Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stay-at-home vs. work

Mothers who choose to stay at home with their children and are able to do so are often criticized for "wasting" their education and frequently find that their contribution is undervalued, particularly if they have a difficult time keeping the house spotless because they are immersed in activity. Mothers who choose to work outside of the home are often criticized for outsourcing the raising of their children for their own selfish pursuits.

Having done both and having had a multitude of conversations about this very topic, I felt as though I might like to explore this topic on my blog. Please leave comments and let me know where you stand. Particularly if I reference you and you either appreciate it or need to correct me.

First, on the stay-at-home side, it is really important for a child to be home with a parent for the first year. Children bond with their parents, but to be around them for most or all of the first year makes it that much stronger. Is it possible for everyone? Not at all. Fortunately, we were able to do that for The Boy, having him home with Daddy during the day (which was how he and later I got into parent-blogging in the first place). While I was the one nursing him in the afternoons and at night, and on the weekends, Daddy was the one with him during the day. He still bonded with me as his primary security person during his first year, but Daddy ranked WAY higher than most daddies tend to and now Daddy outranks everyone.

As for the wasted education, sure, a mother who puts her astrophysics career on hold for 5 years to have 2 kids and stay home with them until the younger one is in preschool is not doing the world of astrophysics any favors, and she unfortunately will take a hit career-wise, but her education is not going to waste. Children who stay at home with a parent who has an advanced degree are being supervised by an adult who generally has more education than a person who is working at the daycare center. This is not a slight at people who teach at daycare centers and preschools. In fact, the daycares are generally well-run by experts, and parents feel comfortable sending their kids there. More on that later. If you are a parent with good education and you are able to stay home with your child, and you choose to do so, you are choosing to provide your child with a well-education caregiver. Thanks to my friend Jo from Australia for feeding this part of the discussion.

My sister was concerned about this point, saying that certainly my children benefit, and my siblings and I did as well, from being home with Mom, because both my mother and I have advanced degrees in education. My mother responded that a well-educated person, no matter the subject, has a strong vocabulary and a certain level of discipline, not to mention the specific subject area knowledge. Nevermind the educator training--I'm a musician, and even though I can't teach my 2-year-old or my infant to play instruments yet, I can play for them, sing for them, and even when speaking I sometimes sing to them. Your passions as people affect your life as parents. And if they don't, they should.

My aunt said that I should never apologize for staying home and taking care of my children. No matter if I came by it as a result of my circumstances or if I came by it voluntarily. She is a mom with an advanced degree whose children greatly benefited from her presence.

EDIT: "With her degrees in astrophysics, she's reading Goodnight Moon and wiping behinds." Well, spin it around, and you have something more along the lines of "Her kids were raised by, and spent their days with, an astrophysicist."

Now, on the other hand, group childcare settings are great for encouraging skill development. Every time The Boy is around other kids, he tries to do the things that they do. Not that we'd always want our kids to do what other kids are doing, but I remember The Boy being around other kids when he was just learning to walk and he was trying to walk more as a result of seeing the other kids.

Working with my sister's thought about children benefiting from time around educators, child care professionals have dealt with children and their issues and frequently will have solutions to problems that parents might not otherwise have considered. Granted, parents who don't want to get involved in teaching their children, in whatever capacity they can, are shirking their duties. Plain and simple. Parents are to oversee the education of their children. Even though when children are older they take more responsibility and teachers are seen as the facilitators, at no point should a parent say "that's teacher stuff--I don't have that kind of training" or "I'm an astrophysicist, not a teacher." Particularly not when children are little. Anyhow...teachers learn to read stories and ask questions; parents should do the same for their children and encourage them.

Some parents find that being able to work outside of the home and then return to their children allows them to be better parents to their children. I felt that way when The Boy was little and I was working. I even said that I go to work to relax. And that schoolyear was pretty good overall.

It's interesting, that my opinion has swayed back and forth and while I see the benefits of both, I know that my place right now is with my boys. And my career is still waiting for me.


The Reluctant Crunchy Mama said...

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. After much thinking and chatting with my husband, I have decided that, in an ideal world, I will not work more than 20 hours/week until my daughter goes to preschool. I know that my career will take a big hit, but so be it. Money and success are not as sweet and adorable as my daughter! I know that there are daycares with very competent teachers/caregivers, but they are not my husband or I. I am very lucky that we can live on one income. Being at home full-time is not a piece of cake. In fact, it is tiring and frustrating at times. I often feel as though my entire day revolves around my daughter. I crave me time often. I very much appreciate little breaks and I look forward to naptime! But, on the upside, I know what my daughter is seeing, doing, learning... I have been able to breastfeed her for as long as her and I want. I know she is securely attached to her father and I. I get to see all the firsts, rather than hearing about them from a daycare staff person. I hope no one misinterprets my comment; I am not implying that putting one's child in daycare is bad. I am simply sharing my feelings on this and I feel blessed that I have the choice to work or not to work. I know there are many moms out there who would give anything to stay at home, but cannot do so.

MommyP said...

I have been on both sides of this discussion, and I only have one kid! I went back to work when he was 9 weeks old, because that was what we thought we had to do. There was never a discussion about whether I would stay at home or not, I was just going to go back to work. But around 9 months, my little man started having some health problems, which led to some delays, and I decided to stop working and stay home. I have a music degree and a psychology degree, but my son and his future is way more important than my career. I have no plans to go back to work until he is in kindergarten.

Daycare was not bad for him, except that at such a young age, who can say that he gained much from it, really? He does go to a Children's Day Out program one day a week, and at 3, will probably do some part-time preschool, but all of these things compliment my staying at home, and are not replacements for our time together.

I agree with PP - it is an exhausting, frustrating job, and anyone who says we are "wasting" anything should spend a day in our shoes - particularly yours, Molly! Your job is way tougher than any I can imagine, and kudos to you for doing it so well.

Michelle said...

Since being laid-off in March, I can definitely say that being a SAHM is the hardest job I've ever had. I love that I've spent the past 6 months with Kayla though. I know these are precious times because the reality is that I do have to find a new job. I WANT to find a new job. But once I am back to work, I know I will miss these days - even the hard ones. And no day care, regardless of how good they are, will take care of her like I do.
It a tough part of mommyhood because no matter what you do, there is someone out there telling you that you're wrong.
If a woman is able to make her own choice to stay home or work, then she is lucky. If she doesn't have the choice, then we must applaud her for doing what is best for her family and situation.

areyoukiddingme said...

I was able to (mostly) stay at home with my daughter for her first year. I don't know if I agree about the bonding being done in the first year, though. My husband was also home with us for her first 5 months. He went back to work after that, and at 7 months, started working out of state. He would be gone for anywhere from 2-6 weeks at a time, and then be home for 10 days or so. My daughter is a total Daddy's girl, has been from birth, and there is nothing that will break that bond.

I think that it is good for some moms and some kids to stay at home. I think it is good for some moms to work and some kids to go to daycare. If not for daycare, I think my daughter would be painfully shy. When we're out together, she clings to me. I encourage her to talk to people when she has questions about them, and sometimes she does. If she didn't have the daycare experience, where she is forced to interact with people other than mom, dad, and grandma, I think she would freeze up entirely. As for me, I'm educated and intelligent, certainly, but I'm not creative enough to keep a quick mind entertained day in and day out. My daughter speaks very well, and nothing gets by her, and I hope that's at least partly from me talking to her all the time and pointing out things to her. I think, though, that I am able to rebuild my reserves of patience when I'm at work.

In short, I guess it's: know yourself, and know your child(ren), and make arrangements to meet everyone's needs as much as possible.

Musical Daddy said...

I >>LOVED<< being a SAHM. Loved every second of it. It was really the happiest year of my life. It was hard - but The Boy was a pleasure to deal with, on the whole. I also do enjoy doing the housework stuff when I can do it. My career? So what? Kids will still need teachers in a couple of years.

Sarah R said...

My husband has stayed home with our son since I went back to work after my maternity leave. I love the relationship they have and am happy whenever I think about the things they get to do together. :) While it's not a traditional role for the father to stay home, I don't like that people imply that he's not "contributing". People have actually said that to me. I find it ridiculous. We can afford to live off my income, and then some--we are not struggling by any means. Why not have one parent stay home?

nancy said...

I've done both and I have some very strong viewpoints.

Your comment, "it is really important for a child to be home with a parent for the first year. Children bond with their parents, but to be around them for most or all of the first year makes it that much stronger". That offended me. (not in a pissed off way). I was a working mother with the first two children and I don't believe I bonded any less than had I been at home. Here is why ...

I believe you make the most of your time. I worked, so weekends, early mornings and afternoons/evening were VERY important for us. I "made up" for not being with them during the day. Our bonding time was just more concentrated than had I been with them all day. Also, since I got a "break" from the kids during the day and I got to be Nancy, the adult career woman, I was a better mommy in our time together.

Now, as I'm home with karl, I find myself not having that concentrated time. I'm just at home doing stuff, instead of focusing soley on him. So the girls got very concentrated time and karl gets more time, but less concentrated. Does that make sense?

I simply don't think I'm bonding MORE with my son than I bonded with my daughters. The time spent is simply different.

Sarah said...

This is a tough subject for me. I always thought I would be a full-time SAHM, but still did the whole college/carreer thing in the meantime. Then- we had kid(s) and my hubby and I have hugely different veiwpoints. I still see myself happier as a sahm, and think it is a finacial sacrifice worth making, and worth putting the career on hold for; while he isnt willing to make that sacrifice finacially.

It's probably the most difficult thing we have dealt with yet in our marriage because we both feel so strongly in different directions.

Luckily, the husband and I have come to terms and I will be working part-time when I return from maternity leave. It's a compromise on both sides, not exactly what I want, not exactly what he wants. but, it is a start, and hopefully we all can be happier and more content in our lives with this change.