Every woman in America has faced this choice:  work and provide income to raise the family, or stay home with the children while they are small?  Many Americans, of course, can give only a fleeting thought to the question, if any, since they need the income to put food on the table and clothes on the family.  But for many of us, it is a choice.  A choice that is all wrapped up in not only fiduciary and family questions, but also intellectual, self-image, and responsiblity issues as well.  What, as mothers, can we contribute to the world, and how does that stack up against our contributions at home?

To be honest, we’ve probably all considered this question, wrestled with it, and come to a kind of peace with our current decisions.  But today, there’s a twist.

How does the math change for mothers with a life-threatening disease? 

There are several mothers on my ibc-support list who have been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer (that means the cancer has spread to the bones, lungs, liver, or other parts of the body beyond the original tumor; it is a very serious diagnosis) and are struggling with this question anew.  They are doing a morbid kind of calculus:  if they have five years to live, they will need to keep working to provide for their family, particularly for needs after they are gone.  If they have two months to live, they would want to stop working now to spend as much time as possible with their babies.  But what of those with an estimate of two years?  What of the vast majority of us with no definite prognosis but a late-stage cancer nonetheless?

What is the responsible thing to do?

There are no easy answers.  The moms on my list are coming together to discuss their own choices, their heartbreak, their struggles, but there really doesn’t seem to be an easy answer.  There is, however, one thing that makes the calculation much easier.

Life insurance.  If you’re one of the moms here lucky enough to be in a position to choose whether or not to work, please, please consider taking out a life insurance policy for yourself.  Now.  Before something happens.  Whether you work outside of the home, at home, or in the home, your work is valuable.  You are valuable.  And if, God forbid, something should happen to you, there would be a huge financial as well as emotional hit to your family.  Particularly if you have young children who will need child care of some sort, or tuition bills.  I know this is a very hard topic to consider, but, after reading along while fellow moms have to make these heartbreaking choices, I can’t help wishing that every mom had a life insurance policy big enough to protect her family and help make the decisions of her last few years easier.

If you choose to work with a Stage IV diagnosis, more power to you.   But if you aren’t really feeling up to it, and would rather be home with your children, it would be nice to have the choice.

Edited to clarify:  I believe that all moms who can afford it should consider taking out a life insurance policy.  It has nothing to do with a diagnosis, and everything to do with planning effectively for your family’s future.  You. have. value.  Financially as well as emotionally, you are a lynchpin in the workings of your family.  I dare you to tell me otherwise.


43 Responses to Choices

  1. Sarah S. says:

    Hummmm! This really makes me think. I am a stay at home Mom. Yet I have no life insurance. I have often asked my husband why. He just says well you do not have a job why do you need it. I disagree. My roll in the home is very important. After all who would do all the laundry? I am not sure if anyone would insure my life now but I think I should really look into it. 🙂
    I am lucky that I do not have to work. But now facing my battle with cancer, I am glad that I have lots of time to spend with my girls!

  2. this is critically important, you’re right. i don’t have cancer, but we’ve still got a life insurance policy out on me. it’s not for that much, just enough so that my husband could make child care arrangements and pay tuition bills.

  3. Dawn says:

    I wonder what the obstacles are for someone trying to get life insurance after having been diagnosed with a life threatening cancer, etc. though? Just a thought 🙂

  4. Karen says:

    You are absolutely correct. It behooves all of you to do this as soon as possible. I have a seven figure life insurance policy, all for $50 a month (I’m only 32). If, God forbid, something happened to me it would dispersed tax free and used mainly for child care and my kids’ education.

    As I type, I realize that in today’s economic climate, $50 may be too much to spare. But $25 a month would still be coverage of $500,000. It’s worth it, for a million reasons.

  5. Your oldest friend, Adam says:

    We’ve got a life insurance policy on my Beloved (11 year’s now this past weekend – thanks, WM, for being there with us on that day) for the very reasons mentioned here. If some happens to her while our children are young, there will be in place the resources for me to step into the big shoes she wears everyday, to stay home and to try to do many of the things she does, or to supplement the income I bring in order to find outside help.

    With respect to “What, as mothers, can we contribute to the world, and how does that stack up against our contributions at home?” whereas in my work I affect change in my home state, there is nothing I know which has the power to mold the future and change the world the way welldone motherhood does. And it is my responsibility to enable and facilitate this in my home to the greatest extent I can.

  6. maryelena says:

    Thank you for this very IMPORTANT post — ALL moms should get life insurance if they can possibly afford it. Indeed, many employers allow spouses to participate in the group policy at a slightly higher rate – thus all spouses should explore this during open enrollment (which often happens either in June or December). I got a policy when I was working but still maintain it – I think about the costs of daycare, house care, any income I might have generated once the kids were in school full-time (0r the nanny to take them to the many lessons, practices, etc. which would be necessary to replace me for school age kids) PLUS the counseling which would be necessary as I am the primary emotional support of the children and family. This all adds up fairly quickly and goes beyond a “small policy.” After all — could my husband maintain his current job and income if he was reesponsible for even half of all I do at home? Considering all this, it isn’t unreasonable for the stay at home wife to have almost as much insurance as the working husband.

    Also, related to the question of how individuals with cancer might get life insurance, it is possible that some of these employer group policies for which spouses might be eligible might allow at least some sort of minimum coverage without a health assessment — please encourge all mothers with health issues to speak to the benefits folks at their workplaces or the workplaces of their spouses and remember that many companies with a July 1 fiscal year have open enrollment coming up in June.

  7. Karen says:

    PS – Northwestern Mutual. (And no, I don’t work for them.)

  8. maryelena says:

    I also have Northwestern Mutal and I don’t work for them either.

  9. Stimey says:

    I have heard so many women who stay at home say they don’t need life insurance because they don’t bring in any income. But, like you say, if you add up how much it would cost to pay someone else to do what these women do, it would be a lot. It would be enough to bankrupt families who didn’t believe the stay at homer needed insurance. Great post.

  10. Your oldest friend, Adam says:

    We have life insurance for my Beloved (now married 11 years this past weekend – thanks, WM, for being there with us that special day) for these very reasons. If something happens to her when our children are young, we will have the resources in place to enable me to step into the big shoes she wears by either staying home or supplementing the income I bring home in order to find assistance. I highly recommend that every couple have life insurance for both the father and the mother.

    With respect to, “What, as mothers, can we contribute to the world, and how does that stack up against our contributions at home?”, whereas in my work I get to affect my home state to some extent, I know of nothing with the power to contribute to the world and the future like motherhood, well done. And, as a husband and father, it is my responsibility to facilitate her in this great endeavor to the greatest extent I possibly can.

  11. Your oldest friend, Adam says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Life insurance is important.

  12. justenjoyhim says:

    Mine is a Catch-22. My life insurance is through my work. I have to keep working because our health insurance is through me and my family wouldn’t get the life insurance if I quit work.

    I’m Stage IV and I have to work. I have to work and I have to continue to work. My husband teaches part-time here and there so all of our insurance is through me.

    It’s a hell of a time to be the major bread-winner.

  13. Such wise and wonderful words, Susan.

    We invested in life insurance for me just after our first child was born, for all of the many good reasons you listed here. So many people don’t realize that a mother’s contribution, both at-home and outside-the-home, is invaluable, and darned near impossible to “replace” (we all know that NO ONE could ever replace a mother… but under difficult circumstances, a family must try and find a way to “fill in the gaps” a bit).

    My husband’s mother passed away from breast cancer when he was only nine. And the catastrophic fall-out might have been eased a little bit, had there been more resources at their disposal, to help the family cope, and care for themselves.

    We can’t control a lot about what challenges we might be faced with in the future… But it would indeed be a wonderful thing if more women could protect their families by being able to purchase life insurance.

    Thank you for this.

    love to you, as always. xoxo CGF

  14. liz says:

    what a thought-provoking post. thank you.

  15. Mutha Mae says:

    I need to up my plan. We took out a large plan on my husband, but mine is pretty pitiful. Good reminder, thank you!

  16. Asher says:

    Thanks for the thoughts.

  17. My husband and I both carry enough insureance on each other that the surviving spouse and children will be taken care of. It is a hard thing to think about, but very important to do.

  18. Tina says:

    About a year ago when my husband changed jobs and became a full time Firefighter/Paramedic our insurance agent came to us and said “I really think you should talk to this guy about life insurance.” He knew I had already been diagnosed with Stage II malignant melanoma when I was a teenager and thought to keep our bases covered this would be a wise investment. There is no doubt in my mind that I would want to stay home and enjoy my time with my kids. I hope that if anything happens to me I will get to enjoy that luxury. Thank you for this post. It is such an important thing to do and although most of us find ourselves thinking about the health of others we really need to take charge of our todays and our futures.

  19. Krista says:

    What happens when you can barely afford health insurance, let alone something that seems a luxury, like life insurance. I know it’s the one that would count were I to die tomorrow, but… what if I don’t. And that money takes food off the table?

  20. whymommy says:

    Krista, I have no idea. I’m not a financial expert by any means, and certainly food on the table is a first priority. My advice is not to stress out over life insurance if it’s simply out of reach right now; but — those who have what is called discretionary income, for things that make life better but are truly nonessential, should consider it.

  21. Trisha says:

    When I became a SAHM three years ago, the first thing we did was contact our insurance agent to buy a life insurance policy for me. The agent couldn’t understand why we were doing it, and in the end, we basically forced him to sell a policy to us. He really couldn’t see the financial impact on our family if something were to happen to me, since I had no income. I’m still baffled by this, considering we were handing him a commission on a silver platter.

    Now that I’m back at work, I still maintain that policy. It’s a small price to pay for peace of mind.

  22. Janis says:

    Great topic…Many working parents, both male and female get life insurance with work. It is NEVER enough. Both parents should have supplemental life insurance. It is a long process from start to actually being insured, so if you are a parent and have no life insurance OR only work covered insurance please consider getting personal policies.

    The rule of thumb: What would it take to keep your family in their current life situation should something happen to a parent. Meaning, how much would you need to stay in your home, and hire some help until the children are old enough (late high school) to be more self sufficient.

    Also related to this: Do you have wills? And guardianship, especially if both parents are away from the children, even for an overnight.

    It took us almost one year to get completely insured and have all our paperwork in order following a tragic accident that almost took my DH’s life. It was quiet a wake-up call for us, to say the least.

  23. Rebecca says:

    And note there are different types of life insurance. Term life insurance disappears when you stop paying the monthly premiums but generally is cheaper. Shame on the agent that couldn’t understand why to cover a nonworking spouse.

  24. cousin in law says:

    Susan –
    Not only do I agree with on the Life Insurance policy. I also feel as a Mom it is very important to have a living will and advance directives. When my mother past away, it was a dificult situation. I decided that when my time came, I wanted to make it as easy ( if it is ever easy) as possible for my children. Thank you Susan for putting it out there.


  25. debbie davis says:

    It is SO important! My husband and I both have it just incase anything happens. We want our children to be taken care of 🙂 Love your lastest posts. Sorry I have not been blogging lately! I have been taping shows. What was I thinking?? Hah! Maybe it is a good thing I wasn’t thinking! If you get a minute, check it out. I’d love to hear what you think. I am inviting all my blog friends over for feedback. Your stories are great and my whole idea behind this show is for other moms to share real stories like you do. Sponsors are donating neat prizes like chocolate baskets and mini-chef aprons and way cool cookery stuff. Anyway, I’d love to hear from you.

  26. […] of Toddler Planet, an Inflammatory Breast Cancer survivor, speaks to this twist on the working mother debate very eloquently: They are doing a morbid kind of calculus: if they have five years to live, they […]

  27. Karen says:

    I have been the breadwinner in my home for the past 15 years and I took out a life insurance policy for both my husband and I years ago. I have superannuation – but he doesn’t – which also has a life policy. None of them are huge amounts but if someone had to do everything that I do unpaid around the home it would be expensive. We don’t manage much in other savings but this gives me some peace of mind in an emergency.

  28. Sarah says:

    I happened upon another blog, and while looking thru old posts there, I found one about you. As a good friend of mine is participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-day 60-mile Breast Cancer walk, I have launched a Boob-A-Thon on my blog to help raise the money for the cause. If you don’t mind – I will be posting a link to your blog, so that my readers can be informed – and so that they can see a real person behind (or in your case, IN FRONT OF) the disease.

  29. whymommy says:

    Absolutely, Sarah. The 3-day walk is a great cause, and I am a big fan.

  30. christine says:

    i absolutely agree with you about the insurance. the melanoma diagnosis was such a scare that we took out a policy for me a few years after it was cleared. we can’t really afford it, but we HAVE to have, it believe. what i do around here is invaluable, and i truly believe that if i am gone they will need financial help even though i currently don’t work for a pay check.

    great post.

  31. mummycha says:

    Susan, you are, once again, addressing a very good point.
    I do love the United States (I have moved there for good), but if there is one thing I find really appalling here, it is the the fact that people have to make the choices you describe in your post.

    In France, and most of Europe, there would be no such thing. Anyone fighting cancer (e. g. my Mum a few years ago) has the possibility to stay home and rest, and take care of her/his family for as long as necessary, with 50% to 75% of her/his salary, and without worrying about losing her/his job. If something too sad would happen, then there are special funds from the government for single-parent families. A life insurance is always more money. But at least any family has the same chance to get the minimum needed to put food on the table, at any time.
    I do not want to sell France as a role model (especially since Sarkozy has become a president!), because we have issues, like other countries. But a cheap health insurance coverage and support for families in difficulty should really be a standard everywhere.

  32. What a great reminder for all of us.

  33. Bon says:

    i wish no one had to make those choices…wish societally we chose to value people’s time with families more, made more financial allowances available to families struggling with cancer, had better single-parent allowances. i think that would be a more humane way to live.

    i thank you for reminding us, though, that since that isn’t the society we have, those of us who have the luxury of making choices should make wise ones just in case.

  34. Cheryl says:

    I’m the breadwinner in the family, so yes, we have always had life insurance on me. My husband stayed home the first year of my son’s life and you better believe I bought life insurance for him. To have to pay for full time day care if something happened to him, not to mention it would pay off some bills and allow me to put some money away for college for my son.

    So yes you need life insurance on both parents.

  35. Rachel says:

    Wow! What an important topic!

    I’m a stay at home mom and I do have life insurance. However, after reading your post and thinking about the situation my husband and children would find themselves in, I think that I should increase the value of my policy. I certainly would want the quality of my husband and my children’s lives to continue to as close to that we provide for them now. I also believe my husband shares those sentiments. If I increase the policy my husband may then have the option to stay home with the children or at least minimize his time away from our children by maintaining employment in a flexible fashion.

    Thank you so much for this post!

  36. […] in the comments to the previous post, let us in on a little secret — if you happen to live in France, you may be eligible for […]

  37. uscitizen says:

    In the US, even if your company provides disability, they can choose to lay you off if you claim disability. so the claimed benefits do not exist. I have known two people who claimed disability from i b m and both were laid off before their long term disability could commence.

  38. JoC says:

    Thank you for another great post. Insurance is hard to pay for something you hope to never need. Your description of the posts on the IBC are heart breaking even in summary.

    FYI – Another insurance option is critical illness insurance. It allows some options while fighting cancer.

  39. Dawn says:

    I received a life insurance check as my dad’s beneficiary today. I’d rather have him any minute than this check, but it gives me the opportunity to do things with it that he would like.


  40. […] to have. WhyMommy, my blog friend who’s kicking cancer’s butt, recently got this discussion started on her blog, Toddler Planet. She wrote: Whether you work outside of the home, at home, or in the home, your work is valuable.  […]

  41. […] There are many reasons to do it, but I’ll let Susan of Toddler Planet tell you why. […]

  42. Jessica B says:

    Hi there… Jessica B from the above pingback here. We’re on some yahoo group or another together and I clicked on your blog and saw this post a few months ago. Thanks to your well stated reminder my hubby and I now have life insurance. I wanted to pass the word, but felt you’d already articulated what I wanted to say so linked from my blog. Enjoy your time in SF!

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