Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Should You Work or Stay at Home with Your Children?

A pregnant friend and her daughters came over this morning for conversation and coffee. She currently is a mother or two and teaches full time during the school year. She was looking to me for advice to see if she thought staying at home would be a good fit for her based on my experiences. (She doesn't know many Moms that stay home, or at least not yet) She is trying to gather up as much information about the decision before she needs to make the call, which I can remember doing only two years ago.

Of course, having been in sales, I'm always pointing out the benefits and neglecting the downfalls, especially when I imagine sitting around having great conversations with friends like her on a weekly/daily basis. Sure, why wouldn't I want all of my friends to stay home? Would there be anything better? So after she left I started really thinking. Is staying at home really the best for everyone? Of course not!

My friend pointed out that it would be hard not to be making money from a mental standpoint. I countered with, "well, I do my share around here and my day is not over at 6:oo pm or on the weekends". Then she said, "but I feel like all of my time would be spent cleaning and picking up after the kids". But then in reality, I said, "yes, I thought that way at first too, but then soon realized there is more to life than having a clean house". So we went back and forth about the realities and whether it would really work for her. After she left, I realized one of the most important factors in staying home is having a spouse that supports the idea 100%. This is the big difference I have found in many "stay at home" families. My husband wouldn't want it any other way, at least at this point in our lives. Sure, when they are in school, I will go back to doing something to generate income but until that time comes, I will just love being with my kids as long as possible and hopefully my husband will continue to appreciate the job I do here too.

So before quitting your job, I would work out a list of expectations from the working partner. My mom was expected to have a clean house and a home cooked meal nightly, or at least this is what my mom thought was expected, whether it was her doing or my Dad's. If this is what is expected, then by all means stay at work, it could save your marriage in the long run, especially if you are like myself and almost love the chaos from a messy house. There is no right or wrong answer about staying at home, but there are a few significant issues to work out before leaving your job/career.

Let's not forget the obvious- decide if you can afford it. I'm not talking about "affording" meaning whether you can still have your back yard pool built if you quit your job, I'm talking about paying for food, clothes, shelter. Are you fine with changing your lifestyle to a simple one? Less consuming, more experiencing. If you are going to be arguing about money nonstop once you are down to one income, then maybe no one is gaining anything from being at home.

Does your career really define who you are? I struggled with this one for about a year after I quit my job. I felt I always needed to have people understand that I was once a corporate woman with an "important" career. Now I would say it's the last thing that I offer up about myself. I now know that I need to find meaning in my life since that is what I want to teach my children. It's not how much you make in this lifetime, it's how you spend your time. I know, how cliche, Let's make this world a better place, not buy a better life. Could I teach my kids this if I was trying to make money a priority over them? I do understand the majority of people need two incomes just to survive, but we did not. So if anything, I'm teaching my kids what is important.

There is no right or wrong answer about staying home, but I do think having support from your spouse must be the number one determining factor. I get the feeling if my husband envied or was jealous about my life staying at home, then I would have a completely different experience. It wouldn't be enjoyable at the end of the day to tell him how much fun we had at the zoo or the pool, which is why we are eating spagetti for the third day in a row (sauce from a jar too). So before quitting your job, make a list of everyting that your partner expects- I know if Michael stayed home I would be much more demanding than he is of me, so most likely it wouldn't work out, that is without a load of personality counceling on my part. So good luck making the decision if you are lucky enough to be contemplating a stay at home life with kids.

7 comments:

Michael said...

Does this mean I get to be more demanding?

StuntMom said...

Sure, if you "need" me to go back to work, demand away sweetie.

Jayne said...

I think you've given some really excellent advice. Staying at home with children is definitely a financial change-even making the decision to work part time is a big change. It's important to have that conversation with your partner; you're not the only one who is going to have to pinch pennies, it takes two to make or break a budget. Two big things I noticed with being home with the kids more is that 1. the house is infinitely more messy. When you leave for work everyday taking the kids with you, no one is in the house all day to mess it up. Not so when you're making 3 meals and numerous snacks a day at home (not to mention wet bathing suits, sand box clothes, etc.) 2. There is no structure to the day on most days. This was a little scary to me considering I feared that I would still be in my pajamas until noon if I didn't get up and go to work every morning. Picture my mom in her bathrobe smoking Pall Malls (sorry, Mom).
I think another important piece is that you are staying home because it's a personal choice, and not because you've bought into some hype that children are going to be better, smarter, healthier, whatever, if they have a stay at home parent. That kind of guilt turns many a mother into a crazed, "I'm going to have super-kids" driven nut. I think somehow the organic nature of parenting and being a child is getting lost in this consumer driven world. You may not see a great "change" in your kids if you stay at home, but you will see a change in how your family prioritizes time, meals, fun, sleep, etc. Especially if instead of online shopping for LL Bean kid's clothes during your lunch break, you're searching the sale rack at second hand shops during your break from the kids.

StuntMom said...

I forgot how our house was in better shape when we left it everyday at 7:00am. The only meal we ate at home was dinner and that is when we didn't go out to eat. Not to mention my kids never watched TV or video's since I only saw them for a few hours before bedtime. It was easy to entertain them in a shorter time frame. It goes back to the endless debate of time vs. quality time. I was able to be "supermom" in the evening. I had endless patience with them too since I only saw them for a few hours after work and before their early bedtime. I imagine once they are in school I will have the same fresh slate when they get off the bus in the afternoon. We'll see.

marshkn said...

I'm excited that your friend is considering a shift in the focus of her daytime life from career to kids. I think the choice to shift toward kids if you've been enjoying a paycheck/career is gutsy. It also gives you a chance to find meaning in life at its most basic. What a great opportunity. And there will likely be ample time to rebuild a career. At the same time, the base on which you build it the second time just might be a little different than the first time around.

Janet said...

I agree - excellent advice. I wanted to add an interesting point made on a conference call that I sat in on last week at work. The call brought together executive women from around the world at the company that I work at. One of two grown daughters of one of the executives had participated in a focus group that discussed whether it was better to have a mother who worked or one who stayed home. What they determined was that those who had moms who stayed home thought they were better off, and those who had moms who worked thought they were better off. This will never be decided one way or the other. What is best for each family is what that family works out to be best.

StuntMom said...

Janet, I couldn't agree with you more. It is an endless debate that should be decided by the family. I know growing up I thought life would be better if my mom worked since she was so troubled staying home. In hindsite, whether she worked or stayed home, she most likely would have been troubled. We would have just seen less of her suffering if she worked.