Should I Stay Home With My Baby?
I have been reading your blog for nearly a year and have never commented before, so I am sorry to email you out of the blue but I have a dilemma I am hoping you could help with. I have a 5-1/2 month old son and I am currently unemployed. My previous employer, a local software company, notified us in September of last year that they would be laying us off and moving my department and several others to our Seattle office between December and March. Well, December rolled around and they were completely unprepared and decided to extend us until the end of May. At the time I was due at the end of March and looked at it as a chance to take maternity leave and then look for a job later. However my son came at the end of January and I ended up having to go back there in April after my maternity leave ran out. I finished out my contract through the end of May and thought I was going to stay home with my son.
Well my husband had some work issues it would be a financial hardship for me to stay home so I have decided to return to work. I have been given a good offer with a local university (salary, office with view, 401k, university holidays, etc) and they want me to start next Monday the 16th.
Ok, here is my dilemma. My previous employer called this morning and offered me $1.15 more per hour to come back to work for them for 9 months on a contract basis and then if it works out they will hire me back permanently. Ok, the $1.15 per hour will be eaten away by taxes since I will be a contract employee and they offered me no benefits for the 9 months BUT they did say I could work from home and set my own hours. My dilemma is, do I return to a company I wasn’t very happy at with the possibility of it not working out or do I take the new job and put my son in daycare? I feel like a horrible mother not immediately deciding to work from home but if I didn’t have him I wouldn’t think twice about telling my previous employer to stick their offer where the sun doesn’t shine. I know you went back to work and then decided after a few months to work from home. As a mother who has done both what would you do?
I hope you didn’t fall asleep in my long email but I need the advice of an impartial third party who has both worked in an office and from home with a baby. As an aside, I love your blog and your son is absolutely gorgeous. I attached a picture of mine so you can see why I don’t want to leave that face in daycare all day while I trot off to my office. HELP!!!
Stay at Home or Return to Work?
Oy. Where to begin?
I should probably start with the thing you already know, which is that there’s no way I can really give you any sort of definitive answer on this one. This is a choice that you must make. Because the “right” choice is the one that’s right for your family, not the one that was right for me or the working mom in your office or the grandmother in your office who clucks her tongue in sadness and pity when she hears that your son is in a terrific daycare center down the street, like YOU KNOW WHAT LADY? YOU CAN JUST SHUT UP RIGHT NOW.
Then I’m going to zero right in on this sentence: I feel like a horrible mother not immediately deciding to work from home. No. NO! You are not! Working from home is not for everybody! Working from home is not the easy way out or the perfect one-size-fits-all compromise!
I mean, regardless of your location, it’s still WORK. Work that is not always going to conveniently fall into the (ever-shorter, ever-unpredictable) nap time hours. And it’s work that is probably not going to conveniently adjust itself to your child’s increasing mobility and need for attentive, involved parenting.
Which basically means, you’re going to need childcare anyway. Trust me on this. I had a part-time sitter come to the house for a few months, and it was an expense I hadn’t really counted on either. Now I’m ashamed to admit that I let TV babysit Noah more often than I should. There are days we don’t ever leave the house and my God, would it kill me to take a break and take him to the playground? I never signed him up for that music class and how the hell am I going to fit in swimming lessons this fall and I haven’t even thought about preschool waiting lists and can we afford a two-year-old program for him? Is he even ready for a two-year-old program?
I’m extremely stubborn when it comes to “doing it all,” and it’s NOT A GOOD THING. DO NOT DO AS I DO. I AM THE CRAZY. (A friend once ordered me to “stop with the ‘I’m Amy and I don’t need any help’ thing” and man, was she spot on with that one.)
Working at Home is Still Working
I can guarantee you will need some part-time care if you need to work more than part-time (like, more than 10 or 15 hours a week). “Set your own hours” sounds awfully nice, but remember that they may still expect the majority of those hours to fall between 9 and 5, Monday through Friday.
The other thing about working from home that I was pretty unprepared for was the whole “work is always there” part. You work from home, therefore…you start feeling like work never really goes away. There’s no clear end to the workday. Or even the work week. I’ve tried really, REALLY hard to step away at night and on the weekends, but I usually fail miserably. I write on Sundays so I can make that Monday morning Gymboree class and I obsessively check my email before bed…and then I wonder why I wake up at 4 am with my mind racing and trying to line up topics and outlines for the rest of the week.
Despite all of this, I wouldn’t change my decision. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Honest! But the particulars of my situation were different than yours — I quit a job that was making me actively unhappy to pursue a lifelong dream of writing for a living. This makes the downsides waaaay easier to deal with. I’m not sure how I’d feel if I hated or even just mildly resented the work I do.
The daycare thing is hard too, don’t get me wrong. Noah loved it; I sucked at it. And I know there are women who would kill to work from home. But there are also women who wouldn’t. And they aren’t horrible mothers either. I mean, how can providing financial security and health coverage be considered a BAD choice? What, because we’re still supposed to leave all that stuff to the one with the penis?
Good mothers aren’t the ones who immediately make some kind of default choice to stay home. Good mothers are the ones who really think about their choice — who are honest about the realities and positives and negatives to EVERY option available, and honest about their own desires and limitations — and that’s exactly what you’re doing. In the end, you might just have to go with whatever the household budget spreadsheet dictates. Or you might just have to go with your gut.
I wish the choice was easier for you (for any of us, honestly), and I hope whatever you choose makes you happy, and I hope by this time next year you’ll be saying the same thing I say: I wouldn’t want it any other way.