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Game plan changes when wife decides she'd like to be a stay-at-home mom

Wife struggles with unexpected desire to be stay-at-home mom

Q: I want to stay home with our 1-year-old son. Although our family could afford to live on one salary, it would mean some pretty big lifestyle changes, and my husband prefers the security of having two incomes. I also think he'd rather not have the all the financial pressure on him. My government job, while it pays less than his, is steady and secure.

The thing is, I'd be the one changing the rules of the game. When we dated and married he was always clear that he wanted a career-minded, ambitious girlfriend/wife, and before we had our son I never mentioned wanting to be a stay-at-home mom to him. It's only now that I've realized having two parents with careers may not be the best for our family. Since I never wanted this before, is it unfair to bring it up now?


A: Circumstances change, people change, opinions change. That's life, not subterfuge. So it's completely fair for you to say, "A year of motherhood has changed my perspective on working versus staying home."

It's fair for your husband, meanwhile, to come back with, "A year of fatherhood has underscored my reluctance to tie our financial security to one paycheck alone."

That's why it would be unfair of you to demand he stay home, or lash out at him if he says no to becoming sole breadwinner, or to do something rash (like quitting your job suddenly). You are partners in this.

To understand just how beholden you are to each other, imagine that he is starting to wish he could be a stay-at-home dad. Wouldn't it be unfair for you to ask him to put more of himself into work while you dedicate yourself to your home?

Your child-rearing choices are living things, open to revision as life progresses — but they're also maddeningly nonlinear and affect your son, you, your husband, your marriage, your futures and your financial health in unpredictable ways. What's best for your son is paramount, but what that means is neither obvious nor independent of these other five elements of family life.

Talk to your husband, yes. But acknowledge the bait-and-switch up front, unintentional though it was. It doesn't hurt to open the floor with a brazen display of good faith.

I would also urge you to go into the discussion with an open mind.

When we make declarations like "I just want everyone to be happy" or "I'm just hoping for the best," we usually have some specific, ideal outcome in mind. Breaking our preference for a specific outcome requires a great deal of mental discipline, but breaking yours right now might be the most productive thing you do.

The goal for your conversation would be to explore, together, the question of whether your current arrangements are the best for everyone involved. Even if he shocks you flat by saying, "Maybe you should quit your job," and even if you both agree that being home is best for your son, you'll still need to tend carefully to those other five elements of family life before you make any big moves.

Game plan changes when wife decides she'd like to be a stay-at-home mom 06/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 25, 2010 1:50pm]
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