Career vs. SAHM
June 29, 2013 12:07 AM   Subscribe

Seeking wisdom from the experienced: pros and cons of working full time vs. raising kids full time ?

I've been a SAHM for the past two years with the option of returning to work within the next two months.

Being a SAHM doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s more physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting than any job I’ve ever had. The work never ends and I'm constantly second guessing myself:

Would I be setting a better example for our kids if I returned to the paid work force?

Are our kids better off because of the decision I made?

Would I be a more balanced person if I had a paid job?

Will anyone ever hire me again?

There are moments where I love my kids to bits and moments where I contemplate metaphysical intervention in return for some decent forty winks.

The option of going back of work is stressing me out. Financially it is beneficial but not essential. Assume daycare is taken care of. What other reasons do people work? I have sufficient social interaction with other mums and extended family. SO is supportive of whichever decision I make. My parents don't approve of me staying at home as they raised me to be independent (as in I can support myself without SO). They've worked hard all their lives and continue to work even though there is no immediate need. It feels like they do it for prestige or keeping up appearances or for the lack of better things to do. My work is ok (stable albeit boring job) but it does not really fire me up. I'm not attached to work or the so-called prestige of some professions (a friend refuses to quit his executive lawyer job even though he hates it because it sounds impressive and he spent too much time and resources to get to where he is). I do want to do what is best for my kids. I love my kids so so much and have been told that sometimes what is best for your kids is to let go of the notion that you can protect them from suffering and that it is only through suffering that they can transcend it and thus be more aware in life.

Sorry if my thoughts are a bit scattered. Need to make a decision soon and would very much appreciate other people's experiences and insights.

Thank you for your time :-)
posted by oink to Work & Money (42 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
If you don't like taking care of kids all day, and there's no reason that you have to, don't do it.

I don't understand how "suffering" comes into play here.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:11 AM on June 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

A lot of people find that work, for them, is basically a break from parenting. I think you probably should find something you want to do other than taking care of your kids all day every day, that will help you feel a bit more balanced and capable - whether that's work, charity, exercise, I don't know.

If my mom had been a stay-at-home mom she would have been miserable and so would I. She brought home to me this whole world of other things - travel, teaching me about industry, talking about the working world...

Other people I know have kids who really need more attention, or find satisfaction in cooking elaborate meals (and have arrangements with other friends, neighbors, and family to help with the kids, so it's not all exhaustion all the time). A lot of it depends on you and your family!

Do you think your mom did wrong by you, in working? (I'm sure that's the message your parents are getting from your leaving the workforce - that 'best for the kids' is not to work, and so you must think they failed you.) I think the real answer is that there's no One Right Answer for all families and all children.
posted by Lady Li at 12:28 AM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh, and I'm assuming that the whole 'suffering' thing is sort of shorthand for 'let them live their lives and make some mistakes and fail sometimes and stop trying to make the entire world 100% childproof'. Because I support that. Having space to explore and learn that you're not so fragile you can't survive a skinned knee (or a fall off a bike, or an argument with a friend) is pretty important.
posted by Lady Li at 12:30 AM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your parents and their opinions about you being a SAHM do not matter here: the ONLY opinions that matter at all are yours and your SO's.
posted by easily confused at 12:37 AM on June 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have a friend who worked all through her kids infancies and young childhoods and then quit to be a stay at home mom for 5 years when the oldest reached the age of 13. Her theory was that that was the age was when they really needed watching, that anyone can care for an infant but that pubescent kids and young adults growing up in the big city needed the attention of a full time parent. And a full time parent she was, she knew all of their friends and spent a lot of time teaching them to drive, going to sporting events, teaching them to cook and balance a checkbook and do laundry and all the stuff adults need to know. I always thought that whether she was right or wrong about this one thing (and her kids turned out awesome) she was already ahead of the game because she and her husband thought long and hard about what their family really needed and worked to make it happen despite what everyone else told them was the "right" way to do things.

Admittedly she was not ever a baby mad woman. And even when they were old enough to carry on conversation she got a bit bored and did some free-lancing and occasionally had to come over and drink several margaritas to cope with the mad politics of first time SAHM-hood in her mid 40s (oh, did your husband have an IPO??) but it all worked out. In fact the freelancing coincided with the explosion of mobile computing making her a happy and well compensated SAHperson and her husband was like wait!! I want to quit my job and work from home in my pj's too!! wtf?!? but that was a minor bump in the road.

Moral of the story: do what's right for the people in your family in this day and age, which is not necessarily what everyone tells you. And keep in mind that you are a person in your family.
posted by fshgrl at 1:12 AM on June 29, 2013 [16 favorites]

You seem indifferent to both options. It may not be *which one* you choose, but more of figuring out how you can be the best parent to your kids, and working backwards from there. Can you work on your stress levels and stay at home, being a little happier? Could you go back to your 'stable but boring job' and come home with energy and love to give to your kids when you see them in the evenings? I think there's something missing in each option as you describe it - something lacking in vibrancy, in direction, in energy. Maybe focus on that.

I don't inherently think either option is good or bad. It really depends on what you want and what your kids need. But you need to believe in your choice and not be sort of stuck in this default setting. They want a happy parent - working or staying at home isn't the bigger issue.

I work part-time nights (I have a stable but boring job as well. Is part time an option for you?) and this is a good balance for me. It is definitely a break to go to work; I look forward to it. But, if I was gone 40 hours a week, I'd feel like a stranger to my kids (I did work full time briefly, to make sure). Also, my parents take care of the kids when I sleep, so I feel they are in exceptional hands. If I did not have this setup and had to rely on an outside nanny/childcare center, I would not choose to work. I personally feel that even when I am just an okay parent (I'm tired, the kids are whiny, I'm cleaning up Sharpie black ink off the couch AGAIN, etc), that still trumps an outside caregiver who is doing a great job. I like being in control and knowing what my kids did all day - knowing what they were exposed to, how they were treated, how they were taught and how they were loved - so I choose to stay home, I WANT to stay home. It is more stressful for me to turn all of that over to someone else.

I also want to make it clear that there are days that are absolute shit and I really dislike being at home. It is the hardest thing I've ever done as well and I don't have it all figured out by a longshot. I feel that I am growing right alongside my kids - I am being stretched and pushed as a parent. I could get that from work if I chose, but at the end of the day when I fall asleep, I am more proud that I spent the day with my kids than if I learned some new protocols or procedures at work. I don't know how this will pan out in the future, but it is the proper choice for right now. This time with them as little ones is fleeting and I want to be present in it, with them. That's how I know what's right for me. I hope you find your right thing.
posted by sealee at 1:30 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Parenthood can adjust how you experience different aspects of your life. If you have the opportunity and support now, go back to work and try it. Maybe it'll be fulfilling while also being a good balance with your family life. If it is, great. If not, leave the job and resume SAHMing. You don't have to make a permanent decision. Try some things and see what works.
posted by quince at 2:09 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Why are your only two options to be a FT SAHM or FT work a stable/boring job? Since finances and daycare are not an issue why don't you go to school/choose a job that excites you/volunteer in a meaningful way/become an artist/switch places with your partner so they are the SAHP/open a business/work part time etc, etc? You are in a rare and envious position to have so many options and so few restrictions.
posted by saucysault at 3:11 AM on June 29, 2013 [21 favorites]

I can only relay my experience, as a full-time working mom. I love my job, it's fulfilling, intellectually challenging, fulfills my extroverted need to interact with people every day, and it's a nice place to work. Working helps me maintain a sense of self that I wasn't able to get when I was home on maternity leave (the only time I've been home all day with the kiddo). Financially, it was never really a choice on the table for me to stay home, so it wasn't a decision I had to wrestle with at all. Our son's daycare is awesome, they think of things to do with the kids that I never would, and he learns more from the other kids than I think he would pick up from us. He really likes it there, to the point where he sometimes gets mad at pick up time because he's having so much fun playing. Personally, I also like that he gets to learn from different adults with backgrounds that are different from our, and I like the exposure to other kids' viewpoints too (though I could live without him having already picked up on pretend guns from the other kids). The benefits of me working are so overwhelming for our family. I agree with others above that it sounds like part time might be a great option for you.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 3:16 AM on June 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have done both - working FT out of the home, and being a FT SAHM. (I currently work, and I have a 4-year-old and 1.5-year-old). There are pluses and minuses to both and I think it really depends on the person. I had a difficult time being a SAHM - a lot of domestic stuff does not come naturally to me and at the time, the 1.5-year-old was an infant and had reflux and a milk protein allergy and never slept and cried a lot. It was really hard and I spent a lot of my days crying myself, something I suspect I would not have done had I gone back to work.

I work now and I really like my job, but there are days I really miss my kids and the advantages of having one non-working partner. If either of both of them was sick, for example, my husband and I did not have to play the, "OK, who can take today off?" game. We got to see distant family more because it was only one person's vacation time to manage. It is a grind managing two kids and two working parents. Our house is often way more messy that I'd like, I have a huge pile of laundry in the basement and we could all probably stand to sleep more and eat better but are often so rushed that some things go by the wayside.

But, at the same time, watching both kids all day long by myself (something I do on Mondays, as I work Tuesday-Saturday), is fun but it is also such a grind sometimes. My kids are good kids and they play pretty well together but they do fight and they do get into trouble (scribbled crayon all over the walls? Check. Wily toddler taking off his own diaper and leaving it for me to find later? Check. And so on). I appreciate the break I get from working, and they go to the same daycare where they have a really good time playing with the other kids and getting to swim and go outside every day.

It just depends. I think if I could work 3 days a week instead of 5, maybe I'd like that better, I don't know. But it depends on the person. I don't think anyone can tell you what to do - you have to decide that for yourself. Some people thrive at being one or the other and some don't, but it's a really personal decision. And like someone said upthread, whatever you decide is not permanent - you can always change your mind.
posted by sutel at 4:06 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Truly great, amazing things are waiting for your children down both roads.

Cross that off your worry list.
posted by vitabellosi at 4:08 AM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

First and foremost, it has to be said, lucky you, count your blessings! You have loving support and money and options. You are already free of so much stress.

Have you ever wanted to start a business? Write a book? Take classes in a new field? Learn a trade? YMwillcertainlyV, but if it were me, if I could, I would delay the full-time job working for someone else and take the gift of time to explore what is both productive and meaningful for me.

By the way, I was a SAHM who went back to full time work when my kids were in high school. I loved that trajectory.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:28 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think I can not work. I like making money and what it means to make money. I would worry about financial security for me and my family if something happened to my husband. But that's me.

My mother was a SAHM until her youngest was in high school. I was really proud of her for going back to work. I tried to make her a lunch a few times, trying to be sweet.

I feel like among the other ways in which it affected me, being the daughter of a SAHM made it hard for me to picture Women in the Workplace. I don't blame my mother. I know she did her best. But when I was starting to work, I didn't really know what professional women wore to work. I didn't really see women going to work except for teachers like my mother. So I had to figure it out myself, which I'd totally not a big deal but it was something I had to figure out, is all.

My good friend is the daughter of immigrants. She was raised by parents and aunts because her parents worked so much. She wants to be a SAHM because she wants to be more hands-on as a mother than her mom was.

It sounds like you've identified some things that you don't want which is a good step towards identifying what you do want. I agree that there are a lot of things in between being a FT SAHM and FT working. My mother in law was a SAHM at one point and she still took the kids to daycare a few times s week or had a nanny some mornings. It sounds like you're in a good place and want to make it better so just try stuff out and see how it goes. Best of luck!
posted by kat518 at 5:07 AM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

For me personally being a SAHM was hair-tearingly difficult. My whole family is happier now that I work full time. While I'm physically tired when I get home, I'm psychologically recharged, and I'm so happy to be with my kids and husband in the evenings (whereas when I was a SAHM I was desperate to get out of the house and be with other people.)

For me it breaks down like this.

Some pros of working:
1. Greater financial comfort for whole family
2. Greater financial independence for me personally; while I don't anticipate getting a divorce, it was terrifying to me when I was a SAHM to know that I'd be screwed if that day ever came
3. Resume is fresh, don't need to worry about "what if I have to work someday and nobody will hire me," which was a constant worry while I was a SAHM
4. Variety of people and experiences throughout the day keeps me much happier than I was as a SAHM
5. I'm glad my daughters get to see me modeling professional work
6. Kids are happier to be in environments that are varied and exciting than they would be to be with just me. They got just as bored as I did when I was a SAHM.

Some cons:

1. It's extremely stressful for me when kids are sick or out of school for some reason and I need to "work at home." Multitasking in different categories like that (as opposed to just multitasking on work stuff or home stuff) makes me crazy.
2. I can't get involved in their school stuff (PTA etc)
3. They don't do extracurriculars because there's no infrastructure for getting them driven around to dance lessons etc; this worries me when I see other kids who get more "enrichment"
4. The laundry, oh my God, the f'ing laundry. Sometimes I just dump the clean piles in the guest bedroom and instruct the family to go in and find what they need when they need it and keep the door closed otherwise.

With regard to splitting the difference with part time options: this did not work for me. I found myself working almost as hard as the full-timers, but getting paid a fraction, my work wasn't as valued, and in looking back I feel like I wasted precious time that my peers used to establish better careers and now I'm playing catch-up. At the time it didn't feel like it mattered, but when I'm in the office and someone younger/dumber than me is at a higher level, it chafes.

Only you can make the decision for you, obviously, but my advice (you asked!) would be to go back to work and see how you like it. Give it three months and decide. There may even be factors you aren't anticipating (what if your kids hate daycare? What if they absolutely love it and thrive?) See what the options are.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:43 AM on June 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

The one thing that I remember from reading a ton of work-family research is that kids do better when Mom is doing what she wants to be doing.

So if you're happier as a SAHM and staying home, then the kids are better off. If you're happier working and you are going to work, then the kids are better off. If you're home wishing you were at work, not as good.

You'll be setting an example for your kids no matter what you do. The question is what example do you want to set? Not in terms of working or not, but in terms of how satisfied you are with what you do in your life.
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 5:46 AM on June 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

It sounds to me like you need a third option -- like you don't really want to be a full time mom but you also don't really want to go back full time to THIS job. So maybe it is time to think on some part time work options or a career change.
posted by Michele in California at 5:57 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

The thing my wife learned about being a stay at home mom was that most moms she talked to didn't approach it as work, and that's why it seems draining.

What do you do at work? You make plans, prioritize efforts and measure results. You make lists and check off items when they're done. When things go awry, you make adjustments and optimize, optimize, optimize.

But if you approach it as "everything is important, I must do it all everyday," of course you'll get overwhelmed. If you don't stop and analyze what's not working and fix it, you'll exist in a constant state of frustration.

Now, my wife isn't Wonder Woman. But she's smart enough to use a day planner.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:18 AM on June 29, 2013 [8 favorites]

If you're still living at your in-laws and it's still stressful and uncomfortable and working could help you get out on your own sooner, I would go back to work given what you've stated here. One reason to work is to accumulate money that can help you accomplish your goals (like saving for retirement, getting your own place, saving for college)

You aren't going to damage your kids by going to work and whether being a SAHM is better than working is highly situation-dependent.
posted by jeoc at 6:48 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

oink: "I do want to do what is best for my kids."

When I was struggling with this same feeling, my therapist reminded me of that old saw: "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!" In other words, what's best for your kids may just be for their mother to be happy, whatever she does.

It sounds as if you aren't in a position to have to work to keep your kids fed, clothed and sheltered. So you've got the basics covered. So now, just pick something. Stay home full-time. Go back to work full-time. Try something in between, like a part-time job or a commitment to a volunteer gig. Go back to school. The point is, pick something, and then reevaluate after a month or 6 months or a year or when the youngest is in school full-time or whatever time-frame works for you.

You can always change your mind.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:58 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Like kat518, I have a hard time imagining myself NOT working (it is, as Vizzini would say, inconceivable!). So I can't offer you the dual perspective of some of the other replies.

For me, working and my identity as a worker adds a great deal to my life and takes away very little from my role as a parent. Part of it is the tighter relationship between effort/reward. That parenting is a thankless task is a cliché, but a true one.

Also, even though I've never stopped working, I still spend a LOT of time parenting, although the content of parenting changes over the year. So whatever I like and dislike about parenting is still there, in abundance.

I do have the perspective of having a group of old Internet support group friends who went through divorces when their kids were in the grade school or high school years. The ones among them who were SAHMs for many years uniformly wish they'd returned to the workforce earlier, at least part time. I'm kind of in agreement with your parents: the ability for a woman to be self-supporting is an important sort of contingency planning issue, like having a few gallons of water and canned goods on hand in the event of catastrophe.

For me, the biggest con has been the scheduling factor: as mentioned upthread, getting kids to/from school and activities, having to arrange childcare during the summers once they were school age, staying home when they're sick and arranging doctor's appointments even when they're healthy, etc. I've been fortunate in that regard in that I've hardly ever worked a regular 8-to-5 schedule + commute during my years as a parent. That challenge can also be offset a little if your partner and you are on the same page about you going back to work and he is willing/able to split those sorts of commitments with you.

You may feel a bit pressured and overwhelmed by this decision because the 2-month timeframe is there for returning to your old job. But as many have said, that is probably not the ONLY alternative you have vs. remaining a FT SAHM.

As far as what's best for your kids: my sense is that the trend in research is showing that children's outcomes are really not that different one way or the other. To get all anthropological on you for a minute, one of the defining features of being humans is that there are SO MANY WAYS to solve the basic problems of survival--what to eat, who and how to marry, what types of societies to live in, how to dress, build houses, and so on. Flexibility is a fundamental trait of our species. So there are a lot of ways to successfully raise kids, and the devil is in the details.
posted by drlith at 7:07 AM on June 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you are able to do child care without having to work, than you are in the amazing position of being able to choose exactly what you want to do. Most people don't have that opportunity. Find what you enjoy doing and pursue that. The worst thing that can happen is that you end up back where you are now, where your choices are staying home or working at a job you don't love. Take this opportunity to try to make roads into a career you want to be in. Start writing that great American novel, or painting, or building a business plan for a new non profit organization, or build the next iphone, or whatever it is excites you.
posted by markblasco at 7:11 AM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

A lot depends on your energy level. Will you have help with housework?

Also, depending on your childcare options, your children may be exposed to more germs, be sick more often, and someone will need to be available to be home with them when they are sick (and also they will pass their germs to you, oh joy.)

Whatever decision you make, you aren't locked into it. You can try it and see how it works for your family. Or maybe as some other posters have said, you can examine other options.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:24 AM on June 29, 2013

I think you should head back to work and use that time to think about it. Guess what? You can quit if it's not working out for you or your family.

I have been a part-time freelancer/SAHM mom since my daughter was 3 months old. Had her in 3 day/week daycare since then and that's when I would do my freelance work at home. It has been a very nice balance. A wash in terms of costs of daycare/earned income but absolutely not a wash in terms of keeping me in my field, having a more engaged brain and feeling like I have adult contributions in the world of adults. :)

Let me tell you, on the days when I have been at home with my daughter, I have not found it easy to think about much else other than parenting. When I'm with my daughter, parenting, I feel like I am either doing or recovering from doing. (She's 2-1/2 now.) It doesn't leave much time for thinking about my life and career in a holistic way. So, I think you need to take the job just so you can think.

I'm about to head back into the world of full-time office work and I'm pretty fearful of all the change that comes with that. But I'm also excited -- excited to see how it'll go, excited to put more money away for kiddo's college fund, excited to contribute more to our retirement funds, excited to think about family travel in a bit of an expansive way and excited to be more fully engaged with other adults. My daughter seems ready to handle more daycare (and she loves it). But, when I start to freak out about the loss of family time, I tell myself: this is not permanent. This is stepping forward into something new and it's not closing a door.

And you know that there is not one way. Good luck!
posted by amanda at 7:26 AM on June 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

I work full time. Every morning as I leave for work my two year old asks me to stay, asks me to go with her for the day, or cries while asking for "more mommy." It is awful and breaks my heart. Every day I am at work at my own boring and unfulfilling job is one day of my daughter's life I won't get back to be part of in the way I'd like to. She changes so often I feel like I miss out on much of that because between work and the amount of time she is asleep I only get to see her for three hours a day during the week. It is not enough.

Ideally I would be able to only work two days a week and be a SAH mom to her the remainder of the week (I did this for the first year of her life and it was great). That is my number one goal in life at the moment. I miss being with her.

I don't necessarily think it is a good idea for a parent to completely give up their career to be home all the time. You can't predict the future and the death of a SO or a divorce may require a return to work (hopefully neither of those things but I've known people who have dealt with both and it is difficult) and an extended absence can make that really tough. In my profession an absence for longer than a couple years is particularly hard to come back from. Is part time work not an option for you? Maybe you haven't considered it and if that's the case then I would encourage you to do so.

Good luck.
posted by teamnap at 7:32 AM on June 29, 2013

Have you considered a part-time venture?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:33 AM on June 29, 2013

I do want to do what is best for my kids.

In my opinion (and that's all it is), what is best for [your?] kids is for their mother to be a happy, fulfilled person independent of her role as their mother. Women with children are not just mothers, they have their own interests, desires, hobbies, goals, wants, needs. Figure out what will make you feel the most fulfilled and happy (if you had a genie in a bottle that would ensure your kids lived the best life imaginable regardless of what you did, then what would you want to do with your time?); the rest will fall into place.

Also, give yourself a break - you've given your kids a healthy, stable, safe home; they'll be fine. Feeling guilty about about every action you take or don't take isn't going to help anyone. Anytime you hear yourself saying or thinking "I'm a bad mom" or something along those lines -- STOP. It (a) is not true and (b) doesn't accomplish anything -- if you want to beat yourself up, join a crossfit gym.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:31 AM on June 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

Here's my personal perspective, as a former SAHM (but I always had some writing or other work going):

1. I completely get the part about toddlers and babies being annoying and even dull to spend the day with. I had 3. I know. There were days where I'd want to lock myself in the bathroom. It's a little boring, but once they turn 3 and 4...bam! they get easier and frankly, more fun. Once you can start getting out and exploring parks, museums, coffee becomes a hell of lot simpler to hang with them. They can entertain themselves and preschool comes along before you know it and suddenly, they're gone 3 mornings a week.

2. I apologize in advance to anyone I offend with this, but you will never get those days unspent with your kids back. Once they're gone, that's it.

3. And to be completely cliched, nobody goes to their deathbed saying, "I wish I had worked more."
posted by kinetic at 8:39 AM on June 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Have you heard of the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg? It's excellent and speaks to many of these issues.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:00 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Everyone is different. I have friends who are stay at home moms who love it and others who hate it.

What matters is what you want, not what other people want.
posted by dfriedman at 9:23 AM on June 29, 2013

My mom went back to work weeks after having her kids. This was when mothers did not work unless you were very poor and desperate. That wasn't our situation - though the money certainly helped - she just wasn't happy with 24x7 baby raisin'. She loved us and was a wonderful mom, in large part because she had a career and life that satisfied her. Growing up we loved having a mom who worked. It seemed so much more glamorous and cool than the housedress-wearing mom's on our street. Fast forward she's raised two functional daughters who love her, has a slew of grandbabies and she has a 50 year happy marriage.

When my girls were young, I didn't feel bad putting them into daycare because my own mother was a good example for making that choice work. It wasn't always easy and lots of mornings it sucked hard, but the girls were fine and happy. And truth, any SAHM can tell you that some days at home suck it hard too.

There are plenty of mommy-shamers who'll tell you that you're dooming your kids if you don't stay home. Or that you'll never get back those precious moments of changing every poop-filled diaper! Oh and there is no winning. If you're are SAHM, you get mommy-shamed about that. F' that shaming noise.

Being a SAHM is a great choice if it's what you want. Good for you. Being a working mom is a great choice if it's what you want. Also good for you.

Make the choice that gives you an opportunity to be happy. Because an unhappy parent is a precursor for an unhappy child.
posted by 26.2 at 9:25 AM on June 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I really want to reiterate that this is one of those things that is incredibly personal.

Neither choice means you love your kids any more or less and only you know what makes you a happy and satisfied person.

And one of the terrible things that SAHMs can attest to is that it is damned hard work to stay home all day and maintain your happiness and sanity. It's really too easy to lose yourself when you're surrounded by your kids. I totally get that.

In my previous comment I just wanted to speak directly to your point of babies and young toddlers being not all that much fun and at times, exhausting. Because they are. And they're not exactly intellectually fulfilling.

Again, from my experience, when they hit 3 and 4, kids become a lot more fun to hang with. When you can take them to fun places that you enjoy, hang out at the library, let them watch a video while you do your thing, it really gets a whole lot easier.

Nobody told me that when my kids were tiny, so I'm passing along one important thing I learned to you.
posted by kinetic at 10:47 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

One parent making money and one parent taking care of the home is a hell of a nice arrangement when it works. My wife and I are homeschoolers and it works well for us. We don't make as much money as other families, and our kids have a lot less stuff than other kids do, but, pardon the sappy sentiment, we have each other.

I'm sure you can still have a close, tight family with both parents working, but it flows much more naturally when one parent has the primary role of family care.

> Being a SAHM doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s more physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting than any job I’ve ever had. The work never ends and I'm constantly second guessing myself

It wasn't easy for my wife either. It will get easier, unless you have a new baby, in which case it will get hard all over again. But, hard doesn't mean bad.

Some women are miserable taking care of their kids. That's different. It doesn't sound like you, but if staying home with your kids is driving you to clinical depression, go ahead and go back to work. They'll be OK.

> I do want to do what is best for my kids.

I am biased, but I think you should keep SAHMing. You're not status oriented, you're not crazy about your job, your spouse is supportive, you're not isolated from other adults, and it sounds like you enjoy--well, let's say you take satisfaction in--being the one who is hands on and caring with your little ones.

Don't hold yourself to a standard of perfection. You won't get everything right, and you can't make everything perfect. Your kids will turn out just fine. (This is also true if you go back to work and send them to day care.)

> I love my kids so so much and have been told that sometimes what is best for your kids is to let go of the notion that you can protect them from suffering and that it is only through suffering that they can transcend it and thus be more aware in life.

This is foul. Inflicting suffering for the sake of suffering is evil, and worst of all if done to children deliberately by someone who is supposed to care for them.

I speculate this is a rationalization about why you should send the kids to day care. There might be good reasons why you think the benefits of day care are worth more than some short term unhappiness of the kids (for most kids, it's not so bad once they get used to it), or day care will be good for the kids in the long run, or whatever. But the idea that suffering is itself good for them is nasty. Don't buy into that.
posted by mattu at 10:48 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I did the SAHM thing for two decades. Yes, little kids are physically exhausting and not adequate social interaction or intellectual stimulation for an intelligent adult.

The upside:

I got mental quiet time and got to be a polite social drop out without being labeled a "loser." It freed me to think my own thoughts, do therapy, find myself, and sort out personal crap. It was a huge opportunity for personal growth that occured quietly and without the usual drama, sturm and drang that such growth so frequently entails.

I did not need to take up meditation because I could ponder deep personal stuff while folding laundry and cooking dinner. My brain was not filled 24/7 with the noise of the world. I did not have a boss and coworkers jabbering at me constantly or judging my personal choices and taste in clothes. I got to be socially disconnected and sheltered without joining a commune or becoming a beach bum or severing ties to normal, polite society. I had a ready path back to school and work and such when I wanted it. I got to live like a hippie in important ways without being judged and Othered for it.

I got to be sheltered and mostly exposed to child appropriate stuff for a long time, except for adult stuff I intentionally chose to include in my life and make time and space for. It helped make up for a lack of sheltering in my childhood. I had a convenient excuse for sidestepping anything icky or uncomfortable I did not actively want to participate in. It gave me enormous power to edit my life with minimal friction.

It is definitely not all downside. It just depends on what you want to do with this opportunity. If you basically like your life and yourself and your habits and you don't feel any need for self editing, it may not be much of an appealling thing for you. But if, for some reason, you want to quietly run away from the world and remake yourself, it's awesome.
posted by Michele in California at 11:08 AM on June 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Upsides of working:

--Financial stability for you as an individual outside of the family unit.

--Less pressure on your spouse to be the sole earner. He might want to spend more time with the kids himself and they might benefit from it as well. If he gets an abusive boss or has an amazing opportunity to start his own business, he doesn't have the pressure of supporting you to worry about.

--More power within the relationship as someone who can leave it if you need or want to. Many a previously happy relationship turns sour due to unforseen mental illness, stress, an affair, or simple incompatibility. Believe me, being stuck because you can't support yourself isn't good for anyone.

--Less vulnerability to layoffs, disability, or economic hardships for your spouse and children. If you or your spouse can't work anymore even ten years down the road, you'll be very glad you can help him and your children maintain a stable household.

--Employability for you in a job you might want more than the one you're currently being offered, a few years down the line when the kids are mostly in school. You're already worried about being unemployable because of your time SAH, why make it worse?

--Savings towards an amazing opportunity for your kids should one come up for them when they're school age. Space camp, horse riding, therapy should one of them need it, tutoring for the SATs...the basics might be covered, but the extras can make a huge difference when the kids are a bit older.


--You won't become like the mothers of my friends who SAH and by the time their kids were 14 or 15 they had basically flown the nest and their mothers were miserable, bored, and lonely.

--Setting an example for your kids of a marriage where both people are in it by choice, not by financial necessity. Showing your daughter(s) that they don't have to rely on a spouse to get by. Showing your sons that their mother is valued in the working world and doesn't exist just to cook and clean for them.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:27 AM on June 29, 2013 [12 favorites]

I worked full time when my kids were little, and had a full time nanny (not live-in) for 15 years. They're much nicer people for having had her influence, as I lacked patience and even interest to hang out with little kids all day long. My husband was also home quite a bit in those years, and he was far, far better than I was. They went to pre-school, but not day care, and I'm very glad that they didn't. Home care is best, I think, which is one reason I worked so much--so I could afford to pay someone to do the job that I wasn't adept at.
On the other hand, my kids came with me on location, they visited my work places, and I went to every concert, school event, club event, and so on. I was a room mom twice, and planned 8th grad graduation. My kids are using my work contacts now to get jobs in their fields. Go with your strength, I say.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:30 AM on June 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

People tend to focus a lot on the value of being with their kids when they're young, but a lot of the bang for the buck with a SAHM comes when they're older -- PTA stuff, having a resource to drive kids back and forth to practices, lessons, etc, being able to help with homework, etc. Put another way -- pretty much any nanny can do what you can do as a SAHM when your kids are nine months, but few if any nannies can do what you can do as a SAHM mom when your kids are nine years old.

Whether being a SAHM makes economic sense has a lot to do with your husband's profession and career path, and yours. If he's on track to be in a highly-paid, long-hours, lots-of-travel job, and you are not, the family could easily be ahead with you as a SAHM. Especially if you live in a high tax state, the marginal tax rate on the income of the wife of a well-paid husband is well over 50%, and his advancement could be affected by compromises to balance your career. If, on the other hand, your income prospects are better or comparable, or he is in a job which is a steady-eddy 40 hours and no travel, that's another matter altogether.
posted by MattD at 2:07 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mother stayed at home from when I was born until I was twelve and my sister was eight. I think she really enjoyed staying at home with us when we were little, but guess what her job is? She's a preschool teacher! She really likes hanging out with little kids, and I think she went back to work for a mixture of financial reasons and because she is really passionate about early childhood education. She was also very involved in volunteer activities at our school when she was a stay at home mom. In short, my mom is great with kids and really into education. Being a SAHM was a great fit for her.

But it's not a great fit for everyone, and that's okay.

My mom also knows that she missed out on a lot of professional advancement by staying out of the workforce for twelve years. I don't think it really bothers her all that much, but it's something to think about.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:07 PM on June 29, 2013

Well, first, it doesn't have to be an either/or situation. You can work part-time. You can find a great volunteer gig that speaks to you, and only takes up a few hours every week. Second, don't underestimate how much more time you would need to keep a household running if you go back to full-time work. After retiring, I found that I needed just a little structure to my week, as I imagine you need a little more mental stimulation. Volunteering really helped me with that, I highly recommend it.
posted by raisingsand at 3:53 PM on June 29, 2013

The only happy SAHM's I know are people on the internet, so really none. I would be extremely unhappy doing it, for the reasons listed by the young rope-rider and also because that's just not my personality - plus my daughter is absolutely thriving at, and absolutely loves, her daycare. Taking that away from her, and sticking her with me all day, would absolutely be detrimental to her emotional, social and physical development, and both of our mental health.

The women in my family have always worked, by choice, so that is normal for me. Being a SAHM is also extremely unusual in my work and social circles, and notable in that the women I know who have done it haven't done it by choice, and are miserable. If you are unhappy being a SAHM, you have my permission, as a stranger on the internet, to look for alternatives that better meet your and your children's needs.

I will say, however, that with both adults working full-time a cleaner is a necessity for us. While doing laundry at 11pm on a weeknight is bearable, cleaning the bathroom most certainly isn't.
posted by goo at 6:30 PM on June 29, 2013 [7 favorites]

And, I have to add, the notion that daycare or other non-parental child care options necessarily result in your child suffering is really really weird. The people who look after my daughter while the adults work are qualified, skilled, experienced, caring people who love being with young children all day. I am not. She would be suffering a lot more if she was with me, plus she gets the social stimulation of being with her peers - and awesome, constantly changing toys and equipment. She loves her caregivers and friends and talks about them often, but that doesn't mean she loves me any less. We fulfill different needs.
posted by goo at 6:47 PM on June 29, 2013 [10 favorites]

really run the numbers on the net cost/benefit of working. how much can you really make per hour? you have to subtract the cost of day care from that to get your net wage. personally, i think it's stupid earn a net few dollars to be separated from your kids and doing something you wouldn't be doing if you weren't being paid for it.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:23 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you for all the thoughtful responses and sharing your experiences. Reading them has simplified decisions and especially highlighted how fortunate I am to have the ability to make a considered choice.

These have all been helpful and thus no best answer is marked.
posted by oink at 10:06 AM on July 4, 2013

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