It’s an age-old barrage of questions for moms – Do I work outside the home? Do I not? If I work, what level of career should I have? Am I a bad mom if I have a career through their childhood? Am I being true to myself and my abilities if I don’t? Do I push myself to be all I can and reach that high level job? Or do I just “coast” for a bit, still contributing income, but able to leave work at work when the day is done? What will my children and what will our family be missing if I don’t stay with them? It’s enough to keep any mom on a roller coaster of guilt so dizzying, you’ll feel that first trimester nausea all over again.
It’s been a while since I’ve written; almost 3 months. And in that 3 months I have completed the first trimester of my second pregnancy and found myself in this same conversation when my first child was born 8 years ago. What’s best for my children? What’s best for me? It doesn’t help that I’ve been questioning my career path for the last year anyway. Add a new baby in the mix and a new layer of questions arise as well. But it’s not a new debate for moms.
Gone are the days where the economy made it easier for women to decide to stay home and take care of the children and households. Not to mention social expectations were different. Since I have never really been one to care much about social norms or what others think, that doesn’t really play a role in my mental argument as much as the economics do. For me it’s a debate of 1. is it what’s best for our family? and 2. can we afford it? Even the order of priority for those questions is a debate.
First, let’s talk finances. What I hate is that as women in America we even have to have this debate. In many other countries around the world, maternity leave for working moms is PAID. But here in America some women can’t even take off work a full 12 weeks to be with their newborn because they simply cannot afford it. Talk about back to work guilt! If you’re lucky enough to be able to enjoy those first 12 weeks with your baby you’re then faced with the decision of whether or not to return to work, but for many, it’s not really a decision as much as it is a necessity.
Today’s economy doesn’t make it easy for middle class families to live comfortably (and I mean fairly modest) on one income, yet families still find themselves in a paradoxical financial situation. While it’s not affordable for one parent to stay home, families also now have to come up with $600-$1000+ a month for child care depending on how many children are enrolled when the parent does return to work. More guilt, but this time add financial stress to the mix.
On the flip side, if you are able to financially afford to stay home with your children the question looms in my mind about retirement. How would I continue to contribute to that? I have to prepare for the future. And what about my degree (that I’m still paying student loans on)? I always thought of myself as a career minded person and always ambition. I know I have things to contribute. But I also love my kids and want to be there for them.
As I get older, I see the value of having someone at home to care for the kids and take care of the home, so that when the entire family is home at night, you can actually have family time. Perhaps we wouldn’t be so exhausted all the time if we didn’t have to squeeze in time to exercise, have dinner, get homework done and oh yea…all those other responsibilities that come with having a place to live – laundry, cleaning, yard work, shopping, etc., in the 3-5hrs per night we have after working all day. And let’s not forget about the extra time needed for any sports or activities the kids or parents may participate in. I think sleep is supposed to somewhere in there too….
I guess I’m just venting and complaining that it feels like I have to choose, but yet don’t really have a choice. I have to work. While my husband has a wonderful job, it’s not feasible at this point for us to be a one income family. So choice made. But it really wasn’t a choice and here comes that guilt again…. While we are fortunate and have the luxury of our new baby being cared for my family, and while I enjoy my job, being mentally stimulated and knowing I have a means for retirement, it still doesn’t make it any easier to think about not being able to be home with my kids and what we both will be missing from that. I know people do it every day and I know there are MANY families who have MUCH tougher choices to make than I, but it stinks that I have to miss another summer with my son sure and it sure is gonna suck to leave that new baby at home…..
Maybe one day it will be easier to make choices that create more balance for families. Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you manage this internal and sometimes not so internal debate.