In an increasingly demanding workforce and struggling economy, the choice to stay home or return to work after bringing home a baby or two is tougher than ever to make. Choosing between financial necessity and full-time parenting without outside help is not easy to decipher. Every family approaches it differently based on the status of their family, finances and personal preferences.
I have four children ages five and under. My oldest goes to all-day Kindergarten and the next one heads to preschool four days per week. That leaves a three-year-old and seven-month-old at home every day. Sure, I could go out and find an office job and pay into child care and after-school care and bring home the rest. Nearly two years ago, my husband and I decided it made more sense for me to work-from-home instead.
Why me, and not him, you might ask? Simple.
He already had work-from-home perks on a part-time basis. With me home too, that meant four adult arms on hand to help with the daily child-rearing tasks (most of the time) between meeting deadlines and putting in our time “in the office.”
It was not in the cards for either of us to completely leave the workforce; no amount of coupon clipping or energy saving tips was going to make being a stay-at-home parent financially feasible. Besides, I enjoy my work and had anxiety about what time away would mean for my long-term goals. The fact is that 73 percent of women who decide to stay home for any amount of time to raise children report having trouble finding a job once they are ready for full-time status again.
Right now I want to be home, and share in the school shuttling, and be available at a moment’s notice for all of the minor disasters that arise in a day of raising little ones. In a few years, who knows how I’ll feel. I understand that all jobs are hard to land and I am not entitled to the one of my choosing when I feel like changing my working routine. Still, at least some continuous experience in my industry will look better to a prospective employer than a gap that spans several years.
I know that mine is a story that is familiar to many parents, moms in particular. While I know plenty of stay-at-home dads, the responsibility of child rearing – and career abandonment – tends to fall on the female sex. For moms that have waited several years to establish a career and reach financial stability before breaking away from the workforce, the loss of those responsibilities is grieved. From talking with friends and family, I’ve found that this change is often accompanied by resentment toward offspring. That resentment results in guilt. That guilt is often taken out on a spouse or significant other.
Moms that decide to stay in the workforce full-time feel all the same emotions but for different reasons. A Pew Research Report found that 60 percent of moms wish they had more work-from-home or part-time hour flexibility from employers. Without some wiggle room on typically prescribed hours and schedules, many moms feel pressure to quit altogether, or feel that they are missing out on too much in the formative years of their children’s lives.
So what then is the solution? Moms who stay-at-home are miserable, and working moms report a misery of their own. I think that the answer is three-fold. First, women must be more assertive in recognizing and vocalizing their employment needs. We must not simply assume that our requests will go unheeded or that we are not “good enough” to ask for what we want.
The second area of change must take place with employers. Employers need to let go of the idea that employees that complete work-at-home somehow have it easier than those in the office. Sure, there are distractions at home, especially with kids involved, but have you ever worked in an office setting? Phones ringing, copy machines running, office gossip flying – talk about distractions. As long as the work is being completed satisfactorily and employees are available for communication via telephone or email throughout working hours, employers should embrace the work-from-home model when it is feasible.
The third tier of change involves an overarching cultural shift of positivity towards parents that decide to work and take a hands-on approach to child-rearing. From firsthand experience I can tell you that making the choice to do both things is NOT the easy way out. Working from home can actually make you work harder with all the distractions. Sometimes I wish there was an office where I could escape or a place to drop my kids for a few hours so I could actually sit and work uninterrupted. But then I remember that many working moms despise the office “escape” and feel disheartened when walking away from kids in child care – no matter how positive the developmental atmosphere for their little ones. It is a classic “grass is greener” scenario.
We accept that there are different learning patterns that work better for different children – so why can’t we accept that the same is true for career pursuits? One situation may work better for one family and that situation may change over the course of time. Parents feeling able to customize career paths without feeling like a “slacker” begins with cultural acceptance. With forward-thinking initiatives regarding parents and workplace flexibility, moms and dads have the opportunity to choose which career routine best fits their own agendas – both professional and familial.
Katie Parsons is a part-time writer for ChamberofCommerce.com. She specializes in business news affecting major markets in the U.S. ChamberofCommerce.com helps small businesses grow their business on the web and facilitates connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.