#62 – Can You Work and Be a Stay-at-Home Dad?
Today we speak with Tim Lee, former full-time journalist, now a part-time journalist, and stay-at-home dad! Tim writes about technology, economics, and now parenting as well. You should check out his newsletter here: https://www.fullstackeconomics.com.
Tim gives us insights into his experiences on what’s worked for him and others and areas to avoid.
Comparing part-time and full-time stay-at-home dad gigs.
The monetary value of creating or having a job with flexible hours.
How to decide if being a stay-at-home dad is right for you?
How you can work part-time and not give up your career as a stay-at-home dad.
Some keys to communicating about being a stay-at-home dad.
I hope you enjoy this conversation!
Like this episode? You can check out more of our Dad Podcasts.
Will Braunstein, A Dad’s Path: Hello and welcome to another episode of A Dad’s Path podcast. I’m Will Bronstein. Today we’re here with Tim Lee, who runs a newsletter called Full Stack Economics. I found it because he had several articles that he released about his journey on leaving the workplace, the traditional workplace, and spending more time parenting. Though he still does both and we’re going to talk about that today. If you’re interested in economics, business technology, then this newsletter may be for you in fact, I definitely recommend checking it out. I love it. Welcome Tim. Thanks for joining us.
Tim Lee, Full-Stack Economics: Thanks for having me on Will.
Will: Awesome. First if, could you just start and tell your story? You were a journalist, maybe you still are. Tell us where you were and where you are now?
Tim: Yes so I’ve been a traditional full-time journalist for about 10 years. I had my first child in 2015 and after she was born, my wife is a physician she delivers babies and so she works a fair amount of nights and weekends. Before the baby was born, what would happen is she would go on her night shift and I would often spend that time working on a piece I was working on or doing work.
Once the baby was born, obviously then that time as time I was on call to watch the kid and so I started to feel I was less effective at my job. I was still able to do the job but the really successful journalist put in a lot of time really like chasing after scoops and like writing with really big ambitious features. I was less able to do that and so over the last few years we’ve had two more kids and until last year I was still a full-time journalist, but I would say I deprioritized my work sometimes to some extent.
I switched jobs to one that was all remote in 2017. That gave me some more flexibility and then I cut my hours around the time my second job was born. Last year I quit my job entirely and started a sub stack, which I still do probably 30 to 40 hours a week working on that but it’s a little bit variable. Some weeks kids will be home from school or a kid will be sick or something and so there’ll be a day or two where I don’t do any work. And then other times maybe I’ll work a few nights or weekends, but it’s very, very flexible and prioritizing the childcare and then making sure the household is working well.
Will: That’s awesome. I think that’s a great path and congratulations first of all for making that big jump. When you start looking at your own jobs or where you spend your time really is another way of putting that and certain jobs require more time to really be successful, and other jobs you work your 40 hours and get paid 40 hours. You work 37 hours and get paid 37 hours. Those can be maybe more ideal in some ways when you have a kid because you don’t have the same time commitments necessary to succeed. That’s what you were saying as a journalist and–
Tim: Absolutely. Also I think the more demanding jobs often it’s not just more hours, it’s also less flexibility about when the hours can be. I think different career just works differently. Obviously, so my wife, she has to be on call, she delivers babies, so babies come 24/7, so she has to take her share. Like in my case before I had a kid, I would travel more because often it’s good for reporters like I write about technology, so I would go to Silicon Valley and talk to people and stuff like that.
That became much harder with a kid. Or if there was a breaking story on the weekends before I had a kid, I could just hop on my computer and bang out a quick story if it was something I knew about. Now often I’m doing childcare so I can’t do that. I think often people can have more successful careers if they’re not only willing to work more hours, but also be available around the clock when the job requires it. Often it makes sense for one parent in a family to do that and the other parent to do the opposite and say, “I’m going to find a job where that’s not expected. It’d probably make less money but then I’m available to be the on-call parent for when the kids need something.”
Will: That makes a lot of sense. If you can reach that point, that agreement saying, “Hey, I know you want to focus on your career and I’ll focus on family and career.” That’s what you’re saying, Tim, like you’re not giving up your career at all. You’re still working 30, 40 hours, which I really admire but how did you have that initial conversation or where did that thought come from when you started talking about it with your wife?
Tim: It was pretty gradual. Just like the basic fact is like doctors make more than journalists. When there was a conflict where the family needed more time, like I don’t think there was ever a consideration, like she would cut back her hours because we just couldn’t afford to do that. Like it would take a big decrease in our standard of living if she did that. I don’t think there was ever a point where we sat down and said, look like I’m going to be the main– I think it actually started at the very beginning.
It was just like with daycare pickups at the very beginning. We did those 50/50. It was just very clear that like I could almost always make it and she often, it was really hard. I wasn’t like unhappy about it. It was just like needed to be done, so I did it. I think it was just like that over time it was just the practicalities just made more sense for me to do it than her. Last year when I was making the jump to doing the newsletter, it was partly because I wanted to support the family but also because there are some opportunities to being independent in terms of, I get to write whatever I want. Hopefully, over the long time this could actually become something that generates a significant amount of income. It was something I think I would’ve liked to do anyway, but the fact that we also needed it for the family made, I think, an easier decision to do it.
Will: Absolutely. To your point it’ll be a lot more powerful when you’re 10 times bigger than you are today and you’re taking home that’s how you can take home an income bigger than your wive’s. That’s how a journalist can do it. One subscription at a time. That’s not why you did it to your point, but I think it professionally it’s a smart decision. I also think, the flexibility, that was a big part of it, helping your family. Do you find that your family pace is more relaxed now or it’s just that, are things are different, or–?
Tim: I like the work I do, so I would not say it’s super relaxed because when I do have spare time, I often do spend it like working on a piece I’m doing for the newsletter. It’s just very much lower stress because when I had a full-time job there was minimum amount of work I need to do every day or week or month. If you had a situation where string of kids being sick or in the summer when school’s off, it was just really a stretch for me to do the minimum amount of work, while also taking care of the kids. Now it’s not so much like that.
I just know that if I need to take the day off, I can take the day off. Nobody’s going to be mad at me, I’m not going to lose my job. That just gives us a much bigger buffer where I’m not stressing. My wife’s also not stressed because she doesn’t feel, she’s like imposing on me by expecting me to do most of that. Then my kids are obviously happy that I’m like around, when I need to be around. I think it works out for all of us.
Will: That’s awesome. It’s great to hear. Again, I love the path you’re on and one of your pieces from your newsletter, again, the full stack economics one, couldn’t recommend more. You talk about this very thing I believe and you talk about, it can be the best thing in the world and we’re talking about Tim right now, things are going well but then the flip side is, like all marriages it can lead to divorce or it can lead to unhappiness and that thing. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think makes a successful versus unsuccessful transition, there.
Tim: Sure. One of the very interesting findings I found from just talking to experts on this is that the risk of divorce has been going down over time for the baby boom generation. It was statistically the case that families, where the wife made more than their husband was at greater risk of divorce. These statistics tend to be pretty lagging because obviously you don’t know when somebody who got married last year, you don’t know if they’re going to get divorced or not. It seems like Gen X or at least people who married in the ’90s, that’s no longer true. It’s pretty flat based on income.
The worst case scenario if you get divorced, I think it’s not an elevator risk like it used to be, but absolutely. I think communication is really important. Everybody says that it’s a little bit obvious and I think particularly not just agreeing on a specific plan but agreeing on principles about like things will change. You want to make sure both partners are committed to being flexible. I think it is good to have agreement about if we end up needing more time than we do, who’s going to take that in? In our case again because my wife makes much more than me and has a less flexible schedule, it was pretty obvious that it was going to be me.
I do check in with her regularly, make sure she’s happy, make sure that things are working well. I think constantly talking about how things are going and how things will go in the future is really valuable. I talked to a bunch of men, about 20 dads for the second piece that I wrote about this and it did seem like the ones that went badly when they either got married or when they had their first kid. They really hadn’t talked about the basics.
They’d been– I think a lot of people are overly optimistic. They just think we’ll both keep doing our jobs. They underestimate how much of a sacrifice it is going to be. Some of the ones that where it went badly, I think they just didn’t think ahead, didn’t have the basic conversations about, “What are we going to do, if somebody needs to put more time in raising the kids?”
Will: It makes a lot of sense. You say at the beginning it’s like super simple, it’s just communication and you’re right, but it’s also that complicated. Communication is linchpin of all relationships and it’s so easy to lose sight of that, and especially, when you’re going through these big changes. You say, I’m going to now work from home and I want to take more of a backseat in terms of driving our finances.
I’ll lead the family and you feel good about that and you’ve made the decision and then it’s like, “Are you following up?” Like, “Are you checking in with your wife? Are you guys seeing how it’s going? What’s working well? What’s not working well?” Any big decision there’s going to be changes that need to happen. I think with a lot of things, if you just don’t communicate those things, your point, it can just fester.
Tim: I think the other thing is showing appreciation is really important. Another really basic thing. I appreciate that my wife is bringing home most of the money. She appreciates that that I’m doing a lot of childcare and we just like make sure to say that. If I ever feel like she’s like taking from me for granted, I like point that out and usually she’ll be very receptive to that.
Making sure that both partners feel they’re getting a good deal. From my perspective I think we’re working out well for both of us because we’re both getting certainly it’s much better for either of us than if we had to raise a kid by ourself. That would be really, really hard. I think we just kind both have a positive attitude about it.
Will: It sounds like it’s working really well. Another stress I’d like to talk about, not with you specifically, but with people you’ve talked to is financially so you have your partners, the primary breadwinner. Let’s say you’re not bringing home any bread like how do you deal with, or have you heard people are dealing with that mentality, the psychology, the “Can I buy this bottle of whiskey, can I buy this for myself?” and things like that, have you heard anything like that? Any thoughts on that?
Tim: I feel like the people I talk to, it’s been pretty positive. This conversation probably is most relevant for people at the higher end of the income distribution. One of the basic ideas in the article is this idea of a greedy job where you can make a lot more money if you’re willing to work long hours or be flexible about when you work. I think for people in those careers, there can be a big upside to having division of labor. That’s just what I focused on since that’s the situation I’m in and a lot of the people. I think for those people, if you’re hopefully making enough money that the basics are not hard to afford I think that tends not to be too difficult.
I think for lower income, obviously the lower income, the more difficulties trade offs are, but I think on the flip side, there can be more upside to having one parent step back because the cost of childcare is going to be higher relative to your income and so I think higher on the income scale, I think often what it makes sense to do is have one parent step back a little bit, but still pay for childcare. Whereas for the middle or lower class folks, it often will make sense for one parent to step back completely and be a stay at home father or a stay at home mother and have the other one work because then you don’t have to, you don’t have any of the expenses of a daycare or a nanny or anything like that.
Will: Yes, now that makes a lot of sense. Have you guys thought, or have you thought about if or when you would want to enter the workforce again, the traditional workforce?
Tim: That probably depends on how well the newsletter goes. I would love to not do that, to just have the newsletter be successful enough that I can just treat it as a full-time job. I’m not there yet, but I think probably on track to do that by my youngest child is one, so say when she goes to kindergarten in four to five years, I think it’s very possible it’ll be a sustainable business at that point. I don’t know, like I do like working in an office and having coworkers and so I could imagine being tired of the work from home thing by five years from now. Maybe it’ll be successful enough that I can start hiring other people.
I don’t know there’s a lot, there’s a very wide range of possible outcomes. I do think like journalists are unusually lucky in that respect. If you are like an automotive engineer, you don’t get to build a car in your backyard part-time. There’s many professions where you really have to be part of a large organization. I think that’s more difficult but if you’re in a career like mine where you really can freelance or be a consultant or work part time, that’s very helpful because then it’s a relatively bit easy thing to jump back into.
Will: Yes, now I think that’s right on and that is a 100% the attitude to have. It’s not, “Gosh, I’m going to sacrifice for four years or five years until my kid goes to kindergarten.” It’s, “Hey, this is giving me an opportunity where I have almost a built-in runway where I can build this business and see what, hey, I can make.” No, I love that and you’re right. There are jobs where you literally can’t do that, but I would argue a lot more jobs than you would think where you could even if you’re an automobile guy, like start a podcast, start a newsletter just go down your area and you can create your own business.
Tim: Yes, I think often it’ll require some change, like you said there are not very many people out there with podcasts or consulting businesses or something like that. I think probably most professionals, there’ll be something adjacent to what they do now where they can take some of their skills from their current job and turn it into some small business or consulting gig or freelancing gig.
I talked to some guys who really did the full-time stay at home thing and they were planning to do it for two to four years and then really struggled. There was one guy I talked to, I think it was like an optical engineer, and that was just something where you can only do that in like a full-time job at an organization and once you have a four-year gap in your resume, people look at that and they’re like, “Yes I’m not sure why there is a four-year gap, but kind of don’t want to take a chance with you.”
That is definitely a risk people take for certain kinds of professions and you have to, you just have to think hard about like, “Is that worth it?” For some it will be. There are other guys I think that just don’t like their job all that much. They don’t hate their job, but they just don’t feel any like great need to like be the breadwinner and so it might just be fine if you’re out of the workforce for a while or you end up having to do a different career where you go back in. There’s others who I think really like their jobs and would not be happy if that happened and so they have to really think hard about if that’s a risk they’re willing to take.
Will: I know that’s a great point. The optical engineer, it’s hard to like have a lab in your home office or whatever.
Tim: That’s right.
Will: I think it’s also an opportunity, those who are in between, I have friends and I know it and I’ve talked to other dads who went from the crazy job, the greedy job as you call it where you put in more hours, you make more money on that track to becoming a teacher or an assistant DA, where your hours are more set and your pay is more set and even though things are more set. It’s an opportunity to reset.
Tim: Yes, totally and I also think if you are lucky enough to have a high earning spouse where you don’t really need the income, another great thing to do if you just want to have something to keep yourself busy, feel like you’re contributing is like volunteer work. I talked to one guy, another who’s married to a doctor who was a full-time dad. Then as his kid got older, he served on a city council for a while, he became a volunteer at an organization that helps like low-income people do tax prep. A couple years after that, I think he became the organizer for all the other volunteers.
I think one of the big picture issues here is that, you know 50 years ago the way this works is like housewives would do that, right? It was assumed that most middle class women wouldn’t work and then you had this labor force that would do all the philanthropic stuff. The volunteering at school and stuff like that. I think that we’ve had the positive development of more women are able to go to the workforce if they want to.
In the process, I think we devalued some of the other stuff that women used to do complimentary to being stay-at-home mothers. I think it would be really valuable if there was more social status and more just thought about the fact that it was good to have some parents who have some spare cycles to do volunteering type stuff. That should be more dad’s as well but either way if like somebody needs to do this stuff, it would be good to have more respect for people that do that thing.
Will: Absolutely, I was actually about to bring that up just in a couple different contexts but what you just talked about the lowest hanging fruit or low hanging fruit I should say is school. Your kid’s school, joining the PTA or something like that and our PTA you know right now is I think it’s 80% women. It’s still mostly moms but there’s a dad or two on there.
To your point, the more we can get there the better. The more dads that are home like that’s, we need to be involved. I think that cuts both ways Like it helps society to your point like before in the stereotypical world in the fifties. The housewife was in the PTA and that was her job and that was great. That meant we had focus on the PTA on school. When both parents are working, either one can do it.
There are more dads and this is obvious but our job I think is to help. That’s a way we can volunteer and help. The other side is you talked about the camaraderie, you can miss being in an office. I think we all miss that when we go from a structured environment, where we see people every day to whatever we are when we’re stay-at-home dads and even if we have multiple gigs. We don’t see as many people. That’s the other reason I think it can be important to get community involvement and it helps you personally.
Tim: Totally. Other interesting things that dad I talked to mentioned, he also was involved in the school and I think he was on the PTA or the school board or something like that. He said he was involved in planning some activities and the moms were all coming up with some idea for like an activity for the kids to do. They’re like the kids will like this and he like raised his hands and said, I don’t think teenage boys are like doing this and like having, dads are going to have a little better idea of what teenage boys like than moms are.
I think there’s in the same way that your in business. You want to have a certain number of women in the room that women’s perspectives are represented. Sometimes dads will have different insights than moms. I think it’s healthy to have one of those conversations, a mix of both moms and dads.
Will: Yes. That’s a great example. I think that’s right on and I’m just curious. Do you meet up with other dads? Do you have like a structured way of doing that? Do you go to coffee shop? Do you parks?
Tim: I don’t. I see a lot of other parents there are a few other dads who are just school drop offs. Where I just see them around the neighborhood but it’s mostly moms and it’s hard to tell. I do feel like sometimes it seems like the moms are more friends with each other than they are with me. It’s hard to know if that’s just like why that is. I’ve not done any formal like kind networking with other dads because I’m not like a fulltime stay-at-home dad. I think I probably would be more motivated in that case. I have not done anything like that
Will: Yet. That’s fair. It’s an interesting dilemma every dad I’ve spoken to basically faces that you go to the playground, there’s a bunch of moms. They’re generally friendly in my experience but it’s not quite the same. What I liken it too is like when you’re out for drinks with the guys. One of your guys brings his wife or his girlfriend and it’s fine. I like her but things are a little different. The conversation is going to be a little different.
I also talk to a lot of dads, I hear what you’re saying. You’re not struggling in that area. A lot of dads talk to her like man they just my friends had kids now they don’t reach out to me. I have kids and now no one talks to me. It’s literally as simple as like, did you talk to them? Are you reaching out to them? That’s something like dad’s like men generally suck at just for like reaching out and doing that first move to another dad, so to speak.
Whenever I say that and whenever I tell someone that they try it and easily find dad friends. Again, this isn’t for you because you’re in a different position there. For my listeners, it’s just funny. Being proactive can just make that difference.
Tim: Yes, absolutely.
Will: This is awesome. I have one last question for you here before I let you go, Tim. What advice would you give a dad who’s thinking about making this jump leaving the professional workforce, the nine to five. Yes, what would you tell him?
Tim: I think it does matter a lot whether they’re thinking about part-time versus full time. If you’re just thinking about like scaling back your work and stepping up on doing more childcare and housework. I think I’m just in favor of that. Usually, I think something that’s reversible where if you do it for a year and you find you don’t like it that much. If you still have a job, you can probably go back to your boss and say, “Hey, can I bump my hours back up?” You can look for another job that’s higher hours. That I think is pretty low risk.
If you’re thinking about doing the full-time stay-at-home dad, I think you need to think a little harder about that could be your irreversible choice and so you have to think super carefully about like, if you do that and you find out you can’t, it’s hard to get a job afterwards. Like will you be okay with that? Then also have a longer conversation with your significant other.
Make sure that she is okay with it and that she’ll be okay with it in the various scenarios because you don’t want to agree that, “Okay, I’ll be out of the workforce for two years and then get a job and then be unable to be a job,” and then have her be like, mad at you because you’re not pulling your weight and so you want to make sure she’s bought in on, we’re taking this risk together is a possibility.
I’ll end up as a full-time stay-at-home dad for the next 10 or 15 years and make sure that that’s something that she’ll be comfortable with. Maybe she’ll be happy about it. Some of the moms I talked to love the fact that they had somebody at home, so they could focus on their careers. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you just want to make sure that your partner is on board for all the possible ways that things could go.
Will: I like that and like you said, communicating and also the direction saying, “Hey, I’m going to try this, but in three months I might be crazy. This might blow me up, so let’s try it, but I might need to go back.”
Tim: That’s actually true. That might be, if you are thinking about doing a full-time thing, if there’s a way you can cut your hours by 10 or 20% first or even just try, just like doing more of the childcare and housework just on a temporary basis while still doing your full-time job. That’s probably a good idea. I think there definitely are some men and probably some women who you do it full time and they just hate it and better to learn that before you’ve made a choice that’s difficult to reverse.
Will: No, absolutely. I think that’s right on. Well, awesome, Tim. I really appreciate you joining me. I love your newsletter, Full Stack Economics and again, there’s just great things on parenting, on technology, business. A lot of different subjects. I really enjoy it, but you guys should check it out. Thanks for joining us and hope to talk to you soon here, Tim.
Tim: All right, thanks so much.
Will: Thank you.