Friday, March 28, 2008

The Working vs. Stay at Home Mom Myth

My mom is spending Spring Break back "home" (who knows where home is any more) leaving me to reinhabit the full-time mommy role. That in combination with a recent conversation with a reporter trying find fodder for ye olde tired stay at home versus working mom debate and the recent Fresh Air interview with author of a novel centered around stay at home moms inspired me to post some thoughts on the matter. This post is for the pre-parents out there wondering about life after baby ...

In my humble opinion:

First, unless you are a single parent or you and/or your partner do not command a wage greater than the cost of childcare, the decision to stay at home with children or to work is just that - a decision, a choice. It's not about morality and duty and it's not really about money. It's about what you want to do with your life. Whether/Why/Where/When/How you work should matter to no one other than your partner and children. I find it baffling that someone who chose stay at home parenthood for their family should care that someone else did not and vice versa.

Second, it's not just about money. If my parents, sister and I could live on my non-corporate father's minimal and intermittent earnings sans health insurance, then all the salaried Americans out there can do it too. My mom wanted to be at home with us and my parents were willing to make that work. On the other hand if a woman's paycheck barely covers the cost of childcare but she wants to work - she should work! And if a woman has significant earnings power but wants to stay at home - she should stay at home! I can think of few better reasons to take a break from the daily work life than to raise a human being. But at the same time, I can think of few more challenging, monotonous, difficult ways to spend a day than raising a human being.

Third, raising a human being is hard and boring and best shared with others. Yeah, yeah, it's great too. We all get that. But I'm not going to straddle the fence here. I feel that women who invest considerable time in their career and enjoy their work face a strong likelihood of regretting the decision to stay at home for an extended period of time. If you enjoy debating politics or analyzing financial statements or beating your monthly sales goal or landing a major new client or designing a website - I doubt the 24/7 eat-poop-nap-play-poop-nap routine is going to hold your interest for more than 3 months. And that's ok. Why should it?? Pre-baby I thought going back to work after 3 months seemed far too soon, post-baby is seemed amazingly far off. Given the diversity of ways in which human beings like to spend their time - baking bread, racing cars, raising pot belly pigs, winning hot dog eating contests - it's bizarre to me that we should expect that all women would enjoy the primary responsibility of raising their children just because they birthed them and not that long ago (and still in some places) had no choice other than to stay at home. The lovely thing about being a human being, after all, is the power of choice and self-determination. This power should apply not only to one's daily choice of hair style or continent of residency or undergraduate major or preferred form of entertainment. This choice should be applied to how we form and raise families too.

Fourth, your baby does not need you 24/7 beyond the initial newborn phase. You may need your baby 24/7 but don't conflate that with your baby's need for you. Children need love, food, clothing, and shelter. Aside from the food bit during the first 6 months, moms don't have a monopoly on any of those things. Dads, siblings, grandparents, friendly neighbors, good nannies/daycare providers etc. all do great in the love-food-clothing-shelter bit. If you want to be the primary provider fantastic, but if you don't, guilt begone. Your baby will be fine and you will be better off for sharing. Your baby will still adore you even if you are gone for some period of the day and you will likely have more room to adore and delight in your child if you have some time and space to maintain the other important non-baby parts of your life.

Pre-Baby Y I thought perhaps I would emerge from the birthing room a changed woman - and apparently, this is the case for some women - but I am still the woman I was before the pregnancy. I love earning money. I love reading The Economist. I love thinking about the direction of interest rates. I love debating politics. I love my ballet classes. I love visiting old friends. Baby Y is a human being with whom I look forward to knowing and loving for a life-time. I don't need to spend my every waking hour with him to have that relationship, to understand him better than anyone else, to have his eyes light up when I come. For me, staying at home would be a disservice to Baby Y, a disservice to my family, a disservice to myself, and (if I may be so bold) a disservice to the world. Not because I should not stay home but because I don't want to. That's what it boils down to.

[The myth, if you were unsure, is that there are two camps - working and stay at homes - secretly in battle with one another and worrying that perhaps the other camp is in the right. Frankly, we couldn't/shouldn't care less what other moms are doing. And many (most?) of us are perfectly happy and regret free.]

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amazing post! :)

selfmademom said...

Unfortunately, too many of us don't think about this topic in the rational way that you have outlined here and make too many judgments. Until we can let down our judgments we will never be satisfied with our choices!

Anonymous said...

Your enthusiasm and idealism is sure the best.The glory of being young is the undeniable fact of life. But you can say this with just one kid. If you look at the purpose of life and follow Mr B. for this biblical command "be fruitful and multiply" in real sense not corporate sense, then if you multiply to have 3 or more kids you will not be bored of the routine you are talking about "24/7 eat-poop-nap-play-poop-nap". All the passion following economist and the direction of interest rate will die in face of reality of real purpose of life. That will spell true happiness. Then we all learn to live in the minimal means of life and achieve true wisdom with the beautiful lives we created. I am a 30 year wall street veteran and these are few things i missed and wish had someone tell me before.

Anonymous said...

Very well articulated post. I find that subtle condemnation/discrimination still exists towards mothers who have chosen to remain committed to their careers after childbirth. Why? Why is it generally assumed that Women are the natural caregivers? They possess more of the "nurturing" instinct necessary for children's upbrining? Isn't that marginalizing the father's role as a parent in the equation? Is the father less able to parent a child? Should a mother, by virtue of giving birth to a child be the primary caregiver? I believe,that no one but the parents themselves should be the ones determining that answer. This is not a one size fits all solution. To each his own. God Bless.

Anonymous said...

It's all so clear to me now.

Anonymous said...

I hope everyone else isn't as clear as the author is here. I sure am not.

I am in a constant struggle- I do like work but I don't like only seeing my child 3 hours a day. I guess I think most people want the best of both and rarely can get a real part time job to support doing both.

I am envious of SAHM, bitter b/c my hubby doesnt make enough (ie more then me) to allow me that decision.

Marcie Carson said...

I realize this post is over six months old, but Dr. Phil just had this debate on TV (again. yawn.). So I couldn't stop myself from thanking you...and wishing that television execs would stop encouraging dissension where there should be support. SAHM-envy (and debate) begone. I couldn't agree with you more, on every point. As a working mom (WoMo) who loves her children AND her job, and who happens to be pretty darn good at caring for both, I thank you for your uncompromising honesty and insight. You go girl!

Jainita said...

Love this blog...made me smile...I myself am a 30year old SAHM. Resigned from a great marketing job, and recently graduated cum laude on an MBA.

Loving being home with baby, but miss work (and earning!) a lot. Struggle everyday with whether I will find a place in the corporate world with a gap on my resume.

Wish we could have it all.

One thing is for sure though, as women, we definitely need to unite and support each other in our choices. We should also perhaps consider creating new choices so we have better options and not just an all or nothing.

Jainita said...

Love this blog...made me smile...I myself am a 30year old SAHM. Resigned from a great marketing job, and recently graduated cum laude on an MBA.

Loving being home with baby, but miss work (and earning!) a lot. Struggle everyday with whether I will find a place in the corporate world with a gap on my resume.

Wish we could have it all.

One thing is for sure though, as women, we definitely need to unite and support each other in our choices. We should also perhaps consider creating new choices so we have better options and not just an all or nothing.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I think you were way too generous with the love angle. Noone can love a child like the mother.