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The Dilemna Of A Mother To Work Or Stay Home

It may strike when you catch yourself dreaming of purple and green dinosaurs, or humming a nursery rhyme while cleaning apple juice off the floor for the seventh time in a single day. Many women immersed in the exacting schedule of a toddler's day realize that they crave something more mind challenging than reasoning with a 2-year-old. The urge to return to the workforce, particularly when your child begins to assert independence and enjoy being around other children and adults, is not at all uncommon.

Shlomit, a mother of twin boys, noticed that at the end of the boys' first year, she began to get depressed a lot. Being a stay-at-home mom is absolutely a full time job, and Shlomit felt that at a certain point she wasn't able to give her kids what they needed because she needed something for herself. "I needed to rediscover and redefine myself," she says, and for her this meant finding a part-time job (she still insisted on being with the kids for the majority of the day) where she could explore and fulfill her potential outside of being a mother. Shlomit also feels strongly about contributing to her family financially; she notes that it lends her marriage "a greater sense of balance." For Shlomit, the decision to return to work was for the good of her family and herself. She says that the family as a whole is happier now because she personally is "more secure, happier and fulfilled."

"Study after study shows that children do not suffer when a mother goes to work," says Professor Joan Williams, co- director of the Gender, Work and Family Project at American University, and author of Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to do About It. But it was not until the last 30 years that middle class women began doing paid work outside of the home. Until then, the status of a "working mother" was labeled working-class, or poor. Williams explains that by the 1980s mothers were being sent mixed messages, some saying that all adults must work, others intoning that in order to be a good mother, a woman's life had to revolve around that of her child. Today, women who want to return to the workforce often don't, says Professor Williams, "in order to preserve time with their children."

Laura, a young mother of two, felt that after being at home with her second child for a year, she "was having a brain meltdown. I felt that I wasn't growing in ways outside of the home...I was doing my best at mothering, but being a mother doesn't mean being with your kids 24 hours a day." Laura found a job that she felt would improve her career options -- and allow her to be home by 3 p.m. for her kids.

This is not to say that women don't have a difficult time juggling career and family. It is impossible to be supermom and employee of the week at the same time. "Don't blame yourself if you feel you are serving many masters and pleasing none," says Professor Williams. "Your sense of inadequacy does not reflect personal failings, but a system in which the way we define the ideal worker conflicts with the way we define our ideals as parents." Laura, for example, insists that mothers must be firm with employers in order to keep the priorities of the family at the forefront. In her experience, if a woman is firm and confident, employers will not punish mothers for their numerous commitments outside of the job.

And keeping your job is important for your family's sake, too, says Professor Williams. If, for instance, a couple were to divorce, a homemaker and her children "would stand a significant chance of poverty. Because of the treatment of mothers in divorce court, 40 percent of mothers end up poor... displaced homemakers are much more likely than employed women to find themselves in that group."

Despite these figures, some women maintain that being a full-time homemaker is the best thing for their families and themselves. Rachel, a trained recreational therapist, was disillusioned with her place in the labor force. She felt that she was not receiving enough pay to make her job worth while. Instead of continuing, she decided to quit her job and be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. "I am very happy with the decision I made," she says. Rachel isn't nervous about being able to return to the work force later. "I haven't been working in years, and I still get calls all the time about returning to work."

For women who feel that a compromise between going out to work and being a full-time homemaker is in order, there is always the option of being part of the labor force while staying home. Thanks to the telecommuting age, opportunities for the mom who wants on work from home have increased tremendously. Cheryl Demas is founder and editor of WAHM.com and author of The Work-at-Home Mom's Guide to Home Business: Stay at Home and Make Money with WAHM.com . When she was pregnant with her second child and her first one became ill, she decided it was time for her to leave her engineering job and stay home. Cheryl first considered Web site design, but she soon realized that there were a lot of "scams and schemes aimed at moms at home." She began writing and posting her thoughts and experiences on her own Web site, and this gave birth to her online magazine for work-at-home moms. The site features lots of telecommuting job opportunities.

Working at home is no fairytale, though. Mary Lou, who does telemarketing and consulting for the natural food industry and is mother to four daughters, says one of the disadvantages of working at home is isolation. Without associates and co-workers to discuss ideas and problems with, things can get difficult. "You have to look for an alternative support system," she says. However, for Mary Lou, the advantages absolutely outweigh the disadvantages. She does not have to deal with the expenses of traveling, childcare (or the trauma of childcare) and she loses no time commuting. "Life is a matter of sequencing," says Mary Lou. "Women are changing the work force to be more family conscious, only because the work force can't afford to lose trained, educated employees. We should continue this trend for the health of our families."

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