Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Stay-at-home vs. working moms

This is one of the most debated parts of parenthood, and there seems to be a great deal of argument in the media of late between the proponents of having one parent stay at home to raise their children full-time and those who choose to have both parents working out of the house.

Like most parenting issues, the decision to keep one parent at home with the kids or to send them to daycare while you both go to work is an extraordinarily personal one and one which is completely individualized for each and every family.

For some, it's not a decision to be made or a choice at all; for single-parent families, it's not an option to give up one income to stay home - one income is all there is. For many - particularly in parts of the country where the cost of living is so disproportionately inflated - it's simply not possible for a family to live on one income without enormous sacrifices most are not willing or able to make. For others, the associated costs of returning to work after maternity or family leave - the astronomical cost of daycare, transportation costs for a second vehicle and insurance and gas - cut so far into the extra money earned by the second income earner that it doesn't make sense not to just stay home.

But for those families for whom it is a choice, the decision to be a stay-at-home mom or to return to work can be complicated, heart-wrenching, guilt-ridden and, almost always, judged by every other parent out there.

There are valid points to be made for both options.

Having one parent stay at home full-time to raise the children provides the benefit of hands-on parenting for both parent and child, a strengthened bond, more memories, more moments, more time together. In my opinion, there is nothing more important - for me as a mom, for my family and for my children, I can't imagine choosing to send my kids to be cared for by someone else for most of the hours of the day while I miss out on these short, precious years that they are babies, toddlers, preschoolers, children and young adults. This time is so short - in just a few short years my baby boys will be young men off to university and this phase of their lives, of my life, of our life as a family will be over. In my mind, the financial sacrifices we have to make - and we have most certainly had to make some sacrifices - are nothing compared to the idea of losing this time with my children. There will be lots of time to work in a few years once they are grown.

But that's my choice for my family, that's what works for me and for us, that's how we see our priorities. And the sacrifices we have had to make in order to accommodate the choice to have me stay at home are significant. We have become a one-car family, sacrificing the convenience of a second vehicle in order to save the costs of a second car payment and insurance payment. It means that I have to walk the kids to school every day, even through the pouring rain and slushy snow and blistering twenty-below wind, and that errands have to be done within walking distance or saved for after my husband gets home from work. Eating dinner out at a restaurant is now a once or twice a month treat where once it would be the easy after-work solution a couple of times a week - now I meal plan every week and grocery shop accordingly, squeezing as many days out of the food budget as possible. Even the home we live in was purchased with the intent that we could carry the mortgage on one income if absolutely necessary. We're very lucky in that my job allows me to still earn an income while staying at home full-time to raise our children, so we haven't had to put our single-income budget to the test, but we have still made many sacrifices to live on our reduced income.

Even if having two incomes in the household is not a financial necessity, there are many moms who choose to return to work after maternity leave for other reasons. For some women, their career is a part of their identity that they are not willing to lose. Particularly for those who have waited until their thirties or even forties to have children, being a lawyer or a teacher or an accountant is an important part of who they are as human beings. Giving up that career to stay home with their children after maternity leave would be cutting out a part of themselves. For others, the notion of being at home all day every day with their children is simply not something they'd be capable of doing. I have a girlfriend who decided after having her first son that she'd likely not have any more children because she found her time at home with him during maternity leave difficult. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for her to be able to say this out loud, but I have an immense amount of respect for her for being self-aware enough to realize and acknowledge that fact about herself. Not everyone is able to Mommy all day every day, just like not everyone is able to work in a high-pressure corporate environment. Everyone has different strengths and abilities.

Personally, I have been in virtually every working-and-parenting scenario imaginable. I have been a stay-at-home mom in a two-parent household; I have been a working single mom with my kids in daycare; I have been a working mom with a job that worked around school hours to avoid the necessity of daycare; I have worked from home as a single parent, raising my kids during the day and working online into the wee hours of the morning, sacrificing almost all sleeping hours in order to keep my kids from having to go to child care; and I am lucky enough now that I am able to be a stay-at-home mom in a two-parent household again while still earning an income. For me, this is the ideal situation, because for me, the importance of being at home with and for my kids while they are still kids is critically important - I couldn't imagine only seeing my boys for a few hours an evening. For my friend, her situation is ideal because her son receives all the nurturing, care, learning and peer interaction she wants for him at daycare while she's at the office, and when she picks him up after work she's able to give him a couple of hours of dedicated, devoted, quality mothering because she feels fulfilled as a human being.

The reality is that there's no "right" answer to the question of whether it's better to stay at home to raise children or to work outside the home and send them to child care. The right thing to do is whatever's right for your family, and the choice is one no-one else can or should make for you or judge you for; unfortunately, it seems that judgement goes hand-in-hand with virtually every parenting decision we make. I hardly think, however, that either the decision to stay at home with your children or to work out of the home and send them to daycare will result in a generation of delinquents; if a child is being cared for in a nurturing environment it shouldn't matter whether that environment is at home or in a daycare centre, if a woman feels happy and fulfilled it shouldn't matter whether it's from Mommying in sweats all day or brokering deals on Bay Street, and if a family works the way it is it's no-one's business if they live on one income or two, own a five bedroom mansion or rent a nine-hundred-square-foot apartment, spend all day together or only a few quality hours at night. The right choice for your family is what feels right for you.

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The big breastfeeding controversy
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