Monday, July 16, 2007

Working Mom or Stay-at-Home Mom?

Cathy Young at Reason discusses a new poll on preferred parenting. In a survey of 2000 women, a higher percentage want to stay at home full time and a lower percentage want to work full time compared to 1997. Cathy Young believes the shift may be due to societal acceptance of staying at home.

As a mom who has spent time in each trench, my interpretation is a bit different. I would conclude it is because women like myself have realized that to do both is to do neither well. Work isn't about getting up and going to a job. Work is about a career. Anyone can have a job--and if you've going to just have a job, the type of job (with a minimum level of comfort, to be sure) doesn't matter. A career is a different story. You cannot have a career without dedication. That means it is not 40 hours. It can easily be as high as 70--though hopefully not often. It means taking work home, checking e-mail in the evenings and weekends, going in on Saturdays, and missing many kids' bedtimes. If you're really lucky, your husband is really supportive and his career is not demanding at the same time as yours.

When my eldest turned three, she was able to tell me how much she missed me. It was at that time that I began to really miss out on spending time together. Some people feel it much earlier, but I was really done in when I saw her growing up. First I switched her to a Montessori preschool. If she was going to be put away somewhere while I worked, I felt less guilt knowing that it was very educational. Only it turns out that there was a lot of time that didn't include learning--the before and after school hours, school holidays that I had to work, the entire summer vacation. My desire to keep her and my youngest out of school as much as possible increased. My husband and I switched schedules so that he could drop off at 9 AM and I could pick up at 3:30 PM. That was fine for a while. Then I was given more responsibility at work: overtime, working at home, missed weekends and bed-times.

It was watching another working mother that showed me where I was headed. She dropped her child off at 8 AM with a fast-food breakfast. She picked her child up at 6 PM and headed home for some prepackaged dinner. She hired a housekeeper because she didn't have time to do housework. She had her laundry done out because she didn't have time (energy?) to do it. Her child was spoiled rotten. There were indulgent smiles at abominable behavior, loads of gifts, vacations, expensive wardrobe, still sleeping with mommy at 6 years old and daddy was relegated to the couch downstairs.

Switching my hours to part-time certainly sounded better. I had to be honest with myself though. Could I really walk away from a meeting, a deadline, or telephone call at 3 PM and feel satisfied? Knowing myself, I knew that I would be working from home, coming back in after my husband came home to watch the kids, and basically killing myself all over again. As a mechanical engineer for a government contractor, my decision to become a stay-at-home mom was the equivalent of cutting our household income in half. My house isn't particularly cleaner. My laundry is still an emergency situation. My parenting is (maybe was) much worse than I ever truly realized.

In a combination of being a homeschooler and a stay-at-home mom, I've discovered such amazing satisfaction. I had no idea how great my own kids were. I didn't realize how much my kids knew. I didn't know what great personalities they had. I can't believe how much I was missing. I am still learning so much about each of them. Except for paying the bills occasionally, I have never once, in these last 10 months, missed a single thing about work. I haven't missed the adult interaction--that's what I do while the kids have play dates, free time (I didn't realize how kid-heavy homeschoolers are), or shopping (OK--I really missed shopping on my own in the beginning, but I'm over that now--I think).


Rational Jenn said...

I think I know just how you feel. I had originally planned to take just one year off when my son was born. But I found as that year was ending that I didn't want to give up my time with him and that I would not be able to be 100% as a parent AND 100% at a career. I know some parents who seem adept at balancing that--it's just not me.

I am very happy raising my kids at home. I know that the time I have with them is precious because it's limited. I am able to keep up my job skills by helping my husband with his business and I have started a business of my own that is very part-time.

I get adult interaction by meeting other homeschooling families in our area (alas, no Objectivists), attending our weekly Objectivist discussion group, having "date night" with my husband, having "mommy's night out" with my women friends. That's more than enough for me, a fairly introverted person. Come to think of it, most of my friends who balance career and parenthood and enjoy the juggling act that comes with it seem to be extroverts. Maybe that's a factor?

I approach my "mommy career" as a career, being conscientious of the virtues of productivity, integrity, etc. I think a philosophical framework of course lends itself to better parenting, and also sets a great example for my kids.

Ultimately, it came down to this: I didn't go to all the trouble of having kids just to allow someone else, and probably someone with horrible philosophy, to spend more time with my kids than I.

Kim said...


Thanks for posting!

Initially I started out back to work unconvinced of the importance of parenting an infant. Or at least I felt that I would be attentive enough during my home time to take up any slack. When I realized that the person taking care of my toddler actually hated her job (completely inconceivable to me at the time), I started down the inevitable road to understanding.

I have always been happy with my own companionship and enjoy others but don't have the desire to really seek it out--which I am finding I need to work on for my kid's sake! I do know a definite extrovert who is so busy that she barely has time to breath. She and her daughter are constantly on the go.

I do know that there are a number of mothers who are perfectly content to go back to work when their children reach school age. A number of parents are happy to get their newly disagreeable pre-teen back to school!

I'm pregnant with my third child--something I couldn't do because of exactly what you said! Why have a third child for someone else to raise!?

It is certainly important to take parenting seriously--as I've discovered! Having an understanding of your goal with children, in the form of philosophical underpinnings, makes it so much easier!

It is hugely valuable to be able to be with your kids and teach them the way you know is best.