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.
I have a stronger reaction to this point.
- It's incredibly offensive to the families who - for any number of good reasons - choose for both parents to work outside the home.
- 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?
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.