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Should I Stay Home With My Baby?

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

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!!!

Thanks,

Lauren

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.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Meredith
Guest
Meredith

Thanks for taking this question, Amy, even though it deviates from your fabulous beauty advice. But I wish you’d touched on one more piece of the puzzle – why we have such terrible “choices” in the first place. Why are there such limited child care options? Why are they so expensive? Why aren’t there more part-time options for educated, talented and creative moms? Why don’t we have universal healthcare coverage so we don’t have to take a job just to get health insurance? I’m a stay-at-home mom of a 6 and a 4 year old. I don’t love my choice.… Read more »

Kim
Guest
Kim

Amen, Amalah. Thank you for stressing that each family’s choice, is exactly that, their choice. It is so hard not to feel judged by everyone else out there. It’s important that the choice be right for the particlar family at that time. Who’s to say it won’t change down the line too. With a 7 and 5 year old at home and my husband and I both working full time. We’ve adjusted our work and day care schedules at least five or six times over the last 7 years. You have to work it out as it comes. The best… Read more »

Tone
Guest
Tone

Thank you so much for this: But there are also women who wouldn’t. And they aren’t horrible mothers either. I know my choice to work and put my daughter in child care is mainly financial…however, even if I had the financial freedom, I honestly do not think I would stay at home. I am not that kind of person and it was not a good environment for me. In my short 6 week maternity leave, I swore I was losing my mind and seriously could not take it. I love my daughter more than anything in the world and it… Read more »

KatieMick
Guest
KatieMick

Something else to consider, Lauren, especially in your particular situation, is the fact that the job at that university might come with a LOT of really nice benefits. Like more affordable daycare (maybe even associated with or on site @ the university), and, really long-term, a tuition benefit for you and you child(ren). I work at a large University (with a capital U since it’s an Ivy, y’know), and I know that I’m banking on the upside of these benefits in my future even though the pay might not be exactly the same as in the corporate world. You might… Read more »

siouxjoe
Guest

Wonderful advice Amy. I have to say “here, here” to Meredith’s comment also. Poor quality childcare is a huge issue in this country. Speaking as an educator, there is so much potential for improvement. One problem I have noticed in my own state is that the daycare jobs are so low-paying (like minimum wage, no benefits) that people like me who specialize in early childhood and would LOVE to work with small children, cannot afford to do so. Not that I think parents should be coughing up the dough. I well remember how much it cost to send my son… Read more »

lauralaylin
Guest

I would like to be another to say that I agree with what Amy wrote. Working from home has been hard for me, and I am really set by my own hours and amount of work. After chasing around a baby all day, do you really want to spend your evenings/nap times working? While ignoring the house that is getting progressively dirtier? I wish I could clean, or more likely watch tv, and give myself a much needed break. If I had a job to go back to, I probably would be working right now. But staying at home is… Read more »

MrsHaley
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MrsHaley

I noticed the same line you did, Amy, when I read Lauren’s note: “I feel like a horrible mother not immediately deciding to work from home.” But my thought on that statement was a little different — if NOT working at home is going to cause that much knee-jerk misery and guilt, then maybe that makes the choice clearer … I would think you wouldn’t want to head off to daycare and then work every day crushed by an opinion of yourself as a “horrible mother.” Working outside the home and leaving your child in daycare does not a horrible… Read more »

Cindy
Guest
Cindy

Amen to Amy and everyone who commented. The choice to work, not to work or work from home needs to be made for the right reasons. Never do anything because you think someone else is going to look at you and say you are a bad person/parent/friend/whatever. I am a 38-year old mother of two wonderful children — 16 and 12. I absolutely had to work because, goodGodalmighty I was 22 when the first one was born. My husband and I didn’t go to college, therefore we did not make alot of money. We were very lucky that both of… Read more »

ikate
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ikate

I echo what everyone else has said – this is your decision and you are the only one to make it. That being said, I would JUMP at the opportunity to work at a University. My first job was with a Univ. and I will NEVER come close to having the same benefits – 5 weeks vaca + holidays, a very, very generous 401(k), better then fair salary and, although I didn’t need it, an on-campus day care. My boss used it and loved it, even had lunch with her girls every day! Plus, I could take courses for free… Read more »