My two-year-old sat on the kitchen floor, fiddling with a puzzle piece she couldn’t get to fit. “Damn it,” she said, calmly.
I froze, stunned.
“What did you say?!” I sank down to her level, my eyeballs bulging out of their sockets, and studied her face.
“Damn it,” she said again, louder, so aptly using the phrase, I almost wanted to laugh. Then I snapped back to reality, and started to interrogate her. Where did she learn this word? She wouldn’t tell me.
My husband and I are super careful about the language in our kids’ vicinity. We save all Netflix above a PG rating until after they’re tucked into bed. Our extended family and circle of friends are a wholesome bunch. So where the heck did our precious angel pick this up? After a quick process of elimination, my racing mind landed on daycare. She learned this from another kid at daycare!
Instantly, my Working Mom guilt fired up. “This is what happens when you let someone else raise your children!” my inner voice scolded me. I’d been considering leaving my job to stay home with my daughters, and this tiny expletive had nearly pushed me to email my boss and quit that day.
Eventually, about a year later, I did make the leap from Working Mom to Stay-at-Home Mom. Most days, I’m convinced it was the best decision for our family. But I still mull it over occasionally, three years after leaving the corporate world, still uncertain if it was the right move. How do you plot out the worth of your professional life—your career trajectory and earning potential, the variables of re-entering the workforce one day—and measure it against time spent as your child’s primary caregiver?
No Right Answer
One thing I am always certain of, is that if you’re lucky enough to be asking yourself if you should work or ‘stay home’, there is no correct, easy answer. It is hard to be away from your children, and it is hard to be with them all day. In the very same moment, you can miss having a reason to wear a blazer and winged eyeliner, and also appreciate that you can pull on the same pair of Old Navy overalls most days of the week.
I’m thankful we live in an era that understands some women are better mothers because they work. I know a mom who is a hairstylist, and often, her income just barely exceeds her childcare costs. It’s worth it though, because her work allows her space to create and develop her beloved craft, and she returns to her children rejuvenated. Also, research points to the advantages of kids who watch their mothers pursue a profession. Daughters of working moms go on to earn higher incomes, for example, and sons of working moms grow into men who do a greater share of housework and child-rearing.
These benefits aside, I stopped working. I’m pleased to report my daughter has not uttered any more four-letter words, but more importantly, I got to step into a motherhood I’d dreamed about. I was able to be the architect of our days. I could now take my girls to story hour at the library, host weekday morning playdates, and be the one waiting when they burst out the door of their preschool classroom. When I was up all night with one of my girls, I no longer worried about how I’d pull off leading my 9 a.m. webinar. I didn’t have to fear slugging through the work day on so little sleep, and that allowed me to be a better mom.
Yet there are home repairs, vacations, little extravagances that are out of reach for now. In my husband’s eyes, I sometimes catch the strain of being the sole financial provider of four people. I’m jealous of a Working Mom friend whose child care arrangement allows her weekly happy hours out of the house with her husband. Also, I have less time to myself (right now, for instance, I’m writing this behind a locked bathroom door), and am somehow less productive than when I worked, when I used to squeeze in a Trader Joe’s run and catch up with the news and friends and phone calls, all on my commute home.
No Perfect Situation
Whenever I stop and compare my Working Mom life to my Stay-at-Home Mom life, I realize it again: there is no perfect situation. No matter what you do, the mom guilt will come for you. So make your best decision and go with it. Whatever you decide, I’ll be there to support you, and to help chase away that mom guilt.
Note: For working mamas looking for encouragement and strategies, check out I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, by author (and mom of five) Laura Vanderkam. Or, for stay-at-home moms who want to return to the workforce, an excellent resource is Back on the Career Track, by Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin.