TO WORK OR NOT TO WORK? Battling the Criticism of Stay-At-Home-Parents vs. Working Parents

Shall I continue working and put my children in daycare at six-weeks-old? Can we make ends meet on one income? If I stay at home, what will my working friends think of me? If I return to work, will my child care option hold my newborn as much as I will? Will I lose my identity if I stay at home? Will my partner not look at me the same? Can I still work 40-plus hours a week and feel like I'm a hands-on parent? The questions are endless, if not gut-wrenching.  It is fearful waters, but we must tread them or we will sink.

I recently heard a parent say some things about another parent who opted to take a different parenting lifestyle road than the first parent.  There was zero respect for that other parent, which made me think of the long ago road I took during those important years.  It was sad to see that after all this time that the road is still bumpy, and the respect that each deserves, is still missing.

Many years ago, with a supportive husband, I made the decision to step away from the workforce and stay at home when my oldest daughter was born.  Three years later, my second daughter arrived.  I wish I could say that there were no struggles, but there were plenty.

There are many emotions that a stay-at-home parent must endure that no one else understands, not even your supportive partner, except for other parents that choose to experience what you are doing.  I remember the first time I was asked what I did for a living since I made this decision.  I had worked from the time I was 13-years-old – from babysitting to my then last employment in outside sales – but I didn’t know what to say.  I looked at my young daughter and said, “Domestic Engineer.”

Being a stay-at-home parent can be lonely.  It can be scary, not to mention the fear of a now “one income” home.  It is a learning process.  So what do you do? You find that support system with other parents that chose to do what you did.  You also find the time to stay in contact with friends that chose not to do what you did.  You go to playgroups with the children, and you make time to go out with your friends, including evenings with your partner.  You go to child seminars where they usually have daycare available, and you also make time to go to seminars that appeal to your ex-career, or future career.  You take a special interest class that works around your partner’s schedule.  You stay as active as you can in their schools and your community to help prevent being so lonely, because it can be a lonely journey.  But if it is the right one for your family, thennever hold your head down that “You’re not doing anything with your life!” 

Little did they know everything I experienced contributed to the woman I am today, and I have no regrets.  I would not have changed those precious years I spent with my daughters, all I've learned and accomplished throughout the years, or the relationships I made with other parents – some lasted a couple years, some longer, and some decades.  Throughout those “non-working” years – I laugh at that because I never worked so hard in my life – I met other women with careers in medicine to law to accounting to engineering to a newspaper reporter to a waitress that were doing what I was doing.  We had different backgrounds, but the one thing we all had in common was battling that stigma – that we were not doing anything with our lives.

I did not like the title, “Stay-At-Home-Mom” because my life wasn’t about just being at home: cooking and cleaning and shopping.  I was never home! I had my children in artistic playgroups when they were babies, and starting around 18-months-old they were in museums, at exhibits, on nature trails, science centers, treasure hunts on picnics, and education days at the zoo, and the list goes on and on.

But saying that...

I cannot tell you how much respect I have for the parents that chose not to do what I had done.  There are parents out there that would love to be a stay-at-home-parent, but could not for fiscal reasons.  There are some that chose not to interrupt their careers, knowing their children with their parenting and qualified appropriate childcare would be just fine; that it is not the quantity of time you spend with a child, but the quality.  These are the same people that after the commute from a long day at work, they still have to go shopping, cook, wash clothes, help with homework, clean, take the animals to the vet, and spend quality time with not only their children, but their partner, all before bedtime.

They should not be judged for their choice, as a stay-at-home parent should not be judged for theirs. 

Looking back, I would be lying to you if I said that all was a glorious walk in the park.  It was not.  I had to experience unfamiliar emotions while still putting on the “happy mommy” face.  I was very strong and independent and stepped into a world that was deemed to be the opposite, and nothing could be farther from the truth.  It took my strength and independence to be a stay-at-home-parent and raise the strong and independent women I have raised.  And whatever road they choose, which may not be the road I took, will be the best road for them and their families, and they too, will raise strong, independent children.

I believe our society puts so much on our shoulders that we lose our strength, our identity, and our independence if we choose to leave the workforce.  Even when you choose to work from your home, or part-time, there is still that stigma of “being weak and not power-driven.” If you choose your career “over your children” our society throws verbal stones at you for “being selfish and putting your children second.”

So which is right? Neither. Both are wrong.

You can raise strong, independent children if you choose to be a stay-at-home-parent, and you can raise strong, independent children if you choose to be a working parent.

Both have pros and cons, but the one thing I do know is that with parenting, and I’m repeating myself, that it is not the quantity of time spent with your children, but the quality.

So instead of criticizing or judging a fellow parent, please know they are probably doing the best they can with the choices they have made.  And it is THEIR CHOICE.  Parenting is a learning process.  We can never assume we know everything about the subject, and none of us should assume our children are better than another child because his/her parents made different choices than you. 

Love your children unconditionally.  Stay active in their lives, hug them, kiss them, ask questions, meet their friends, their friends parents, stay involved with their schoolwork, their play, their passions, and their imagination, and let them know they are the sunshine in your life.

And if you’ve experienced any extra weight on your shoulders for the choices you’ve made, please feel free to share your experience with us.  Parents helping parents' makes parenting a lot easier!

--Debbie Caldwell