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To work or not to work outside the home

By Sharon M. Smith

That is the question many new moms (and some dads) ask. It just isn’t easy living in Southern California and deciding to quit your job to be at home. As an educated mother who has spent many years trying to advance in her career, just leaving it behind for a period of time is not an easy decision. Although, when we meet our baby there is suddenly a strong attraction to our newborn that all our career goals abruptly seem to not be as meaningful. There are many reasons a new mom stays at home or goes back to work outside the home, but yet the two camps seem to be at odds with one another. Some stay-at-home moms are critical of those moms who choose to go back to work while those mothers who go back to work can feel sorry for those who stay at home.

(Clarification: the term “go back to work” by no means implies that those moms who stay at home are not working. Salary.com states stay-at-home mom’s net worth at $134,121.)

Even though the two camps may be at odds with one another, according to Ralph Garner in his article “Mom vs. Mom” printed in the New York Magazine, “The working mom wishes she had more free time to be available to her child, and maybe have coffee after drop-off and the (stay-at-home) woman would maybe like to have something that’s a reflection of her as an individual - a label that says she’s a capable creative person who knows about more than just baby formula or after-school programs.”

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Working mothers can also feel unsupported from both businesses and the education system. Many schools, it is argued, “side with the stay-at-home mom.” Parent/teacher conferences are typically offered in the afternoon and no child care is available on all those Monday holidays - when many businesses are still up and running. Whereas few businesses are supporting working moms by not offering onsite child care or flextime. Often employees are held in high esteem the longer they stay and “burn the midnight oil.”

To discover what factors influenced the big decision to stay at home or go back to work, I asked some moms in the community to voice their opinions.

Tira is a mother of a 9-month-old boy and she left her career teaching Forth grade to stay at home. At first, her husband was encouraging her to continue teaching 50 percent of her time. Tira claims that “once I realized that something would suffer,” she and her husband decided that she would stay at home. She continues, “I am a very ‘all or nothing’ personality. I realized that either my class/students would receive all my efforts, strength, and dedication or my baby/husband would.”

She didn’t want to give only half to both knowing that one would suffer. The greatest challenge for Tira to remain in her decision to stay at home was suspending her career (which included credentials and a master’s degree) indefinitely, which she worked very hard to obtain. Tira admits that she hears the phrase “having it all” referred to mothers who also work outside the home, but she personally feels “that if I worked all day, then came home to take care of my family, my ‘having it all‚' would be stress, exhaustion, and terrible remorse for not spending more time with my family.”

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This decision has forced them to become creative in saving money by checking prices, cutting coupons and keeping a tight budget, but she is thankful they found a way for her to stay at home.

Ronda has a 3-year-old daughter and runs her business from her home office. She owns her own fitness/wellness company.

She and her husband have creatively established a schedule that allows her to work part-time, which includes 80 percent of that time from home and the other in meetings outside the home. At first it was difficult for her to work part-time from the home because she felt somewhat housebound.

Her husband was very supportive by rearranging his classes that he teaches at the college so he could be home to take care of their daughter in the afternoons. Ronda feels that her friends think that she says no to so much outside life. “I have little extra time and have to be very efficient,” which limits her availability for anything outside of family and work.

For the last nine years, Lorri has stayed at home with her two sons, leaving behind a career in publishing/advertising with publications such as “Rolling Stone,” “Vanity Fair,” and the San Diego Union-Tribune. It was difficult for her to make the decision to be the sole caregiver for their children and she knew she was leaving her career behind. Lorri also comments that she also “worried about how we would finically survive. My husband had just graduated from law school and was in the budding stage of his career and we had no relatives living here to help us with childcare. We lived on a shoestring budget for the first few years.”

In the beginning she felt conflicted in her decision, “like I lost my identify (and she admits her sanity) along the way and craved a job to validate me again.” She continues, “The idea that being in a ‘grown-up’ environment making my own money again sounded far more appealing than another routine day of changing diapers, naptime, cleaning, play dates and feeling more like a housekeeper than the ‘professional’ I used to be. But more often than not, just being with my children and watching the world through their eyes reminds me of how lucky I am to have this choice at all.”

It should be noted that I contacted full-time working moms for this article, but none returned my requests for interviews.

Each of us have a story of why we have chosen to work in or outside the home, but we must be supportive and squelch criticism of our sister moms. Our children and our families are the most important aspects of our lives and lets be supportive of other moms in their efforts. Here’s three cheers to solidarity among moms.

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