One of the hottest topics in the infamous mommy wars, the decision of whether to be a stay at home vs working mom is a major one. I’ve therefore decided to give it the coverage it deserves.
My biggest pet peeve is when people think there’s one way to do things. They expect all parents to follow through with decisions they have made for themselves. Each mom is unique. Each child is unique. What works for one may not work for the next. Parenting is full of personal choices and this is one of them.
I’ve spoken to various moms and asked around. They’ve shared with me what they did, the results of their choices. They’ve told me what was difficult and what worked. They’ve shared their true life experiences.
There are two goals of this article. The first, and primary goal, is to help us understand each other. When moms argue who complains more, who has a right to complain more, and which way is the only way, it really bothers me. We all deal with challenges. I don’t call them “bad things”. They are simply challenges to overcome. Supporting each other emotionally can help us deal with these challenges.
The second goal is to provide a real life picture for those who may still be in the decision-making process. An open-ended article, with the stories of many moms is so much more telling than the rants I see sometimes. Every mom should have a fair case in hand when choosing whether to be a stay at home vs working mom.
Stay at Home Mom
My mother was a stay at home mom. She wasn’t always she used to work , when I (the third in my family of ten) was younger. I don’t recall exactly when, but at some point in my early childhood she stopped working.
The good: There’s no greater feeling than knowing that you have as big as possible a part in your child’s upbringing. This facebook fan knew that she wanted to do it from the start, at least until her children are in school:
…Well now we are home schooling so looks like I’m in it for the long haul. I think for us it would have been me working just to pay for a good daycare, which is pointless in my opinion. Or if I was working to make more than paying for daycare then the children would have to be without either parent for half the day, which is also not to my liking. I want to raise my kids. I wanted to be there for their firsts, for when they learn something new… I want our values to be my children’s values… I think the only thing I sacrifice is some alone time, but if I want it I only have to ask my SO and I can get some.
You simply can’t compare the one-on-one care and attention that a child gets when at home with a parent who loves him more than anything in the world to the systematic care of daycare. You also can’t compare the ability of a mom to focus on children after school if she is also after a day of work. Staying at home often means more home cooked meals, and therefore a healthier diet.
I volunteered to get laid off when my job was making cutbacks. I was hoping to quit anyway, so getting a severance package made it easier. My husband works anywhere from 10-18 hours a day, and the shopping, child rearing, appointments, cleaning, etc was entirely up to me. It wasn’t feasible to keep working full-time. We were both worn down, and I was spending every cent I made paying daycare, sitters, cleaning help, and restaurants. It was a bit of sacrifice monetarily, but we reworked our spending and made it work. I am so happy to be the person home always available for my daughter, and that I have zero stress regarding who is going to handle carpool, or scrambling for a sitter when my kid is sick. It’s always me who gets to take care of her, and we have so many adventures during school breaks and summers. I love it.
The challenges: While many parents agreed that paying for daycare would swallow the entire (or most of the) salary, many others said that the financial compromise would be too much. This, for most moms interviewed was the biggest deciding factor that made them go to work.
Eventually children go to school anyway (unless you choose to home school). I live in a community where everyone sends children to private school. This means that regardless, we pay all pay tuition, averaging about $10,000-15,000 annually PER CHILD! That means that some families need two working parents just to cover the tuition costs later on.
and not to open a can of worms, but I would never choose to stay home if it means that I have to live on welfare and tuition assistance, because that’s not the message that I want to raise my children with.
Most parents seemed to agree that the toughest challenge to over come was: will we make it? Most who said that they can then had to compromise on standards of living, for the privilege of staying home.
Circumstances led to me being a stay at home mom, I’ve never gone without working. While I enjoy seeing my son growing up, it’s very stressful at times to be home and not contributing to the household income, and to be so dependent on someone else’s income … And I never….ever… Get a break. I sacrificed advancing my career… The cost of daycare where we moved to (we moved for my husbands career) is insanely high, and the baby in January was unexpected… I think he has higher expectations for coming home and finding toys all over the place or the dishes not done on some days. I just kind of feel trapped in the current situation, and the part of me that is used to working and being a professional is anxious to get back at it. I did start a business from home, but given my toddlers sporadic sleep schedule, it’s hard to devote enough time to that business.
Staying at home means that you are financially dependent on your husband. It also means that further down the line, when you may want to go back to work, you will be starting from scratch in your profession. This is the challenge that my mother, who, 20 something years ago was a computer programmer, is facing. She decided to study web development, though she hasn’t started working again.
When making the “choice” to work or stay home (and I put it in quotes, because for many, like myself, there really is no other option), most people don’t think about how their salary will be affected a few years down the line. They are thinking about whether they can afford to pay living expenses now, and also save some money for a rainy day.
Many moms also said that they were very lonely. This is currently my biggest challenge. I don’t go out much, and I don’t have work friends. Most days, have no adult interaction other than my husband.
It used to be that moms simply stayed at home. Today, many moms work. Most of my friends work. A lot started out working and then stopped. In this case, I am talking about working full time.
The good: Most will agree that the biggest benefit to working is financial stability. With two people earning an income, if one gets laid off, there is still food on the table.
I work full time for a number of reasons, personal, professional and financial… I need to work, I couldn’t stay at home, it’s not my personality. Professionally I just didn’t feel like I was at a point in my career where I could walk away for a few years and not lose ground. I earned my masters degree when I was eight months pregnant and working full time throughout. And financially achieving our long term goals would be far more difficult if I didn’t work full time. We would get by, but we wouldn’t be saving or planning for the future if I wasn’t working. I work because it’s the right thing for me and my family. We should be able to make these choices both men and women.
For this aspect of the decision making process, many take into account how financially stable they are. Since most people don’t have enough to fill in if one loses one’s job, this is the deciding factor for many people.
I always like to say that a happy mom makes happy children. Some moms are simply happier going out to work. They need the adult interaction and the feeling of accomplishment that being a professional brings. This is a valid claim.
The challenges: Very few involved in the discussions spoke about the challenges of working. I believe it’s because it’s pretty clear cut what the challenges might be. I’m basing this section primarily off the reasons parents who stopped working did.
Firstly, what happens when there’s a break in the routine? Parents find the lack of flexibility hard to deal with when a child is sick or has a day off. Parents also feel like they have less of a say in the upbringing of their children. It hurts them when they miss out on milestones.
The most compelling challenge here is balancing your personal needs. Some women can’t afford to go to work, even if they feel they can’t manage without either. Their salaries simply wouldn’t cover the extra costs (daycare, work clothes, cleaning help), or they can’t handle the double duty it would require. These people often choose the next option.
Somewhere in the Middle
Some moms decide to stay at home with the children while still finding a way to supplement the income, or even to completely support the family. A Facebook fan explained the situation the best:
I think its not a clear cut division: stay-at-home or work-all-day. I know quite a few mothers (myself included) who need to work and made a point to take part time jobs so they can spend most of the day with their kids. It is often much harder to find jobs where you can be home to pick up your kids from preschool at 1 pm. So, yes, I worked but I spent most of my time and energy raising my little kids. I also know a mother who works night shifts and spends her days with her kids. Also I know mothers who made a home-office so they can work from home. So there are really many different constellations of combining working and parenting.
There are a few ways to do both:
- Working part time jobs around the children’s schedule (while they’re at school, or evenings)
- Working a salaried job from home.
- Starting a business, freelance work from home.
A good few people in this category were single moms, and so had no choice but to do it all. I fall somewhere into this middle category too (I blog here, make jewelry, and I’m a graphic designer as well), though I am not a single mom. I choose to stay at home with my baby for various reasons.
The good: This option seems to be the best of both worlds. You get to spend time with the children. You still have supplemental income. This incorporates MANY of the advantages of both staying at home and working. About the small financial sacrifice?
A Facebook fan says:
I asked each of my kids individually if they wanted me back to working full time so they could have new items, etc. all 3 of them made my heart sing when they said they would rather have me home.
Most children like to have their parents at home. This seems like the perfect compromise, and some, especially those who would not have high paying professional jobs, seem to be even better off than they’d be working full time!
In this category, you’ll also find many mom entrepreneurs. Some will be wildly successful and have sustainable income that requires little input. Some sell their businesses later on, and have what to send large families to college with.
The challenges: There’s really no such thing as “having it all” – every situation in life will present different struggles. The most compelling challenge with trying to do it all, is the time constraint. You’ll need to maintain things both at home and in your business. There’s also a limit to energy levels, especially if you have a toddler. Being a mom is a full time job; trying to balance another can be overwhelming. A mom who works full time from home shared:
Its kind of the best of both worlds but it is also very hard to balance both at the same time. But I get to be home with my baby and was home with my 3rd baby until he was 2 1/2. So in that way its awesome but it can be very difficult to get work done while taking care of a baby. So I guess there is no perfect way but this way is pretty close!
You still have some of the challenges of each category as well. Working at home does not necessarily provide a social life. You still may need to hire more babysitters and do less on your own. I have a hard time keeping up with dinners, or even taking my baby out because of time and energy limits.
For moms who work at home, it is also very difficult to keep to a schedule. Some babies have different schedules every day, and even those that are better will have off days. The work is often double, although the long term goals are double as well.
When my son was a baby I was home. When he was a child, I worked for my father so I could be there for my son. I was at every school function and was able to go on school trips like stay ay home moms. The sacrifice was money. I only worked part time. I wasn’t easy, but it was the right decision. That little boy turned out to be a wonderful man.
There can also be the lack of income security from those that freelance or have their own businesses. There are ups and downs, and it’s harder to budget. Also, working part time is obviously going to give you a part time salary.
There’s no right way or wrong way. Whether to stay at home or to go out to work is a personal decision that each new parent must make after weighing personal situations against the pros and the cons. Talk it over with your spouse, and make sure you have his full support, whatever you decide. Knowing which situation is bound to work for you will ensure that you make the best choice for you and your family.
Further reading and resources:
- One blogger answers the question: Am I too smart to be a stay at home mom?
- In this old favorite post of mine, I’ve written about how to deal with parenting controversy.
- A list of legitimate survey sites and other resources to earn a little extra cash on the side can supplement a little.
- Here are some budgeting tips to help you afford to be a stay at home mom.
- I LOVE this post about the top 10 mistakes to avoid as a work at home mom – I can definitely relate!
- For those looking to sell, these 7 tips to making a living on ebay may help you. If you are creative and want to sell on Etsy read up on some etsy seller tips.
- Some great advice for those going back to work after maternity leave.
- This blog is all about slow cooker recipes – a great save for working moms!
- There’s nothing like feedback from a fellow mom – this one pumped for one year and shares tips and the cost analysis.
- If you’re having a hard time finding the balance, you’ll love these tips on balancing life as a working mom.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the field of parenting. This article shares personal experiences and opinions and is not based off scientific research or professional advice. Please treat the contents accordingly.
What were/are your experiences as a mom? Did you stay at home or work – or a little of both? Did you like your decision? I love to hear how you decided, what challenges were involved… and why you loved it (or didn’t).
Please share this post with your stay at home and working mom friends! I know they will love it!