What Stay-At-Home Moms Must Know About Social Security

I stayed at home for many reasons after the birth of our only child. Before I became pregnant, I had a dream job for a newlywed elementary school teacher, especially an older one. Teaching at a supplemental home school program gave me a chance to explore my new suburban Atlanta home and spend more time with my groom. I could finally rest a little after working from the time I was fourteen until I married in my thirties!

We wanted children, but decided to wait a year to start a family. That decision came back to haunt us when I learned I had medical issues, including advanced endometriosis, that could make conception difficult if not impossible. But I became pregnant against the odds. Our little miracle girl was born in March of 1990.

Together, my husband and I planned my return to teaching after our child, or children, started school. But the unexpected happened and all our plans went out the window. Our sweet girl lost most of her hearing after her fifteen month *MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccination, and the rest after a *DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus) booster shot a few years later.

My husband and I decided that he would be the breadwinner while I stayed home to care for our child. He would “work,” and I would help teach her speech and language skills with the guidance of the remarkable teachers and specialists at the John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles and the Moog Center for Deaf Education in St. Louis.

What does any of this have to do with Social Security or SSDI, Social Security Disability Insurance? In the years after our child’s birth, I became ill with multiple health issues and endured several major surgeries. When the time came for her to enroll in a mainstream school, I was physically unable to work. I tried working part-time jobs, but could not meet my responsibilities adequately. Working just one day could put me in bed for days or weeks. So, at the advice of many, I looked into applying for Social Security disability.

That’s when I was shocked to learn what every stay-at-home parent must know. If you have not worked long enough in the ten years preceding the onset of your symptoms, you are not entitled to SSDI, no matter the degree of your illness or injury. You must have earned twenty of your Social Security work credits in the previous ten years to be entitled to disability payments. That number increases after age forty-two.

You may qualify for SSI, Supplemental Security Income. However, denial rates are very high and the application process can be a nightmare. Without a good lawyer, you are unlikely to win any benefits, even on appeal.

We did make out wills, naming legal guardians, and take out a term life insurance policy on my husband after our child’s birth. (In hindsight, we should have purchased coverage for both of us. It’s extremely expensive for a single parent, father or mother, to care for and raise a child until adulthood.) But there was more that we could have done.

If you have children and decide to stay at home for their care and education, the following actions are essential:

  • Continue your education and keep your marketable skills updated. Online courses make this much easier than in past years.
  • Maintain current certifications or licenses.
  • Work from home or when your spouse is at home to meet Social Security’s work credit criteria.
  • Buy life insurance for both parents to protect your family. Many financial advisors recommend term life insurance. Be sure your child or children know where important documents are kept.
  • If you still maintain ownership of vehicles your adult child or children use, transfer possession of those vehicles when they become adults. Otherwise, they will be considered part of your assets if you become ill and need to apply for state or federal benefits.
  • Transfer ownership of anything else of value such as precious coins, property, etc. that you intend to give or leave your child or children when they are of legal age.
  • Keep vehicles maintained and insured, pay off any and all debts, and keep credit cards paid in full.
  • Live simply. Then it won’t come as such a shock when and if you must.

Even though I was educated and an older parent, I did not know or understand how the Social Security system works. Inform yourselves now!

Because of overwhelming medical bills and my husband’s fourteen-month layoff beginning just prior to 9/11, we eventually lost everything. That included our home, savings, 401K, and a vehicle. We became homeless.

I was uninformed and naive about how our government calculates yours and my access to Social Security disability benefits. The public must be educated and Congress must act to protect those doing the most important job of all – raising their children.

No one expects to acquire a chronic illness, need surgeries, or lose their health at a relatively young age. Most of us cruise right along until retirement age. But difficult, even catastrophic, circumstances can arise when we least expect it.

Know your rights under the law. Know how your state and county administer and determine eligibility for assistance should you ever need it. Be prepared for the unexpected. Don’t think for a moment, “This can’t happen to me. It can happen to anyone.”

*Vaccinations are essential for the public good. However, be aware of your family medical background and any known history of genetic markers, illnesses, or disabilities. Booster shots can and sometimes should be avoided, and vaccinations spread out over a safe period of time for children with genetic predispositions to disabilities such as deafness. That’s another thing I wish I had known, and a subject for another day.

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