It’s fair to say that raising children is one of the most challenging but rewarding achievements we can accomplish in our lifetime. We would all vouch for that. But when it comes to the topic of whether moms should stay at home to care for their children or work outside the home, there is no consistent response. For there are just as many reasons why either staying at home or working is the right decision, the better option depends on each individual family.
Comparing what works for one family with another can be interesting, but it shouldn’t be a competitive exercise. Stay-at-home moms are not more authentic mothers, nor are they necessarily more emotionally connected to their children than those who go out to work. Similarly, stay-at-home moms are far from idle or privileged.
Yet somehow, these assumptions have crept into the stay-at-home versus working mother discussions. It’s worth remembering that parenting is, ideally, a uniting experience. Most of us want the best for our children and are prepared to work hard to achieve this in whatever ways we can. We do know that criticism is often a mask for insecurity. Attempting to run other people down often makes us feel more superior and comfortable about our own choices.
Self-belief and confidence is the basis for good emotional health, which in turn can only benefit the next generation. Make your own decisions and do what is right for your family.
Benefits of being a stay-at-home mom
- Being with your child every day and being their primary carer. Just “being there” and having control over what and whom your child is spending time with.
- Not missing important developmental ages and stages.
- Being the primary decision-maker about how your child’s day evolves.
- Better able to keep control of the general running of a household – being away from the home for a large portion of the day impacts on all aspects of life.
- Many women feel that by being a stay-at-home mom they are fulfilling their primary purpose in life.
- Being organised sufficiently to get out of the door at the same time each day and have the energy for a full working day can create enormous strain. Most often it is the mothers who are the family organisers.
Disadvantages of being a stay-at-home mom
- For women who are following a career path, time out from the work force may impact on future job opportunities.
- Some women find that staying at home can become tedious and feel more stimulated when they are employed.
- The reality is that some mothers don’t feel satisfied by staying at home and caring for small children. The question of whether they love their children isn’t an issue – they just don’t feel stimulated or happy being at home full-time.
- For many women, being able to contribute to the financial income of the household is important. This can be intrinsically linked with their sense of autonomy and identity.
- Little opportunity to have a break from the constant demands of parenting. Lunch time and tea breaks, travelling, relationships and conversation with co-workers are valued by many.
- Needing to rely on a partner or government support for financial income.
Common issues amongst stay-at-home moms
- Loneliness. Humans are social creatures, particularly mothers. It is essential that you don’t quarantine yourself away from conversation, company and the friendship of other women. Avoid feeling that you need to stop your relationships with friends who don’t have their own children yet. Recognise that real emotional support will come from your female friends who are going through similar life experiences.
- Lack of intellectual stimulation. Delightful as they are, small children are not designed to stimulate your grey matter. Aim to devote some time each day to reading, listening to the radio, and talking with family and friends. If you don’t have the time to read the newspaper, check out the headlines on-line, download some stimulating Apps and stay connected. Get a hobby that will keep your mind busy and help you to feel you’ve created something that is separate from the children.
- Boredom. Following the same routine day after day can become very tedious. Try to have something of a change every couple of days - do something interesting. Go for a walk, visit the local library, join a playgroup or new mother’s group. Retail therapy can also serve a useful purpose, as long as it’s kept under control.
- Feeling undervalued and a little invisible. Unfortunately, mothering is not as valued in our society as it should be. As if raising the next generation isn’t enough, try to also keep a sense of perspective on the importance of what you’re doing.
- Feeling you need to justify to other people your decision to be a stay-at-home mom. Avoid feeling you need to explain yourself. As long as you, your baby and your partner are happy with your decision then, really, this has nothing to do with anyone else. Likewise, aim to respect other mothers’ choices when it comes to their work arrangements.
- Putting yourself way down on the list of very important people (VIPs) in the household. Valuing yourself as an individual is essential and creates good role-modelling for your children. Although what you’re doing may not be as obvious as if you were in a workplace, it’s no less important. Be your own best advocate and be proud of the job you are doing.
- Feeling trapped inside the house and developing cabin fever. The only solution for this is to venture outside. Mammoth as it can seem, getting out of the house is always beneficial. Avoid creating rules for yourself about how much housework you need to achieve before you “allow” yourself to leave. This tends to escalate e.g. “I’ll just do another load of washing”… “I’ll just clean up the kitchen”, until before you know it, the day has gone.
- Never venturing very far from home. This can be a real issue for mothers who previously enjoyed their freedom and being mobile. If you feel yourself becoming trapped in suburbia, take a weekend drive outside of your local area and try to do something different.
- Never feeling as if you’ve achieved anything. Try to achieve at least one thing each day, which differentiates it from the others. We all tend to feel better when we achieve something, no matter how small. Plan for events, write them up on a calendar, post reminder notes for yourself, programme your mobile phone to send you a prompt and don’t procrastinate. You’ll feel better for it.
- Not feeling great about your appearance. For all its disadvantages, having to be up and suitably dressed each day for work does have its benefits. If you find yourself struggling to get out of your nightie each morning, then ask your partner not to leave for work until you’re showered and dressed for the day. If you look better, you’ll feel better - simple but true.
- Not finding time for regular exercise without the children. Consider getting a group of mothers together so you can support each other in regular fitness sessions. Shared personal training classes, forming a walking or swimming group and looking after each other’s kids are all realistic solutions for common barriers.
- Not getting time together as a couple. This is a reality of parenting in the early years, especially when most of your time as a stay-at-home mom, is well, spent at home. Unless you have some willing and able babysitters who are available on a regular basis, then you are going to need to be imaginative about finding some “us time”. Block out a date and time on the calendar and quarantine some adult time. Remember, the best thing you can do for your children is to create a loving and happy family home and part of this is caring for your own relationships.
- Never feeling as if you’ve had a break. For all its advantages, being a stay-at-home mom can feel like you’ve never got time off. When partners come home from work they commonly interpret this as rest and relaxation time. But for mothers, there is no clear “stop work” time – you’ll feel you’re on call 24 hours a day. Negotiate with your partner about a fair allocation of “me” time when they are home; otherwise you’re likely to feel a little resentful.
Look for a compromise
Some mothers find that despite all their planning to be a stay-at-home mom, they need to return to work. Lack of adequate income, wanting to follow a career path or just needing to return to work for mental stimulation are common reasons. But don’t assume you have to return to full-time work just because this is what you’ve always done.
Realistic alternatives to full-time employment
- Part time work or job sharing with another parent. Make some enquiries and ask around. Chat with your union and human resource department and work out what you’re entitled to.
- Working from home. Many women start up their own businesses this way.
- Doing another job for a while until your child is older. You may need to compromise on what you want to do work wise for the sake of the family.
- Consider sharing your child’s care with your partner so you both work part-time.