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← 3 things new parents should consider before going back to work

Should you go back to work after having kids? It's an emotional decision, but weighing three factors can make it easier, says author and economist Emily Oster.

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Showing Revision 7 created 04/20/2020 by Erin Gregory.

  1. When I was pregnant,
    I just got very frustrated.
  2. Don't eat deli meats,
    do this particular prenatal test.
  3. Why did you make that choice?
    Why didn't you make a different choice?
  4. I felt like I was being told to do things,
    and I never got the answer to why.
  5. [The Way We Work]

  6. Sometimes in the world of modern parenting
    you just can't seem to win.

  7. If I go back to work,
    I spend less time with my kid.
  8. What if they don't get the attention
    they need to adequately develop?
  9. If I stay home
    and give up my income stream,
  10. will I look back and regret my decision?
  11. There's a lot of
    conflicting advice out there
  12. about whether to stay home
    or go back to work,
  13. so trying to make a choice between the two
    can be confusing and emotional.
  14. You love your kids
    and want what's best for them,
  15. but how do you determine what best means
    when everyone has a different opinion?
  16. There are many variations of parents
    that a household can have,

  17. and I think more families
    should be asking the question
  18. of whether it makes sense
    for the male partner to stay home.
  19. But the truth is that in the current time,
  20. most of the discussions
    about stay-at-home parents
  21. focus on women in particular.
  22. And it's usually the women
    who say they feel
  23. that what they do during the day
    is going to determine at a deep level
  24. what kind of mom and person they are.
  25. That is a huge weight
    to put on yourself as a parent.
  26. And when you're met with the side-eye
  27. after telling someone
    you're going back to work or not,
  28. it can poke holes in your confidence.
  29. I decided to dig in and find out.

  30. Is it better to stay at home
    or go back to work?
  31. It's an emotional decision, yes,
  32. but as an economist I've learned
    that we can use data
  33. to help navigate through
    those emotional decisions
  34. and feel confident we're making
    the best decision for our family.
  35. Specifically there are three main factors
    you should consider before you decide.
  36. First, you need to think about

  37. how this decision will affect
    your family budget.
  38. Let's do some numbers.
  39. Say your total household
    income is 100,000 dollars,
  40. with you and your partner
    making 50,000 each.
  41. That means you bring home
    about 85,000 dollars after taxes.
  42. If both of you work
  43. and the family pays
    1,500 dollars a month for childcare,
  44. your total disposable income
    would be 67,000 dollars a year.
  45. Are you with me so far?

  46. If you decide to stay home,
  47. your family makes less
    but you don't pay for childcare.
  48. Your disposable income
    goes down in this scenario,
  49. but not by as much as it would
    if you didn't factor in the childcare.
  50. It becomes more complicated if childcare
    is more expensive in your area.
  51. A full-time nanny
    can run 40, 50,000 dollars a year
  52. depending on where you live.
  53. If that's the case in your neighborhood,
    in the scenario I outlined,
  54. it would completely wipe out
    one parent's income,
  55. and you'd be better off financially
    with one parent staying home.
  56. Of course, this is only
    a short-term analysis.
  57. Childcare is less expensive sometimes
    when kids are in school,
  58. and you may make a higher income later,
    so you want to factor that in if you can.
  59. Once you've done the math,
    you'll know what's possible

  60. and you'll be able to make
    a more informed choice,
  61. which should feel empowering.
  62. Second, it's time to talk
    about what's best for your child.

  63. You may think this should be
    the core of your decision,
  64. but there's actually no right answer.
  65. According to studies
    from Europe and the US,
  66. the decision to go back to work
    or stay at home
  67. won't actually make or break
    your child's future success.
  68. Research shows that two parents
    working full-time
  69. has a similar effect on your child's
    future test scores and income
  70. to one parent working and one not.
  71. What seems to be most
    important is the environment
  72. your child is in during their spare time.
  73. As long as they're engaging
    in enriching activities;
  74. reading, practicing their motor skills,
    interacting with other kids,
  75. they're going to thrive
    whether or not you're at home.
  76. There is a bit of nuance in the data.

  77. For example, studies have found,
  78. that if both parents work,
  79. kids from poorer families
    are impacted positively,
  80. and kids from richer families
    are impacted less positively.
  81. So depending on your
    household configuration,
  82. the effects on your child
    could be a little positive,
  83. or a little negative,
  84. but the overall impact is negligible.
  85. Now I want to call out an exception:
    maternity leave.

  86. There is a growing body of evidence
    suggesting that babies do better
  87. when their mothers
    take some maternity leave.
  88. The early days with your child
    can impact their development,
  89. so if you have paid leave,
    you should take it,
  90. and if you don't, maybe consider
  91. taking some unpaid leave
    for those first few months,
  92. if your budget allows.
  93. And finally, ask yourself, what do I want?

  94. While this may seem simple,
  95. it's the factor that feels
    most taboo to explore.
  96. In talking to parents I find that
    when a woman chooses to stay home,
  97. she often feels obligated to say
  98. she made this choice
    for her children's optimal development.
  99. Which, sure, can be part of the reason,
  100. but a perfectly acceptable answer is,
    "this is the lifestyle I prefer,"
  101. or "this is what works for my family."
  102. The same goes for the working mother.
  103. Saying, "I like my job, and that's why
    I went back to work," is enough.
  104. If you want to go back
    to work, that's great.
  105. You're lucky to have a job that you love
  106. and you have every right to keep it
    once you become a parent.
  107. Be honest with yourself
    about what you'd like to do.

  108. If you're upfront about that,
    you're guaranteed to feel happier,
  109. which will allow you to be
    the best version of a parent you can be,
  110. and isn't that the whole point?
  111. There is no right and wrong
    when it comes to parenting.
  112. The best decision is the one
  113. that will make you --
    and your family -- the happiest.
  114. Up to you to decide what's next.
  115. By acknowledging that the choice
    to stay home or not
  116. is just that, a choice,
  117. with factors pushing you
    in various directions,
  118. we can ditch the guilt and enjoy
    doing what feels best for our families.