For a while now, I've been thinking about starting a series of posts on occassion about why I chose to do certain things. Over six years into motherhood now, I am well-acquainted with the Mommy Wars. Its not simply confined to working v. staying at home, it touches on EVERYTHING we moms have to make choices about - breastfeeding v. formula feeding, extended rear-facing v. early turning, co-sleeping or not, and the list goes ON and ON and ON. Of course, I think MY way is the best way for me. That is why I chose it. But some people get this idea that if you feel passionate about your own personal choice, that it means you look down on and cast judgment about their opposing choice. To be honest, as long as your kid is being cared for, I don't really care what you chose to do. I have too much going on in my own life to stick my nose into other's business.
I think a more productive use of these conversations (rather than getting offended or feeling high and mighty) would be to really LISTEN to each other and why each one of us makes the choices that we do. Only then can you begin to understand the nuances and differences in each woman's life and family dynamic. Only then can we move from sparring with each other in an attempt to constantly one-up each other (and I'm still trying to figure out what the "prize" is for winning), to supporting each other. Because what it boils down to is: motherhood is a hard, yet beautiful, job. We can ALL learn from each other.
So, to kick off this series, I thought I'd start with an issue that was put on center stage for me recently: Why I Chose to Work.
Now, I should put it out there from the start that it really isn't much of a "choice" per se. While there once was a time in my life when I could have afforded to stay at home, that is not my situation now (at least not without some MAJOR consequences and lifestyle adjustment to subsistence living). My family needs my income and my benefits from my employment. If I were offered an opportunity to be a stay at home mom for a few years, I think I would jump on it. But that simply is not my reality. So, I am going to embrace this as a "choice" rather than a prison sentence, and make the most of it! In so doing, I am going to focus on the positives (because I'm like that).
(in no particular order...)
#1 - I think being a well-rounded woman makes me a better mom. Kids benefit from a little space. No one needs a helicopter mom! Having something that I do away from my kids gives them that space. And it gives ME diversion. I would go crazy if all I did was obsess over my kids 24/7. Of course, working isn't the only way to do this. The same objective can be met through volunteer activities, hobbies, clubs, etc. I just don't want my children to see only one dimension of me: mom. I want them to see that I am mutli-dimensional. And that includes my career. I happen to like my career. I want them to see that.
#2 - I know that if anything were to happen to my husband, I would be able to provide for my children. Oh, and I guess this would be a good place to say I have over $100K in student loans to pay back from law school. Small point.
#3 - My children benefit from being cared for by others and the structure that comes from that environment. I tried my darndest to provide a "mimic" of this environment for Bennett while I was home with him on maternity leave, but failed miserably! He begged me daily to take him to school. He LOVES the structure, activities and friends at school. Bennett stayed at home for the first 2.5 years. Once he started preschool, he BLOSSOMED. We saw a measurable difference in his mood, his behavior and his development! Peer pressure can be positive! He also formed valuable bonds with his caretakers. Isla too - She LOOOOVES her teachers - it is so sweet!!!
#4 - Spending time away from the kids makes me really appreciate the time I DO have with them! I get so excited to come home every day to see my babies. Because of this, I am able to really focus on them 100% and give them quality time and attention. I'm sure some stay at home moms are able to do this well, but I really struggled with this when I was at home. I was constantly trying to conquer another task on the to-do list and had a hard time focusing on being present with the kids. And heck - *I* need structure too!
#5 - Its nice to pee alone at least once a day. And to have a complete thought. At home, there is at least one child hanging off me 24/7. I don't even get to sleep sans kids! I'm not "complaining" about that per se, but no one is going to tell you they don't enjoy a solo trip to the potty every once in a while.
#6 - I like having a sense of accomplishment. This is a totally selfish point, but one I think is undervalued by women. I was reading President George W. Bush's new book Decision Points and was struck by something he said in there - While explaining to their 17 year old daughters that his decision to run for president was not to ruin their lives, he told them that this was his and Laura's way of living THEIR lives. As parents, we all want our children to dream big. We want them to live life to the fullest! We tell them you can be or do ANYTHING you put your mind to. Can't we do that too, as parents? If not, then aren't we lying to our children? And what type of message are we sending our daughers?
Now, before you get your panties in a bunch, I fully acknowledge that what some people want is to be full time moms, and that is in and of itself a very worthy goal. If I raise happy, healthy, God-fearing and society-contributing children - THAT will be my greatest accomplishment of my life. My point is - go for your dreams! Your children will learn by example.
So, in sum...if I had the opportunity, I would take a few years to stay at home while my kids are little and still want me in their hair. But since I can't, there are still plenty of good reasons to stay in the work force and make the most of it. I refuse to let myself be rendered guilt-stricken. I'm going to focus on the PROS and take whatever steps I can to minimize the cons (i.e. optimize the quantity and quality of time I DO spend with my children and make sure I'm there when it COUNTS).
So, ladies - what are your "reasons" for working or staying home? What is your "ideal" situation?