Stay at Home vs Back to Work
Two of my close friends are currently preparing to end their maternity leaves. For the last three or four months, they have been home with their newborns, recovering from giving birth and learning how to be a parent.
But now, their back-to-work dates are quickly approaching. Having not yet returned to work myself, I’m always curious about how parents are feeling about reentering the workforce.
One friend said that some days, she is so sad about going back, while others she is excited to have a break from the monotony of parenting and to be back among adults again.
The other friend chose to extend her maternity leave a few more weeks. After initially preparing to send her daughter to daycare, she and her husband decided that he would stay home with the baby for at least the first year. As a couple, they have spent the whole leave together, learning how to parent a newborn as a unit.
While she is also sad about leaving her daughter, she is completely comfortable leaving her husband in charge. Since day one, he has been exposed to how to care for their child in a way that most fathers do not experience. He changes most of the diapers and is able to both feed and comfort the baby as well.
That experience is definitely not the norm. For most of my friends, their husbands went back to work around a week or two after they gave birth, leaving them at home learning about their baby.
While some moms get out and about quickly after having a baby, some—particularly those who have winter babies—stick close to home during their entire leave, making them feel isolated and lonely. As hard as they find it to leave their children in daycare, they truly look forward to getting back to their careers.
My mom stayed home with my siblings and I until we were all in elementary school. She waited at the bus stop in the afternoons or shuttled us around to activities after school. We had home-cooked meals every night. She was always there to make sure we got our homework done or to help us study for tests.
I wanted the same experience for my children, which I told my husband from day one. We figured that if I kept teaching, my whole salary would go to childcare and that it made more sense for me to stay home. Part of the reason we moved from New York to Pennsylvania was that the cost of living was so much better in PA and would make my stay at home status financially easier.
It hasn’t always been easy, though.
When my first daughter was a newborn, I regularly attended a breastfeeding support group, where I met several wonderful moms and their babies. Our kids were all the same age so we were able to lean on one another constantly for support in those early days. Eventually, we started meeting outside the group, organizing playdates and taking walks around Philadelphia.
But then, around Christmas, when most of the babies were three or four months old, the moms started drifting back to work. Our group got smaller and smaller until there were only three of us left.
Of course, this bonded the three of us even more. We met up frequently for coffee or, as the winter hit, indoor playdates. We grew together as new mothers.
Eventually, we all moved out of the city. One of the moms was offered an incredible opportunity to further her career and jumped back into the workforce. The other continued working at home with her husband, but joined the board of her son’s school and a local museum. I continued pursuing writing and became a Tinkergarten leader.
Still, returning to the workforce has always been on my mind, especially as my girls get older.
As much as I would love to make a career out of writing, I don’t have the time I need to really devote to it and won’t until the girls are in school full time. That means returning to teaching, which I am very excited about.
However, with every job opportunity that comes my way, I can’t just think of myself. I have to consider my children. Would they be able to continue at their current preschool? What would their hours be like? Who drops them off and picks them up? When do I pack lunches? What time is bedtime with an earlier wake up time?
It’s a whole new world.
Most moms that I know went back to work early enough that they quickly got into a routine of getting themselves and the kids out the door. They had to adjust their working hours to make sure they pick the kids up on time, learn to become more efficient at their jobs, and they had to manage dealing with sick children as well. One of my friends told me that with both parents working, they become more equal as parents.
One parent might be able to take a meeting over the phone from home when a child is sick, while the other parent might plan to stay home the day after. One parent usually drops off and the other picks up. They become more equal in the household tasks too since one person isn’t home all day.
For four years, I’ve been home. I do the preschool drop off and pick ups. I cook all the meals. I empty the garbage, do the laundry and keep the house relatively clean. My husband and I have gotten used to this. The house is my sphere, the kids are my responsibility. He concentrates on working. Some days I resent having to do everything at home or wish he didn’t work such long hours so I could take an occasional break, but I know that he works as hard as he does to afford me the luxury of being home with our children.
Still, while I know it will be an adjustment for all of us, I also look forward to returning to work, to bringing in my own money and to dividing up the child and household responsibilities with my husband.
Like most of the moms I speak with, I can’t wait for uninterrupted adult conversations or time where I can just think and focus on a task at hand without being distracted.
Choosing to stay home or go back to work can be a tough call. There are a lot of questions to discuss with your partner: is this choice financially feasible for us? Will it make the stay at home partner happy? How will this affect your career? Is the cost of childcare manageable with your salary?
Adjusting to being back in the workforce would have been much easier had I gone back right away. Part of me envies my friends who went back right away. Their careers never stalled and they learned how to balance work and home life from early on. I’m afraid that I’ll face a serious period of culture shock, which is why I’m grateful that I’ll have their support and advice.
The girls have thrived at home, but are getting close to school age. My younger daughter will be starting preschool in the fall and there’s only one more year until my older girl will be in kindergarten full time. The time has flown by.
As tired as I am most days and occasionally bored and lonely, I also do not regret the decision to stay home with them. It was certainly the right call for our family. How has your experience been with going back to work after starting a family?