Can You "Afford" To Stay Home -- Or Afford Not To?
Kendra R. Radcliff
So, what do YOU do?
At first glance, most would ignore a job offer to be on call 24/7 with a lifetime contract and zero earnings and benefits. Yet parents, particularly mothers, accept the occupation every day, generally aware of the conditions but not always prepared for them. Motherhood is an essential job in society, but still too often an invisible one.
All mothers work, whether they care for their children full time, have flexible work schedules or a home office, or spend the modern-day minimum of 40 hours per week in the marketplace. Today's mother is vastly different from those of preceding generations, ranging from their work experience and education to personal and professional goals.
Martha Bullen, co--author of Staying Home: From Full-Time Professional to Full-Time Parent says, "the mindset [of today's mothers] is different, because many are choosingto stay home to raise and nurture their child." This contrasts days when at-home motherhood was either assumed or one of few options. Furthermore, significant coping skills are required for those who have been used to any full-time work schedule and leave the workplace when they start a family. For these women, we will examine what this option really means.
What am I getting myself into?
Many women who do not return to the workplace after their maternity leave from either necessity or choice are not ready for "Mother" being added to their list of multiple job titles. It is difficult to go from conducting workshops or meeting deadlines to changing diapers and initial sleep-deprived days.
"The decision is not forever -- it can be altered," says Bullen. "I recommend that you give staying home a try, and just see how it works." Some tend to treat their choice as an absolute, feeling guilty if the outcome is different than expected. The truth is that caring for children proves to be a reality check of the unpredictable, but adequate preparation can make for a smooth transition. There are many unknowns involved, and most mothers stress that if you are unhappy you are not doing yourself or your children a favor.
The lifestyle change is intense, but it can be managed! Here are some tips:
Perhaps in your pre-baby days you could leap from office to kitchen in a single bound while talking on the phone in one hand and writing poetry in the other. Retire that superwoman cape! You can still multitask, but what will keep you sane is how you view it. Peggy H, a Georgia mother says, "If I had to do it again?I would have gotten more rest instead of trying to burn the candle at both ends and not feel so guilty because my house was messy (when my girls were small)." Your days and handheld device may not coincide, but do not panic. While it may be typical for you to be in control with your world revolving in perfect order, expect the unexpected.
"You may not be able to schedule a day because you don't know what type of child you are going to have. Sometimes you must give in to the chaos," says Joanne Brundage, founder and executive director of the mother's support organization Mothers & More.
Unlike workplace employees, mothers are not easily replaceable. Do yourself and your family the favor of not trying to do too many things at once, and be content with baby-step accomplishment (pardon the pun), rather than seeking after astonishing feats of strength.
Utilize, or gain a support system
Bullen's survey of mothers revealed that the majority said losing their sense of professional status (identity, accomplishment) was harder than losing their income. Surprising, but realistic in a culture that defines you by what you do. Isolation was mentioned as the hardest part of staying home. Your relationships change, as does the prior ability to come and go as you pleased. Gaining or maintaining a hobby can help stabilize the transition, but a support system of some sort is vital to emotional stability. Though your decision to stay home may not be permanent, motherhood is. If you determine that at-home parenting suits you, align yourself with others who will support your decision.
A dreaded topic in many households, finance talk can be easier than you might think. As work/life/family options evolve, mothers will continue to make this choice, and must deal with the money issue. Try economic forecasting, discussing the possibility extensively with your spouse. Many who have done this said paying off as many bills as possible would help alleviate possible stressors, especially when the finances rely on one partner's income.
Others say that planning before the children come is vital, using measures from banking one salary to limiting financial commitments that require dual-incomes.
"When [husband] and I got married we knew that I was going to stay home with the kids," says mother of two Brigeeta S. "Even when I had income, we only used it as extra. We did not include my income to pay any bills. So, when my salary was not there, we did not miss it." In some cases, determine whether the income will even be "lost," by looking at work-related expenses and/or childcare costs that may expend the salary you are eliminating.
Maybe there ARE benefits!
Some women have discovered what an amazing gift this transition can be. Whether home for three to six months or indefinitely, many mothers find their work life goes in a different direction.
"Most women [returning to the workplace after leaving to care for children] don't go back the way they left," says Brundage. "They may go into different fields, but the time away allows re-centering such that their identity is not connected to a job title. They know more than they did before what they want, what they need, and what they have to offer. The experience is similar to mid-life crisis, but puts [them] in a better position for the rest of [their] life. When they go back; their work revolves around their life."