Ok, ok — so I admit the headline may sound a little inflammatory, but I’m not here to add fuel to the fire of the “mommy wars” of stay at home vs. working moms. I really admire what all you stay at home moms do and the fact that it works for your family. But this post is about why being a working mom makes sense for my family, and I hope moms on both sides of the divide can gain some insight here.
1. Financial necessity
With my husband and I both working in fields that are personally satisfying yet not exactly pulling in six figures (him: self-employed landscaper; me: print journalist), we need both salaries to support our family. If we lost one of these incomes, we would be in pretty serious financial straits. Let me be clear: this is not a selfish decision, and we do not live a lavish lifestyle. I drive a 13-year-old car. We don’t have cable. We rarely eat out. We’re about now a family of five living in a 1400 square foot house. However, we live in a neighborhood we love, we eat good food, and we usually take a modest Summer vacation. We don’t want to give any of that up, and we’re both willing to work to make that happen.
2. My mother
My mom, a lifelong teacher, retired early when my daughter was born seven years ago to become a full-time grandmother, and she hasn’t looked back. She is a selfless caregiver who not only takes care of her three grandchildren, but also her 88-year-old mother, several days a week. We are extremely fortunate to have her in our lives—so close by, and so willing and eager to take on this second act. My kids never watch television or eat junk food at her house. She saves everything, so my kids can now play with toys and games from my childhood. She does crafts and plays t-ball with the kids. Oh, and—she doesn’t charge us a penny.
3. Better life balance
I’ve never really attempted it, but I have a strong suspicion that I’m not cut out to be a full-time stay at home mom. It’s hard to say how I might feel if money were no object, but the pull to change our current lifestyle drastically enough so we could afford for me to quit working has never been strong enough. I enjoy my work and rarely feel guilty about doing it. I’m a pretty independent person, and I value my personal time and space a little too much to at the beck and call of little people 24/7. Since I am away from my children for quite a few hours during the week, I really try to make the most of the time I have with them.
4. Marital dynamics
Since my husband and I both work outside of the home, we are both responsible for juggling jobs as well as household and childcare duties. I am not the default one to pick up the sick child from school or wait for the pest control guy to come over. I may be the one who usually makes dinner and cleans the house, but my husband is the one who bakes the birthday cakes and helps my daughter deliver her Girl Scout cookies. It just wouldn’t sit right with me if our roles were clearly defined along gender lines: husband as provider and wife as child-rearer/caregiver. With both of us taking on both roles, we have more of an appreciation for what it takes to be both a working parent and an actively involved parent down in the trenches.
5. Job satisfaction/flexibility
I am extremely fortunate to work in an industry and an office where I have a great amount of flexibility and independence with my job and am not ruled by a time clock. If I worked in a factory or as a grocery store clerk, no doubt I would have a much stronger pull to leave that job behind and stay home with the kids. My boss (who has five children of his own) can empathize with the dilemmas faced by working parents and knows that work assignments can be completed outside of regular business hours. Similarly, since my husband is self-employed, he has great flexibility in taking the jobs he wants and making his own schedule and hours which allows him to help out with the kids as needed (except during his peak season of April-June).
All in all, I realize that our situation is unique and that my husband and I are very lucky to be in the position we are in and that we’ve figured out a way to make this thing work for our family. But really, aren’t all our situations unique? What works best for your family?