On Mother’s Day many women will reflect on their roles—thinking about qualities they hope to instill in their children—like honesty, integrity, kindness, the value of hard work and the long-term benefits of keeping your room clean each and every day. What might not be in the line-up is the virtue of financial security—having candid conversations with their daughters, in particular, about the importance of firmly taking hold of the reins.
Though the 1950s “Happy Homemaker” days are many decades past, one fact has not changed: women still shoulder the greatest responsibility for caregiving and household roles—whether they are working professionally or not. Millennial fathers are more apt to share these responsibilities than men in previous generations, but the percentage of “Stay-at-Home Moms” is still much higher than “Stay-At-Home Dads”.
The pull toward home for women (fueled by stress, guilt, and surprisingly stubborn notions that children need your 24/7 presence more than you need long-term financial security) will always be strong, and the traditional full-time job, indeed, leaves little room for life.
However, too many young mothers still feel their only option is the corporate grind, and they continue to leave the workforce for what they say will be “a couple of years while children are young”. This decision is misguided on two counts:
1) Most of today’s employers offer at least one of six different kinds of flexible work.
2) Few women ever stay out of the workforce for just “a couple of years”. Once women get sucked into the home vortex, the average hiatus spans 12 years.
It’s a very expensive hiatus. And there’s no logic to the argument that high childcare costs justify staying home. The Center for American Progress interactive childcare costs calculator weighs the “work/don’t work” decision in black and white:
If a 30-year-old woman earning $50,000 annually leaves the workforce for just three years it would cost her:
$150,000 in income,
$140,000 in lost wage growth,
$125,000 in retirement assets and benefits over her career lifespan
That total $415,000 loss would be even greater for women who have higher salaries and/or who stay out of the workforce for many more years!
Compare just the $415,000 loss to the average cost of full-time daycare ($54,860) or the average cost of a full-time, in-home au pair ($95,420) for an even longer period, five preschool years.
Working just makes long-term dollars and sense. So the best advice we can offer daughters on Mother’s Day and every day is “always find the flexible work that fits your life”. They don’t have to lean in to the C-Suite or start a business that can be exponentially scaled and sold. They can create their own brand of ambition and success as long as they keep at it.
A long and expensive retirement is on the horizon (30+ years with an average price tag of $700,000), and life has too many you never knows. Tell your daughters that continual flexwork is a form of insurance—as important as insuring your health against illness or your home against fire. Make sure that they do as much homework about personal finance as they’ve done preparing for the SATs.
Deep down inside, we all know that delegating your own financial security to another human being is not wise. Women in their 40s and 50s who took big caregiving breaks from the workforce and feel they are subsequently not as financially stable as they should be are now the biggest proponents of continual work.
In my 9 Lives for Women “Motherhood and Career Ambition Survey,” fewer than 7% of mothers say they’ll advise daughters to leave the workforce and care for young children. Most women say they’ll encourage daughters to always find some kind of work to generate even a small paycheck—so they always have current skills and experience to support themselves and their families.
A 2017 Allianz Life study has related results that do not mince words: when respondents were asked how they would advise daughters about money, 72% cut to the chase: “do not depend on others for financial security.”
What women say in surveys, though, often isn’t spoken enough in real life. Mother’s Day is a good reminder to have that conversation.