There is a topic I have been thinking about lately and felt the need to explore it as time has gone by since I made this decision 12 years ago. It occurred to me as I was running one morning listening to Lauren Conrad’s new podcast. She had a guest on who had written a book about being a new mom and it stirred a lot of emotions in me. They discussed all of the issues new moms struggle with, like breastfeeding, and how hard it is when you have babies. It reminded me specifically how much anxiety I constantly dealt with regarding the decision of whether to work or not work after having my babies. It was a decision I remember struggling with every single day through my maternity leave. And then once I decided to go back to work, I still struggled with it every single day. After each work day, I would come home and tell my husband Brian I was quitting the next day. He would say, “Do it!”, and then the next day would come and I would chicken out.
For me, the issue I struggled with the most was the fact that I did not need to work financially since Brian’s work situation was sufficient to support our family. I know this was an extremely fortunate position to be in, but also created huge anxiety and stress for a mom that has always worked. I know many have little sympathy for these moms (and spouses) and this predicament, which is why it likely is not an issue discussed or written about very much. There is certainly a lot of talk on both sides of the coin – working or staying home – but this issue cuts deeper.
The major issue that results from this choice boils down to “mom guilt”. Moms feel like they need to give their children the best possible upbringing they can; that it is their ultimate responsibility. They also worry that they will miss out on this one chance they have to be with the kids and experience every possible moment. I know this is an issue that does not just apply to “moms” but also applies to spouses and significant others more generally, but for purposes of this post which is from my personal perspective, I am referring to it as a “mom” issue.
When a mom doesn’t have a choice, it makes working a tad easier. These moms still experience mom guilt (e.g., when little Tommy comes home from nursery school talking about his after-school trip to the zoo with his mom when you were working all afternoon and your daughter Suzy was in daycare). However, for Suzy’s mom, if she didn’t need to work financially, there is the added punch of having chosen to work that afternoon over taking Suzy to the zoo. She has consciously chosen this and made it her priority over Suzy.
As I was listening to the podcast, I realized how far I have come since those days when my kids were young and I struggled so hard over the concern of how my kids would turn out if they were in daycare all day as opposed to being in MY care.
It has been a decade since this time when I was first grappling with being a working mom when I didn’t have to be. Since then, I have been surrounded by many moms who did not work because they did not have to and employed many moms who did not have to work. The bottom line is there is no wrong decision – it’s whatever is right for each person and is not one size fits all. BUT I think if we could somehow remove the “mom guilt” out of the equation, that would really help moms pick the path that is going to make them the most personally fulfilled and happy. I think we are moving in that direction just hearing this podcast about the “millennial” point of view. My generation consists of many working moms who have struggled so much with the guilt of having this mom figure and idea in our minds about what makes a “good mom”.
I think as our kids start to see moms in a new light it will remove this “mom guilt” in the future and make each parent’s decision based more on what is right for them as a person as opposed to what others think is right for them. In 1975, more than half of mothers stayed home with their kids. Today both parents work in 70% of families
with children. (USA Today) This naturally should lead to a shift in mindset and expectation for future generations.
Even though financially you may only need one income, I think there are multiple positive reasons for a mom to want to make her own money which can play a factor in the mom’s happiness and self-esteem. She may want to feel she is contributing financially to her family which can help with her marriage. However, being a mom can be so tiring, between navigating the kids’ schedules and taking care of their health, education, and daily needs, so to be able to completely focus on these things and occasionally have some time to yourself can be very appealing if you are fortunate enough to be in that situation. There are still ways to feel fulfilled with volunteering for causes you care about, helping in your kids’ schools, and actually having a social life (which becomes super challenging for a working mom). So there are a range of factors to consider when making the decision.
When I was working at a law firm in the early days before CertifiKID, while I worked for a great organization with wonderful people, I was not super excited and passionate about the work I was doing. This made it really challenging to go to work every day when I did not need to be going and missed being with my kid (though there were certainly days where I just needed the escape of work and was glad for the break!). However, when I started CertifiKID and found my passion, I knew I had to work. I am personally so fulfilled, do not feel like I need to live my passions through my children, know I am a great example to my daughter (and son), and am just generally a happier person overall.
I certainly was concerned and anxious that my kids were not going to turn out as well as they would if I was not working and had more time to focus on them and give them more attention. For example, I was always concerned that my kids went to a full-time preschool from the time they were 2-5 years old. I worried that perhaps they were missing something from not spending all that time with me and I was missing out on this one chance during these critical years to establish a connection that stay-at-home moms were making. However, when it came time for them to go to elementary school and overnight camp, I realized my decision had its benefits as my kids were total champs and easily adjusted to being independent and away from me. They were great at socializing with other kids and adapting to new environments. On the flip side, I have felt tremendous guilt about missing field trips and volunteering in their classrooms over the years or not spending enough time with them on their studies. Would they do better in school if I made a different choice and spent this time with them?
When I was holding my babies in my arms struggling with this decision more than
a decade ago, I wish someone had told me nothing is permanent. Life changes and you have time to change things around if something is not feeling right. Also, life circumstances can change, too. Every child is different and maybe the first one was super difficult so you went back to work, but the next one requires more attention and a different approach which leads you to stay home. No matter what decision you ultimately make, what makes you a good mom is not whether you work or not but that you are a happy mom because, in the end, a happy and content mom will most likely lead to a happy and content child.