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To Stay Home Or To Work? For Moms, That Is The Question

Exploring the pros and cons and the importance of staying true to yourself.

To stay home or to work? That is the question many new moms debate. Sometimes the decision is based upon financial need but other times, it is a choice. Many mothers feel guilty about their choices no matter what they do.

Staying true to yourself is key to surviving motherhood, no matter what your approach may be. Let's look at the pros and cons of staying home and working directly from Chatham mothers living it right now.

Stay-at-Home Moms

There is a widely held belief that staying home is always the preference for mothers. In many instances, it is. Moms who stay home with their children are a constant physical presence in their children's lives. These moms find much satisfaction in the little moments and being there for all of the milestones.

One Chatham mom, S.A., who stays home with her children truly loves "being there to experience even the smallest accomplishments...those seemingly small/brief moments that I treasure the most. The hug right when they need it, the first time that they do the monkey bars from start to finish without help, the smile that they give when they give me a piece of art that they spent a hour creating at the kitchen table."

S.A. goes on to say that spending so much time with her children allows her to have great insight into their personalities. It enables her to really understand what makes her kids tick and "gives [her] a strong foundation to identify areas of struggle for them and then guide them through those difficulties first hand."

Being there for it all can be wonderful but it also can present challenges. Stay-at-home moms bear the brunt of the responsibilities; from childcare to maintaining a home and managing the schedules of all members of the family. The challenges, at times, can be overwhelming.

Moms in the home sometimes feel isolated and lonely when their children are very small or when sickness hits the house. It can seem almost impossible to have time out or time to yourself. Our stay-at-home Chatham mom, S.A, tells us, "Getting out is such an important piece to my puzzle of sanity."

The support from a spouse or family is critical. Our stay-at-home mom tells us that her husband is "such a huge help to me on days when I just need a hug and some encouragement...he will be there for me to download the issues of the day and help figure out a plan to help ease the stress of the next day."  

Even with support of spouses, family and friends, some stay-at-home moms feel the urge to have other outlets and opportunities to interact with adults without wearing their "mom" hat. These moms can feel guilty about wanting a life or time outside the home. There is no question about the love they have for their children but these feelings are valid and need to be addressed.

Enlisting the help of family or a trusted babysitter, may give moms an opportunity to spend time getting some exercise, doing their hobbies or even working part-time. Just that little time spent out of the home could be the key to making a mother more happy and, in turn, stay true to her needs.

Chatham mom, N.S., who works part-time and is home part-time, feels that for her working creates a "healthy balance." She says she has the opportunity to spend great time with her children while also having something else that she does. "I feel like my children are very proud to have a mom that has a job outside of being a mom."

Working Moms

The routine of a stay-at-home mom is not for everyone and working part-time may not be enough. Some moms have spent years building successful careers that are important to them. There are many upsides for these working mothers and their families.

Working Chatham mom, L.T. talks about the benefits of working outside the home, "One of the reasons I enjoy working is the balance it provides me of accomplishing something on my own and not just through my kids." She enjoys finding "ways to be creative, write and think outside of the box other than how that applies to play dates, homework and family activities."

L.T.'s work environment allows her to "meet many interesting people" and often allows her to share her experiences with her kids in "ways [she] would have never anticipated." Another working Chatham mom, V.S., says she enjoys the challenges she is presented with each day at work along with the camaraderie she has with her colleagues.  

While there are benefits to working outside of the home, working moms find challenges and guilt too. The biggest challenge for V.S. has been time. She says, "honestly, there just don’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done that I would like to accomplish."

Working mom, L.T. says her biggest challenge has been, "trying to accomplish it all and dealing with the guilt!" She has to chose how to get to the most important activities. Sometimes she might miss a trip or event and "have to call in reinforcements from the grandparents or Dad if possible. It is always sad to hear about the activities that I just can not make ~ especially if I had a day at work that did not go so well!"

Working mom, V.S. has come to realize that "time management is incredibly important." Communicating time limitations up front and managing expectations at work have made her work schedule "much more manageable and consequently, [she] can truly leave work at work and enjoy [her] time at home with no interruptions."

Having trusted childcare is essential for our working moms. Part-time working mom, N.S. tells us, "If you feel like your children are being well cared for then the good totally outweighs the bad! There are many things I feel guilty about in life and as a mother, but working is not one of them. I actually feel like my children have a richer life because I go to work - the people who take care of them have different ideas, different ways of doing things and love them so much."

While some moms are able to make a choice, working moms who are not happy with their jobs but need to work due to financial obligations are in a tough position. Feelings of resentment and guilt may arise. The American Academy of Pediatrics addresses this issue by telling moms they need "to be careful not to bring [their] frustration and unhappiness home, where it will spill over into family relationships. The message the children may receive in this situation is that work is unpleasant and damages instead of builds self-esteem."

When work is miserable, moms need to do their best to make the most of the situation until a change can realistically be made. Though not an easy feat, mothers who work through the challenge of disliking their jobs set an important example for their children.  Kids learn you cannot just give up when things get tough. Stick it out until you find an appropriate solution.

Making a Decision and Managing Guilt

In Chatham, there seems to be a healthy respect between the mothers that work and the moms who stay home. Maybe this is because many of us realize that no mother has it easy. From peanut butter to private schools, the decisions we make can be peppered with guilt. We all feel it on some level and we all are doing what we can to keep it all together. 

When making a decision about working or staying home with your children, what is important to note is that every mother and every family situation is unique. Some of the guilt we experience with our decisions is born out of the our own pre-conceived notions and expectations in addition to those of others. There is no one size fits all when it comes to mothering. Take your time and look inside yourself, without judgment, for your answers.

We all find challenges, roadblocks and difficulties while navigating the complicated roads of motherhood.  If you focus on following the path that allows you to stay true to yourself, you and your family will be happier as a whole.

Author's Note: I would like to thank all of the lovely mothers who bravely shared their very personal thoughts with me to create this piece.

Beverley Smith May 15, 2011 at 11:30 PM
Well no that is not the question. The way it is framed is the problem. The choice is whether to work for pay or for free, to do labor in the paid economy or to do selfless caregiving work in the home. All mothers work. All mothers are in the 'labor' force, contribute to the GDP, are productive. Once we get that under our belts and into our heads, the next ideas flow very well. All mothers then should be recognized for their work, respected, enabled, valued and funded. The movement to recognize caregiving roles as work is a universal one now. The choice is where to work not if.
Melissa Bartoli May 16, 2011 at 12:29 AM
I couldn't agree with you more, Beverly. We are all on-call 24/7 whether or not we receive a paycheck.
Help4newmoms May 16, 2011 at 01:41 AM
This is one of the most honest pieces on the sahm and working mom debate. Bravo! Yes, both are working. One at home and one out of the home. It's so great that you identify that sahms need a break from mommy hood to do their job well and that working moms feel the need to keep doing the jobs they have trained for, they are entitled. I would like to point out one more commonality. Many sahms feel guilt even though they are home for not spending enough time with their children. They get bogged down in household responsibilities and feel guilt, just as working moms do. Funny isn't it? We have much more in common than we do separating us!
Duncan Munchkin May 16, 2011 at 03:17 PM
I am only pointing out your near-total gender bias because this because this is "PARENTS Corner." You would think there would at least be mention of DADS who stay at home. You say, "...For Moms That is the Question," but it really is not a question just for moms anymore. In this day and age, in a place like the NYC metro area, it is not unheard of to have the woman being the higher earner and the family making the familial/financial decision to maintain her professional development and have dad stay home until the kids are in school full time. As your column more-or-less demonstrates, our society is still not behind the idea of a male as the stay at home parent. It takes even more courage in a town like Chatham where you either work on Wall Street or you are dog doo. While I admire anyone who chooses to stay at home for their kids, and while I wouldn't minimize the difficulties faced by women considering the choice of staying home or working, it is my carefully considered opinion that it is even worse for men when they find themselves faced with the possibility of being an at home parent. Perhaps you can explore these reasons in a subsequent column if you write about parents other than moms.
Duncan Munchkin May 16, 2011 at 03:18 PM
On another topic I would like to add...where you say, "there seems to be a healthy respect between the mothers that work and the moms who stay home" I would have to respectfully disagree with you. I find the tension between these two groups of women nearly palpable at every juncture--pick-up, classroom functions, birthdays, etc.
Melissa Bartoli May 16, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Hi Duncan Munchkin - I think it is a wonderful idea to explore the advantages and the challenges of fathers who stay home with their children. Stay tuned. There is plenty of time to give parents equal focus. At times, I will focus on issues that may only pertain to certain groups of parents - this doesn't mean that I have forgotten about all of the other groups of parents. No gender bias here. Thanks for all of the feedback!
LydiaM May 16, 2011 at 09:14 PM
Thank you for the interesting article. I chose to continue working outside the home after my son was born. I am very lucky because I have a short commute and my company let me work part time for the first year. I have no regrets. I never felt like I missed out on anything. Now that he is in school I am happy with the choice I made. He is in school all day, and doing after school activities, so I am glad to have my career. I would suggest to any mother who is struggling with this difficult decision to investigate if their company will allow them to work part time or flex time. Both are widely accepted in the business world today, and can provide a happy medium.
Laura Ali May 16, 2011 at 10:54 PM
I strongly agree with Lydia on this very difficult decision as a woman/mom. I immediately worked out a "work from home" arrangement once I had my son Jack. I always thought I would have no problem continuing working/traveling at the same pace once I had kids. Boy could I not have been more wrong. It was unbearable for me to leave him, yet very difficult to totally abandon my career. I realized that working from home was a happy medium, although not an easy one at times. Still today I'm glad I kept my foot in the door long enough for me to get the courage to start my own business, so I didn't have to be anywhere I couldn't be, making sure the kids needs were always met first. I think there should be a reality show on this topic!!!

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