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working from home with kids

The Parent’s Dilemma: Work or Stay at Home?

February 9, 2021 No Comments

Confession: I’ve had two kids, two maternity leaves, I love my career, and if we were to have another kid…I’d still question whether I should work or stay at home with little kids for a while.

And I’m not ashamed to say that.

I don’t think we’re “all career” or “all mom.” We’re both. We have to be both. Do any of us love our careers more than our kids? I doubt it. Is loving our kids the only factor in whether or not a mother works? That’s a big nope, regardless of the sexist comments people love to leave on any article about motherhood and working.

What’s interesting to me now is that there weren’t very many realistic discussions about what either option would look like. Some real conversations about what it’s like to work or stay at home would have made a huge difference in what I studied and how I prepared for my career.

It wouldn’t have changed everything. You really don’t know how you’ll feel about your career and staying home until you’re actually faced with that decision. But a little heads up would’ve been nice! It would have given better direction for how to approach it when the time came.

I want to point out that most women in the world do not have this dilemma. It’s not an option to stop working for the majority of women because they became mothers. Even for me, this hasn’t been an option my entire motherhood because we can’t afford for me to not work without crippling us with more student loan debt. But, I know it could be an option in the future when my husband finishes his schooling. I am aware that this entire post comes from a very privileged place.

If you are someone who thinks this may be an option, here are a few things I recommend considering as you decide whether you’ll return to work after maternity leave ends, or if you’re going to be the full-time childcare provider for your children. And please, please, please remember: whether you work or not, you are ALWAYS a full-time mom.

Should I work or stay at home after I have a baby?
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Healthcare & Benefits

This is a huge deal. Even the healthiest babies and toddlers go to the doctor A LOT. For the most random stuff. Not to mention the mom herself–even a regular recovery can be rough! I had to get 3 blood patches within a week after my second delivery because of a spinal headache. And my 2 year old fell cast-first onto my 4 day old’s head with a loud crack. That’s a lot of ER trips.

If your family’s health insurance is covered through your employer, make sure you look at your other options before you decide to quit your job. Check your partner’s plan and private plans to see what will work best for you.

Don’t forget to look at your other benefits too. My 401k matching is excellent through my current employer, my husband’s is practically non-existent. We also get a great deal on a cell phone plan through my work, a discount on the rec center that the whole family uses, and several other discounts. Don’t forget that I work in a university and my kids would get way cheaper tuition. Benefits add up, so make sure you add those costs back into your budget as you consider the impacts of staying home.

Your career

Do you like what you do? I hope so, but that also can make this a harder decision. If you look into your future, what do you hope to be doing while your kids are at school? Or when they move out? If work is in your future, do you want to be in the same field or move into something new?

If you imagine being in your same field, consider the challenges involved if you take a step back for a few (or more) years. Look at options to stay connected to the field, stay involved in industry organizations, and keep up licenses if you decide to quit. Or see if you can change to part-time, contract, or consulting positions. Many fields have ways to do this, but for some it may be more challenging. 

I also want to say, if you love your job and want to keep working–you’re still a great mom. Loving your job doesn’t take away from loving your kids. Deciding whether to work or stay at home doesn’t even have to be a question. It doesn’t make you weird or less than any other mom if you’ve never even considered staying home because you love your career.

Work gives me the opportunity to learn and grow in all aspects of my life.
I have a major love of learning, and my job gives me so many fun opportunities to learn. It would be hard to give that up.

Financial Goals

When I was a newlywed 25 year old, I was on a bus headed to a work retreat in the mountains. A middle-aged woman I didn’t know chatted with me the whole way up. I can’t remember exactly what we were talking about other than cabins, but I remember her getting a big dreamy smile and saying, “I want to be rich. I love money!” and then went on about how great it is to have money. I was a little taken aback. I’m pretty sure this was the first time I ever heard a grown woman talk about money like that. I felt like a baller because I was working and supporting my husband and I while he attended school, but I hadn’t really thought about being rich. It made a big impact on me.

It’s okay to like money. It’s okay to prepare for your future. It’s okay to not want to have to come out of retirement and become a Walmart greeter because you ran out of money. Having financial goals is more than ok–it’s necessary! You can meet these goals on one income, and you can not meet them on two incomes. Whether you work or stay at home, it’s vital that you identify these goals and plan accordingly. One of my favorite resources is Meghan at Family Finance Mom. This blog post is a great start for identifying and reaching your family’s finance goals, and I highly recommend following her blog and Instagram!

Childcare

Ohhhh childcare, my fave topic. (Seriously, check out here, here, here, and here to start.) Childcare has a lot to consider. First, it’s expensive. Our daycare for 2 kids is 20% of our yearly income. Remember, it’s not coming out of YOUR paycheck, it’s a family expense. You don’t have to make a specific income to “earn” working if that’s what you want to do. Even if your family breaks even, that’s fine. You shouldn’t feel guilty about working because daycare is expensive. It’s an investment, and the cost goes down each year.

Second, what’s the quality of childcare like in your area? I almost quit my job twice after we moved to Utah because it was so hard to find good childcare. This is so important to me. If I’m going to leave my children, I need to know they’re safe. If the options are dismal in your area, this is a big factor. Maybe your work has on-site daycare or you can negotiate a flex schedule, which also makes a huge difference!

Third, plan ahead. When I had my first, we knew we were moving out of state within a few months. My husband quit his job to stay home with the baby and I went back to work full-time for a month. We didn’t really think about it other than that. When we moved, we quickly realized we needed more money than we had in savings. It was so stressful figuring out childcare so I could work part-time. Everything worked out (God bless the Early Head Start program on his campus), but my biggest lesson from that is to plan on needing childcare! Nine months is a long time and plans can change during or quickly after, but there are frequently waiting lists for baby spots. So have a plan in place and if it changes, that’s ok! In this case, it’s better to be over-prepared than under prepared!

Your relationship

I firmly believe it’s ok to be a stay at home mom (or dad). It doesn’t mean that person is leeching off of their partner’s income. I also don’t think it should be an expectation that one parent should make all of the money. If that’s how you work it out–great! But it should be a decision you make together. Personally, I would rather work to help financially support our family if that means my husband doesn’t have to work over 40 hours a week, because I want him involved in our children’s lives. I want him to have time for me. Plus, it wouldn’t be good for his mental health to work more than that because he wants those things for his life too. It can’t be just about what you want, at the expense of your partner’s needs.

You should also discuss how being a SAHM would impact your work at home and the division of labor there. Being a SAHM means you’re a full-time caregiver to your children while your partner works for pay. You have the same work hours that they do, and then you both should be on family duty outside of those work hours. Together you can decide how chores and cooking are divided. I know many women who find better home life balance with their spouse when they’re working, as well as many SAHMs very happy with the arrangement they’ve made with their spouse. The important part is that both parties agree to the division of labor. While I haven’t felt the need to read it yet, I know many women who swear by the book Fair Play by Eve Rodsky in working this out with their spouse.

So now what?

If you’ve always wanted to be a SAHM and feel that way after the kid comes, then go for it! If you plan on going back to work and still feel that way after your child comes, great! Maybe you felt one way and now are unsure of whether to go back to work or stay at home, and this post didn’t really clarify anything for you. If so, give yourself the gift of time.

Pregnancy hormones, delivery hormones, lack of sleep, connecting with your new baby, societal or family pressures, your actual recovery from childbirth–it’s a lot. And seriously, the fluctuating hormones can be intense and make you feel like a different person.

So if you’re thinking you want to change your mind, I recommend finishing your maternity leave as planned and go back to work. Give it a month and see where you’re at. Maybe things in your life will feel a little more settled. You may have a good idea of what it would mean to work with a baby and don’t want then, and can then decide with a clear mind to leave. Or you may feel much more confident in staying.

Work or stay at home: there’s no right or wrong answer. You can choose whatever life you and your partner want to make for your family.

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