Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To Be or Not to Be a Stay at Home Parent

I should preface this by revealing a couple of things: (1) I am a stay at home mom and (2) I don't think that everyone should be. I feel it's necessary to get those two caveats out of the way so you can know that this blog really comes from the heart and is not meant as a campaign of guilt either way. The decision to have a parent stay home is a deeply personal one that must be made by every family. I say every family because I'm pretty sure that every family at least evaluates whether or not they can afford it or whether or not they have the urge to do it (often both). I recognize that not everyone lives a lifestyle or has a partner with a job that allows "staying at home" to be an option and I respect whatever decision a family makes and truly believe that "laissez faire" is more often than not the best policy when it comes to other people's affairs.

Some people are much happier working part time or finding a work from home option than they would be going to work full time or staying home full time. I respect that choice as well. In fact, that's what I honestly thought I would do. My plan was actually to use my master's degree in English (a degree that has been gathering dust professionally for years now) to get a job teaching at a community college part time. However, when I should have been getting my resume out, there was a family emergency and by the time that was remedied, I had missed my chance at finding a job for the fall semester after my baby was born. Then a colicky baby and moving plans conspired together to keep me a full time stay at home mom, and here's what I discovered: I love it.

I don't mean that I love it ALL the time, but I do love it. Everyone has a day or two when they wonder about the grass on the other side of the parenting fence. Sometimes I spend whole afternoons or evenings wondering: What would my life be like if I didn't stay home? Would my son be a better talker by now? Is he missing out because his social experiences are limited to playdates, play groups, and the occasional mommy and me classes? Will this mean that he will have a lot more immune system building to do when he gets into school? Will anyone ever hire me to teach special ed after I take however many years I plan to take off? However, those days are actually fewer than I would have believed they'd be. The days, so far, have been busy and I find that by making time for reading and visiting with other moms (both with our children and without them), I feel every bit as "myself" as I did when I was working in a regular job. I do often evaluate whether or not there is room in my life for a part time or work from home job just because I worry sometimes about contributing to the family finances, but so far we are doing fine with just my husband's income.

I think of these years that I'm spending with my son and any subsequent children as my true retirement. Not because these years are proving to be relaxing, but because I know that every year I stay home now will probably be tacked on to the time I will need to work before I retire. We've made the decision that my husband will likely retire years before me and we're okay with that. Thinking of these years as my "golden" years helps me to realize what a special time this is. I can work until my sixties or seventies. I can travel as long as I wish. I can only be with my children while they are young once.

It is likely my son will live to at least one hundred (or at least that's what an article I read a few weeks after he was born told me). Of those hundred years, I only get the first eighteen or nineteen years. Of those eighteen or nineteen years, I only get the first five exclusively. (After that, he will likely be enrolled in school.) When you look at it that way, these years start to look "golden," indeed. There are even days when I wish the thirteen waking hours my son is up and about during the day would not go so fast. (And the days do go fast between activities, doctor's appointments, and even around the house stuff!)

I say this not as a guilt trip for those who must work (either for financial or emotional well being reasons). After all, when you come home with your children everyday, you appreciate them in a way I likely never will because I see mine all day (and night) all the time. I certainly see in my husband a kind of heightened excitement when he spends time with our son that seems more intense than my time with our son. If missing out on my career opportunities hurt as much as I currently feel not staying home would hurt, I would find a way to sacrifice and go back to work in a heartbeat. The same would be true if I really believed that my staying at home and having less income were limiting my son's opportunities or my own. I've met parents who stayed at home when their heart was not in it and neither they nor their children benefitted from it.

Instead, I offer this as a testament to how worthy the goal is of spending part or full time at home. For those who really want to stay at home, it is worth the creative sacrificing you may be doing or are planning to do to make it happen. People everywhere are sharing ingenious ideas for how to conserve money, the environment, and spend time with their children for at least part of the week. (I just read this article about a mom of six whose family has learned to economize and live sustainably on only her part time salary: ). It's up to you to decide what lifestyle changes might be necessary to accommodate staying at home if that's what you want. We have decided to cloth diaper, breastfeed, and we never bought jarred baby food which made things cheaper in the long run as far as typical child expenses. Others I know have cut their grocery bills by growing extensive gardens and cutting cable or internet bills. Some have downsized their houses or cut out one of their cars. If staying home is an honest dream of yours, you might be amazed at what you might be willing to do to obtain it.

For those of you who are on the fence about the decision (as I was for awhile) and do think there is a way for you to stay at home part or full time, but are unsure if you should do it, I think the best way to make that decision is to ask yourself what decision you would regret the most in twenty years. If you would regret not working or not providing money or opportunities for your family that working brings, than you know you should work. If you would regret not staying home, than you have that answer as well. No choice will make you happy 100% of the time, but the right choice will feel the most "right."

Connected Mom Shawna


Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks for sharing the link and posting the blog! There are and will always be times that I think about going to work with adults, but then I just spend a few hours childless and take my "me time" and this allow me the energy to refocus on the choices I have made with regard to being with my child.

We are going to open an home daycare to help with the financial aspect of choosing to be a stay-at-home type mom :o)

Becky said... [Reply to comment]

I always wanted to stay at home with my children, and I am. I feel the exact same way as you in that I can work anytime, but my child will only be young once. I did work part time, swing shift, from the time she was 6 months to 1 year. I do miss the socialization part of working, but that job wasn't fulfilling.

In another aspect, I feel that staying home is a cop-out. I never had a career. After college I went to a government job, that didn't even require a college degree. Now, I feel that I need to go back to school to even get my foot into the door for any kind of worth while career. But staying home fits me, and lucky for me, I think my daughter (only 18 months old right now) will challenge me and help stretch me out of my comfort zone. At least I hope that happens.

Julian@connectedmom said... [Reply to comment]

Awesome post!

I've been avoiding this subject lately. The fact is that my family really can't afford for me to stay home. But we've been stretching ourselves to do it because my husband and I both think that it's best for Oliver. My husband and I agreed from day 1 that I would stay home for 18months. The shortage of child care spots in my area has pushed that to 2 years.

I have been SO lucky to be able to stay home for this long. Yet I still have panic attack every time I think of my son in a daycare. Even though it will only be 2 days a week.

At the same time I look forward to working. I would love to be out of the house a few days a week with something to do and adults to talk to.

I am so torn about it!

So thanks for sharing your thoughts! and thank you so much for that link!

Courtney said... [Reply to comment]

Great post!

We always agreed I was going to stay at home, and the daycare sounded like a great option, but it has been a struggle. It has been hard for my husband to see it, but now that the appointment back up coverage has fallen to him due to my sister no longer being able to do it, he sees it more.

Also, in our case, there are no plans for me to go back to work, probably ever. We plan to homeschool our younger 3 (my older daughter is a high school freshman and her dad was against homeschooling), and our 4 year old son has autism... which will require a lot of us/me for years and years to come, probably into adulthood. I'm sure I'll do things for income (I have an online boutique, and I'm just starting with selling Norwex), but any work outside our home is not present in my future right now.

And call me weird, but I'm 100% happy with that! I don't miss working outside our home in any way. But I think that's far from the norm!!

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

Wow! It's awesome to know that I am not alone and I love hearing about the different ways and reasons people have for making the decision to stay home. My mom ran an in-home day care center for years in order to stay home, so I know that can be challenging as well as rewarding. I hope that our children have as many fond memories of our time at home as I have of my early childhood with my mom at home. (And even if they don't; we will!) Way to go, mamas!

@Rachael: You know I love you, right?

@Becky: I know how you sometimes feel with the "cop out" feeling. I never had the real "teaching job" just the para job at the school where I worked, so I don't feel like I really started my career, either. It is a fact that kind of terrifies me when I think of life post SAHM, but I'll take that terror to have the opportunity I have right now!

@Julian: I applaud the two years you are spending at home and I'm sure your son will be very thankful for them one day! I hear you about the day care thing, I have a close friend whose baby is 18 months old and she is going through the same thing right now. I think you will ultimately have the best of both worlds by working two days a week and staying home the rest. I can't wait to read about your journey!

@Courtney: Homeschooling can be wonderful and I think it's awesome you have a partner that suports you with that! It sounds like you are doing exactly what you need to do to be happy and that is awesome. I agree that I don't miss working outside the home, but I am introverted to the point of ridiculousness, I basically go out for the sake of my son, alone! =) I don't think you are weird at all!

lana said... [Reply to comment]

I think if you can, and you are blessed to, you should. You will never, ever regret it.. I know I don't.....

Shawna said... [Reply to comment]

Thanks, Lana! Hmm . . . that name seems suspiciously familiar . . . that happens to be my stay at home mom's name! Any connection?

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