Some of us always knew that after a maternity leave we'd be back at work. Others of us knew we wouldn't, and couldn't wait to spend time at home with our young children. But for all the women who go through pregnancy serenely, certain of their path, there are many others who agonize over what to do after the baby comes. Continue the career they always loved? Or stay home with the baby they always will love?
According to new Census Bureau data, more and more women are opting to stay home with their newborns. Fifty-five percent of women with infants were in the labor force in June 2000 (the most recent data), compared with 59 percent two years earlier. That drop, though modest, is the first in a quarter-century.
Public opinion is behind this movement. A Gallup Organization survey last year found that only 13 percent of the people polled thought that the ideal family situation was for both parents to work full-time outside the house. Forty-one percent believed that the ideal would be for one parent to work full-time while the other worked either part-time or at home. And another forty-one percent felt that one parent should stay home solely to raise the children while the other parent works.
But statistics don't tell the whole story. "The data might show that fifty-five percent of these women are in the workforce, but my question is, how many of them really want to be?" says Cheryl Gochnauer, author of So You Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom?. Gochnauer, who also runs the Web site www.homebodies.org, had always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but assumed that her family couldn't afford it. "I was a working mom for six years before I did the math and figured that if you considered all my working expenses, I was only clearing thirty-nine dollars a week," she says. "I asked my husband if he could pick up that much extra in overtime. He said, 'yes,' and I said, 'I'm outta there!'"
In addition to finances, women considering staying at home with their children should also gauge their partner's support, as well as how it will affect their emotional/psychological happiness:
To consider how much money your family would lose by your staying at home, first subtract from your income all the expenses related to your working. These expenses include taxes, childcare, transportation, clothing, dry cleaning, lunches out, etc. What's left is the amount of money your household truly loses by your staying at home. Then see if you can compensate for the difference by either cutting back on extras (vacationing in Florida instead of France might be acceptable, but not having enough money for groceries certainly isn't) or finding out if your partner can make up all or most of the difference in income. Some women -- and all single parents -- will find that their working is a financial necessity. But many women will be surprised to find that when all the expenses are figured in, the decision to have one parent stay at home is not as financially frightening as they'd thought.
- Partner Support
This is a couples decision, and you and your partner need to be in sync about whatever you decide. For the most part, says Gochnauer, men aren't thinking in terms of touchy-feely issues such as your desire to be close to the children. "Men want to know the bottom line: how you're going to eat," she says. If a woman intent on staying home approaches her husband with everything lined out financially, chances are he'll support her decision to stay home.
- Emotional Health and Happiness
While mothers who work full-time outside the home feel frustrated and guilty about the lack of time they have with their children, stay-at-home mothers feel plenty of frustration, too. The most common complaints of stay-at-home moms have to do with loneliness and sense of self. The isolation of being at home with small children can be quite a shock, especially for women who'd had full-time careers beforehand. And the loss of a title and job affiliation can mean a crisis of self-identity.
Combat loneliness by joining local parenting support groups such as Mothers of Preschoolers or Mothers & More. Work with your partner's schedule to find at least one time a week where you can get out of the house on your own to be with other adults -- in a book club, adult education course, exercise class, etc. And definitely keep your work skills fresh for the day when you may want to return to your career. "Go out to lunch every few months with your old colleagues, take an occasional course, keep in touch with your old business associates and contacts," advises Gochnauer.
By the way... all the above advice is applicable to men, too. Gochnauer says that the past few years have seen a new emphasis on the family, and that both men and women are feeling the tug of home. "I've definitely seen an upsurge in the number of guys who want to become stay-at-home Dads, too," she says.
The content on these pages is provided as general information only and should not be substituted for the advice of your physician.
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