Stay at Home or Go to Work?
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Hard truths about the family-work balancing act
Pregnant women question everything, from what they should name their baby to whether they are eating right to if they will crap on the delivery-room table. Pregnancy can be stressful, for sure.
One of the biggest questions facing new moms is whether to continue working after the baby is born or stop working to be a stay-at-home mom. For many, the answer is obvious. They depend on their weekly paycheck to buy necessities such as diapers and chardonnay. But sometimes the answer isn’t as clear. Maybe it’s an overflowing savings account, a generous divorce settlement, or even an Airbnb garage rental, but whatever the extra financial security is attributed to, more moms are saying buh-bye to their full-time job and hello to full-time mommyhood. Others take time off—maybe for a year or until their kid is in school all day. Others compromise, relying on part-time employment.
I had hoped to take a year off myself. I was married at the time, and both my husband and I worked crazy-long hours. We decided that, with some cutbacks and compromises, we could swing it, but with the help of many part-time jobs, an at-home catering business, and a 12-title book series, “one year” eventually became 18.
Although there are many positive things that came from my decision to give up my career and be a stay-at-home mom, there were plenty of negatives I wasn’t expecting. Let me shed some light on those learned truths. They might help you make a decision if you’re pondering whether or not to quit your job.
1. You get bored. Being with a tiny human all day can be the dullest, most mind-numbing job in the whole, wide world. Babies don’t engage in celebrity gossip, enjoy binge-watching House of Cards, or like to bond over a mani-pedi. They just lay there eating, crying, excreting, and needing things all the livelong day. After being alone with them for hours on end, day after day after day, you become mentally starved for stimulation. You devolve into one of those people you once laughed at who talk the ear off any grocery clerk or bank teller forced to listen.
2. You become obsessed with your child. With no other project or goal, your kid becomes your entire world. You compulsively read every theory on how to properly raise him and judge others who do it differently than the books say you should. You seek out and limit your friends to other moms who are also obsessed with their kids. That is not only bad for you but also horrible for your offspring. You end up cushioning his every fall and robbing him of learning from his mistakes and dealing with disappointment.
3. You wonder, What if? As the years go by, you wonder what your life would have been like if you continued on with your career. Your former coworkers have climbed the ladder of success while you remain at home pretreating laundry and contemplating the perfect way to fit as many dirty dishes as you can into the dishwasher.
4. Reentering the job market might be tough. Eventually, your child grows up and doesn’t need you as much, and you’re stuck in limbo. You have all this free time but nothing to do with it. You’re not qualified to get your old job back (technology changed, your contacts left, and you realize that someone else has taken your horse on the job merry-go-round), so you have to start at the bottom again. Sure, you’re going to make the same hourly wage as your teenager who scoops ice cream, but you reluctantly take it anyway.
5. What retirement? As your child finishes high school and is in the throes of her meanest and most rebellious years, you realize that all your sacrifices, boredom, and penny pinching didn’t mean a hill of beans. You’re no closer to your child than your working-mom friends, and they have retirement accounts plumper than a ballpark frank.
On the flip side, being a working mom can be a living hell. You’re a hamster on a wheel spinning at a mad, panicked pace to get everything done. Life becomes one endless to-do list, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to do your job and take care of the house and kids—oh, and yourself, of course (yeah, right!). You’re emotionally spinning as well, feeling guilty when you’re away from your child and guilty when you’re missing work to care for your child.
It’s true that at work you can relish having an uninterrupted phone call, being able to eat your meal in one sitting, and talk in multisyllabic sentences, but it’s a dagger to your heart when you kiss your crying baby good-bye in the morning and miss so many firsts because you’re up to your eyeballs in work e-mails. And although you think working makes financial sense, that’s not always the case. I know many moms who spent the first five years at their jobs just paying for their child’s day care. They knew they would eventually get ahead, but until their kid was in school all day, they either broke even or lost money.
If you’re pondering the decision, just be sure to factor in the following expenses:
1. Taxes on services. Whether you’re paying a nanny or child-care facility, remember that, because of taxes, you have to earn more money than those services actually cost in order to pay for them and the extra costs in taxes.
2. Coffee and lunch. Eating lunches out and going on coffee runs can easily tack on hundreds of dollars per month. Sure, you can brown-bag it, but when your coworkers invite you to join them at the new Mexican place down the street, it’s hard to say no gracias.
3. A work wardrobe. It’s way more expensive to dress for the office than for home. Clothes, accessories, and dry cleaning can add up, not to mention makeup and weekly blowouts.
4. Travel expenses. Commuting to and from the office is another money suck. Gas, car repairs, car washes, tolls, and subway and Uber fares quickly add up. Plus, many auto insurers offer a discount if you’re a stay-at-home mom simply because you drive less miles.
Deciding whether or not to continue your career after you have a baby isn’t an easy one. It’s not black or white, but 50 shades of crazy, guilt-ridden, decision-making gray. Just be sure that while you’re making that decision, you’re looking at the entire picture and not just the squishy, delicious one of your baby. That will wreak havoc on your decision-making powers!
Joanne Kimes, ESME’s Parenting Resource Guide, is the writer and creator of the best-selling Sucks book series (some titles include Breastfeeding Sucks, Potty Training Sucks, and Teenagers Suck) and coauthor of The Stay-At-Home Martyr. She has contributed to numerous blogs and magazine articles, and has appeared on NBC’s Today show, Life & Style, and KTLA news.
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