Ask the Moms – to Work or Not to Work?

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Categories Ask the Moms, Working

And by “work,” in this case, I’m referring to paid employment.  Obviously we know that mothering in and of itself is plenty of work, and that’s not the debate we’re trying to stir up.

Truthfully, though, the issue of working outside of the home or not is a big issue in the lives of most moms, and those of us with multiples are no exception.

Sometimes, to work or not is a choice that’s made for you by virtue of financial or logistical realities.  Maybe you’re the sole breadwinner in your house, maybe you need the health insurance, maybe the mortgage payment depends on two salaries.  Or, on the flipside, maybe you find the cost of double daycare is actually more than you bring home!

Whether it’s an active choice or not, though, we all have to find the balance that meets as many of our needs as possible.  And sometimes there’s just nothing to be done about the mommy guilt. You might decide to go back to work, and then feel guilty about not being with your kids all day.  Or, you might feel really good about being back to work, but feel guilty about not feeling guilty!  Or, you might be home all day with them, and wish you could contribute to the family finances.  The list goes on.

The HDYDI moms, as ever, are no exception.  We run the gamut, from working full-time, working part-time, freelancing, working from home, and 100% SAHM.  Someone asked through our Features page to talk about the work/not-work/babies dynamic.  So, we present to you, some of our pros and cons to staying at home or going back to work.

Working Outside of the Home, full- or part-time

Pros:

  • The external reward of being paid for what you do!
  • Enjoying the work you do
  • Professional advancement/career trajectory
  • Getting a “break” from the kids can help you to be more patient or enjoy them more when you’re home
  • Adult conversation
  • Mini-breaks during the day to do things like online bill pay or phone calls on the to-do list
  • Good childcare can teach your kids neat things that you might not have the time or ability or inclination, like Spanish or new songs and games

Cons:

  • Even if you get home at the very reasonable hour of, say, 5:30pm, it can be really hard to cram everything in before the kids go to bed.  Play time, dinner, baths, bedtime… it can be a mad rush from walking in the door to bedtime.
  • Having to use up limited vacation or sick days when one or both of your kids are sick or childcare falls through
  • Potential for missing certain “firsts”
  • With all time split between work and parenting, hard to keep up with other things (i.e. keeping your house from turning into a pit!)

Stay-at-home Mom

Pros

  • Being able to make all the decisions regarding your kids’ care (or, doing it all “your own way”)
  • Time flexibility, at least as naps will allow… it’s nice to not have to insist on only the early morning or late afternoon doctor’s appointments!
  • Lowered stress/expectations of daily appearance (though, beware, this can also be a one-way ticket to “What Not to Wear”), stay in your PJs if you want!
  • Ability to participate in school-day activities
  • Being there for practically every moment of their development
  • Not having to call out from work if someone is sick

Cons

  • There is no break. No vacation days, no calling in sick or taking a mental health day. You’re always “at work,” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Isolation from the “adult” world, and the potential for conversations that revolve around poop.
  • Minimal external validation for all of the work you do
  • If you want to re-enter the work force, depending on your career, the time “off” could have a negative impact on your career trajectory

There’s clearly no single right or wrong answer, and every family has different circumstances. Maybe you don’t have to worry about childcare costs because you have family nearby to take care of the kids.  Maybe you have the kind of career that lets you pick up little projects that you can do from home to stay current. Lots of people who consider themselves stay-at-home-moms, including some of us here at HDYDI, actually have one or two part-time things going on.  Teach a class in the evening, volunteer in your field, write articles for a magazine.

And while you may not have much of a choice when it comes to working or staying home, you can always find ways to mitigate the negatives.  Combat the SAHM isolation by taking classes or having playgroups with other moms. Reduce the evening rush of the working mom by prepping food for the week on Sunday, cutting down the frequency of baths, or ignore the housework and hire a cleaning lady.

And remember that there are positives, and almost everyone has days when they feel like the grass would be a whole lot greener on the other side.  Yeah, sitting in traffic is really frustrating, but there’s probably a SAHM that would kill to be in a car by herself with a coffee and NPR on the radio.  And vice versa.

What about you, readers?  Have you found hidden benefits (or pitfalls) of your current work situation? Advice for handling the guilt or envy of the other side?

[Forgive the late post, I just didn’t have it in me yesterday!]

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9 thoughts on “Ask the Moms – to Work or Not to Work?”

  1. I am extremely fortunate to have my children in daycare 1 flight of stairs away from my office. So I can go to the observation booth and watch them. Or take one to lunch occasionally. Guilt is definitely still there, and from the booth I often want to go snuggle them, but know it would be harder on them to have a quick separation like that. I know for me, I am a better mom because I have time in my career, but that’s a choice for me, and I sometimes am jealous of those who do stay home. Another disadvantage of working is trying to be professional covered in toddler stains!

  2. One thing I would also mention is that my two-income family outsources a lot of things to help us spend time together when we are all at home. We have a cleaning service and a lawn service for monthly maintenance. While this does take away some of our cash, it means that we spend more of our valuable time together as a family. You can’t put a price on that!

  3. One thing I might add about choosing to stay at home, is that I found there was a real adjustment period. I was almost at a loss when I realized how much unstructured time I had. My thinking moved from projects and long-term deadines to more family-focused thinking. I think it helped me to keep a lot of the organizational skills I had used on the job. I wrote things down and outlined routines. It took a while for my business brain to shift to a home brain.

    So, expect some adjustment time at first. And really, don’t beat yourself up either way on the decision to work or stay at home. They’re both right. You just have to find the one that’s right for you and your family.

  4. I find it so hard. I was home with my twins for the first 3years and then I had to go back to work. Money was tight and I felt bad that hubby was working 2 plus jobs. I got pregnant again and had a singleton and right now 3 1/2yrs later Im still working fulltime nights 5pm-130am and again were expecting twins. I find it hard bc of the time passing. I have the older twins who go to school so they are driven by me everyday then i have the younger one to entertain and try to get to nap for both of us. And early next year all this will change with the new set of twins. Not only all this, but on top of it poor hubby works days and so we never get much time with each other. I find that in the end it will get pulled together this is just a test of our lives.

  5. I would add the financial strain of being on one-income can be very difficult, especially if it hasn’t been planned out completely. I mean, who plans on having twins until you’re pregnant with them?

    That said, I went back to work when my girls were 4 months, quit when they were 10 months, and now they are 2.5 and I”m returning to work full-time, again, because a job offer I could not refuse plopped in my spaghetti-sauce-stained lap. I’ll be blogging A LOT about this transition; it will be very, very hard.

    But, I think now is a great time to return. 2.5 has been very hard on me, my patience, and just life in general. It will be great to have some time to reflect on how much I adore my girls, again. I need that.

    Ultimately, I believe we need to follow what feels right and not feel that one way or another is the only way. Balance is everything.

    Also, any woman thinking about being a SAHM needs to have herself a hobby, a goal, a mission in life other than her kids. That is mandatory.

  6. I work full time and find that it helps me to appreciate my kids a *lot* more. I applaud SAHMs and sometimes wish I could do it, but I know myself and I would go crazy…and drive my kids crazy too. The nice thing about my job though is that I get to work from home 2 days a week, so I’m constantly popping downstairs to see what’s going on.

    I’m sure I missed some REAL firsts, but I think it was still a first when I saw it happen for the first time :)

  7. I work FT from home. My girls were 9 weeks early, so for almost a full 2 years while I worked we had a nanny here to watch them. This made it much “easier” for me to go back to work. I don’t know if I could have dropped my tiny 3 month old babies off at daycare.

    When they were almost two we switched to 3 days daycare/2 days nanny, (1) for socialization for them, and (2) for me to have the house to myself sometimes.

    I work because my job is flexible, it pays well, and we really could not make it on one salary anyways. I don’t love my job, but I don’t hate it. And honestly, my hats are off to the SAHM’s out there, I don’t think I’m cut out to never ever get a break!

  8. Nancy,
    I agree, you miss out on “real” firsts, but it is still a first when you see it happen for the first time!

  9. I’ve done both. I worked outside the home when I had one child, full time for 3 years. Then I became pregnant with #2, and the cost to put the two of them in full time daycare was almost more than I was making at my job. I have been a SAHM for 3 1/2 years now. There are positives to both. But, I miss the adult interaction (LOVE to blog, but face to face with real people is essential). The constancy of being a SAHM is still hard for me. It’s 24/7, stressful and sometimes just plain awful (like when I had 4 barfing kiddos two weeks ago). But, it’s also wonderful to get kisses anytime of the day, watch the kids grow and learn. It’s such a double-edged sword.

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