A friend called me this afternoon as she was driving home on her first day back from maternity leave to nurse her newborn son during her lunch break. She was clearly desperate, miserable, guilt-ridden and devastated,
“I don’t know what to do, she cried”. “I hate that he is spending the day with strangers”. “What if they don’t pick him up when he cries? “What if they don’t rock him?” “I never would have gotten pregnant if I’d known it was going to be this hard”.
My heart ached for her. I’d been there..twice…and it was awful. Even though I’d experienced the pain of leaving a newborn for the first time, I didn’t have a clue how to make her feel better.
I am a bit of a free spirit. I am creative, but highly disorganized. When I think in terms of my future (and my children’s future) I am often more concerned about what we will be having for breakfast tomorrow vs. college educations, retirement funds and medical benefits. Therefore, it was quite easy for me to leave my full-time career when my first child was born. Whatever happens…happens, right?
While my friend and I are as close as sisters, we are vastly different. My friend finds comfort in 401K plans, college savings and insurance coverage. I find comfort in flavored coffees, reality TV shows and a well-worn pair of jeans. Admittedly, I didn’t have a clue how to make her feel better.
I left my full-time career to care for my daughter on a wing and a prayer. I consider myself lucky that my family didn’t end up broke and homeless. When I left my job, we couldn’t afford our house payments, our credit card bills or our insurance coverage without my financial contribution.
Through creativity and sheer will, we made it work, but I have the type of personality that literally gets high from taking risks. It was fairly easy for me to accept the consequences of losing everything to avoid the pain of leaving my daughter at a daycare center for the very first time.
So, what advice does a risk-taker give someone who seeks stability, financial security and a regular paycheck? I’ve worked from home for over five years now. I’ve quite literally done just about everything (legal and ethical, of course) to earn a few hundred dollars per month. Some months, I do home parties. Other months I write. When I want to de-clutter my home, I sell products on Ebay. For anyone with my “go with the flow” attitude, the pace is intoxicating.
My friend is brilliant. She has earned nearly six-figures working for various technology firms. I would be thrilled to have even an ounce of her skills. She is by far, the brightest, most capable person I have ever met. I want to tell her to quit her job, start a business to “just roll with the punches”. But is that necessarily a better option for her family?
I feel fortunate that I have been able to avoid the pain of leaving my children for the first time to return to work, but perhaps I was the selfish one. I wanted to avoid the pain of leaving and I was more than willing to risk my families’ financial security to do so.
Who us making the greater sacrifice? The free-spirit who is more than willing to leave her career without considering “safety nets” like savings accounts, retirement plans or insurance benefits or the mom who is seeks security and wants to ensure a comfortable, stable and financially independent life for her child.
This is the conflict many journalists define as the “mommy war”. Quite frankly, I hate that term. It suggests that one group is at war with the other group….”the stay-at-home moms vs. the working moms” while it sounds intriguing and “sexy, it suggests that women are battling with one another. I believe that the biggest battle most mommies face is from within.
I’ve been a stay-at-home mom since my daughter was an infant. We’ve played together, I’ve watched her first steps, and I loved walking her into her classroom on her first day of preschool. That being said, she doesn’t have a large savings account or college fund. I am often so preoccupied with our finances that when she wants to play “ring around the rosie”, I am too busy calculating our medical bills to enjoy the part where we “all fall down”.
While popular culture suggests that there is a moral war occurring between moms who believe it is better work vs. stay at home, I would beg to differ. . What if the so-called “war” is simply personality differences between the free-spirits and the moms who seek stability? Who wins that war? Who is really looking out for the best-interests of their children? We all are.
Maybe I am a hopeless optimist, but I don’t believe that there is a mommy war. The moment I gave birth to my first child, I developed an almost animalistic desire to protect my child. I am not unique. All moms want what they believe is best for their children we just define “best” differently.