More than half of stay-at-home parents stop working longer than planned

FlexJobs surveyed more than 900 stay-at-home parents (SAH parents) who are interested in going back to work to learn more about their experiences and feelings during this often exciting and stressful time. For anyone in this situation, it’s common to wonder how other people handle going through the same thing. The responses to this survey offer interesting insights into this unique experience.

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In this wide-ranging survey, we asked SAH parents about how much time they’ve spent out of the workforce (and how much they thought they’d spend!); their reasons for becoming SAH parents and deciding to return to work; whether they’ve been doing any work-related activities while staying at home to raise children; what sorts of work arrangements they’d prefer, and what their job search strategies will be for their return to the professional workforce.

This survey also corresponds with a new resource we’ve created at FlexJobs to help stay-at-home moms (and dads!) return to work through jobs with flexible work options. Our comprehensive guide covers everything from the experiences of other moms who’ve returned to work to job options to resumes, cover letters, interviews, and networking advice specifically for stay-at-home parents. And it’s all with flexible and remote jobs in mind!

Survey Results: Stay-at-Home Parents on Exiting and Re-entering the Workforce

How Much Time They Thought They’d Take Vs. How Much They’ve Taken

One of the most interesting results of this survey is the comparison between how much time SAH parents thought they’d take when they exited the workforce versus how much time they’ve actually taken.

  • 58% of SAH parents have taken more time away from work than expected.
  • 39% took “a lot more” time out of their careers than expected.
  • Only 6% reportedly took less time than they expected.

When they first went on leave, 27% of SAH parents weren’t sure at the beginning of leave how long they’d actually stay home. Twenty-two percent thought they’d take less than one year; 23% anticipated 1-2 years away from work; 14% planned for 2-5 years off; 14% planned to take more than 5 years away from the workforce.

Careers Before Kids and Staying Connected After

The survey also asked respondents about their careers before kids. When asked to describe their career levels, 9% said entry-level, 55% said experienced, 24% said manager-level, and 10% said, senior-level manager. That means that 34% of SAH parents opted out of manager-level or higher-level jobs!

The top career fields of the SAH parents surveyed included:

  1. Administrative: 23%
  2. Data Entry: 22%
  3. Customer Service: 21%
  4. Education & Training: 15%
  5. Medical & Health: 13%
  6. Accounting & Finance: 12%
  7. Writing: 12%
  8. Project Management: 10%
  9. Marketing: 10%
  10. Youth & Children: 9%

Fifty-three percent of SAH parents said they left paid full-time work entirely once they had kids and 7% left part-time jobs.

But SAH parents, on the whole, stayed committed to re-entering the workforce: 76% stayed connected to their careers in some way, while only 24% completely disconnected from their previous careers.

How did SAH parents stay connected to their careers? Fifty-two percent stayed in contact with colleagues and coworkers, 32% kept up with industry or professional news, 21% followed career-related experts on social media, and 17% learned new software and technology.

Reasons for Exiting the Workforce After Becoming a Parent

All of the people surveyed worked before having children, but their reasons for leaving the workforce after becoming parents varied. Besides wanting to stay at home with their kids (65%), inflexible work arrangements and poor child-care options were the two biggest factors in their decision to stay out of the workforce.

  • I wanted to stay home with my kids: 65%
  • I wanted to continue working, but my job was too inflexible to accommodate my needs as a working parent: 36%
  • It wasn’t possible to find affordable or quality child care: 25%
  • It made sense financially because my partner’s salary was higher: 21%
  • I was laid off from my job: 13%
  • My child(ren) had special needs that necessitated my staying home: 12%

Other reasons included relocation, homeschooling, their own personal health issues, and retirement.

Staying Active While Staying at Home

While raising children is, of course, one of the most active roles out there, survey respondents have also participated in a number of activities during their time as SAH parents.

Earning supplemental income:

  • Freelance projects (gigs or side projects): 34%
  • MLM (multi-level marketing) sales like jewelry, cosmetics, clothing, etc.: 11%
  • Selling self-made crafts: 5%
  • Child care for others: 7%

Getting really good at certain skills: Juggling multiple competing priorities or multitasking (80%), problem-solving (78%), prioritizing (76%), time management (71%), organization (70%), communication (66%), and conflict resolution (63%).


  • In their child(ren)’s classroom or school: 70%
  • At a local community nonprofit or charity: 48%
  • With the parent-teacher organization (PTO) or other school committees: 32%
  • At a virtual nonprofit or charity: 14%

Why Stay-at-Home Parents Return to Work

While income is the primary motivation for SAH parents to return to work (85% said they want to earn income for their families), there are several important underlying factors that necessitate these returns.

  • My family needs the income: 56%
  • I enjoy working and want to get back to my profession: 45%
  • My kids are less dependent now: 40%
  • I want to start a business: 19%
  • I became interested in a new career: 13%
  • Difficult life circumstances also play a role:
  • I’m experiencing a separation or divorce from my spouse: 7%
  • My spouse lost his or her job or is now unemployed: 3%
  • I experienced the loss of my spouse: 2%

One particular concern surrounds performing dual roles as parent and professional. We asked respondents if they believed that they could be both a great professional and a great parent. A full 70% said yes, it isn’t easy but they feel they can be both. Another 27% are hopeful they can be great in both areas. Only 3% said no, that something has to give in your professional or parental roles—you can’t be great at both.

The “Ideal” Return-to-Work Situation: Flexible Work

SAH parents seem to be open to the possibilities in their return to work. A majority, 59%, said they’re open to changing careers, while 14% plan to pursue a different career. Only 10% plan to return to their previous careers. More are interested in freelancing (40%) than being an employee (21%).

Remote work is definitely the preferred work location of SAH parents: only 13% want to work in an office or on-site, whereas 90% want to work remotely (from home).

When asked about their “ideal” work schedule, only 30% said they’d want to work full-time hours (40+ hours per week). Part-time hours are preferred (64%), as are flexible schedules (76%). Alternative hours are also in-demand with 31% of SAH parents interested in working outside traditional business hours. Sixty-seven percent would ideally like to work somewhere between 20 and 39 hours per week.

What the Return to Work Will Be Like

Eighty-eight percent of SAH parents are somewhat or very concerned about re-entering the workforce. Only 9% are not at all concerned. The good news is that the majority, 68%, know another stay-at-home parent who’s gone back to work. Those connections can provide helpful support and guidance during a return.

When asked, “What barriers do you see in re-entering the workforce?”, survey respondents said:

  • Don’t want or can’t be in an office full-time: 59%
  • Don’t know how to find a job that fits my life: 54%
  • Don’t know what I want to do for work: 36%
  • Don’t know where to begin: 34%
  • Don’t have networking contacts or haven’t stayed in contact with them: 33%
  • Not sure how to balance career and family: 31%
  • Need an updated or new resume: 30%
  • Don’t want to go back to the same career: 27%
  • Lack confidence: 25%
  • Local job market isn’t great: 22%
  • Haven’t kept up my skills: 23%
  • Need guidance or coaching: 19%
  • Commuting to work is prohibitive: 17%

Other barriers include the daunting task of organizing a new family routine, lack of support from a partner, and expired professional certifications.

When it comes to salary, benefits, and length of the job search…

  • 73% are somewhat or very concerned they’ll have to take a pay cut.
  • 51% think they’ll negotiate salary, benefits, or flexible work options after a job offer.
  • 50% said they anticipate starting at a lower level in their careers than when they left.
  • 29% aren’t sure how long it will take them to re-enter the workforce; 22% think it will take 3-4 months of job searching; 18% said 1-2 months; 13% said 5-6 months; 19% said more than 6 months.

Stay-at-home parents are planning to do the following as part of their job search:

  • Searching online job boards or listings: 93%
  • Research companies online: 72%
  • Asking friends and family for help: 48%
  • Networking with professionals in my target career or industry: 47%
  • Having my resume reviewed or written: 37%
  • Attending webinars or online events for job search advice: 33%

Other job search activities include having informational interviews to learn about potential careers or jobs; working with a career coach or counselor; conducting a mock job interview; and getting help through their college’s alumni services.

Demographics and Details

  • Survey results were collected in December 2018 and January 2019 with 934 total responses.
  • Age of Respondents: 19 years or younger: 1%; 20–29: 6%; 30–39: 33%; 40–49: 39%; 50–59: 15.%; 60–69: 4%; 70 or older: 1%
  • Generation: Gen Z: 2%; Millennial/Gen Y: 22%; Gen X: 55%; Baby Boomer: 14%; The Silent Generation: 7%
  • Mom or Dad: 90% identified as moms; 10% identified as dads

Photo Credit:

This article first appeared on Flex Jobs

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