How Much Is a Stay-at-Home Spouse Worth?

By Cheryl Lavin

May 10, 2019 4 min read

We recently heard from Melanie, a stay-at-home wife and mother for most of her 27-year marriage. One day, her husband, David, cut off her household allowance and told her to get a job.

It brought up the subject of what a stay-at-home spouse contributes to a marriage and what it's worth. Here's what you had to say:

ALANA: My mother worked on and off throughout my formative years, but my dad was the primary wage-earner. He managed the finances and did the budget. When my mother needed money for anything, she had to ask my dad for it, and they'd frequently argue about how much it cost.

Watching the two of them bicker over finances is probably the reason that I've always worked and had my own money. I don't ever want to have to depend on anyone for my financial security.

SARAH: Two professional friends of mine got married and had babies. She earned significantly more than he did and was more career-driven, so they decided he would be a stay-at-home parent, giving up his secure professional career.

But he was no dummy. Before quitting his job, he insisted they go to an attorney and draw up a postnuptial agreement acknowledging the impact a decade or more of stay-at-home parenting would have on his future earning potential and agreeing on future spousal support in the event the marriage ended.

After 10 more years, the marriage did end, and he had to go back to work. And believe me, that spousal support came in very handy while he rebuilt his career. It took years.

EVA: I may sound cynical, but this story makes me think there's a lesson for men and women who choose to be stay-at-home parents for a long time. David is a jerk. He has discarded all the years that he came home to cooked meals, a clean house, clean and folded laundry, kids who had already finished their homework, etc.

None of his paycheck had to go to child care, so more of it could go for other things, such as the house, cars, vacations and, I bet, his hobbies. I certainly hope they're in a community property state where everything earned after marriage is common property and divided 50-50. That said, the one who earns a paycheck has the power. It may be sad and unfair, but it's reality. When families make a decision that one of them will stay at home with the kids, the stay-at-home parent needs to be aware that this decision can eventually backfire on him or her, even 27 years later — especially 27 years later, when finding a job is really tough.

If you're a stay-at-home parent, it's wise to start looking for a job, even part-time, as soon as the kids are in school so you don't have a huge gap in your resume and your skills are up-to-date. You need to be prepared for as many eventualities in life as possible, and having a paying job outside the home is one step toward such preparedness.

JAIMIE: The people who preach that wives and mothers make such a valuable contribution to society (especially those who condemn women with young kids for working outside the home) are often the first to decide that these "nonworking" wives and mothers are leeches once the kids are older.

How much do you think a stay-at-home spouse is worth? Send your tale, along with your questions, problems and rants to [email protected] And check out my e-books, "Dear Cheryl: Advice from Tales from the Front" and "I'll Call You. Not."

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