Before having children, I had imagined that there was a "right set-up" and a "right time" to start a family. A breadwinner (I presumed male) with a decent income, a stay at home parent (female) and a wider family close by for support. I think this view came from having a sheltered upbringing and what my immediate family was like. In my case, I had completed College (University in the UK), was married, owned a home (or mortgaged at least) and had a steady job before we started extending our family.
My time on an antenatal class NCT with expectant parents shed some light on the issue. We were in the minority of couples who were married. A lot of couples had deliberately chosen not to get married. One single mother-to-be had elected to get pregnant from a donor. The class also had quite a few couples who were close to and over 40, with full careers who were shifting their priorities from work to family life. So, quite a range. I had expected a mix of family set-ups, but not for us, as a married couple to be a minority. (There was also one decidedly young couple, extremely recently engaged... the chap insisted that he had bought the engagement ring before he was told the news of the impending arrival!)
My wife and I have fairly traditional roles in our house. She cooks more meals than me, I tend to look after the dishwasher, laundry. Before the birth of our daughter we both took home similar amount of money, which it is not a huge amount. We have a large mortgage and a bunch of outgoings, but we manage to save a small amount each month.
Anyway, we decided that I would continue in work as the main breadwinner and my wife would stay at home for a period. My wife was keen to stay home, and on the back of a promotion at work, I felt committed to staying at work. I was also really fortunate to be able to take a month off work for the birth of my daughter (a combination of paid paternity leave and paid holiday time). My wife decided to take about a year off work, but again we were very fortunate that a job kept open for her on return (not all of our friends had this luxury). My wife ended up returning to work two days a week and I continued full time. At present we have a grandparent who is able to childmind whilst we are both at work. We are still able to make ends meet with the reduced income, but obviously our discretionary spending has gone down considerably.
That is the balance we have, though it is not perfect. Perhaps I don't get a huge amount of time in the week with my daughter. Sometimes I leave for work and she is in bed, and by the time I get home she is either in bed or on the way (and sometimes after a long day in the office I am not at my playful best). Other times when I am home early enough I end up in trouble for playing with her and getting her too excited before bed! On the whole I am pretty fortunate. I just need to make more of an effort to leave the office earlier and get home in time for a family dinner.
We try and make the most of our weekend, sometimes this ends up as visiting family or friends. Whilst this is a great way to spend time, it is not exactly quality bonding time (I prefer quiet walks together in the park near our house taking her on the swings and slide at the local playground). It is probably a good balance for my wife, and fortunately we have family support who make this viable financially. There are other weekends where after a very busy week at work, it can be difficult to find the motivation to venture very far from the house.
Whilst there is not going to be a single right answer to this, I thought it would be interesting to see some views. This is certainly something that changes over time, and the days of the stay at home mother and single breadwinner being the norm seem to be over. And it seems that stay at home dads have not really taken off, but perhaps time (and more generous paternity policies) will change that?
I guess that a loving parent is the perfect family set up, where the child is nurtured, cared for, taught the difference between right and wrong, and bonds with a positive role model. You could add patience, tenacity, super human reserves of sleep, and empathy to that too!
A single parent with the above qualities could be the perfect family set up and lots of people have shown that this is all you really need... but things get less difficult the more people there are around to provide support, whether that is a spouse, family friends or whoever else.
So how do the other young families on LifeHacker manage their family and work life balance? Is it a "traditional" one parent at work and the other at home? Or perhaps more balance with a bit of working from home (I don't know if this is a viable way to be a carer and at work at the same time? Probably not??) Is it all about quality rather than form or quantity?
So... what is your perfect family set up?
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