"As the children got older, the benefit to my being home has been that I'm always here to supervise them after school. They have developed good homework habits, because I've always insisted that they have a snack and do all their homework immediately after getting home," says Brenda Turpin, 43, of Fordyce, Arkansas who has stayed at home for 22 years while raising four children ranging in age from six to 21.
While her situation is somewhat unusual because her husband became disabled after a major stroke when she was pregnant with her youngest child, she believes that when one parent stays at home, children have less hurried lives.
"One of the real benefits nobody ever mentions is that children of SAHMs have the great freedom of big chunks of time, even whole days in the summer, to do nothing at all," Turpin says. "No rushing to eat and dress and pack up and be off every morning to scheduled days like a grown-up. They're free to dawdle, like a child, and examine things and play at their own pace, with only mealtimes and the passing of the sun in the sky to rule their days.
"This is how kids learn to entertain themselves, and what they need to develop their minds, I think. My kids haven't grown up too quickly and have rarely had frantic, rushed schedules to keep," she says.
But while it's great for a child to be able to set her own pace, free from the worries of the adult world, what benefit does a stay-at-home mother receive when her children are out of the house for hours at a time?
Martha M. Bullen, the co-author of Staying Home: From Full-Time Professional to Full-Time Parent(Spencer & Waters 2002) believes that being at home without the minute-to-minute focus on diaper changes or arts and crafts can be a time of true growth for stay-at-home mothers.
"This is your opportunity to do something that you have been putting off for several years. Women can use this to pursue their own interests," she says.
Elizabeth Lockyer, 39, and a mother of three children, ages 5 through 13 in Cleveland, says, "Everything from landscape design, glassblowing, photography and jewelry making have drawn me in -- but my most treasured endeavor has been to study theology. I have enjoyed it very much and value the fact that it is probably the one occasion where I am simply Elizabeth -- not someone's mom, wife, daughter etc."
Personal life coach Louise Morganti Kaelin, of Quincy, Massachusetts, reminds mothers that they shouldn't feel guilty for the time they make for themselves.
"In coaching, there is a concept of extreme self-care. This, for mothers, especially, is a critical piece. I think women, but mothers even more so, are so used to giving, that there's a whole guilt factor that comes in. That's the biggest thing in the beginning -- that there's something wrong because I'm not doing for others (once children are in school).
"I'd probably have people acknowledge and address that upfront so that you don't waste a lot of time in the "guilt place" because obviously if you're making this choice you can afford it economically, and your husband has already agreed to it. So listen to you husband," she says.
Even with school-aged children, most at-home mothers find their days filling up quickly, and not just with scheduling the children. Several engage in creative pursuits, such as writing, that they can do while the kids are in school.
Karen Jacobs, a mother of three in Southern California, sandwiches writing in between housework and the school schedules of an elementary, middle and high school student. Because of this, holding a traditional job and still making time for them would be nearly impossible.
"I spend every afternoon with my kids, helping with homework. I check it all. I've taught all three of my sons how to write fiction as well as to come up with their own ideas. Each has on occasion written stories just for fun," she says.
Women who have chosen this somewhat unexpected route say it has allowed them to define themselves by what they are, rather than what they do.
"I love staying home because I feel that I am a more integrated person, not as scattered as I once was," says Lockyer. "I feel as if I value myself far more as an individual and no longer define myself by outside parameters. I'm not my job, my degree, or even my kids' parent- -- I am Elizabeth and I am all of those things. I like supporting my husband and kids -- and I enjoy the support I get in return."