When a mom says she’d love to stay at home but she needs the money

She might be lying because it’s easier than politely telling you to STFU.*

Sometimes working mom wants to work, regardless of her husband’s goals for income.  Some women do, even mothers.  Unnatural, I know.

When her husband says he can’t have more kids because they can’t afford them, well, he might not be telling the truth either.  I imagine the wife also has some say in the additional children question… she may even not want more kids!  But when a woman says she’s done with kids, that never goes over well.  People always feel like they have to say, “Oh, you’ll change your mind” or “I’m sure if you had another one you’d be happier.”

I find the question really intrusive (although we do plan to have a second some day) and wish people would stop asking me about my fertility plans at work.  Nothing I say ever satisfies them.  Finally one well-meaning gentleman has stopped pressuring me (about 4 years of this, including in front of job candidates) to have another kid when I explained in detail the kinds of infertility treatment I had to go through to get the first one.   Much easier to say it’s about money than whatever is actually going on, especially when it’s none of the questioner’s business in the first place.

Same thing with the working mom, we’re allowed to say we’d love to stay at home but we need the money but we’re not allowed to say we love our children to pieces but staying home with them would DRIVE US CRAZY.  Coming off a week with DC in daycare and DH at a conference, I know that would definitely be true in my case.

The woman in question might not even realize that she prefers working and having a smaller number of kids because we’re so brainwashed into believing that the ideal of womanhood is staying at home and sacrificing ourselves for the Victorian ideal of the next generation.  All those little boy chillin’s we ought to be martyring ourselves for (and boy grandbabies our daughters will be raising).  So we say one thing to people who need to mind their own business, but deep down in our heart of hearts, may actually feel another, even if we don’t realize it ourselves.  Oh, if only we didn’t have this mortgage, these schooling expenses etc, then we’d love to have 15 kids and no job other than to watch after them.  Maybe not.

Not to say that there aren’t people who really would choose to stay at home or have more children if they had more money, but I bet those folks make a lot less money than most folks who answer the question in exactly the same way.  (Not because of any SES reason, but because people who  genuinely need 2 incomes to make ends meet are a subset of the people who say they do.)

Are you ever asked intrusive questions?  Do you always answer them honestly?

*This is paraphrased from a reply I made on someone’s blog post I can’t find again.  The point of the post was the blogger knows this guy who isn’t having any more kids and his wife works instead of staying home because the husband wants additional income.  If they just lived super-frugal lives then they could instead have a SAHM and a dozen kids.  Because that’s everybody’s ideal goal.


36 Responses to “When a mom says she’d love to stay at home but she needs the money”

  1. Kellen Says:

    As one of three children, I always find myself thinking that 3 is really the best number… and sometimes that comes out a bit when talking to folks who only have or 2 kids. Then again my mom also worked at least part time since we were born to keep herself from going insane, so I expect that to be a fairly common feeling among moms (the needing to be working/not with kids all day). I’ll keep this post in mind for future conversations though!

  2. First Gen American Says:

    It would be nice to stay home once both the kids are school aged. I don’t think I could do it year round with any kind of good routine, etc, however I really do like the money. I’m such a pessimist when it comes to money and I don’t like the idea of lost earning/income opportunities. I don’t know if I’ll get disabled or widowed or what not, so I might as well get while the going is good. I reserve the right to change my mind at any time, but I like having that choice. The choice that if at some point I feel like my kids really need me, I can stop working and we’d do just fine.

    • Linda Says:

      FGA, I know what you mean “might as well get as the going is good.” For the past few years I’ve been pretty underwhelmed by my job, but the compensation and benefits are so good I keep slogging along. When talking with a friend about the situation, I pointed out that I’m in my prime earning years and feel like I should be making as much money as possible now (and saving a lot, of course) to secure a good future for myself. One never knows what the future may bring. Certainly if I had walked away from this job several years ago it would have caused much more stress during my divorce. I have enough income on my own to pay the mortgage on the house; if I was in a lower paying job I would have lost the house as well as the marriage.

  3. Molly On Money Says:

    People used to ask me if my daughter was adopted. She’s not and that’s not the point but I always felt it was intrusive. I don’t even know why- My parents tried to adopt for years and they had foster kids. I guess I just don’t get how knowing if my child is adopted or not enriches a conversation with someone I hardly know.
    I’m a crappy stay-at-home parent. I like the idea of it but I end up driving the kids crazy and they beg me to go on vacation.

  4. Donna Freedman Says:

    When people asked me why I had “only” one child, I used to get all flustered. Then I hit upon this answer: “Because that’s what God sent me.”
    This works on different people in different ways:
    Some think it means that I was unable to have more but was still trying.
    The religious folks think, “Hey, she’s one of us! Poor secondary-infertility-plagued thing, I’ll pray for her.”
    The non-religious types think, “Good grief, one of those religious people! Quick! Find someone else to talk to!”
    Now that I’m older I realize it was never anyone’s business, and that just because someone asks a question doesn’t mean you have to answer it. I wish I’d been able to say calmly, i.e., “I’ll forgive you for asking that question if you’ll forgive me for not answering it” or “Why in the world would you ask such a personal question?”
    And somewhat off-topic: People asking how much money you earn. Being from an older generation, I find this question incredibly intrusive. My current response is, “I don’t discuss my salary.” Usually that cuts them off. A few press on: “Why not?” I respond that I earn it and pay taxes on it, so I’m the only one (along with Uncle Sam) who needs to know about it.
    Anyone else have this problem?

    • Linda Says:

      Donna, mabye you get this income question because people are curious about self-employment and whether they could do it, too. People don’t ask about my income and I work in a pretty standard office job.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      With the income thing, I’ve noticed this is extremely common in Los Angeles– people talk about money a lot. I don’t actually have any problem with it, and of course my income is public knowledge (a quick internet search or phone call will find it). I understand there are many cultural differences, and there’s a difference between need-to-know (“Donna Freedman has an amazing life, I wonder if I would be happy on her income, thinking if as an upper bound of what a stellar person can make freelancing, or if I should stick with my 9-6 job”) and jockying for social status (which probably is what it’s about in LA).

      My thoughts on the income question were pretty well-solidified when I read a Tree Grows in Brooklyn… the bathroom scene in which the heroine finds out that she’s been extremely underpaid… but if the factory owners catch people discussing their individual salaries the people talking are fired… it’s in the factory owner’s interest for people not to share information on their wages.

    • Kellen Says:

      In Norway, they publish a list on the internet with everyone’s name and income for the year. It seems crazy, but it turns out that the whole country doesn’t collapse because of it.
      Not talking about salary keeps some resentments from happening, but also gives an advantage to employers. My employer will fire anyone who discusses salary with each other, which means that I can’t ask anyone what kind of raise/bonus they got to see if I should be negotiating more, etc. (Mostly I want to know what our male first years get as a raise vs the females.)

      Anyway, so yes, your salary is your business, and personally I still find it’s quite a personal thing to talk about, but I can see how other people would not find it a personal thing at all. So keep turning them down, but don’t be offended? Plus, there’s probably a reason for their curiosity (like how Linda mentioned that you are self employed?)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My mother benefited from a class action lawsuit when it was found out that the women in her department were grossly underpaid compared to the men.

      • Donna Freedman Says:

        I’m not offended-offended, i.e., “Get out of my sight!” — more like, “I’m irritated that I have to sound like the bad guy here because I consider my salary my business.”
        I understand all the arguments for frank discussions of salary. But I choose to opt out of these discussions. Once I’ve made that choice known, I’d like it to be respected. Let them get salary info from every other freelancer out there. Just not me.
        P.S. I am *very* grateful for my currently amazing life. But a big part of the reason I can live this way is that I am frugal. My mantra is “I save where I can so I can spend where I want.” Right now, for instance, I am writing from New York City, where I came for a conference (business expense!) and am sticking around to visit Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and South Jersey. I’ll spend a total of 32 days on the road — but I came in on an overnight flight that cost $264, am staying in hostels in NYC, Philly and D.C. and with family in NJ, am using public transit (the Megabus fares to all three cities cost a TOTAL of $3.50 — yes, three dollars and fifty cents) and I’m doing as many free touristy things as I can. Amazing? Yes. Frugal? You bet.

  5. Linda Says:

    I don’t get asked questions that I interprest as intrusive. In the early years of my marriage my MIL would sometimes ask when she was going to get grandkids, though. After this happened a few times I looked at her and said “It’s not going to happen.” She stopped asking after that. I let both my parents know that I was getting a tubal ligation, so that seemed to cut off any insinuations or questions from them on this topic.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how often comments/questions to me are just words and I have complete control over my reaction to them. I’m the one who reacts to them as annoying or intrusive or judgemental. My family dynamics are a touchy area for me, so even a simple question can get me on guard. But only if I choose to react that way. I could just smile and give a vague response or say something like “Why would you like to know?” in a calm way I don’t have to get defensive or angry.

  6. scantee Says:

    I try to be honest with people about the reasons I work: yes, we definitely need my salary, but I would work regardless. I enjoy what I do, think of it as a creating valuable social good, and it’s important to me to have a public life. To hide behind a false excuse of “I only work because I have to” does a disservice to working women in that it props up harmful cultural prejudices about women’s work, both in the home and out. I understand that some women just don’t want to deal and I’m fine with that but I still thinks it benefits everyone to examine and be honest about our motives.

    The flipside of this is when women who are at home say “daycare is just so expensive it doesn’t make sense for me to work”. I’ve known women making $70k with one child give that reason for staying home. It’s a disservice to the work that takes place at home to give people the impression that the only reason that anyone (any woman, I guess I should say) would do it is because she can’t afford to work. How do we raise the cultural value of at-home work if even the people doing it are deriding it as not worthwhile?

    • Cloud Says:

      I love this comment.

      I actually had the choice after my first daughter was born. We hadn’t bought a house yet, and could easily have afforded to live on my husband’s income if we’d chosen to buy in a different part of town (further from the coast). It was really clear to me that I needed to go back to work, so I did, and we bought in the expensive part of town. Now, we need both of our incomes. But that isn’t why I work. I work because I want to.

      I wish we could be more open to the idea that what is awesome for one woman/family might suck for someone else- and that me choosing to work isn’t a judgment on someone else choosing to stay home, and vice versa.

      But anytime I try to write a post about this, it gets tangled up in our cultural assumptions, and I always feel like I’m belittling stay at home moms when I try to explain why I like my life just the way it is- despite the craziness that comes with being in a two-working parent family. I guess I see the issues/problems that would come with the other option, and I like my set of problems!

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The way I see it, voluntary SAHP-hood is a subset of financial independence. And I’m all for financial independence. Just not at the cost of taking care of children all day without so much as a nanny for me (others don’t see that as a sacrifice).

        Though I suppose as they’re generally dependent on someone else’s salary they won’t necessarily have the freedom that true FI would bring… it would depend a lot on the spouse’s views. But with a supportive spouse and both partners invested in the marriage that shouldn’t be as much a problem.

  7. bogart Says:

    Oh, yes. And another thing: my sense is/was that a woman perceived as likely to/wanting to become a mom is already going to get mommy tracked, even before she gets to be a mom. I was 5+ years between starting ttc and actually having the kid, so I very much didn’t want to go there. I was also 3 years pursuing infertility treatments and being a crazy person while trying to appear a sane person at work (and not telling anyone I worked with that I was pursuing treatment) — I think it actually worked.

    Yes, I lied. A truthful answer to the “do you want kids” one was easy, I said, “I’d love them, but DH has raised two to adulthood and he doesn’t want to start again from scratch.” True, yet deceptive. (I now answer both truthfully and accurately for #2, “I’d love another but I don’t think it’s going to happen [for a woman who isn’t pursuing infertility treatments and who has a vasectomized husband.].”) I lied about the medical appointments, though. If possible, I’d avoid lying, either with an “I’ll be a bit late getting in tomorrow,” or “I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, so I won’t be in until 10” or whatever. But there were a few times when I had to miss a noticeable amount of work on short notice, generally a day for an egg retrieval, when I’d call in last-minute with a “stomach bug.” HIPAA’s supposed to protect our privacy, but really, how do you manage that (without lying). I figure, sick is sick and they don’t need details.

    My IVF clinic was part of the same university/medical system where I work and was literally 400 (?) yards from my office in a building that many of the faculty and students I work with cut through to get from e.g., their offices to the university administration, the on-campus eateries, the library — a much-traveled path. My DH always thought I was nuts but I’d insist on taking a back route, circuitous, to avoid running into anyone I knew en route to an appointment.

    And, yes, I’m with scantee on the “disservice” issue. Here (Grumpy blog) and elsewhere I am careful and emphatic about stating that I work because I want to, and that the fact that I am a working mother makes me a better mother than I could otherwise be. Because, as you (the Grumpies) suggest, a crazy mother is not a good mother.

  8. Anandar Says:

    I get asked these questions only from friends who are often contemplating, or anticipating, similar issues in their own lives, so they are not intrusive and lead to interesting conversations. People on the internet seem to encounter much more IRL rudeness than I do (bc I live in a like-minded, Bay Area bubble?).

    I think working 60-80% time is ideal (I’m at 80% right now), but I would think that even if I didn’t have kids!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There are definitely cultural differences in what is considered appropriate small-talk!

      Also there’s something about getting impregnated that suddenly means that people feel free to ask intensely personal questions. Maybe it’s some sort of evolutionary village-raising thing.

  9. oilandgarlic Says:

    I never gave it much thought but I think I tend to choose the easiest path when it comes to intrusive questions, which means I probably have perpetuated the “lie” that I need to work versus wanting to work as well. My mom was asked by her doctor why I worked and she answered that it was for medical benefits, as if I wouldn’t work otherwise. Unfortunately I do send mixed messages and I know she is just concerned that I work so hard and have a long commute. Some days I do NOT want to work and other days, usually after a weekend, I can’t wait to get back to work!

  10. Zee Says:

    I don’t find these questions intrusive unless they are asked persistently, in a rude manner, or someone doesn’t take the initial hint from the answer. Of course, I am a VERY open person and not much phases me. I usually give a full and honest answer, complete with analysis of the inherent sexism in the assumptions of the question asker.

  11. Debbie M Says:

    I am a big fan of always answering questions honestly. It helps that most people don’t ask me questions that I find intrusive–I don’t mind if people ask me about marriage plans or kid plans or money things. (I would mind questions about sex things.) I am learning that a perfectly acceptable answer is “I don’t really want to talk about that.” I’ve only used it rarely, and no one asked me “Why not?” afterwards, though if they did I would give that horrible non-answer I hate, “I just don’t want to.” If they’re obnoxious, I’m obnoxious.

    No one ever asks me why I work, even though I’m female. But then I’m unmarried and have no kids, so that might be it. Instead, when I talk about retiring early, every single person asks me what I will DO with no job. I can’t even really answer their question. What they want is for me to say that I will finally fulfill my lifelong dream of [fill in the blank, probably with “traveling the world”]. But I generally fulfill my dreams as I get them–I taught someone to read, I got a nice degree (twice), I got to date people I had crushes on, I got to move somewhere warm, I bought a house, and yes, I’ve been to London and the Grand Canyon and lots of other cool places.

    So I tell them the real answer as I know it so far. I will do the same things I’m doing now, only I’ll have time to do them more often: like exercise every day. I also want to learn Spanish and to volunteer at the local junior high and/or tutoring math. Those things may lead to more ideas. I really, really don’t think I will become bored and begin to think that my boss could have come up with something more fun for me to do than what I can come up with myself. The biggest risk is that I’ll feel I’m not contributing to the world enough. But after a year or two of recovery (you know, the fishing and the golf and the rocking on the porch), I’m sure I’ll come up with something. So, I say all of that.

    Another thing is that usually it’s only my friends and relatives who are asking me these personal questions, so it’s appropriate. Admittedly it does bother me when every time I take a vacation day, my sub-boss asks me how it was and what I did. I don’t really want to say the whole truth (It was so fabulous to sleep in, to not have you interrupting me every couple of hours, and to just play video games or cook or sleep or catch up on the laundry or whatever I felt like), so I just say it was lovely and I had a nice day at home.

  12. becca Says:

    I think I grok the “it would drive me crazy” feeling, because even though I “only” had 6 weeks maternity leave, I was dying to get back. That newborn stage was incredibly hard for me (PPD was part of that- in a sense, it *did* drive me crazy(er)).
    At the same time, to the degree we influence others when we put our values out there (which isn’t a good reason for not saying how you feel, but might be something to be aware of when you decide how you phrase it), I think the “I can’t do it, it would drive me crazy” might perpetuate a stereotype about how there are “types” of people who are equipped for childcare and types that are equipped for the workforce- and in the society we’ve got, that can be a detrimental model (IBTP).

    Are “I love my job” or maybe “I am blessed with a good job” or “My job is unusually fulfilling” or even “I base my identity in my job, so I can’t give it up!” really not socially acceptable answers? Kind of a sad commentary on the types of people asking you the question then. *sigh*.

    • bogart Says:

      I think your point about perpetuating stereotypes is a good one. When discussing this issue I always frame my choice as one relating to my being an introvert. I need time away from people (which my work does afford me; my preschooler does not) to recharge. But I can see the concept getting applied other ways (and of course not every job is suitable for recharging introverts) and where that could be problematic.

      I think the answers that you list in your second paragraph are perfectly good ones, but — while there is much about my job I do like and much it provides me that is good (not just the pay/benefits), really, there is truth for me in the idea that I work simply to get away from my family, and particularly my kid. (My DH doesn’t necessarily earn high marks in this realm, but he is much more capable of keeping himself independently occupied than is my preschooler.) And don’t get me wrong, it is not that I want to stay away from my family (or my kid) but I do want/need to get away from my family, and I am better at being with them because I am able to get away from them. And I do embrace and defend that. Were I independently wealthy, I’d probably do fine with long walks in the woods and coffee with friends; since I’m not, I head to the office.

    • Zee Says:

      you said grok, therefore I *heart* you now

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      “I think the “I can’t do it, it would drive me crazy” might perpetuate a stereotype about how there are “types” of people who are equipped for childcare and types that are equipped for the workforce”

      That thought actually crossed through my mind when I was writing the post. It happens to be the truth that it would drive me crazy, but it also does have that excuse. I definitely did not and would not say that I could not do it, and was careful not to do so. I could be a SAHM, and I would do a bang-up job at it, but I don’t WANT to, and it would drive me crazy. Whether or not it’s better for DC to have me as a SAHP (and in our individual situation I do not think it is, ze needs a lot more interaction with new and different people to fully optimize. Though I bet I could have hir finished with calculus by age 6, just to keep me entertained, because when I’m stuck with a kid I teach hir math, I don’t actually think that’s optimal), it’s better for the FAMILY as a whole that neither of us be SAHP. And we’re a family as a team; DC is not the only star player.

  13. Lindy Mint Says:

    I’d like to think I’m pretty good at answering questions honestly, though I might sneer when someone feels the need to convince me that my answer needs to be different.

    On the eave of my wedding I was talking with friends about how long it takes after marriage before people start asking if you’re going to have kids. We were asked at our wedding reception.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think they actually laid off that subject at the wedding reception– it started coming on strong the last year of graduate school. Man that family reunion at DH’s… I kept saying, “We’re working on it.”

  14. doctorbecky Says:

    I’ve developed a catchphrase (“one and we’re done!”), and use it often when folks I’m not that close to ask me if we’re having a second child. The other day I asked DH what we will tell DC when they grow up and ask why they don’t have a brother or sister and he blurted out, “We’ll tell him he should have slept more!”

  15. Grace Says:

    The question is intrustive, so I think any old answer will do. BUT, on a personal level, I don’t believe any working mother who is not a single parent who says she works because she has to. I know too many SAHM’s who have made whatever sacrifices necessary to do what they really want to do–stay home! I freely admit that had I not been a single parent, I still would have been a working mother. If I’d stayed home 24/7, there would have been blood on the floor! Some folks may be cut out for being a SAHM but that would NOT be Grace. [Usually when I say things like this, some snippy a**hole says “Then you shouldn’t have had kids at all.” I wonder which of my five adopted daughters, every one of whom was about to age out in foster care, they would have me leave behind. Or better yet, which one of them would THEY have adopted.]

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Regarding the: if you can’t stay home then you shouldn’t have had kids: My DC is absolutely perfect, so I’m not sure how either of us staying at home would have made hir any better!

      DH has some people in his family in which the wife works 3 jobs and the husband at most gets a disability check (or starts a job and then leaves it when they start taking out child support for his first wife because how horrible would it be if she got money for the children from his first marriage, etc.) In those cases, the working mother really does need to work. Though the father could totally be a SAHP. Of course, he doesn’t do childcare or housework so he’s kind of a cruddy one. (Lesson: Don’t marry a douche– a sperm donor would have been much less expensive if your biological clock was that insistent.)

  16. bardiac Says:

    It’s weird to me that some adults think working is a choice. I blame the patriarchy.

    When straight, married women tell me that they “only work because …” I think, well, there’s straight privilege, eh? (I’m sure there’s a lesbian out there who doesn’t work because her partner pulls in loads of money, but I sure haven’t met her.)

    Me, I work because in my culture, that’s what it takes to eat, clothe myself, and have sufficient shelter (and other stuff).

    • Kellen Says:

      My sister dated a woman for a long time who placed my sister in the position of “caregiver” and herself in the position of “care needer” and despite not having loads of money coming in, she begged off of working because of chronic headaches, etc. Now that they’re separate, she’s having to work anyway.

      I remember a chapter from this Bell Hooks book we read in college – work is a positive, good thing. It is what allows us to live together in cities, because jobs are specialized (so that I can do accounting, and someone else can be the farmer, and we can all get our food grown and our taxes done.) That being said, being a SAHM is a type of specialization/work, but I think I get what you’re saying about the presumption on the straight woman’s part (in your example) that if her husband earned enough money for example, she would, by default, not work. Also the SAHM as a job concept falls apart somewhat when all your kids are in college (or even in high school) and you’re hanging out at home all day doing ??? (Have some friends with moms like this). In a lesbian couple, I can see how, even if one parent stayed at home with the kids, once the kids didn’t “need” someone at home, it wouldn’t be automatic that the stay at home parent could just continue to stay at home forever.

  17. Can’t vs. Won’t: A deliberately controversial post | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] “could but I’d have to do all these other things I either don’t want to do or I don’t want to tell you about possibly because it’s none of your […]

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