stay-at- home parent, giving up his secure professional career.
But he was no dummy. Before quitting his job, he insisted they go to an attorney and draw up a post-nup agreement acknowledging the impact a decade or more of stay-at-home parenting would have on his future earning potential and agreeing on future spousal support in the event the marriage ended.
After 10 more years, the marriage did end and he had to go back to work. Believe me, that spousal support came in very handy while he rebuilt his career. It took years.
ALICIA: I may sound cynical, but this story makes me think, “There’s a lesson for men and women who choose to be Stay At Home Parents for a long time.” Drake is a jerk.
He has discarded all the years that he came home to cooked meals, a clean house, clean and folded laundry and kids who had already finished their homework.
None of his paycheck had to go for child care, so more of it could go to other things, such as the house, cars, vacations and, I bet, his hobbies.
That said, the one who earns a paycheck has the power. It may be sad and unfair, but it’s reality. When families make a decision that one of them will stay at home with the kids, the SAHP needs to be aware that this decision can eventually backfire on him or her, even 27 years later. Especially 27 years later, when finding a job is really tough.
If you’re a SAHP, it’s wise to start looking for a job, even part time, as soon as the kids are in school so you don’t have a huge gap in your resume and your skills are up to date. You need to be prepared for as many eventualities in life as possible, and having a job outside the home and earning a paycheck is one step toward such preparedness.
JAIMIE: The people who preach that wives and mothers make such a valuable contribution to society (especially those who condemn women with young kids for working outside the home) are often the first to decide that these “non-working” wives and mothers are leeches once the kids are older.
How much do you think a stay-at-home spouse is worth? Send your thoughts, along with your questions, problems and rants, to cheryllavinrapp @gmail.com.