I’d like to apologize for the ever-increasing duration between posts. After Baby’s 1st birthday, I rejoined the workforce and have had less time to focus on my blog. BUT, conveniently, that’s the topic of today’s post. Many moms wrestle with the decision of whether to be a stay at home mom or a working mom. And since I’ve done both, I can offer my insight on which one is better.
I’ve toggled back and forth several times between staying at home indefinitely and going back to work. (Is that right? Can a person “toggle”? Or is that just reserved for video games?) Prior to getting pregnant and even during my pregnancy, I expected to go back to work pretty quickly. Financially speaking, I didn’t have much of a choice. And I just enjoyed the “perks” of going to the office … you know, adult conversation, happy hours, Doughnut Days, etc. So I went about my pregnancy planning on going back to work within 1-6 weeks.
After Baby was born my situation changed dramatically. The husband got a job offer that would relocate us all the way across the country. So I had to quit my current job, and decide if I wanted to look for something new. After the move, we were in a completely new place. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know my way around the city. And we only had one car so having a two-commuter family in the suburban sprawl wouldn’t be an easy feat. On the plus side, due to a financial windfall, I didn’t immediately have to rely on a job to pay my monthly bills. So I found myself in an unexpected position: I could be a stay at home mom for one year … if I wanted to.
Staying at Home
I only had a finite amount of funds, so the length of my “maternity sabbatical” depended on how much I spent each month. The husband and I keep our finances separate. I pay my own student loans and my own credit card bills. Additionally, I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to spend, and if I didn’t have enough income, I’d just pick up a second job. So, the first hurdle I had to overcome was getting used to my lack of income. If I wanted to stretch my funds for a year, that meant I could only afford my student loan payments and my share of the household bills (barely). That meant no more trips to Starbucks or renewals of my XBox membership. Since the husband was the one paying for all the remaining costs, I, for the first time in my adult life, had to ask the husband if I could purchase [fill in the blank]. This was the toughest part. Going from financially INDEPENDENT to financially dependent was a hard blow to my ego. That … and I envisioned being the stay at home mom that wears Fabletics and takes her kid to Gymboree and then stops for lunch and cocktail with her mommy friends … and also does Yoga class … and also gets her nails and hair done every week. But it’s hard to afford that when you don’t have a job.
So that’s the money aspect. Let’s move to the child-rearing part. I loved it. Except when I didn’t. The worst part about being a stay at home my mom is that it never ends. Baby always needed me, even when she was napping. (Seriously, Baby would wake up crying if I tried to lay her down in her crib. She would only nap if she were physically touching me.) So I spent my entire day watching Baby, teaching her life skills, and trying to keep her entertained. In the early months, I only got 30 minutes here and there during her naptime to do seemingly simple things like use the bathroom, or get myself food. Feed the cat? Nope. Jump in the shower? Forget it. Clean the house? You’re out of your mind! I remember the first day that the husband went back to work after Baby was born. No joke, he came home and asked why the dishes weren’t done. I had a breakdown right then and there, tears and all! (I can feel all the been-there-done-that moms, nodding in commiseration.)
The sick trick that Mother Nature played on me, however, is that at each period of development, I thought it was so tough to get things done. I told myself that as she got older, her naps would go from 30 minutes long to 3 hours long and that I’d be able to actually focus on something that wasn’t baby-related. But when she got older, while her naps did increase … sometimes … her need for me to be engaged with her while she was awake increased. And then I realized just how easy I had it when she was just a blob on the couch. At least then I didn’t have to worry about leaving the room and coming back to find her hanging upside down naked from the ceiling fan while spraying her juice box all over the walls.
Up until now, I’ve been focusing on the more negative aspects of staying at home, but that’s because there’s really only one positive for me. But it’s a HUGE positive: I got to raise my baby.
In that first year, I was her sole caregiver. I was the one who taught her things. I was there to witness all of her firsts. During a time when Baby was developing and changing so quickly, I never had to miss a thing. And that’s priceless. Being a stay at a home mom also forced me to approach my social life differently; it forced to me form relationships that could survive sober, sometimes boring* outings at the park. (Awkward silences, included). Being a stay at home allowed me the time and patience to stick with breastfeeding. It allowed me the ability to create a schedule for me and my baby (or, more accurately, a lack of schedule) rather than having a schedule imposed on us by a daycare.
*By boring, I mean that all I did sometimes is watch my baby lay there and stare at the trees … for an hour. There were no cocktails or music or tv for me. Just the wind and the trees … and other babies … lying there … looking at the trees.
Staying at home was wonderful but tough. Tougher than I thought it would be. And I found myself wishing I was back at work. And then I’d feel guilty for feeling that way. But I longed for a mental break from child rearing and PBS shows and I was tired of being financially dependent. So when I had depleted my funds, I returned back to the working world.
The idea of going back to work full time gave me a lot anxiety. I had become so spoiled with spending all day with Baby and being her sole educator and entertainer that I was unable to accept the idea of full time daycare. In our circumstances, full time work would mean that I would see Baby for 15 minutes in the morning while I got her ready and then for 30 minutes to an hour each night after work as I was making her dinner and putting her to bed. This meant that quality time would essentially be only on the weekends. That’s not the only thing though. I also was anxious about the idea that Baby would learn new skills in my absence. Skills like learning to color, learning to dance, etc. And that broke my heart.
So I arrived at a good compromise and I went back to work part time. That way I’d be able to get my break from Baby, earn some Benjamins, and still be able to spend quality time with her during the days I was off.
Most moms I talked to who returned back to work after their 6 week FMLA leave told me it was a hard thing to do. Many of them cried their first day back. Maybe it’s because I lack the crying gene, maybe it was because I had just spent a year with her, or maybe it was because I had prepared myself for the worst, but I actually really enjoyed my first day back at work. I had moments when I thought about her and wondered how she was doing but I wasn’t … sad.
Sure, there were some tough times when I first started. Like when Baby would fall asleep within 15 minutes of getting home. (When’s mommy-baby play time!?!?) Or when I’d have to watch Baby cry as I dropped her off at daycare. But being away from her makes me use the time we have together much more effectively. No more lounging on the couch on hump day, instead, we have a zoo day on Friday.
I’ve been at work now for over five months and I love it. Like I said before, it gives me a break from non-stop “mamamamama” for three days a week. It enables me to afford a monthly mani/pedi. It allows me to not have to miss out on her remaining firsts (first word, first dance). It gives Baby a chance to socialize with other people her age and with other people in general. It helps her work on her separation anxiety so that in 18 years when she studies abroad she won’t be too fear-stricken to get on that plane (yea, I have high hopes for her, I know). You get the point.
So which option one is better? That was a trick question! Neither is better. They both have their pros and cons. And for me, the grass is always greener on the other side. Though, if I have another baby, I think I’d do the same thing and stay home for a year before returning to work.
If you are wondering what you should do, my suggestion is figure out what your personality needs. Some moms love staying home with the baby and that fulfills them. Other moms are driven crazy by the non-stop nature of it all (I’ll admit, I’m one of them, eek!) But just know that while there’s guilt in every choice, there’s no wrong answer … and you can always change your mind later.
And I’ll leave you with this…
There’s a constant battle between stay at home moms and working moms. (At least the internet will have you believe as much.) Even using the mere term “stay at home mom” can be insulting to some (“Are you saying I don’t work? My value as a caregiver/house cleaner/financial manager is $50K a year!”). Each side thinks their role is hardest. Stay at home moms think they have it hard because of the reasons I outlined above. Working moms think they have it hard because they have to do mom stuff AND work. Well, let me tell ya, before Baby came along, I would have agreed with the working moms that they have it harder juggling two lives (work and home), but after my maternity sabbatical, I changed my tune real quick. While staying at home was easier for me emotionally, working is easier physically and mentally. I mean … when you go to work, you aren’t the one spending 45 minutes trying to get little one down for a nap or cleaning up all the food they threw at the wall. Nope, you get to pay someone to do that for you! And at the very least, you don’t have your boss following you into the bathroom to “investigate” what you’re doing.