High cost of raising kids often thwarts dream of being stay-at-home mom

moneyMany first-time parents are stunned when they realize how much it cost to raise kids. Just how expensive is it? A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report says that a middle-income family who had a child last year is expected to spend $221,000 to raise him or her to the age of 17.

It's no wonder that many women who want to stay home to raise their children feel pressured to remain in the workplace. About 63% of children who lived with married parents in 2007 had both parents in the work force, while 56% of kids who lived with two unmarried parents had both in the labor force, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The report by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion found that the amount households spend on raising children varies depending upon their income. Two-parent households with two children and before-tax income of less than $56,870 spend an average of $8,330 to $9,450 per child annually. Similar households with income between $56,870 and $98,470 spend an average of $11,610 to $13,480 per child, and those with incomes above $98,470 average $19,250 to $22,960 per child.

Not surprisingly, housing consumed the largest portion of expenses for child-rearing in those households (32% to 35%). Food and child care/education tied for second, with each accounting for 16% of expenses related to raising kids. For many families, the money being spent for child care such as daycare, babysitters, or nannies is eating into a large part of the take-home pay of many moms. (Women's median weekly earnings in 2008 were $638, or $33,176 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.)

In many cases, the remainder of a mother's pay goes toward job-related expenses such as commuting, work-related wardrobe, or lunches out -- and don't forget taxes. Often that leaves many moms with little or no take home pay to actually contribute to their households' finances. For that reason, some women choose to leave the workforce to stay home with their kids.

Moms also may leave their jobs after a period of being marginalized, wrote Ann Crittenden in The Price of Motherhood. Some moms who can't or won't work long hours may be denied promotions, forced out of positions or even fired. Not only can such treatment be demoralizing, but it can also cut into their earning potential over the years.

However, leaving the work force is often a catch-22 for some women. Experts say parents who leave the work force may lose out on a total of $1 million in earnings over time. Also, many women actually enjoy pursuing a career even though they may want to spend more time with their children.

As we've seen during this rough economy, many two-income families have overextended themselves so heavily that they can't afford for either parent to give up a job. In some cases, women who had elected to stay home with children, are now scrambling to find a job because their spouse has been laid off or is faced with a possible job loss. So many women who want to be stay-at-home moms will continue to feel torn between their work and family life as they continue working to help pay household expenses.

What do you think? Are you a working mom who has remained in the work force even though you'd rather stay at home to care for your children?

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