Over the past two years, I’ve gotten to know another stay at home dad in the neighborhood. Bob has a boy who is also two years old. We try to meet up once a month to see how things are going.
Our latest topic du jour is trying to figure out when the right time is for us to go back to work. We’re tired and need a vacation from parenthood. Stay at home parents without endless amounts of money often struggle with this decision.
Go back to work too soon and you’ll miss many of your child’s precious milestones. Go back to work too late and you might never be able to get a similar paying job or a decent job again.
What is a conflicted parent supposed to do? It turns out, we may not have to make a decision at all.
When To Logically Go Back To Work
Logically, the best time to go back to work is once your child goes to preschool or kindergarten full-time. Preschool can start as young as two. Kindergarten usually starts around five or six. With 3 – 8 hours of free-time a day, it would be best to at least do some part-time work if money is needed.
Although being a full-time parent is brutally hard, raising your child full-time for the first 2-5 years of life has its benefits. 90% of a child’s brain develops by age 5. The quality of a child’s experiences in the first few years of life – positive or negative – helps shape their future. Therefore, if possible, we might as well make it count when development is most rapid.
So far, I have yet to meet a single parent who has regretted giving up money to take care of their children during my limited time of being a full-time parent.
But many parents do not have the luxury of being stay at home parents until their child goes to preschool or kindergarten. Going back to work after 1-6 months is usually the norm here in America.
For those parents who’ve given up their careers to take care of their children, yet long to get back into the workforce before their child enters kindergarten, here is when to emotionally go back to work.
When To Emotionally Go Back To Work
When it comes to family, logic often goes out the window and emotions take over. Emotion is why parents are willing to pay $70,000 a year for a private school education when $20,000 a year for a public school education will do. Our desire to give our children everything makes our willingness to pay inelastic.
We, as parents, feel our children’s pain as if it were our own. We also feel an immeasurable amount of joy once they achieve something they’ve worked so hard to achieve.
What I realize now after being a stay at home father for over 28 months is that there are a couple phrases that pierce my chest and sting my heart like no other. They are:
“No daddy! Just mommy.”
When all I want to do is hug and play with my boy, him saying either one of these two phrases really hurts.
As a stay at home parent, one of my biggest fears is that I spend so many hours raising and loving him everyday and he ends up hating my guts. The more you invest, the more you have to lose.
At only 28 months old, I recognize that my boy does not exactly mean the harshness of his rebuff. I also recognize that when he’s teething, sick, or needs to go to the bathroom, he often wants to be left alone and doesn’t know how to politely say, “Hi daddy, could you give me some privacy?”
Nonetheless, his bluntness often stings.
After one particularly unloving afternoon, I had an idea. Every time my boy said “no daddy” or “no daddy, just mommy,” I would respond with an “OK, bye-bye” and leave.
In the past, if my son was awake, I suffered from a tremendous amount of guilt if I left the house for more than two or three hours. I felt bad putting the sole burden of parenting on my wife. I also felt guilty about choosing another activity over being with my son because I have full control over my time.
I realized separation time was important for a parent’s sanity, yet I couldn’t help but feel bad.
Now thanks to my son’s rejections, I no longer feel nearly as much guilt going to my room for a couple hours to work on an article. And if he’s been particularly moody and says “no daddy” repeatedly, I feel completely guilt-free leaving the house for several hours at a time to run errands and play tennis or softball. Heck, I might even have a beer after with the boys.
In contrast, whenever he says “Where’s daddy?” or “Hi to daddy,” I find it impossible to leave him without feeling like I’m abandoning my son.
Now, when I come back from a long outing, he is always extremely excited to see me. This might seem like commonsense for working parents. But for me, I did not see this coming until after he turned two because I hardly ever left him.
My son’s rejections have actually enabled me to feel happier overall because I now have more guilt-free freedom to do as I please. Further, he is getting what he wants – to be left alone. What a win-win!
Nature Will Determine The Best Time To Go Back To Work
By going back to work when your child starts rejecting your love, you are making your child realize how truly loving you actually are. All too often we take the people in our lives for granted. Kids are no different.
Your child will learn how to be more independent. He or she will learn to adapt to new caregivers and new playmates. Your child will also learn to better self-advocate, which is critical for young adults and adults alike.
Based on my informal survey of fellow stay at home parents, I’ve found kids start to talk back between 18 and 24 months. Going back to work by 24 months is important for parents who are still very career oriented. If you’re away for 24 months or less, I doubt many parents will skip a beat at work.
It’s amazing how nature has figured out a way to help ensure parents keep on working after a limited period of time off to improve the infant’s chances of growing up in a financially stable household.
If children were always incredibly loving, happy, and kind, we parents would never want to leave our children again! Alas, the terrible twos and threenager years exist to push stay-at-home-parents to seek the sanity and financial security of part-time or full-time work.
As for whether I plan to come out of retirement now that my boy is going to preschool this fall, I’m keeping my options open. I’m happy to work for a promising company with an enticing compensation package if an opportunity presents itself.
With a growing chance of a recession, it’s not a bad idea to earn some more active income. But I’ve come up with another plan which I’ll share with you in a new post.