“I just don’t know how you do it. You just leave your kids all day and go to work? You’re so strong.”
“Yeah, thank you.”
“Don’t you miss them?”
“I do. But I also need, like, money.”
I loved watching this exchange in the movie Bad Moms a few years ago because it addressed a part of working motherhood we tend to neglect: money.
There are so many factors behind the decision to work outside the home or stay at home after motherhood. Staying at home can be rewarding, and you can spend more time with your family. Working can provide personal satisfaction and extra adult interaction. What we don’t often discuss is how money affects this choice and how the money factor affects everyone differently based on their economic status as well as personal lifestyle preferences.
Some people can more easily choose not to continue to work after having children. Maybe they’ve spent a lot of time in the workforce before starting a family and accumulated a hefty savings account. Or maybe they have a partner with a well-paying job and a second salary isn’t needed to continue their chosen lifestyle. In this scenario, the choice to go back to work would be more about personal satisfaction and not strictly financial need.
There are so many factors behind the decision to work outside the home or stay at home. Staying at home can be rewarding, and you can spend more time with your family. Working can provide personal satisfaction and extra adult interaction. What we don’t often discuss is how money affects this choice.
Others choose not to work because staying at home with their kids is so important to them or because paying for childcare is so expensive. But in many cases, choosing to stay home leads to an extremely stringent budget in order for it to be possible. These families typically have to cut out any extras and sometimes struggle to make ends meet, but it’s essential to their family values that a parent is at home. So, they make it work.
But for a lot of people, like me, a strong factor of continuing to work is because it allows them to avoid that extreme budgeting lifestyle.
Working Gives Our Family Budget Breathing Room
Like Amy in Bad Moms, my family needs the money from my job in order to live comfortably in the way we prefer. This need and desire to live with some breathing room is not something people often talk about, but it’s a valid reason for many mothers to continue to participate in the workforce.
Personally, even if I had the finances to choose not to work, I think I still would because of the personal satisfaction I get from developing a career. But for me, the thought process is more than just if I think it would be best to be home with my kids or not. For me, I want to work, but I also really need the money to subsist our middle-class lifestyle.
We could probably try to make ends meet on one salary. But we’d really just be covering our needs and money would always be tight. We’re still paying off a car and a student loan, and I don’t want to worry about where that money would come from on top of covering all of our other living expenses. Though it seems taboo to admit, I think it’s OK to not want to live on a budget that tight.
Personally, even if I had the finances to choose not to work, I think I still would because of the personal satisfaction I get from developing a career. For me, I want to work, but I also really need the money to subsist our middle-class lifestyle.
My Choices Are a Privilege I Don’t Take for Granted
I also understand the privilege I have in knowing that I have a safety net should my job ever fall through: a middle-class upbringing, a supportive and close family, and a solid education. Many, many families don’t have these privileges, and the choices these mothers face when it comes to work or stay home are much direr than the one I am able to make.
We choose to have both salaries in order to pay for things that enhance our life, like our daughter’s dance class, our gym memberships, and the ability to be able to sometimes go out to eat or take weekend trips while still being able to pay our bills. Sure, we don’t need these things to survive. But they make our lives more full, and we enjoy that. Our daughter loves learning to dance and trying new activities. I love being able to burn off steam at my kickboxing gym. We like being able to sometimes enjoy a fun meal out instead of exclusively cooking at home.
These definitely aren’t necessities but also aren’t huge extravagances, and we couldn’t afford to do any of these things without both of our jobs.
Of course, everyone loves their kids, wants to spend more time with them, and sometimes misses them when they are gone for busy days. But it’s also OK to feel like you need and want the money that comes with work. This doesn’t mean you are choosing money over your children. Money is something we all need to make our lives more full and comfortable. While everyone needs to make the choice that works best for their family, we need to accept that this choice is different for every family. We also need to understand the privilege that many of us have that allows us to make these choices.
And we need to support all of those who are making difficult choices for the betterment of their families.
This article was originally published in 2020 and has been updated for timeliness.