A conversation about future caregiving role every couple should have before marriage
Family caregiving is a critical decision that shapes a family's daily routines and financial health, emotional well-being, and overall life balance moving forward.
On average, women with children forfeit 15 percent of their earnings to provide family care, costing them $295,000 in lost wages and related retirement income over a lifetime. Unless affordable paid child and elder care options become widespread, parity in earnings between women and men will be difficult to achieve.
Families can no longer afford to default into the 20th-century caregiving family model. 45% of American households include a woman who earns around the same as her husband or more. Companies like Hey Mirza use evidence-based tools to inform working parents of the financial costs of one partner choosing to stop working or reduce their hours.
Most importantly, the latest research reveals that involved fathers contribute to child development.
For this article, we'll explore four primary caregiving scenarios:
When a father stays home.
When a mother stays home
Shared and fair caregiving responsibilities.
When a family hires a full-time caregiver.
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Father Stays Home
A growing trend in American families is the decision for the father to become the Lead Dad, the primary caregiver. As of 2019, 17% of all stay-at-home parents are fathers.
Dads assume the responsibility as the primary caregiver for various reasons, such as flexible work arrangements, changes in societal norms, or the father's desire to be more involved in their children's upbringing.
A recent study has found that fathers who actively participated in caregiving activities, such as feeding and bathing, had children who exhibited greater social competence, including better peer relationships and higher levels of empathy and self-control. There is additional evidence that fathers playing or reading with their children regularly had a particularly positive effect on their child's cognitive abilities.
On the other hand, fathers may face social stigma and isolation, given societal expectations about gender roles.
“Our goal at The Company of Dads is to normalize the role of Lead Dad - whether that go-to parent works full time, part time or devotes all of his time to his family,” Sullivan said. “The stigma of being Mr. Mom or a House Husband prevents a lot of men from stepping up at home. But it also keeps too much of the parenting burden in the office on Working Moms.
Considering these emotional challenges and the potential need for supportive networks or resources for stay-at-home dads is essential.
Mother Stays Home
Mothers have traditionally been the primary caregivers for many years, and this remains a viable option for many families. Doing so can bring the peace of mind of knowing your child is being cared for by a parent and the opportunity to nurture a strong mother-child bond.
As previously mentioned, a mother's decision to stay at home can have significant financial implications, including lost income, reduced retirement savings, and potential gaps in her career progression. Deciding to transition into a lead caregiver might be a singular decision, but it has compounding family implications that last a lifetime.
Shared and Fair Caregiving
Shared caregiving, where both parents equally divide child-rearing responsibilities, is another approach gaining momentum and recognition. This arrangement can offer several advantages.
Shared caregiving allows both parents to balance their careers and parenting roles, potentially leading to less disruption in their professional development.
Two Parent Bonds
Secondly, shared caregiving fosters a strong bond between the child and both parents, promoting a holistic family interaction model.
Minimizing Career Sacrifices
It minimizes career sacrifices otherwise disrupted in traditional caregiving roles and expectations, partly because fathers are stepping up. Fathers are taking on more caregiving responsibilities historically perceived as the responsibility of women, such as bathing, dressing, and feeding their children.
It’s important to point out that infants with engaged fathers displayed fewer behavioral problems and better emotional regulation skills as toddlers and preschoolers.
Related reading: The cost of raising children
Hiring a Full-time Caregiver
Alternatively, families may choose to hire a full-time caregiver. This option allows both parents to continue working, maintaining their career trajectory and income.
This arrangement provides professional, dedicated care for the child and flexibility for the parents. However, it's often the most expensive option and requires diligent oversight to ensure the quality of care. It's also essential to factor in the potential lack of parental presence during significant portions of the child's day.
When selecting a caregiver, thorough vetting, including background checks and reference reviews, is crucial for the child's safety and the family's peace of mind.
Ultimately, the decision around caregiving is deeply personal, with no one-size-fits-all solution. Each family must consider its unique circumstances, values, and resources. Key considerations include the family's financial situation, career aspirations, emotional well-being, and, most importantly, the child's needs.
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