The Value of a Stay-At-Home Parent: Great Children

09/30/2009 05:51 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I recently gave a presentation in Chicago and took the opportunity to see a long time high school friend, Ernesto Moreno. We keep in touch by phone and e-mail, but we have not seen each other for over twenty-five years. We each have two children, a girl and a boy, and all have attended college.

Ernesto and I also survived a background of poverty and an environment where drug and alcohol abuse was and still is rampant, where gangs and thugs did and still do control the streets.

In addition, we both were the first in our families to graduate from college, and more so, he went on to law school and I to medical school.

As we caught up, we began to discuss the reasons for why we succeeded, and from there, we talked about what made our children different from many others. We are incredibly proud of our children, but I know of many highly educated people who have a great deal of trouble with their own kids' misguided behavior. After some debate, we came to a conclusion.

Ernesto and his wife both graduated from law school and initially worked long hours in order to achieve corporate success. Additionally, they spent a lot of time on social activities while hiring a nanny to care for their children. Ernesto became a human resource executive, gaining more and more responsibility. He bounced from company to company, always seeking to move up the ladder.

It was on one of those occasions between jobs that he realized he was missing something important: getting to know his kids! From there, he spent a great deal of time at home. He gave his children rides to school. He volunteered with the PTA. He was there when his children came home. He was there to say "No" when his kids wanted to go out with friends under circumstances that he knew would lead to trouble.

Then he found another full-time position, and his wife changed careers, becoming a school teacher and re-focusing much of her attention upon her kids. Later, Ernesto even started a company that would allow him to work from home. He sacrificed economically, but in the end, everything worked out for the best.

For my part, my income generally allowed my wife to devote her time to our children. At first, when my daughter was born, I did not have a job. The money was tight for that year, but the time I was able to spend with her was priceless. I only regret that when my son was born, I was too fixated on work to take time off to enjoy his early months.

As it turned out, both of our families made the decision to ensure that one parent was always at home. In thinking of many acquaintances with great children, we discovered they had made the same choice.

Our conclusion: Spending quality time with children leads to their success.

As Ernesto dropped me off at the airport, he left me with these comments:

What do you give up when you decide to be a stay-at-home parent? What do you gain?
Do you "sacrifice" your career when you stay home, or do you "sacrifice" family by working outrageous hours?
How do you define success?

Raising your kids is your job. Everything else just supplements this.

You should define success by how you have contributed to your child's upbringing. Yes, part of that means contributing financially, but a bigger part is how you spend the time to raise your family.

If you have the means, perhaps you should sit down with your spouse and ask if you really need two full-time careers in the household. If not, perhaps one of you (and in today's world this could be the husband or the wife) should reduce work hours or even take time away from the career entirely. Remember, as Ernesto says, "When you go outside of your home to 'work', you are not going to your job. You are going to your 'income.' Your family is your job."