Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Working at Home or Elsewhere

This one's less personal and more of a response to the at-home-mom vs. working-outside-the-home-mom debate.

In the comments to my last post about work, Paper Whore said, "I am a strong supporter of 'if you can afford to have a parent stay home, they should'."

I'd qualify this to add that we should consider many more factors than just finances during the affordability discussions. For example:
  • Is the at-home parent considering returning to work someday? If so, it makes a lot of sense to keep a finger in that pie.
  • What if the unthinkable happens the marriage falls apart? Without an "in" at a paying job, the at-home parent is in a tenuous position at best.
  • Do you find being at home full-time rewarding and fulfilling? I know that when I returned to work 12 hours per week when Ellie was 15 months old, that made me a better mother to her and a happier person overall.
  • Choosing to have one partner support the family financially while the other stays home to care for the children will likely change some things in your relationship and the way each partner sees him/herself and partner. It's worth considering those changes.
  • There's no use denying that most at-home parents are women, mothers. And there's no use denying that there's prejudice against women in the workplace because of that. It's lovely to pretend that our decisions are made in a vacuum and affect only us, but in reality the ways in which we choose to live our lives have much greater effects than that, not least with the examples we set for the children we're raising.
Paper Whore also said, "We chose not to outsource parenting."

I have a stronger reaction to this point.
  1. It's incredibly offensive to the families who - for any number of good reasons - choose for both parents to work outside the home.
  2. I hardly think that 8 hours a day, 5 days a week - or less, depending on how parents arrange their schedules - is "outsourcing parenting." Or, if it is, isn't that what we're doing every time we hire a babysitter? Ask the in-laws to watch the kids for a hour? Send the kids off to school for the day?
"Outsourcing parenting" would be hiring someone to have primary responsibility for your children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, throughout their childhoods.

Amanda said, I think that daycare or preschool or whatever, where children get to interact with other kids and adults, is good for children. If you can provide that if you stay at home then that's great. I know it's pretty hard now with friends who work or even if they stay home.

Very good point.

The first time I took Ellie to visit her first preschool/daycare, we went to the toddler room. One-year-olds - babies, in my eyes! - were eating yogurt cups at snacktime and serving themselves with spoons. None of the other children in our at-home-mom playgroups were doing anything like that at the time. Our first children were far less independent and self-sufficient. But it gives kids a lot of pride to be able to do things for themselves.

In my opinion, the decision to work outside the home or to stay at home with the children full-time is an intensely personal one. No hard-and-fast rules apply to all families. That said, our decisions are not made in a vacuum. Many pressures are applied to both fathers and mothers, and the decisions we make can help to shape the debate for future families.

Here's hoping that at some point in the future, perhaps even in my lifetime, it becomes more of a common choice for fathers to stay home, and that mothers are judged less harshly regardless of which path they decide to take. I know that a lot of the criticism of moms who work by moms who stay home, and the criticism of moms who stay home by moms who work, comes from a feeling that each choice implies judgement of those who choose differently. It shouldn't.


Amanda said...

So true. Awesome post.

ccw said...

Very good post! SAHM vs. working is another example of women attacking women.

I have always felt that the quantity of the time spent with the children is less important than the quality. Growing up with only my mother meant that I came home to an empty house, stayed home alone when sick, etc. However, my mom was very involved in my all aspects of my life. Much more tha n my two best friends who had stay at home mothers.

I, personally, do not wish to work outside the home until all the kids are in school and then I do not want to work full-time. That is my choice but it is not for everyone.

I do not care whether a woman is working because of need or want. It's not my place to judge. Unfortunately, society judges all too harshly.

Rob Monroe said...

Good points. Very good points, on both sides.

In our house finances preclude anyone staying at home. Just not in the cards.

I have begun to float the idea of my working from home for part of work week, probably one day a week. This has been met with resistance. I hope the resistance is the dark ages of the church showing through, and not the fact that I'm the father. (I would make up the eight hours over the course of the week, just not in the office)

When I have told other people that I would rather be home for a day, I've gotten some strange looks. Disappointing.

Turns out that the day care that we got into does not offer any short-week options for infants. We are going to reevaluate after a year or so to be sure that we're happy with our set up.

I wish you wisdom in your choice.

Paper Whore said...

I'm sorry if it seemed like I was attacking you. That wasn't my intention at all. I can appreciate your points. In fact, my SAHD hubby recently started a very part time job on the weekends (2 days a month) and it has been one of our best moves. And I definitely see your point about childcare/preschool kids being more self-sufficient. Hubby and I were just talking about that when we noticed how poorly our son follows directions in a group setting.

You have to do what is right for your family. I can't say what is right for you and I'm sorry if I made it sound like I was trying to. It sounds like you are making well thought out, grounded decisions with a very strong emphasis on what is good for your child(ren).

What irritates me are the parents who put their children in daycare for the sole purpose of money. They want (not need) to both work full time (and usually work 50+ hours/week plus bringing work home) so they can afford that cruise in the Bahamas or so they can wear designer clothes or live in a gigantic house in a ritzy neighborhood. The people who give up huge quantities of time with their kids so they can have the finer things in life. I don't agree with that.

I'm sorry if my comments angered or upset you. I don't know you at all, but I'm a frequent reader. What I've read about you tells me that you are someone who puts their kids first and I know that whatever decision you make will benefit your girls because you obviously love them so much.

Jessica said...

Sarahlynn, I just could not have said (err, written) this any better. I agree 110% with you....great post.

Sarahlynn said...

Amanda and Jessica, thanks!

CCW, so, so true.

Rob, this discussion - the choice for one parent to stay at home with the kids - is hugely one of privelege. Most families cannot afford it, which makes the whole judgement issue even sillier.

Do you read Daddy Zine? (I've not read him often, but have heard he's an at-home dad who links to other daddy bloggers: http://daddyzine.typepad.com/)

Paper Whore, I don't feel attacked or judged. I'm in a place where I'm pretty comfortable that whatever decision I make will be good for my family.

I appreciate that you are a frequent reader. Thank you!

I was just responding strongly to the quote from your husband (the one about outsourcing parenting). That's the sort of thing that sounds good off-the-cuff, but upon reflection really implies judgement of families with two parents who work outside the home. My point is that sometimes that decision is made for reasons other than the purely financial, and that it's really hard to tell from the outside; the reasons we're given are not always the whole story.

I do agree with you about the McMansions and designer threads, but I'm in a place where I'm hesitant to judge right now.

selzach said...

Sarahlynn, wow, great post.

I'd like to add my two cents to the privilege aspect. Many families simply can't afford to live on one income. Does that make the parents bad/less good than families with a SAH parent? Does that mean they shouldn't have kids at all?

My husband and I fall somewhere into the middle class. We both work. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to pay our monthly bills. However, if we made a huge lifestyle change, we could afford for one of us to stay home. He's a cop, so we used to live in a mobile home on county property. The mortgage was dirt cheap and included most of our utilities. However, the place was roach-infested, offered little privacy, and we had people knocking on our door at all hours. It's not a place I'd want to raise a child and we decided not to have children until we could afford to buy a house. After living through the 2004 hurricane season, when 3 hurricanes took paths over our county, there's no way I'd move back and have a panic attack anytime we were under a severe weather watch.

I feel safer with my situation as if is now. If people judge me, whatever. Hubby and I do what we know is best for our family.

As far as the "outsourcing parenting" comment, it comes across as disrespectful. I don't outsource the responsibility for my child. I simply live a different lifestyle.

Orange said...

When I hear "outsourcing parenting," I envision a small child being sent to Bangalore, India, to be raised super-efficiently.

I'm not that comfortable with scorning parents who both work and have a lavish lifestyle. Isn't it possible that they both enjoy their careers? If it feeds a woman's soul to keep working a job that happens to pay well, then more power to her. (I know a couple moms who are physicians, who have ongoing relationships with their patients—even if they can well afford to stay home with their children, isn't it useful to society to have them working?) If that means the family has plenty of disposable income, then why shouldn't they go on great vacations?

Carter-Ann said...

It's a very difficult decision. At the moment I am a SAHM and hope I can continue to be one for as long as possible. I know that my partner and I are lukcy in that we have worked out a situation where we can both be home alot and one of us is with our baby full time.

I think there is a pressure on both sides of the spectrum. Everyone keeps asking me when I'm going back to work etc...because it's assumed that a) I want to go back to work and b) I would need to financially. But then I also am supposed to have the answer what sort of childcare I will set up if I go to work. It's a horrible bind for women (and men, I'm not forgetting all those fathers who have to make these choices) to enter when they become mothers. No matter what decision you make, someone will always judge you for thinking you should have chosen the other option.