I remember it like it was yesterday. The distinct and awful feeling of a lump in my throat that refused to go away. I was four weeks into my maternity leave with my first born and the reality of going back to work full-time hit me like a thousand bricks. Was this really the only way to meet our basic needs? Wasn’t there something else I could do? I was desperate and spent the rest of leave in what felt like perpetual prayer and panic. I cried a lot with my husband as we reviewed our situation and tried to brainstorm ways for me to stay at home but to no avail. I felt it deep in my heart that God had created me to raise this sweet soul (and future children) and the thought of dropping him off to someone else for most of his awake hours crushed me.
I knew that it shouldn’t be like this. It didn’t have to be like this. It was a tragic flaw that was a mix of cultural expectations, low wages in the fields my husband and I were in, and lack of resources for a proper maternity leave. I wanted to be in a society that was “structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to work outside the home, and that their families can live and prosper in a dignified way even when they themselves devote their full time to their own family” (Familiaris Consortio 23). But that wasn’t our reality at the time.
Although my prayer to stay home at that time wasn’t answered, God did provide in marvelous ways until we could make it happen. We learned a lot about ourselves and had incredible help from family and friends along the way. Our desire to allow me to be the primary caregiver at home created a sort of fire that ignited a series of lifestyle changes. We made conscious decisions about spending, jobs, and more before I was finally able to leave full time work and stay home with our growing family. It was hard, though. I spent a lot of days wondering if I’d be working out of the home indefinitely. I talked with friends, prayed, and waited.
I am so incredibly grateful that I now stay at home with my boys. We have to very intentionally and staying home comes at a cost. However, we’ve found the value of a stay at home parent is worth it. Here are some of the ways we make it possible.
HOW WE MAKE A STAY-AT-HOME PARENT POSSIBLE
- WE DON’T HAVE CABLE. Believe it or not, we don’t even have a TV anymore. I enjoy the simplicity it gives us and I’m able to monitor what my boys watch a little easier so it’s worth it for more reasons than saving.
- WE ARE A ONE VEHICLE FAMILY (and only buy used). When we first married we each had our own car. After the first year, we decided to sell my husband’s car to pay off some loans and we’ve had one vehicle ever since. We save a ton on insurance, gas, and repairs by doing it this way. Recently, my husband sold his nice bicycle and purchased a used scooter from a friend with the cash. This gives us a little more room in scheduling but still saves us a ton on gas. It’s like the one vehicle and a half plan now. 🙂
- WE RENT. I am in no way opposed to home ownership and hope to own a modest home some day. But for the time being, the best use of our money and time has been to rent below our means. This saves on the added costs above a mortgage that people often overlook and we have no surprise payments on repairs.
- WE EAT SIMPLY AND HOMEMADE. When we were both working, I got take-out several days a week and meals were usually more expensive and less healthy because neither of us had the time to meal prep or cook. Now I have the time to meal plan and prepare everything homemade. Even on a restricted diet due to food sensitivities in the family, we are able to save in this area preparing ahead of time using simple ingredients and making things from scratch.
- WE DON’T BUY NEW FURNITURE. This was originally a decision we made by default the first days of our marriage when we were young college grads with no money. Our living room consisted of a donated armoire, two lawn chairs I found at a garage sale for $1 (which were held open by twisty-ties), and a small bookshelf. We had even planned to sleep on the floor for a few months, but some amazing friends bought us a mattress while we were gone on our honeymoon. Even now, years later, almost all of our home furnishings were either bought used or at a steep discount. Instead of payment plans and new appliances, we’ve also been able to find reliable used appliances for a fraction of the cost.
- WE EMBRACE SISTER POVERTY. I don’t get manicures and my husband doesn’t go out for drinks, among other things. Not that there is anything wrong with these things, but choosing to live on the income from one working spouse has shifted our ideas of what is necessary in life. There are many things we happily go without because we realize they are just things. But the extra time we spend with our children and family is invaluable.
- WE CLOTH DIAPER AND ECOLOGICALLY BREASTFEED. This only helps if you still have babies in the home, but for those that do, learning to cloth diaper and do ecological breastfeeding can make a huge impact on savings.
- WE BUY CLOTHES ON CLEARANCE OR AT THRIFT STORES. I don’t remember the last time I bought a new, not-on-sale clothing item for our family. This doesn’t mean we choose to look disheveled. I love fashion and keeping my family looking cute and presentable. But I’ve noticed in person and in pictures, no one can tell if you paid full price or half price for the clothes you’re wearing 😉
- WE LIVE SIMPLY. In most all areas of our life, we try to just use what is necessary and keep things simple. It is so easy for me to start wanting more and more if I don’t make a conscious decision to embrace simple living. I regularly give away toys and extra items around the house we aren’t using anymore or those taking up space. I’m always amazed how much stuff can accumulate if I’m not careful! It is also a great way to remember to give to those in need.
- WE KEEP A MONTHLY BUDGET. We know what comes in and what goes out and don’t overspend. If you’ve never strictly done this before, Dave Ramsey is a great place to start. I don’t endorse all of his ideas, but he does have some really great resources to help families budget efficiently and get out of debt.
- WE DON’T COMPARE. A lot of our peers are doing things a lot differently than us. If we tried to measure up to them I’d probably be working full time again and we’d be a lot more stressed. We pray and work hard at staying in God’s will for our family and try not to worry about what other people are doing.
It is such a gift to not wake up with that lump in my throat each morning and know that I’ll be the one spending most of the day raising my boys. Because we committed to these eleven habits, we found a way to make it work with God’s help.
What would you add? Do you or your spouse stay at home? What makes it possible?
Disclaimer: This post is meant to be practical and helpful in nature. This is not a judgment of families that have two working parents or those who live differently than what’s outlined here. We have nothing but love for all families! However, for those who are looking for ideas to make a stay-at-home parent a reality, I hope this is useful for you. Please note, these are just recommendations based on our experience. It is always wise to consult with your spouse, your budget, and God based on your own personal situations before implementing any financial or life changes.