Nation’s share of stay-at-home moms trending upward after decades of decline
“It’s a snake,” she said.
She chatters with her mom, Crystal Schneider, who hovers beside her.
“Have to go to ’tics,’” Merritt told her.
“That’s what she calls ‘gymnastics,’ ” her mom explains. It’s a pastime the toddler has been enjoying for about a year.
Conversations like these are typical in her house, said Schneider, a full-time, stay-at-home mom.
“I hear that a lot — that and ‘Have to go to pool.’ She’s a talker. She lets you know what she wants.”
Schneider, 34, is among a growing group of women who are opting to stay home with their children rather than work outside the home.
After decades of decline, the share of stay-at-home mothers has steadily risen over the last several years, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center.
In 2012, 29 percent of all mothers (or 10.4 million women) with children under age 18 stayed at home, a figure that has steadily risen since 1999, when 23 percent of mothers were stay-at-home.
The share of stay-at-home moms had been dropping since 1967, when about half of all moms stayed home.
Pew attributed the rise of stay-at-home mothers to a mix of demographic, economic and societal factors. The vast majority of married stay-at-home mothers, 85 percent, say they are doing so by choice in order to care for their families. That rate is much lower for single stay-at-home mothers, at 41 percent, and cohabitating mothers, at 64 percent.
A second Pew survey, taken this year, found most in the general public think that children are better off with a parent at home: 60 percent said children are better off with a parent at home, versus 35 percent who said kids are just as well off when parents work.
The survey of 3,341 people was conducted in January and February.
Schneider chose to stay home with her child, but it wasn’t something she necessarily planned.
“It was nothing I ever intended to do or thought I wanted to do. I never thought I was cut out for it,” she said. “I imagined I’d keep working” after Merritt, her first and only child, was born.
Upon graduation from NDSU, she had various jobs including a stint with AmeriCorps, building houses in California and northern Virginia and as a track coach at UND.
‘Most challenging job’
When Merritt entered the picture, Schneider cut back her hours as executive director of the Red River Valley Habitat for Humanity in Grand Forks. A few months later, she quit.
Staying at home with her daughter “is the most challenging job,” she said. “You never really get a break.”
No longer in the workplace, she misses “adult interaction” the most, she said.
She gets together regularly with friends, who are also stay-at-home moms, when she takes Merritt to the park, open gym at a recreational center and story time at the library.
“A couple times a month we go out on a date night,” she said, referring to her husband, Mac Schneider, “and I meet friends for a ‘girls’ night out.’”
Her husband, an attorney, is in his second term representing District 42 in the North Dakota Senate. His service as state legislator — which requires him to be in Bismarck for four months every two years — prompted her decision to leave her job.
The need for flexibility was the “main reason” she chose to be a stay-at-home mom, she said. “We wanted to stay together.”
During the 2013 legislative session, Merritt aged from six to 10 months old.
“That’s when a lot of fun things start to happen” in a baby’s life, she said.
The couple rented a house in Bismarck from January through mid-May of 2013.
Schneider herself was recently elected to represent Ward 2 on the Grand Forks City Council. Because the council meets on Mondays, she envisions splitting her time between Grand Forks and Bismarck during the 2015 legislative session so she and her family can have more time together.
“We’ll make it work,” she said.
The Pew report also found a drop in women working because of the recession, a trend that has lingered as the economy recovers. Pew cited an increase in immigrant families, for whom it is more common to have a mother stay at home with her children, and an increase in the number of women who said they were disabled and unable to work.
The share of stay-at-home mothers is now higher than it was during the recession in 2008, when it reached 26 percent. About 6 percent of moms say they are home because they can’t find a job, up from just 1 percent in 2000.
The report also looked at how stay-at-home versus working moms use their time. Those at home spend more time on housework (23 hours per week versus 14 for working mothers), child care (18 hours vs. 11), leisure (31 hours vs. 22) and sleep (63 hours vs. 58 for working mothers).
“What surprised me the most is the amount of work it is. I had visions of sitting back and watching TV,” Schneider said.
Sometimes it’s “challenging” to be a full-time mom, she said. “Some days I would love to take her and drop her off at daycare and go.”
But she said, “I knew I would not regret this down the road. Time goes by so fast. I can’t believe it, that she’s already 2.
“The time we get to spend together, we’re buddies. Now that she’s older, she’s much more fun.”
Staying at home gives Schneider time “to think about what I really want to do as a career, she said. “What do I want to do with my life?
“I definitely want to go back to work.”
For now, her lifestyle “works out well,” she said. “It lets me pursue my passion for public service and stay at home with (Merritt).”
She hopes that she and her husband are good role models for their daughter, she said. “That’s pretty important for Mac and me, helping others and being engaged with the community. She’s little, but she will see that as she grows. It will come naturally to her.”
The life she’s leading is not an option for everyone, she said.
“I’m lucky I can do this. I know there are people who would love the opportunity to do this.”
Laura Meckler, Wall Street Journal, contributed to this article.