Is At-Home Motherhood For You?
For one lucky woman named Jennie, becoming a stay-at-home mom was a no-brainer. She’d always known that’s how she wanted to raise her children. Her family and friends were enthusiastic about the concept and told her so. And she and her husband had arranged the household budget from the outset of their marriage so that they were not reliant on her income. When the time came for their first kid to be born, she simply packed up her desk and moved in with her husband to start her new “job.” She says she’s precisely where she wants to be after five years and two children, and she enjoys her stay-at-home lifestyle.
However, for many other women (perhaps the vast majority), the decision is even more complicated and challenging. They want to spend more time with their children, but a drop in family income seems impossible to overcome. They are dissatisfied with the quality of their child’s daycare, but they are unsure that they have the skills to improve it. What if they quit their jobs and find that full-time parenting isn’t at all satisfying, but rather tedious? What if they’re never able to get back on track in their careers? What will people say if they quit their jobs after all those years of schooling and employment? The decision to become an at-home mother isn’t easy for them, or possibly for you.
Despite your strong desire to stay at home with your children, there are various factors to consider before making your decision. They vary from motivational questions to practical problems (like how can your family survive without two paychecks? ), as well as psychological and relationship concerns. You can increase your confidence that you’ll make the greatest decision for you and your family by answering the following questions. The questions will also provide suggestions for how to make at-home parenting a positive experience.
1. Why do you want to be an at-home mother?
Is it because you truly want to be available to your children at all times? You think you’re the finest person to care for and guide them? Because you enjoy spending time with them and wish to do it more often? All of them are fantastic and beneficial reasons to choose at-home mothering. If you answered yes to these questions, you’re on the right route to creating an at-home lifestyle that works for you and your family.
Is full-time parenting, on the other hand, appearing appealing just because you’re bored or frustrated at work? Or is it because, in comparison to what you’re doing today, being a stay-at-home mom seems like a walk in the park? Or because you’re fed up with your boss’s demands and grumpy coworkers and can’t seem to get ahead? These aren’t necessarily negative reasons, but if they’re your only motivations, you’re likely to be dissatisfied in full-time parenting.
While being a stay-at-home mom might be rewarding, it’s not exactly springtime in Paris. You haven’t experienced boredom and frustration until you’ve sang nine thousand verses of “Where Is Thumbkin” to your own crankiest, most demanding associate—your own precious two-year-old. But if you’re motivated by a want to be with your children, you’ll be able to keep going and even enjoy it.
Have you ever calculated your real take-home pay? That would be the amount that’s left after taxes, childcare, commuting costs, work wardrobe, meals out (or expensive convenience foods), gifts for co-workers, and the cost of household help for chores you can’t get done when you’re gone from the house 40 or 50 hours a week. Most women are pretty surprised how little is left.
2. How much money are you really taking from your outside job?
Have you ever worked out what your true take-home salary is? After taxes, daycare, commuting fees, work attire, meals out (or pricey convenience foods), gifts for coworkers, and the cost of domestic help for duties you can’t get done when you’re gone from the house 40 or 50 hours a week, that’s the amount that’s left. The majority of women are startled at how little is left.
3. Is your income absolutely essential to your family’s survival?
If the answer is yes, can you negotiate to bring some or all of your work home? Or, instead, can you job-share or work fewer hours in order to spend more time at home and save money on some of the above-mentioned expenses? If you’re a valuable employee, your boss may choose to negotiate with you rather than fire you. Or, instead, can you build a home-based business that meets your family’s needs rather than the other way around? More and more women are discovering that this is the ideal solution to the conundrum of wanting to stay at home yet needing to earn money. A new entrepreneur has a wealth of resources at his disposal.
4. How much can you “earn” by simplifying your lifestyle?
Can going out to dinner become a once-in-a-while treat rather than a regular occurrence because both adults are too tired to cook? Is it possible to buy food in bulk and apparel on the clearance rack? Is it possible to travel during the off-season, or do you prefer to backpack instead of staying in a hotel? Is a new car really necessary, or will a used car get you where you want to go? Will your friends admire you as much if you arrange a backyard potluck instead of paying for a pricey restaurant meal? All of these methods can be used to “make” money by simply spending less. Consider it “creative spending”—it’s only deprivation if you see it that way.
5. What about financial security for the future?
At-home mothers frequently worry that the moment will come when they will require outside employment and will be unable to obtain one. Unfortunately, divorce occurs, or the major wage-earning job disappears, or a family emergency necessitates the immediate appearance of more funds. You can never be certain that it will not happen to you. You can, however, start saving for an emergency fund right now (many financial gurus recommend 3-6 months’ worth of spending).
You can also keep your professional abilities current, making yourself even more marketable than before. As a stay-at-home mom, you set your own priorities and timetable. Take a computer class, a management class, or whatever else is appropriate. Studying a foreign language is a great way to broaden your horizons. Keep in touch with previous coworkers and make new relationships, noting that “who you know” is often more important than “what you know.” There are a slew of options for ensuring you’re not “trapped” when it’s time to re-enter the labor.
6. What important emotional perks have you been getting from your job?
A sense of achievement? A sense of “being somebody” because you have an occupation to announce? Self-esteem? A feeling of belonging? These all contribute to your overall well-being. Is it possible for you to replace these feelings in your at-home career? Are you able to set goals for yourself and give yourself credit for reaching them? Could you say, “I’m a full-time mother” and feel proud, knowing this is an important job you’ve chosen? Can you recognize that there are many ways of maintaining healthy self-esteem, and that most of them are do-it-yourself? Are you willing to take the initiative and find new peers who share your experiences as an at-home mom?
7. Which personal characteristics will help you succeed as an at-home mother?
Are you able to postpone the fulfillment of your current desires? (You can confidently answer yes if you’ve managed to work for 11 1/2 months while waiting for your annual vacation at work.) Are you driven by internal motivation rather than external motivation? To put it another way, do you produce great job because it’s the right thing to do and it makes you happy, or solely because your employer is watching and judging you? One of the difficulties of being a stay-at-home mom is that there is no structure until you create one. If you’re a self-directed person who enjoys running her own show, it helps a lot.
Are you confident in your ability to say “no”? When people find out you “don’t have a job,” you’ll likely receive a barrage of demands and requests. You will not be able to achieve your aim of spending more time with your children if you agree to everything. Is it possible for you to live without the ruthless rivalry that may have been a part of your previous job? Even though she’s the clumsiest kid on the balancing beam, can you appreciate young Katie’s gorgeous smile? If you want your children to be perfect little super-achievers in order to make you look good, you will make them unhappy. Do you have compassion, warmth, and patience? They’re all necessary.
8. Do you trust yourself?
You may feel like a modern-day pioneer without road maps or role models if you decide to stay at home and raise your children full-time. You’re well aware that “experts,” society, and your peers all have expectations for what you “should” do. Are you confident in your ability to choose the right path for you and your family in the face of such adversity? Do you have a good understanding of your own personal values? Do you believe you can develop a family lifestyle that works for everyone, even if it means making changes as needs and circumstances change? Parenting is, at best, a “work in progress,” whether full-time or not. It greatly aids your confidence in your ability to find your own path over time.
Is your husband or partner “on board” with your goals and plans? If not, think long and hard before making the change, a decision of this magnitude should be made with the cooperation of all members of the family old enough to have an opinion. Enlisting your partner’s support might be a simple matter of sharing your reasons and pointing out the ways he, too, can benefit from having someone on duty in the home. Even if he agrees in principle that at-home mothering is a good thing, he may still be unsure of how the two of you can pull it off. Review your responses to the “Practical Concerns” section with him, and listen, really listen to his as well.
It is virtually certain that he’ll have concerns you may not have thought about, such as fear that he’ll feel “left out” of the family. Perhaps you can offer to make the move gradually, by switching from full-time to part-time employment while you both evaluate how it’s working. While your little ones will be delighted to have more time with mom, your older children (especially middle- and high-schoolers) may initially be against it. They fear that you’ll be watching every more they make, not a pleasant prospect. And if you’ve historically tried to make up for your absence by indulging them with material possessions, they also fear they’ll never have another pair of the “right” athletic shoes. Be patient–give them a chance to discover that mom is more than a “money machine.” Realize that all the relationships in the family will evolve over time and that most of you will find that they become deeper and more satisfying. (Of course you have to be realistic here: don’t expect your teenagers to thank you until someday when they have children of their own!)
9. Who supports your at-home choice?
Is your partner or husband on board with your ambitions and goals? If not, consider again before making the change; a major choice like this should be made with the input of all family members who are old enough to have an opinion. Sharing your reasoning and pointing out the ways he, too, may benefit from having someone on duty in the house could be all it takes to win your partner’s support. Even if he feels that at-home mothering is a wonderful idea in principle, he may be unsure of how the two of you will make it work. Review your answers to the “Practical Concerns” section with him, and pay attention to what he has to say.
It’s almost certain that he’ll have problems you haven’t considered, such as a fear of being “left out” of the family. Perhaps you might offer to make the transition gradually, by switching from full-time to part-time job while you and your partner assess how things are going. While your younger children will be overjoyed to spend more time with mom, your older children (particularly middle- and high-schoolers) may be hesitant at first.
They’re afraid you’ll be watching everything they do, which isn’t a nice thought. They also fear they’ll never have another pair of the “perfect” athletic shoes if you’ve tried to compensate for your absence in the past by lavishing them with worldly goods. Allow kids to discover that mom is more than a “money machine” by being patient. Recognize that all family ties will change with time, and that the majority of you will find that they become richer and more fulfilling. (Of course, you must be practical here: don’t expect your teenagers to thank you till they have their own children!)
10. Where will you find the support you need to be happy as an at-home mother?
Most women are so relationally orientated that they might become fairly miserable if they don’t have a strong support system. In fact, it’s frequently one of the aspects of their professions that people enjoy the most: the back-and-forth over lunches, having someone “drop by” their desks, and sharing a common goal with nice coworkers. There are no built-in rewards for the stay-at-home mother until she actively seeks them out. Your typical support structure may practically vanish if you decide to abandon the world of outside job.
Fortunately, “replacement parts” can be found with a little effort. Can you remind yourself that, as much as you love your family, you also need to interact with people on a daily basis? Can you get the courage to make the initial move toward making new friends? Are you willing to attempt new things for yourself and your kids, things that will put you in touch with other women who share your new way of life? Accept that your partner will not be able to supply all of your emotional demands and that you will have to fill in the gaps? You may considerably boost the likelihood that your years as a stay-at-home mother will be meaningful and enjoyable if you do these things. Those with whom you experienced your children’s growing-up years are some of the best friends you’ll ever have.
11. Have you established a healthy relationship with your children?
Even though your time together has been minimal, do you and they already appreciate each other’s company? Do you value their viewpoints? Do they respect your authority as a parent? Do you have faith in your parenting abilities? Are you willing to get the information or advice that will help you improve your relationship if you don’t already have it? Are you willing to confront your personal difficulties that may be preventing you from being a successful parent? Are you willing to acknowledge you don’t know everything? To read parenting and self-esteem books? To look for other mothers to serve as role models? And, if things are really out of hand, should you seek counseling?
A Bonus Question
Beyond these 11, there is one more question, a “bonus” question that doesn’t fit well into any of the other categories but is the most significant of them all. It concentrates on the single factor that is most likely to decide whether this or any other endeavor succeeds or fails:
Are you willing to do what it takes to succeed as an at-home mother?
It would be a miracle if you had responded yes to all of the other questions. Rather, you must be willing to put in the effort necessary to achieve. This could help you acquire a new skill, practice patience, put your shyness aside to develop a support system, or even remind yourself (everyday!) that you’re at home with your kids because you want to be. Your new employment as a stay-at-home mom will be successful if you’re willing to put in the effort.