Staying Home Instead?
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 4, 2009, pp.30-31
For many women before becoming mothers, life is tied up with the jobs we do. Before children we often identify ourselves by our paid work, describing ourselves as shop assistants, teachers, or managers. For most women, paid employment brings financial security, as well as fulfilment and enjoyment. In our society women who work are considered the norm and returning to work after having a baby is expected. But for many women this requires difficult decisions. Once we have our babies we are no longer only nurses, lawyers, or IT programmers; we are mothers too. Returning to work may no longer seem so attractive or straightforward. Just what are the options for staying home instead?
Why stay home?
The majority of moms probably know the answer to this question in their hearts. We sense that our babies need us, and being apart from them doesn't feel right. Whereas before motherhood our lives centered around financial reports or marking schemes, now the center of our universe is our precious babies. Increasingly, science confirms what moms know instinctively: that a baby needs the continued presence of his mother in order to grow emotionally, intellectually, and socially. Breastfeeding mothers in particular establish a vital presence for their babies, and find it very difficult to enter into prolonged separation. Even though culturally, returning to work may be the accepted thing to do, chances are your gut feelings are telling you something different, and intrinsically, they are right.
I would love to stay home, but financially, this isn't an option
This is the most common difficulty for most mothers. If you are a single mom or the main breadwinner in your family, returning to work may be your only option. Even dual income families may feel that they can't survive without two salaries each month. However, there are families who have made substantial changes in their lifestyles to allow one parent to stay home with their young child. In the grand scheme of things, staying home with your baby need only be for a few years—you can more easily return to work when your child starts school. Some families have calculated that the net financial benefit is negligible after they have factored in the costs of returning to work including transport costs, work clothes, a reliance on ready prepared food, and so on. Many mothers find that a significant chunk of their salary goes on childcare fees. Although before children, your salary may have kept you comfortable, after children it may well be swallowed up in work-related expenses.
I love my baby and my job
It can be hard to let go of a promising career, especially when you have worked hard to get where you are. If you're feeling isolated, bored, or are coping with a fussy baby, then returning to the excitement or predictability of your job may be very enticing. You may need to do a little soul searching to consider what is really best for you and your family. Situations change, and when our children are older we see that the baby years are special and pass quickly. It can be easy to overlook your baby's need for your sustained presence when our society tells us it is normal to do so. Your constant presence in the first few years will provide your child with a foundation for emotional growth and allow him to flourish. Creative thinking and planning may allow you to meet everyone's needs, even if it involves some compromises.
Thinking outside the box
Many mothers have found innovative solutions by combining a job with being at home with their babies. Some of these suggestions may work for you:
- Consider working part time. Some mothers work when dad is home with the children.
- Is working from home as much as possible an option? With modern broadband technology, many jobs are as easy to do at home as at the office.
- Use your skills on a freelance basis, or to set up your own business. The Internet has provided a great opportunity for stay-at-home moms to start their own small businesses.
- Consider how you can transfer your skills to either a home-based or flexible setting, such as home tutoring for teachers, or bank nursing for nurses.
- Some larger employers have options for parents to take longer periods of unpaid leave, returning to work when children start school.If your job is very important to you, and one that you plan to return to, then consider ways you can keep in touch with what is going on while you take a career break.
A golden opportunity
If you decide to stay home with your little one, you can be sure that your decision will benefit your baby immensely. Even if you have to make financial sacrifices, your baby will flourish under your sustained presence. From your point of view, it's important that you realize this is an opportunity for you to have a productive and fulfilling time. Indeed, lots of moms find these years are a turning point and consider changing direction completely to enter a new and exciting career path, whether professionally or in a voluntary role.
To alleviate any possible threat of boredom or loneliness it may help to get out and join different moms' clubs or support groups. You may feel inspired to get more involved, running play groups, joining committees, or even training to be a breastfeeding supporter! Some moms enroll in courses, either to improve their qualifications or simply to study something they love. You may discover or develop skills and qualities you had no idea you had. Other moms enjoy simply being a mom, and make the most of being with their children.
Of course, being a full-time mother is not the same as being a housewife. It may be important for you to make that distinction in your own mind. Some moms love the opportunity to develop their home-making skills and discover a passion for baking, for example. Equally there are many moms who still find housework a pain. The point is, being a full-time mom is not about stagnation and losing your identity. Being a mom is who you are, but it is your choice how you use your time at home. What is important is to acknowledge just what a vital and rewarding job you are doing by choosing to stay at home to raise your children.
Meeting everyone's needs
Families everywhere do the best they can to meet everyone's needs, even if the final solution is not one that they may consider ideal. We live in a culture that fails to put the needs of babies and young children first, to the extent that it can be easy to forget their need for a mother's constant presence. Women especially may feel they are being pulled in two directions. In this case, it may seem easier to take the path that most others are taking. We've been led to believe that we can have it all: a baby and a career. This may be true, but perhaps we can't have it all at the same time. The baby years pass and can never be repeated, but the opportunity to return to the workplace remains after our little ones have grown. When considering what to do, talking to other mothers at LLL meetings about their varied experiences can be helpful. Your local LLL Leader can also be a sounding board as you consider your options.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 7th revised edition. Schaumburg, IL: La Leche League International, 2004.
Stadlen, N. What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. London: Piatkus Books, 2005.
Staying Home Instead? No. 2901 LLLGB, 2008 has been produced as an Information Sheet in loving memory of LLL Leader Sarah Brown, following her sudden death last year, and is available from www.lllgbbooks.co.uk.