I turned on my television the other day and what did I see – another talk show with women fighting with other women. Why does this debate need to be rehashed over and over again? Why are women fighting with other women about whether or not to stay home with your children or go to work? Why can’t it just be a woman’s choice and leave it at that?
When my son was born in 2002, I was conflicted as to what I was going to do. Go back to work or stay home with my child? Well, I loved this little baby like I loved nothing else in my whole life. I know all mothers feel that way. Our family, however, was scraping by as it was. Don’t get me wrong, my husband makes a great living, but if we ever want to be able to eat more than Beanie Weenies and Hamburger Helper, we were going to have to come up with a second source of income.
Like most mothers I struggled over whether to go back to work full-time, part-time or not at all. In the end, my husband and I made the decision that I would stay home, at least for a while. After my son was a few months old, my old boss called and offered me the opportunity that not many people get. I could stay home with my child and work a couple hours a day from home. I was elated. I made the choice to stay home.
Every choice has a price. Do I feel lucky to be able to stay home with my children? Sure, I feel lucky every day. There are things about staying home that one needs to know.
First, I feel isolated on a weekly basis. Forget postpartum depression, I had full on depression. I was isolated from adult contact to the point where I was just about saying goo-goo, ga-ga every time my husband walked in the door from work. Even though I work from home, I get very little contact with the outside world besides email and the occasional work phone calls I get on a daily basis. I have friends, but most of my friends are working mothers. They have jobs that they work full time and after work, we might have a quick conversation, but they are ready to get home to their own families. All stay at home mothers have to find a way to make time for themselves, find friends in the area that have similar situations and balance their lives to keep from going crazy.
Second, it is very difficult to work from home and raise children at the same time. Raising children in itself is a difficult task. Staying home with kids full time requires creativity at a moments notice. Staying home with the kids and trying to take a phone call for work is an even bigger challenge. I’ve stood in my garage with pajamas and no shoes or socks in the middle of winter just so I could take a work call without the person on the other end of the phone having to listen to my kids playing/fighting in the background. Even though I only work a couple hours a day, it is a daily struggle to find activities and distractions long enough for me to get my job done. I can’t just plop my kids down in front of Barney all day long – I actually have to spend time with them and manipulating my schedule in such a way to ensure that happens is a task within itself.
Third, not having a full-time job outside of the home is great, but it’s difficult to get used to the lack of income as well. If you plan to stay home with your children, even if you are going to work a little, plan to cut your expenses back, too. Our family doesn’t live in a big house and we don’t have the most luxurious furniture and we don’t get to go out every weekend, but we are happy and we make the most with what we have.
Don’t take this as whining or complaining by any means. I’m just laying it out there for everyone to see. Staying home is a job within itself and takes sacrifice and creativity to entertain children all day long. It’s no fun to have someone questioning your decision to stay home with your kids. I actually heard a woman on a talk show say, “Is this what we’re going to teach our daughters? That all they are good for is staying home and taking care of kids?” Is this the way working mothers view stay at home mothers? Do they all think we are lazy and unproductive women who are setting the feminist movement back 40 years because we gave up our career dreams (for now) to raise our children?
I’m sure it’s no picnic to have someone questioning your decision to have a career either. I suspect most working mothers have a daily struggle, wondering if they’ve made the right decision to continue a career. I don’t think that working mothers are selfish for working. I know, from my friends, that putting your child in the hands of a daycare provider on a daily basis is a painful experience – especially for any new mother. I know it is difficult to leave your child with a person who is watching them grow up on a daily basis and possibly experiencing your child’s firsts without you there to see them for the first time. I commend these mothers for having the strength to go to work every day and provide for their families. Whether it’s because the family has to have two incomes to survive or because the mother in the family just wants to continue her career neither reason should be judged by anyone. Women need careers, too and there is nothing wrong with that.
So, why the debate between stay at home mothers and working mothers? I feel like it is all about guilt and rationalization. If a stay at home mother is comfortable in her decision to stay home, she isn’t going to argue her position and she definitely isn’t going to criticize another woman whose situation she is unfamiliar with. You chose to stay at home, so own it. If a working mother is comfortable with her decision to have a career, she is not going to criticize another woman for choosing to stay home with her children.
As for what we are teaching our daughters, I believe I am teaching my daughter about choices. My daughter will never hear me say, “Stay home with your kids! It’s the only way your kids will turn out right!” That’s ridiculous. How many of us had working parents and we all turned out just fine? My daughter will hear me say, “Do what makes you happy. Do what is best for your family at the time.” Will she necessarily know what is best at the time? Probably not. Most of us don’t know what is best when it comes to complicated issues such as money, raising kids and whether or not to put our careers on hold for the time being. We don’t know how things will turn out in the long run, but we are all just trying to do what we think is right for our families at the time.
My closing thoughts are easy. I don’t have a career right now. I do have hobbies I enjoy regularly, I am creative and I love my life. I will never justify to anyone why I don’t have to have a career to be happy. If you love your life the way it is, don’t try to rationalize the reasons for loving it. Just be.