How To Survive The Pressure As A Sole Income-Earning Parent

2020 may have been the hardest year of my life. I was the sole income-earning parent with two young children to feed. Here's how to survive the pressure as a sole income-earning parent.

Much has been written about offering more support and empathy for the stay at home parent who gives up his or her job to take care of a child full-time. Being a full-time parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world because so much is at stake. Full-time parents deserve all the respect in the world.

However, little attention is paid to the plight of the sole income earning parent. The sole income earning parent seems to have it relatively easy because s/he doesn't have to be on call 24/7.

S/he can slack off at work with no devastating consequences. S/he can even attend the occasional company boondoggle and have stimulating conversations with adults over copious amounts of free alcohol.

However, any emotionally competent sole income-providing parent faces the following difficulties.

Pressure On The Sole Income-Earning Parent

  • The constant stress of knowing they have to provide for the family with no financial backup
  • The constant guilt for being away from their child because of work
  • Not being able to find support because a day job is considered the easier job
  • The expectation of having to do an equal amount of parenting after a long day's work

Many couples fight over this division of labor. The sole income provider often wants to come home, have a drink, eat dinner, and maybe watch some TV and relax, before jumping into parenting duties, especially after a rough day.

But the stay at home parent, who has been going non-stop since not-at-home spouse left the house, resents this expectation because nothing is as energy sapping as caring for an infant. The sole income provider is resentful for not being allowed to take even half an hour to unwind. Problems ensue!

Let's see if we can help the sole income providing parent get him or her get to a happier place. 

Surviving And Thriving As The Sole Income Earner

1) Take everybody's opinion with a grain of salt. 

Guilt comes from inherently knowing spending more time taking care of your child is better than spending less time, especially in the crucial first five years of development. Guilt also stems from other people's opinions about what you should do, especially if people criticize you for choosing work and money over being a parent.

It's good to get advice from more experienced parents. However, as a writer who shares my struggles in finance and in fatherhood, I've come to realize that whatever you put out there will be judged. Further, a lot of parents project their guilt onto you due to their lack of parenting.

For example, I shared with readers in my mid-year review that I wanted to provide six hours of joyful assistance or primary care to my wife and son during his waking hours.

I used the word “assistance” because during the first year of life, breastfeeding is constant and I do not have the ability to breastfeed. I looked up whether there were any breast feeding contraptions for men, but couldn't find a viable solution.

I used the words “primary care” so that I'd take full charge for a couple hours in the morning, especially after a rough night and a couple hours in the afternoon so she could have time to herself. On my “off hours,” I'd get to work writing and managing our investments in order for my wife to be a stay at home mom. Seems like a reasonable effort, right?

Not according to reader Sara, who ignores my words “primary care” and writes,

“Sam, I can’t believe I didn’t catch this before. “Assistance to [your] wife”!?!?!

Parenting, cooking, cleaning, etc. are part of being an adult and a parent, and equally your responsibility as hers. This isn’t the 1950s. You’re not “assisting your wife,” you’re being a responsible adult in a relationship who shares childcare and housekeeping duties. I can’t believe this is even a “goal” of yours; it’s certainly not something you should celebrate if you achieve it, as it’s really the bare minimum standard of being a parent and spouse.”

Here I was thinking I was doing OK as a parent and trying to get better. But trying to be a better parent is not good enough for Sara, who sends her child to day care because both she and her husband work. I was so confused by her reaction. Is she really arguing semantics? The only logical conclusion for her judging me for trying to take care of my son during the week is her guilt for not doing the same or that she was upset with her work or her husband at the time and took it out on me.

Let me be clear, I have no problem with daycare. It can be a luxury or a necessity, depending on your household situation. I never even brought up the subject of daycare in my mid-year review post.

You can see how her comment would start a huge fight after coming home from a full day of work if you are the sole income provider. You can also see how some men are too afraid to be stay at home dads due to the criticism and lack of support from other parents. When stay at home dads make up just 2% of all stay at home parents, it's easy to get run over by the majority.

The only right way is what you and your spouse decide is the right way through constant dialogue. It's your life. Don't let anybody come between you and your partner. Certainly don't let other parents project their guilt onto you for trying to do better.

Percent of stay at home parents by sex

2) Be explicitly clear about the budget.

Money stress is strong when you're the only one generating income. As a result, make sure you and your spouse know your exact after tax income in order to calculate how much of the income can be spent on supporting the family while also saving for retirement, paying down debt, and saving for your child's education.

Don't just break down your expense budget by month. Figure out how much the family can spend by week and stick to it. After each week, review the actual expenses with the budget and give yourselves a high five when you spend less. This exercise will help reduce the sole income provider's anxiety because there's always a little worry when even the person you trust the most is in charge of spending.

Before our son was born, I gave my wife the green light to spend as much as she needed to prepare for our son's arrival. After our son was born, the green light continued for a full year without us discussing a single item of expense. In retrospect, we should have reviewed our budget because after the first year, I began carrying some anxiety for months that we were spending 2.5X more than reality. I felt relief to see the actual child expense tally once she ran the report.

Related: Financial DEpenence Is The Worst: Why Each Spouse Needs Their Own Bank Account

3) Practice gratitude you're able to work and have a stay at home spouse. 

Gratitude always helps dissolve any festering resentment or bitterness. Instead of seeing being a sole income provider as a burden, see it as a luxury and an honor.

Two-parent households where both parents work full-time make up ~46 percent of the population today, compared to 31 percent in 1970 according to Pew Research Center. The percentage of both parents working full-time is going higher because the cost of living and the cost of childcare is outpacing wage inflation.

If you can have the person you love and trust the most take care of your child full-time before going off to pre-school or kindergarten, it is a wonderful blessing. Remind each other daily of this luxury.

If both of you have the luxury to stay at home to raise your child together, even better. Just don't be too open about it in real life because you will be hated on by other families where one or both spouses have to work outside their home full-time.

Division of labor for parents

4) Know that it gets better after your child goes to pre-school or kindergarten.

A child usually starts pre-school at age 2-3 and kindergarten at age 5-6. Therefore, no matter how much pain and frustration you are dealing with, know that your schedule will get easier for both of you within six years for a developmentally normal child.

As soon as you commit to a timeline goal, everything becomes easier to accomplish. For example, one of the reasons why I can keep publishing multiple times a week on Financial Samurai since 2009 is because I made myself a 10-year goal to do so. To quit now would be a travesty.

Why do we frequently hear stories about someone passing soon after a major accomplishment? It's because they were holding on until the goal was accomplished.

Sure, there will be more child-raising issues that come up as your little one ages. But with more sleep and free time during the day, the stress of being the only one to generate income diminishes because the stay at home spouse now has the option to work.

The guilt of not seeing your child all day due to work goes away because your child is in school for most of the day. The reward of having a child increases because he or she becomes more interactive.

5) Take mental sick days very seriously. 

Feeling the pressure to provide is not physical pressure, but mental pressure. Feeling the guilt of not being able to raise your children can be mental torture. When your mind breaks down, you don't do your best work. You become irritable, combative, and sometimes very volatile. Mental illness can lead to neglect, fights, adultery, divorce, and sometimes even suicide.

For goodness sake, please don't be ashamed to take all your sick and vacation days. Please know the Family And Medical Leave Act is a federal law that guarantees certain employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave each year with no threat of job loss. Be open with your colleagues about why you need time off. If they are good people, they will understand.

6) Have your stay at home spouse generate income. 

If gratitude, budgeting, patience, taking time off, and ignoring other parent's opinions don't work, the only solution left is to have your spouse start earning income again. The income can be generated preferably through freelance work or through a part-time job. If you can run your own business from home, even better.

Some households simply cannot afford to have one spouse stay at home until their little one goes to pre-school or kindergarten. Money stress can really strain a relationship, even if being a stay at home spouse is worth a $100,000+ a year job.

There are plenty of ways to make money online now through freelance marketplaces like Upwork or Task Rabbit. For example, here are all the freelance work categories on Upwork to choose from. Surely you have a skill in at least one of these areas. If not, I know plenty of people, including myself who drove for Uber or Lyft during the early morning or late night hours.

Freelance work categories

Not only is my wife an amazing mom, she is also an amazing online business partner. Once our son started sleeping for at least a 7-8 hour stretch, she began updating a lot of my older posts with fresh content and writing new pages on top of the quarterly booking she does. Not only did her work help our business, it also gave her a lot of pride and satisfaction.

Be Proud Of Your Accomplishments

Although it may not seem like you're doing enough when you come home to a tired and stressed out spouse who sometimes makes you feel guilty for being away from the house all day, know that you are doing a great service to your family. The person you trust the most can be a stay at home spouse because of you!

Practice gratitude every day. Keep the dialogue running so resentment does not build up. Forgive each other the first five years before kindergarten. Don't listen to the criticism of others who don't walk in your shoes. Please take time off to heal your mind. And finally, cherish every single moment! Before you know it, your kids will be all grown up and will want nothing to do with you.

Who earns in your household?

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The Average Net Worth For The Above Average Couple

How To Build Passive Income For Financial Freedom

Recommendation For All Parents

If there's one thing the pandemic has taught us, it's that life is not guaranteed. We must do everything we can to protect our children while they are still dependents.

As a result, please get life insurance. As a sole income-earning parent, you must protect your children after you are gone. Not only should you get enough life insurance to cover your liabilities, your life insurance term should last long enough to get them through college.

The best place to get life insurance is through PolicyGenius. PolicyGenius will help you find the best plan for the lowest price tailored to your needs. PolicyGenius provides free, no-obligation quotes so you can get the best rate. 

In the past, you would have to get a life insurance quote by applying to individual carriers – the process was completely opaque. Now, you can have multiple qualified life insurance carriers compete for your business after applying on PolicyGenius. It's so much more efficient! 

After eight years of owning life insurance, my wife decided to check on PolicyGenius for free to see if should could do better. Lo and behold, my wife was able to double her life insurance coverage for less money. All this time, she thought she was getting the best deal with her existing carrier.

If you don't have life insurance, please get life insurance before you need to. Life insurance gets more expensive the older you get. If you get sick, depending on the severity of your sickness, you might not be able to qualify.

If you do have life insurance, I highly recommend checking PolicyGenius to try and get a better deal. Chances are high you're not getting the best terms. 

Stay On Top Of Your Money

As a sole income earning parent, you need to also stay on top of your family's finances.

To do so, sign up for Personal Capital, the web’s #1 free wealth management tool to get a better handle on your finances. In addition to better money oversight, run your investments through their award-winning Investment Checkup tool to see exactly how much you are paying in fees. I was paying $1,700 a year in fees I had no idea I was paying.

After linking all your accounts, use their Retirement Planning calculator that uses real data to provide as pure an estimation of your financial future as possible. There's no rewind button on the road to financial freedom. Best get it right the first time!

Update 2021: Thankfully, the economy has recovered and things are looking better. However, the delta variant and other variants continue to wreak havoc. But we're getting on with things. I utilized the pandemic to make more money online and write a book for Penguin Random House.

For more nuanced personal finance content, join 100,000+ others and sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites that started in 2009. 

69 thoughts on “How To Survive The Pressure As A Sole Income-Earning Parent”

  1. I am a strong believer in the idea that what works best for you will not necessarily work best for someone else. My parents made the choice that dad would work, and mom would stay at home and raise us until we went to school. Mom would clean houses and cater to help earn extra cash for the family. I recall going along on her house cleaning jobs. That’s how we lived.

    Fast forward to my son, and I had the better position as my father did. My wife stayed home for 6 months with our son, and that was all she could do. She needed to get back to work, and that was that. That was our choice, and it’s a common one.

    There is some validity in suggesting that other people will raise your children since they will be around them longer than you for their awake time. With care and attention, you can separate the positions of the teachers from that of your children. So far, anyway that seems to be true. My son looks to me and my wife when he disagrees with the teachers, and I push back on them when I disagree with them. I pulled my son out of one daycare for that reason. I think most kids look to their parents, for obvious reasons, as the ultimate leader. I think the problems come in where parents can’t, or won’t give their kids the attention they need. That happens. My father worked 40-60 hours a week with a 3-4 hour commute for most of my life. I spoke to him more on the phone, than in person. That was our life. Mom raised us, not him. Nothing and no one is perfect. I don’ think there is such a thing. The only thing that is real is whether or not the situation is perfect for you.

  2. Amen to “Practice Gratitude” and “Know it Gets Better” #4 & #5. My kids are still under 10 but six years ago when I moved home being a sole income earner was overwhelming! Now there are no more diapers and fun little people (well mostly fun, sometimes cranky) in my house it’s not so much of a chore.

    Thanks for the article, interesting thoughts!

    1. I just wanna say that yes stay at home parent is one the hardest jobs. But it’s the most amazing hard job u can have. Watching your kids grow up in front of your eyes. While the sole breadwinner gets maybe 24 hours out of a week to see it happen.. so it can be hard but I would gladly take it over not seeing it and dealing with a dick head boss 8-14 hours a day.. it’s a blessing for both parents to have a stay at home patent .. but one is missing it all and expected to do it all

  3. My husband has been a stay at home dad for 8 years while I work as a psychologist. We now have 3 kids. It’s stressful for both of us (he doesn’t get a break from the kids, and I rush home to breastfeed and feel guilty about taking any time for myself). We remind ourselves that the kids will be grown soon and we’re grateful to be able to afford for him to stay home.

    Great post, Sam! Thank you.

  4. I just learned of you from a Yahoo article. So now I am perusing your site, hoping to learn something. I too am a sole income earner but also a single parent. My last one graduates next year. I relate to a lot of this but also envy having someone at home to keep things in balance. Hopefully, I will find some articles on here for someone like me who barely has anything in her retirement. Starting at 51 is going to be a serious struggle.

    1. Welcome to my site! Once your last one graduates next year, hopefully s/he will find her/his wings and will let you quickly build up your retirement nest egg. Please use the search box to look up topics you may be looking for e.g. social security, retirement, etc.

      1. Thank you! I have done that! I am also sharing info from here with her and her siblings so they can have a much better and earlier start!

  5. GirlOnAMission

    I see your points in this post and your “Is Daycare Bad For Your Kids?” post but I also have to agree with some of KMac’s points. I am currently expecting with our first baby. We have been together for 13 years and married for 6. We purposely waited so we could become independent/stable with our finances in hopes we could provide a better environment for our little one. We are middle class but smart about our money. I desperately want to leave my job and become a full-time mom but my husband and I almost make equal pay; with me on the cusp of a promotion. He is in full support of taking a huge finical hit/risk if I do ultimately decide to stay home but I think in the long run it will actually be better for our kid for us to have more money. I say this because I did not have the privileges as many of my friends did or current co-workers’ kids do. I grew up in a middle class home and never got the “hot” Christmas gifts or world experiences through travel. When it was time for college it was either choose to live at home and go to a community then state school so most of the costs could be covered by my parent’s or take on a huge debt. I choose to live at home. To afford my car, gas, and own living expenses (I didn’t have to pay my parent’s rent thankfully) I worked a part-time job after school and picked up more hours during summer break. When I was a senior I finally moved out with my now husband and to afford this worked 40 hours being a waitress at two restaurants all while attending school full-time. It was long nights and tried days but I refused to be in debt. I didn’t have time to fully invest myself in my studies or take on an internship. My parents didn’t have great jobs or contacts where someone could recommend me or get me into a higher paying job. So after college I took the first job available to me that wasn’t a restaurant gig and worked up from there. Anyways long story short, I want to be able to give my kid more because in the long run I think they will have a better adult life because of it. I don’t know one co-worker who has a kid working while in college but they have internships in the summer. So far all these kids got amazing job offers before they even finished college. Why? Because they had time to invest in their school work, figure out what they really want to do, and get a head-start in the field through internships. I also read an article a while back that a child with two working parents has a higher chance of becoming successful. So for now our plan is to have our kid go into daycare at 3 months old once my maternity leave runs out and for 40 hours a week. Pricey? Yes but not as much as it would cost us for me to quit. Once s/he is born and I’m crying my eyes out thinking about leaving them… it could change. Let me know if you want to hire me Sam for some side freelance work ;)

    1. Sounds like a plan to me! The key is that you guys did plan and talk about everything, so hopefully you guys will be in better shape once the little one comes.

      I think you’ll either decide after three months that you need a break by going back to work or you will feel bad to leave your little one that you just want to stay and save the money on daycare.

      I think the timing of these feelings are different for everyone. It is really, really, difficult to be a stay at home parent the first year. Don’t let anybody sugarcoat it for you.

      But boy do the rewards start coming in after about 12 months. It is an absolute joy to spend time with my 16-month-old son. I love him so much and I cannot bear to be away for more than about four hours a day. Again, everyone is different. Find your own path!

  6. Simple Money Man

    Both my wife and I work so I can’t really comment. But for a little bit, she wasn’t working and I was the single income earner. For that, my advice would be to fully accept that you have to spend more time with your kid when you come home and less time doing your own thing (e.g., watching TV, etc.). When you fully immerse yourself into this acceptance, it makes things easier. And do WHATEVER you want to do whenever they are sleeping – optimize that time!

  7. My wife, who is an occupational therapist, noted that the study you cited was in 2006 and would be considered old and out-of-date from a clinical perspective. During that time, screen time is way up, but daycare standards have changed quite a bit since then.

    My daughter is 3 and my son is 2. They have both been at daycare in various forms since 3 months. Most 3 or 4 days a week for 9ish hours per day when we were in Denver. Their first daycare was good in the infant room, but in the 1-2 year old room, they had a TV on in the afternoon every day when I picked up my daughter. We were one of the few people who actually paid tuition; most of the children were there on state assistance. We moved to a different daycare that didn’t have screentime, went above the standards, and had them playing for most of the day.

    When we moved to MI, my kids were at home for the first 2 months. It was a disaster because my wife was not used to providing full-time care and enjoyed working part-time, as she had before we moved. They have been in full-time daycare the past 6 months, and love it. My daughter has a few friends she talks about constantly, while my son, who has started talking much more over the past few months, talks about going to school to see his friends. They both love their teachers and talk about them at home. Their behavior has been better in daycare than when they were at home full-time, though my wife would have figured out the scheduling aspect eventually if they stayed at home. But for her sanity, she wanted to go back to work. When they get home, we’ve been trying to play together as a family until they go to bed.

    It should be noted that we send the kids to a daycare that probably exceeds the standards, using only organic foods, a learning curriculum, etc, and so the kids are in a better daycare than most. We are thankful we can afford to send them there. I can see how not all daycares are able to provide a level of care that we receive. Once my wife has been at her new job long enough to get a more set schedule, we’ve talked about going back to part-time daycare, but until that happens, we are trying to do the best we can.

  8. Kelly | FundKey Life

    My parents both worked 2 jobs each when we first moved to America. I was 12 at the time and I had to take care of my younger brother (he was 7 at the time) anything from his homework, to his food. In addition, I also babysat our neighbor’s little girl without pay (because my mom was carpooling with the girl’s mom every day so my service was the exchange for that). I grew up very fast. I became a stay at home “spouse” for my parents! I was always envious of my friends – I missed out on a lot of activities that kids my age should have been able to participate.

  9. Great post, Sam!

    At present time, I’m the sole income earner in the household. My income ranges between $47,000 – $50,000 per month, but that’s busting my rear to make sure I make it happen… Meaning, putting in 12 plus hours of work daily, including weekends. My queen is just starting to put everything together to start her online boutique, which I’m 100% supportive and proud of her for!
    I do have to agree w/ you though. While she holds it down here at home, which is something I can never match, it’s difficult to deal w/ the pressures of ensuring the money keeps coming in w/o interruption at times. I’m looking forward to her online store going live soon; I’m sure she’s going to be exceptionally well w/ sales!

  10. Sam,

    I love posts like these. You have a professor saying scientific research is BS because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Holy Cow!! I’m spending 30k a year to send my kid to college to be taught by these intellects. I guess I’m the sucker now.

    As far as your post, I’ve been a SIEP for 18 years now. My wife and I have both felt all the stresses you’ve outlined in your post. The key for me has been, I have a wife who tells and shows me how much she appreciates all I do. She makes me feel proud about supporting our family which very much soothes my ego and reduces stress. In return for her kindness, I’ll take a bullet for her, or do dishes, take out the garbage, give her personal time or whatever she needs.

    Men are very simple, if you make us feel good, we will do anything you ask.

    Thanks, Bill

    1. Hey Bill,

      Thanks for sharing. Can you provide examples that your wife says that makes you feel great? I might need some help. Both hubby and I work full time. Our son who is 2.4 YO goes to daycare from 8:30 to 5:30. I do the drop offs and hubby does the pick ups. I make breakfast for our son before I drops him off and hubby makes dinner since he gets home earlier. I do the cooking on weekends and days when I am home early or off. However, he feels under appreciated and constantly keep taps of how much he does. This drives me crazy. From a working woman’s perspective, all the house chores we do and caring for our son are part of parenting and being parents. I do not understand why he keeps a tap of the normal chores that we do and constantly expect me to show special acknowledgements and attentions to his contributions.

  11. One of the basic tenets of economic efficiency is specialization. You pick an activity, become an expert at it, and then provide services for that activity to a large number of people in exchange for the specialized services of others. The same more or less holds inside the smaller family economy. Division of everything becomes inefficient. Specialization leads to higher efficiency and correlates to greater success.

  12. I think the key is #4. Your baby will grow up and go to school before you know it. Once they start school, life becomes a lot easier. Unless you have more kids, of course.
    Mental health is tough too. It was harder once our son started talking back and giving me more problems. A baby takes more work, but you don’t get as mentally stressed out. I guess every kid is different. Enjoy the baby time while you can.
    You guys gonna have a second kid?

  13. sounds like you and your wife are on the same page, and thats all that matters. Ive been in this role for many years and her support is key. People mock what they dont understand!

  14. I would say that mental health is the one thing that should be prioritized for both working spouse and stay at home spouse. Stress kills. The working spouse, if they’re a worrier, that can get really bad when the kids come along.

    When we have kids, we plan to be already financial independent, but if that does not happen, we will still prioritize stress relief and healthy habits like sport for both of us over saving for the future, meaning that we will just throw money at the problem. So for example: get childcare once or twice a week so that we can go out, get help with the cleaning and cooking every now and then, give each other child-free days (when one of us is solo parenting, even if we’re both at home), and solo vacation. I’ve seen too many marriages go down in flames because people did not ask or pay for help, I don’t want us to go the same way.
    I think that the impact on the child of these kinds of breaks are minimal, after all, they won’t remember being left with aunt Lidia that one time when they were 2 months old, but I certainly remember my parents fighting about stupid things just because they were so stressed all the time. Bad mental health spills over on the kids all the time.

  15. Thank you for sharing this. The time of it is great, as my wife and are are talking about going from a duel income down to single income. Letting her to spend more time with our kids.

  16. I am in a pretty traditional marriage where my husband is the sole earner and I stay home full time. I appreciate your empathy for both the caregiving side and the provider side, because there are very real stresses that come with both. I see first hand what my husband has to go through to provide for the family, and it actually motivated me to pursue FI because his job is so high stress. I fully intend to do my part income-wise when the kids are a little older, but for now, I think playing defense with our money has been equally as valuable.

  17. You touched on a great subject Sam.

    I am currently a single dad so it doesn’t apply to me directly but I know of friends with similar issues going on in their households.

    The biggest thing is the gratitude factor. The stay at home parent typically feels under appreciated /taken for granted.

    Extra care has to be taken to ensure that the stay at home person does not feel like they are monetarily contributing to the household. The fact that they are stay at home has a huge economic benefit to the household and that has to be factored in.

  18. HUGE complex topic that goes back almost 25 years for us. 100% self-employed home school family essentially the entire marriage. Wow… were to start… I think I’ll lurk for a while and see how this plays out…

  19. It would be interesting to see how much screen time kids are exposed to in a family that sends their kid to daycare a majority of the week, versus kids who stay home with a parent.
    I’m fairly certain my kid has no screen time during the day at daycare (2 year old), but not sure if that changes as they progress through to pre-school.

    The one thing that bothers me is the amount of kids I see that are glued to screens when we are out to eat, no matter the meal, breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
    Maybe those parents are focused on their kids during the day when they are not out to eat so have run out of things to talk about or keep them busy, but I doubt it.
    We try to engage our kid when we are out, especially since she is in daycare most of the working week.

    1. Not sure. All the books I’ve read say to not let your kid watch any TV or look at any tablets or phones until after the age of two.

      The upside is that we are very attentive with her son when he is at home because the TV is off.

      If the doctor say it’s better not to watch any TV before two, then I don’t see any harm in waiting.

  20. Sam, I always told my husband that since I was the SAHM, his primary job was bringing the money in and growing his business. My job was the home and chasing my only daughter. Sure he helped but the idea of a 50/50 split deal is unrealistic.

    Childcare is a full time job. So is running a business/growing a business/tending to a career. My other job was to make sure that as he brought the money in the front door I stood guard at the back door,making certain the money wasn’t frittered away.

    It doesn’t matter that you work at home Sam. Your primary job is maintaining a good life for your wife and child. If that’s 1950s mentality so be it.

    1. “My other job was to make sure that as he brought the money in the front door I stood guard at the back door,making certain the money wasn’t frittered away.”

      Sounds good to me! Teamwork.

  21. Given most stay at home parents are women, you have to be careful about showing any type of empathy towards the sole income earning man. Women are supersensitive.

    The husband is expected to earn, to be strong, to provide, and also to parent. Is not allowed to show emotion or have feelings.

    The mommy blogs out there have some of the most ruthless and judgmental moms that make personal finance opinions seem like hot fudge Sunday!

    Meanwhile, the same pressure to earn and to parent is still not the same for the mother, even in 2018.

    Just look at the thread. Women can’t even focus on the topic of the post. They have to turn it around and make it a personal statement about why daycare is OK.

    I guarantee you that these type of women have problems at home with their marriages. Their husbands are not happy with them. I’ve seen this time and time again.

  22. Life is full of choices. Choices have impact. We made a choice that when we started a family, Mrs. r2e would be the CEO – Chief Education Officer. While my job had a long commute, it was flexible enough for me to make many special school events and other occasions.

    Your # 1 applies to everything. Mrs. r2e and I try not to judge others (we are not perfect) and we would expect the same. Everyone has a right, as long as it is not breaking the law, to do what they want, how they want.

  23. Todd Guthrie

    I am also the sole income earner with a spouse who takes care of our young children.
    It’s work for both of us, and I won’t pretend I can judge who has it easier.
    Young kids are always running around screaming, getting into trouble, and demanding constant attention. It can be taxing on the mind and spirit.
    For me, a stressful weekend with the kids can be like a stressful workday, with a bunch of angry bosses and co-workers running around screaming, getting into trouble, and demanding constant attention.
    It seems fair though, when both parents are home together (and not working to generate their income from home), they should evenly share the childcare.
    But you should give each other breaks. Maybe a couple hours each day, where the other spouse doesn’t have to worry about the kids and has an opportunity to relax, read a book, and wind down.
    Time alone together is important too. Ideally a weekly date night, or at least as often as you can realistically get a babysitter.
    Communication is the most important. Always talk about what you want, what you need, and what you feel. It’s not a competition about who is working harder. You are a family, and you’re all in it together.

  24. Paper Tiger

    Daycare seems to be getting a pretty bad rap here and my evidence to the contrary is just a data point of one. My wife and I both worked full time for a high-pressure Fortune 10 company while raising our daughter. She was in daycare 5 days a week @ 3 months old from 8 am – 6 pm. When she started school she transitioned to a Boys & Girls Club. We would drop her off at school in the morning and the bus would take her to the B & G Club in the afternoon where we would pick her up by 6:30.

    When she hit high school and summers she actually began working at the B & G club. She grew up very independent, a leader, involved in many activities, finished in the Top 8% of a very large high-school class and just completed her Freshman year at a prestigious NE university where she made Dean’s List.

    She’s always been well adjusted and never gave us an ounce of trouble. She is very service-oriented and loves working with kids and is studying to be a Pediatric Nurse.

    Maybe we got lucky but daycare was not only a Godsend, it actually provided a good foundation that allowed our daughter to socialize among a diverse set of friends, learn to be a leader, gain confidence in her independence and become very self-aware and empathetic with others. She also has come through it with a very strong work ethic which she clearly comes by honestly from the way she was raised and what she observed from her upbringing. She is also very caring and sharing with others which is somewhat surprising for an only child but I attribute some of that to what she learned within her environment of being around other peers so much.

    She turns 20 next month and I would think if there were ill effects to be had from that experience, we would have seen them by now. Finally, i would add that she is very close with both Mom and Dad and shares a lot of personal information about her life that even I probably would not be telling my parents when I was her age. She just seems to have the confidence of knowing how much her parents care about and support her and we are grateful she turned out so well adjusted and also that we could have our careers at the same time we were raising her.

    So from our perspective, daycare and the Boys and Girls Club both get a glowing recommendation.

    1. Paper Tiger

      I’d also make one other point. Nancy made the following comment, “Choosing money and career over raising your kids is a choice.”

      It was never a choice for us. We did BOTH and everything worked out just fine for us. I recognize it may not be that way for everyone; the point is you can make it work with the right effort, planning, teamwork and a bit of luck. It DOES NOT have to be a choice between the two.

    2. Great to hear and congrats!

      Day care is probably getting a bad rap because a parent who sends her kid to day care criticized my lack of parenting by being a stay at home parent.

      It’s strange how the focus isn’t on helping the sole income earning parent, the topic of this post, and instead, a justification for daycare. I wonder why this is?

      I’ve never criticized any parent who decides to send their kids to day care. It is often a necessity, and sometimes and expensive one at that!

      So I want to explore why parents who send their kids to day care would be critical of parents who are trying to take care of their kids themselves.

      1. Paper Tiger

        I personally would not be critical of either scenario which was kind of the point I was trying to make. As I mentioned in my follow-up, making it work is about doing a number of critical elements well no matter which way you go.

        To answer your question about why someone would be critical about a stay at home parent, I can only offer up a few best guesses. One would be that people are very opinionated and some respond by the way they were brought up. If you came from a traditional family of the past where the father worked and the mother stayed home then maybe you have strong feelings that everyone should parent in that fashion. I think another possibility is that some people do have guilt over not having one parent stay home if both work and they overcompensate with their personal spin to the contrary in order to somehow justify decisions they have made.

        And in your situation, I think some people resent the fact that you can be so successful with your business and financial interests and still manage it the way you are doing it. People seem to be a lot bolder when they can stay anonymous on a blog post; not so much where they have to come into the light and say it to your face ;)

        You make a great point about searching for ways to support the sole income earning parent but guess what, we should also explore ways to support dual income parents as well. The juggling act, the stress, the time management required etc. are just as real for dual income parents as they are for single income parents. There may be some different subtleties for both scenarios but optimizing the best ways and getting maximum value for all parties is required in both instances.

        Not only did my wife and I have to manage family and careers but we managed part-time school too. First, I went back to secure my MBA which put more burden on my wife and when I finished school, she went back to complete her BS degree. Again, a lot of teamwork and communication are required to pull this off and not everyone is capable or has the perseverance to try. You learn a lot about yourselves and your partner when you stress a relationship to these limits. We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary and I feel blessed that we’ve been so compatible for so long and so agreeable in so many areas. This is what a true partnership is all about but “it ain’t easy” all the time and it requires a lot of work and patience.

        1. Thanks for your thoughtful response. Going to business school part time is pretty brutal, I did that for three years going to Berkeley on 2003 to 2006. I couldn’t imagine doing it with kids.

          You gave me another post idea: how to manage the complexity of both partners working full-time with children. You see? Blogging topics are never ending!

  25. Thanks for your appreciation for single income parent, Sam! I’m 51 and have been single income parent. It has been crazy stressful until I finally made the FI money in late 40s, and took 15 years. The stress during that 15 years manifest itself as chronic back pains: I had days when my back was killing me and still had to work wearing braces and taking painkillers. Marriage suffered too, since all these stress-induced negative emotions had to go somewhere. Fortunately we made it, as a team.

    Looking back, we realized we were the few lucky ones: in bay area, almost all families need two incomes to get by. Fortunately we survived the rat race thanks to friends’ advice: one told us not to sell any company stock during the 2008 financial crisis (it rebounded and went up 10x since 2008), one told us to get into real estate in 2010 at the bottom of market.

    We have also been financially conservative all our lives: didn’t buy our home until we can afford to pay cash (still carried a small mortgage, like 3% of our net worth), always save more than 50% of our take home pay, maxing out 401K, never have cables, or Netflix, driving old cars, etc… There’s really no other ways to make it as a single income parent unless we save and invest.

    1. I hear you on the back pain man! I had really bad back pain for about six months during the first year of my sons life. It’s gone now for the most part, but sometimes had my flare up for a day. I play a lot of softball and tennis, so that really utilizes the back a lot.

      It’s amazing how nobody talks about the stresses of being the sole income provider. I hope this article can really help both partners empathize with each other. I just see so much conflict in relationships after kids. It’s sad For the kids and for each other.

      1. Haha for back pain I highly recommend John Sarno’s book, it’s like 90% psychosomatic, 10% exercise. Believe it or not, after I made the FI money the pain went away, even I haven’t changed my postures or exercise regime a bit.

        One income parent vs. two are usually not a fair fight, but when you see people bidding $3.5M homes with $2M mortgages in bay area and you’re wondering: they need two incomes for 30 years! First income goes toward $12K/month mortgage/tax, 2nd income to live, save & invest. And they are taking on more risks: needing two incomes to live means you’re 2x more likely to get laid off & lose your home in economic downturns (and we have 1 every 10 years or so), and having both jobs and children produce more stress, especially for wives.

        I’m not sure two income family would have less stress, unless they took the conservative lifestyle approach (or hit startup jackpot) like we did.

  26. I’m so glad you’re doing these newsletters and podcasts. I hope everyone listens, takes notes and stays open to new ways of thinking as they move along in their lives and marriages.I am the next generation up from you. Married to a surgeon for 21 years. No kids. We recently split up.

    Divorce sucks. Living in the Bay Area is next to impossible alone these days. Thank God we invested in a second property in SF that we sold last year for quadruple what we paid for it and had some decent investments. I have a big house that is almost paid for down here in the Rose Garden area of San Jose, so I think I’ll be fine.

    I wish you, your wife and your little guy all the best. Stay open in your thinking and in gratitude, which you mentioned. I think so many couples lose sight of
    just being grateful for one another. All the best

  27. When we had our first daughter (3 years ago) my wife needed to work, or at least it made life much easier. Now with the second, we could be a 1 income household but my wife works part time. Basically she works just enough to cover the cost of day care so this way she keeps her resume fresh and the kids get social interaction; the first loves going to school like a big kid/adult so we figured why not keep that going and see if the second takes the same attitude.

    That said, Number 5 is a HUGE thing. This is something I have been struggling with lately as I get woken up by 1 kid at 5 (if Im lucky), help get everyone showered/dressed, go to work, come home, feed the kids, bath time, story time, bedtime for the kids, clean up the house/other misc chores, and then hopefully have a hour before bed (assuming the wife and I can stay awake). While there may be people who need significant time off to address underlying issues, I think a simple Friday off, or even a weekend day to go out with buddies/golfing/fishing/etc is worth its weight in gold. Yes, no one likes to be away from the kids, but sometimes taking those few hours to yourself is a huge deal and will alleviate a lot of stress — I had one on Saturday where I went to a charity golf outing with some buddies, i felt MUCH better and less stressed when I got home (the wife was out all day on Sunday at a wedding shower). That said, for those with stay at home spouses, keep in mind they may also need a mental health day.

    1. That’s great your spouse works part time To help earn some income and also keep her resume fresh. It can be very difficult getting back in the workforce after a long time away. I have close relatives who have tried and had a tough time plugging back in to the borg.

      The charity golf event sounds like a blast. After spending time with the family until about 10:20 AM on Saturday, I went for my regular softball meet up. We were down 12 runs in the ninth and we tied it up 22-22! Then in the 10th inning, I was able to hit a double over the centerfielder to score the winning run I was on first base. I felt like I was on cloud nine the entire day. Even though I was tired, I spent the rest of the day from 2 PM until 8:30pm. So pumped!

  28. I felt zero guilt being at work and supporting the family financially while my wife did the heavy lifting of raising the kids. I have a great relationship with my grown kids and certainly spent a great deal of time with them while they were growing up. In our case it was simply a division of labor. She enjoyed raising kids and running a household and I was much better at earning money and winning in the corporate world. I simply would not have enjoyed staying home and raising small kids for most of my day. She loved it. It was a win win for all of us in my opinion.

  29. With my first child I was the sole income provider and primary caregiver (single parent), and in some ways it was psychologically easier because I had no choice but to do what I did, which was get up every morning and go to work and come home every night and care for my child. No. 1 is doing great in school now; things often work out when you do your best and tune everything else out. Having experienced life as a single working parent, I don’t have a ton of sympathy for the sole income earning parent who also has a partner to care for the child(ren). That’s a pretty sweet deal, unless your partner resents you and is unhappy in his or her role.

    With no. 2, my situation is very different, and overall much better, but if I continue working even though I don’t have to, I will have to contend with the haters and the judgers, and issues like potentially resenting my partner who “gets” to work all day, travel to interesting places, socialize with adults, contribute to a 401k, advance in his career, get lots of outside recognition for the work that he does, etc. Also, not everyone who loves and excels at being a parent has the disposition to stay home all day with an infant. For some people the experience can be isolating and lead to depression and problems in the marriage (from what I’ve seen in other couples). I think you do what’s right for your family and remind each other to tune out the noise as much as possible.

    1. I like your point about having no other choice. Sometimes, having plenty of choice can be very debilitating. Glad number two Is working out better. Single parenting must be one of the most difficult things to juggle. Much respect to you.

  30. I sometimes feel judged by SAHMs for choosing to work instead of staying at home all day with our kid(s). I had a rant on Twitter the other day and prefer not to repeat it.

    My best friend, who’s also expecting and plans to be a working mom, has also had SAHMs make her feel less of a mom because she wants to work and have kids at the same time. Will all of our parenting/life problems go away if we quit our jobs and stay at home all day with the kids? No.

    Not everyone wants to stay at home with their kids all day long even if their spouse makes a good income. I’m ok with women who choose their kids over their careers. All power to them. But I prefer to have both, and no one has the right to attack me for that since they don’t pay my salary and/or take care of my kid(s) for free.

  31. I’m the sole income earner with a 3 year old and another on the way. Some more tips:

    Being away so much means it’s exciting when I’m home. This gives the impression I’m the “favorite” parent. I try to reinforce to my wife how special her bond is with our son. It’s a small thing, but pointing out things like how he goes to her when he needs comforting seems to help both of us. For her, it’s a reminder that he loves and appreciates her. For me, it’s a reminder that it’s ok I’m gone as much as I am. That I’m making their bond possible.

    Some days are easier and some are harder, for both spouses. Be honest about your own experience, listen to your spouse, watch their body language. We roughly trade off bed time duties equally. But rather than “it’s somebody’s turn” today and that’s that, if one of us is a little burnt out and the other had an easier than average day, they offer to put him in. Having a break is good, but having an unexpected break because a loved one offers to take on an extra job seems to just release built up stress.

    Find time alone together out of the house.

    Try to handle chores completely (for both parents). I make sure all the bills are paid. I worry about the nitty-gritty of retirement and college savings. My wife did the research and selection of daycare starting in the Fall. She asked my opinion, but did the vast bulk of the research and thinking. There’s a mental cost to thinking about chores, to keeping track of when laundry needs doing or planning a birthday party. If you complain frequently about a chore, or need reminding from your spouse, you’re offloading that burden to them. Discussing, complaining, asking advice: it’s all fine up to a point, but past that you aren’t really helping with the core issue anymore, the mental relief of not having to worry about yet another thing.

    Take care of yourself. For me, it’s been about getting enough sleep. For my wife, it’s having enough introverted alone time. If you can pay for time (a neighborhood kid mows our lawn), great! If you can find an hour on a weekend to keep up with a hobby or project, do it. If you’re getting angry reading political articles, ask yourself if this is honestly putting you in a good mental state to get all the stressful childrearing and work stuff you need to do done.

  32. Since are not allowing comments on your linked day care post, I will comment here. How do you expect two working parents to keep daycare for their children down to 6 hours per day? I think its wonderful that you and your wife are both able and interested in being home with your son, but that is not a realistic scenario for most families.

    “Kids deserve better. Don’t sacrifice your kids future for your desire for money and prestige. You’ve only got one chance to raise your kids the best way possible – caring for them yourself. Don’t screw it up. There’s always another dollar to be made.”

    That paragraph makes my husband and I sound like greedy people for working each day. It’s downright offensive. It’s easy to say there is always another dollar to be made, but that’s much easier said by someone in his early 40s with a multi-million dollar net worth.

    I have never for a minute felt like I was sacrificing my children’s future by working and providing a stable, comfortable environment in the school they are in. This is mommy shaming to the 10th degree. The judgement in the linked post is elitist and disgusting. To imply my kids are going to be drug addicts that cheat and hit and won’t be ambitious is laughable (I would laugh, but I am too offended to laugh right now).

    1. See Solution #1. Don’t care what other people think, not me, nor the psychologists who say that excessive daycare can lead to behavioral problems. Solution #6 is a reasonable balance too.

      The page you referred to talks about percentage chance, not absolutes. It talks about the behavioral risks of sending your kids to day care for more than 40 hours a week. It doesn’t say, “if you send your kids to day care, you are bad parents and will damage your kids.“

      You’ve got to do what’s best for your family, after digesting the information out there.

      1. I wouldn’t consider 31 hours of daycare excessive. I guess that’s where we differ.

        If went with option #6 and I took a gig economy job like Uber then I would never see my husband and our kids would have one parent at any given time. Our relationship might suffer and then our kids might be raised in a divorced home. That doesn’t sound like a win to me either.

        You’re right. I’ll take option #1 and not care about your opinion. My point is more that you have seemingly always been pretty progressive about women in the workforce. With this article you’re saying that kids shouldn’t be in daycare. So someone in the couple should stay home. From your above evidence that’s overwhelming the woman.

        In this day of informational overload, I am 100% sure I can find an article about the damage caused by a child being with his parents non-stop and not spreading their wings. You can find an article that fits your view of the world on just about anything. That doesn’t make it right or accurate. I know two families right now dealing with the crippling problem of drug addicted children. One passed away and one is struggling every day. Both moms stayed home. Should we imply that it was their fault for not working and that’s why their kids became addicted to drugs? Dangerous.

        To Nancy, I actually don’t carry guilt. I would be a bad stay at home mom, so I chose to continue to work. Because I wouldn’t be fulfilled spending 100% of my time with my children doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have children, as is implied in the linked article. Per Sam “Fact: It doesn’t make sense to have a child if you don’t want to take care of your child.”

        1. That’s one of the points of my article. You’ve got to do what’s right and best for your family. Nobody else can decide for you.

          I’m not sure where you’re making the connection or belief that says if you send your kids daycare they are going to be drug addicts? I said that if a child was growing up in a home full of drug addicted parents, then daycare would definitely be a better solution. I used this as an extreme example for illustrative purposes.

          Now, if after having a child, you’ve tried your best and feel that you’re just not that good at being a parent compared to a person who is trained and enjoys taking care of kids, then going to daycare is probably a better choice as well.

          I’ve written about my difficulties of being a father, and how much harder it is then I expected. I’m trying to last for two whole years of being a stay at home dad before looking for a vacation job. See: Looking To Take A Vacation From Parenthood By Finding Full-Time Work

          Please don’t underestimate the ability to make extra income or really good income freelancing online or offline. The categories where work is needed is huge. There will be more freelance workers in America in 10 years then there will be a full-time workers. Being able to have more flexibility in life and in this case, with family, is a huge benefit for the freelance movement.


          How To Be A Rockstar Freelancer

          Is It Better To Be A Contractor Or A Full-Time Employee?

        2. It is interesting to observe you choose to see some points, but not other points. Solution number one was a response to being attacked for trying to be a better father, and you’re turning it around into being an attack on you?

          The NICDH study is very comprehensive about the long-term risk of excessive daycare.

          I would say anything over 30 hours is borderline excessive. That’s six hours a day of your child not seeing you during their waking hours. Once you get to 40 hours a week, or eight hours a day out of their 12 hours a day that’s starting to get excessive.

          To your last point, are you saying it does make sense to have a child if you don’t want to take care of your child? If so, please elaborate because that makes no sense to me either.

        3. Isn’t being able to afford childcare in order to not take care of your kids a privilege that perhaps only wealthy people can enjoy?

          The people I know where one spouse stays at home can’t afford day care.

    2. Choosing money and career over raising your kids is choice. Having kids is a choice. Reducing expenses is a choice. Making more money is a choice.

      Just your reaction shows how much guilt you carry. Be proud of your desire to earn money. Soon they will be in school all day, and you can spend even more time working to make more money to provide for your family. Money is addicting. No shame in this.

      The article simply highlights the research from the behavioral psychologists. Shooting the messenger doesn’t help solve your problems.

      See the women’s version of the psychologist’s research:

      1. In the end, all of this social science research is BS. I don’t believe for one second the generalization that daycare causes kids to be defiant and agressive as the HuffPost link states. That’s like saying all kids’ home life is the same and all daycares are created equal. The whole point of feminism is that you have a choice. I am a professor and derive a lot of self worth from my job. I don’t for one second regret working because my job makes me a better person and my kids are better off for it. For others, they may derive their self work from being at home. Women and men need to stop pitting stay at home moms against working moms. Women also need to stop the self flagellation. If you don’t have a choice due to financial obligations, then work with what you’ve got. The kids will be fine if they are in a positive environment no matter how that’s created.

  33. Sam I would do my best to not take the criticisms of some of your readers to heart. There’s no doubt that a small percentage of them are envious of the position that your hard work and consistency have allowed you to achieve.

    Every family has their challenges. The fact that you spoke about getting help in order to free up more time just gives your haters fuel. I admire what you and your wife have been able to build. Whether you use the word (he, she, it, toaster) is just semantics that are being pounced on.

    Don’t let other people make their issues your issues due to their negativity.

    As long as your wife is happy, everything else is secondary. Childcare does get a bit easier once they’re in school to an extent. :-) Just do your best like your parents did with you.

    1. Thanks Ron. I agree about not letting the negativity of others affect you. I systematically cut out negative people from my lives.

      I do enjoy the occassional combative comment because it inspires me to dig deeper, understand their point of view, and come up with new topics to write about. If Sara didn’t leave me that comment, I wouldn’t be able to write this post.

      I love to write about new things.

  34. Alexander @ Cash Flow Diaries

    I honestly feel so blessed to be in the position I am in even though I am the sole income earner. I pretty much never feel stressed about being the only bread winner but I am also known to be very optimistic about life in general.

    I feel blessed that I get to work from home and can constantly help with the baby not because I feel bad for my wife but because I want to. I love holding my little 3 month old, i love caring for her and I cant wait to show her life as she grows older.

    I will gladly change her diapers all day long to help out and have random play times during the day while I work to give my wife a break from breast feeding. My wife is a milk machine!! LOL

    My wife and I are very fortunate in that we are both here to raise my baby girl and that I make well over $100k per year which is more then enough for us to get by considering we intentionally moved to a lower cost of living city (Indianaoplis) to make it easier for us.

    I love being a dad so much so far!

      1. Thanks! Honestly I wish I had some good tips to give out but I think the way I was able to achieve this was mainly just a factor of being older and financially stable already by the time we had our first baby.

        If I were not in the financial position I was in before we had the baby, there is no doubt I would be stressing about being the sole income earner and worrying about daycare costs or whatever.

  35. Parenting is a BIG responsibility all around both for those working and those at home and it’s a heck of a lot of work when your kids are young, especially when they can’t speak yet and don’t realize what’s dangerous. I’m at home chasing after my lo 7 days a week so I don’t feel the incredible pressures of being a sole income provider, but I can definitely imagine what it’s like from how you describe it in this post. I feel very fortunate to be at home even on the hard days. I would personally be a complete wreck if I was a sole income provider. I don’t think I could handle it and my husband knows that. We’ve figured out a situation that works well for us and are constantly making little tweaks as we go to keep things running as smoothly as possible and keep us all as happy as possible. There are plenty of bumps along the way but we try to learn from them as best we can and adapt. We’ve learned the one thing that’s constant with raising a child is change! :)

    And every family is different – That’s one of the most comforting things my sister told me when I first became a parent and had a gazillion worries. And I firmly believe it now. Every family is different and that’s a good thing. It’s important to talk to your partner and figure out what works best for both spouses and the kids and not worry about what other people think. Great tips in this post to help other sole income providers Sam!

  36. My mom raised me and my brother as a stay at home Mom, and my Dad was a sole income earner. Both kicked some serious a$$ at it but I didn’t appreciate it then. No wonder he used to smack me upside the head every now and then, what he did was HARD!

  37. My wife and I are going through this experience now. Thankfully, we are in a good spot as my wife negotiated her layoff as part of a restructuring, so she is being paid to be a stay-at-home mom for the 1st 10 months of our child’s life.

    It is more challenging than I anticipated and easy for resentment to creep into either parent’s thinking if you don’t communicate. One tip I’ll add is to tilt the scales towards the stay-at-home parent’s point of view if there are differences of opinion on daily child-rearing techniques. They are on the front lines of dealing with the child every day and most likely better know how the child will respond. Even if you disagree, they have earned the right to lead.

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