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Reality Check: Stay-Home Compromise

Q. My husband wants me to go back to work six weeks after giving birth to our first baby, but I want to stay home for at least a year. How can I negotiate with him before the baby comes?

A. As one who went back to work seven weeks after my first child was born, I can tell you that I also felt like it was too soon. Neither my baby nor I had adjusted to this change in our lives. But I had work to do, a fairly flexible schedule, and a good breast pump. Somehow we got through it.

You will too, but if taking a longer leave is important to you, then let the negotiations begin. Remember, though, that negotiation involves compromise -- you'll have to go into the conversation willing to bend a little, and with a clear plan for how to make it work so that both you and your husband will be happy.

For instance, if your husband argues that the three of you really can't afford to live on one paycheck for a whole year, maybe you can meet him halfway by proposing a six-month maternity leave. After all, you and your baby will both be far more acclimated at 6 months than 6 weeks. You might also consider trying to live on one salary for a few months before the baby is born -- you can squirrel away your paycheck, and the two of you can figure out how to make ends meet on just your husband's salary.

You can also suggest the two of you start making some extra money before the baby is born-whether by working overtime or taking on a part-time job -- to help finance your unpaid leave. And don't forget to show your husband the math on childcare savings during those months you're home. The key is to share with your spouse the sacrifices you'll both have to make to buy yourself more home time.

I know a couple who borrowed money (using several credit cards) to finance having a parent at home for their baby's first year. That may sound extreme, but when you think about all the other things we gladly borrow money for -- cars, vacations, houses, clothes -- maybe time with your child is well worth paying interest on, provided, of course, you'll have the means to pay off the debt later.

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