This is the second Mothering Matters blog in the spring 2016 blog series:
Straddling the Fence: Stay-at-Home Vs. Working Moms
By Sarah Hourihan
“Be very careful not to judge the stay at home moms, or the working moms. I’ve straddled both sides of this fence and each one comes with its demands and anxieties. The most important thing is choosing the path that resonates with your values, your goals, your spouse, and your unique situation.”
– Sarah Hourihan
January 1997 – I’m sitting in my last university class finishing an MBA. My mind is scattered. I’d just given birth to my first child on Christmas day. After the euphoria of a first birth, my mind is racing: relief at finally completing this demanding degree; questions as to what the heck has happened to my former body (now laced with stitches and malfunctioning mammary glands); fear of the juggle of work and motherhood; flutters of excitement and wonder as a brand new mom.
At that moment, my thoughts are rattled by my colleague beside me. While pouring over spreadsheets for our final finance project, she comments: “Oh my gosh – tell me you are NOT going to throw away your education by being a stay-at-home mom?!”
Wham! Well now that you put it that way…
Am I throwing away my education if I choose to stay home with my newborn?
Is it a waste of an education? Isn’t all education valuable? I mean I will be teaching my child some important stuff along the way, and passing on the value of being an educated, independent woman. Right?
So began my 10 year journey with querying my identity as a stay-at-home mom versus a working mom.
I waited for a long time to have children, largely because my husband and I weren’t ready. And I was either in university or working, or juggling both.
When I got pregnant at 30, I was firmly rooted in career mode. The plan: I’d give birth, take the 17 week maternity leave (all that was offered at the time), and then return to work.
However, call it a hormonal game change, or a severe whack on the head (I did fall on the ice and end up in the trauma unit for a couple days). But after giving birth to a perfect little Christmas gift of blonde curls, blue eyes and sweetness, I began shifting my focus from work to raising a little one. As each day passed, I fell more in love with my baby and less focused on my career.
Nonetheless, reality set in. My husband and I knew our finances dictated that both parents needed to be working.
Tick, tick tick and 17 paid maternity weeks zipped by. I found myself facing the grim reality of leaving a four month old baby in a day care or with a care-giver.
Overnight I realized I couldn’t do it. I could not hand over my little one to a stranger to raise. Nor could I fathom hiring a nanny to care for her in my own home. Why? I wanted to be the one to raise our child.
So I delayed the career decision and took a non-paid extended maternity leave.
For 8 more months I was able to stay home. During this time we enjoyed many trips to the zoo, library, neighborhood pools, play groups and science center. I met regularly with a ‘mom and baby group’ where we gathered weekly, chatting and eating, while the children played.
Eight months zipped by. My extended maternity leave was over. As a young couple with a mortgage and bills, staying home full time was not in the budget plan. Grudgingly I went back to work.
While the pay-cheque was nice, the juggle was a bit hectic.
Then I experienced an interesting situation: my mom’s group friends were now making snide comments that I had chosen my job over my child. (Now if that isn’t a wee dagger to the heart.)
On a daily basis, I was also struggling with working, coming home to a messed up house and a sick one-year-old who may have had macaroni and cake for lunch, topped off with a chocolate ice cream sundae for an afternoon snack, all the while watching Dora the Explorer or SpongeBob all day long. Don’t get me wrong, the caregiver was doing her best to care for my child, but her choices were not ones that I would make. I sensed we had different values and priorities.
Throw in the juggle of trying to book off time for doctor appointments, dental check ups and such — it was all getting a bit hairy. Mainly, I think, in my mind. I was really questioning myself: why am I working? I should be at home with my daughter.
The reality of working, juggling a sick toddler and the opinions of others started to eat away at my decision.
The most demoralizing were the comments from my stay-at-home group: “How can you possibly work knowing someone else is raising your child?” (Trust me, I want to be at home.)
Or this zinger: “Don’t you feel guilty that you’re choosing money over your kid?”
Well it’s not quite that simple. It’s not the money; it’s the paying for a roof over our heads.
Meanwhile, I flashed back to the many years of education I worked hard for. I recalled that comment by my friend in finance class about “throwing away your education.”
So what is the right answer? To work or not while raising a child?
I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer. The reality is some moms have to work.
It’s an expensive world. I’m not talking about having designer clothes, tropical vacations and high-end cars, but paying for mortgages, dental care and education plans.
However, what I do know is that one must make the decision for one’s self and one’s family, and not listen to outsider’s opinions. The points of view of others should not matter. (Painful though they are.)
Be very careful not to judge the stay at home moms, or the working moms. I’ve straddled both sides of this fence and each one comes with its demands and anxieties. The most important thing is choosing the path that resonates with your values, your goals, your spouse, and your unique situation.
And keeping your lips zipped as to what other mom’s choices are. Every mom makes the decision whether to work based on her family’s particular circumstances. Therefore we’d all do each other a huge service in not judging other moms.
Sarah Hourihan has four daughters, ages now aged 12 to 19, with her husband Graham. She juggles her time between her children, their numerous sport and school activities, her husband, a career, one cute dog and whatever else comes her way. A native Albertan born on the prairies, Sarah lives in Calgary and enjoys her summers in the sunny Okanagan, boating, swimming and basking in the beauty of British Columbia.
For further information about the Mothering Matters blog series, here is the link.
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