To Work or Not To Work: THAT is The Question

When debating the merits of working versus not working I have come to the realization that neither is the perfect solution. No matter which combination of mothering and working you choose, you are missing something, struggling with something and/or possibly feeling guilty about something. Having spoken to both working and stay at home moms, I have noticed that mom-guilt weighs heavily on the decision to work or not to work. I want to preface this post with the idea that it is not about judging the choices other mothers have made, but rather about sharing my story because I have lived “on both sides of the fence” and understand some of the pro’s and con’s to this complicated issue.

Mama Brings Home The Bacon: My Experience As a Working Mom

Following my three months of maternity leave, I returned to my job as a NICU nurse on night shift. I was lucky enough to have a director that agreed to let me work weekends so that the baby could either be with my husband (if he was off) or my mom. I worked every Friday and Saturday night. Working only two nights a week mightTo work or Not to work? sound like a dream job, but I implore you to consider the details. I had a baby that ate on demand, every three hours or less, and then woke at 0600. I would wake with him and nap when I could, but essentially I was awake (after a terrible night of sleep) for the next 26  hours (yes 26…I was counting every single hour). Although I loved having the weekdays off, missing out on every weekend and many major holidays with my family and friends was a real bummer. Working while pumping can also be very stressful. No matter how rigorous my nursing assignment was, my body required me to magically turn into a dairy cow every three hours. The break was nice but making time to sneak away wasn’t always easy or even possible,  which would leave me uncomfortable physically, stressed mentally and unhappy emotionally!

Despite the negatives, the positives of working were plentiful for me. First off, there was the money to consider. Having a second income allowed us to save for our upcoming move and provided us a better sense of financial security. I am pretty sure anyone debating working or staying home would be lying if they said money was not an issue. With my own colicky baby at home, safe and well taken care of, I also looked forward to working (when I wasn’t so tired that I was woozy). It was my time to be intellectual, help others, interact, eat dinner with my lovely co-workers and most importantly, use the restroom by myself.

Daddy DaycareOne of the greatest gifts that I was given from my months back at work was one that I had not anticipated. It actually came from my husband’s experience during this time. Brave man that he is, he willingly and happily, took on the challenge of bottle feeding (our normally breastfed) baby on demand throughout his weekends as caretaker. He defrosted milk, he prepared bottles, and he packed a diaper bag for their daily outings. My job and absence allowed the evolution of my husband’s independence as a Father. More importantly, his experiences taught him exactly what it is like to be home with a baby. I am proud to say that, because of his experiences, my husband has never uttered anything like “You’re just home with the  baby all day – how hard could it be?” OR ” What do you mean it’s Noon and you’re still in your pajamas?” In fact, if your husband ever says anything like this to you, I highly recommend that you pick up a little weekend work or pack your bags for a little vacation.

Transition To Temporary Stay At Home Motherhood

When we moved to Louisiana we made the decision that I would stay home with Weston for about six months. Moving to a city, where we knew not a soul, we  just didn’t feel comfortable placing him in an unknown daycare or finding a nanny off of a website. I think it is fair and honest to admit that this decision was not based on smart finances. Instead, it was one based on the anxiety of being in a new city by ourselves and a personal desire not to put Weston in a random daycare as a six month old.

The transition to stay-at-home motherhood has not been all that easy. I miss making money, being able to save money, and striving to reach our financial goals. We have had to put that aside for now as we just concentrate on living within our means. I miss taking care of children and families in need. I crave the extreme intimacy of looking people in the eyes and knowing in my heart that I am helping them  through what is hopefully one of their darkest days. I miss pushing myself intellectually to learn more about medicine. I miss working cohesively, side by side, with amazing and inspiring co-workers. I yearn to be able to shut the door and close my eyes while I use the restroom instead of remaining on high alert in case I need to try to deter a toddler from exploring the trashcan or eating the toilet paper. It is sad to admit, but I am actually jealous when my husband comes home and shuts the door to the restroom.

I also struggle with my own expectations of what stay-at-homeToddler Tantrum motherhood should look like. With no job to attend, I thought I would be able to cook, clean, meet friends, attend playgroup, feed our child, and do it all while looking thin (my pipe dream) and stylish. Unfortunately this just isn’t all possible for me. No matter how hard I try, I have discovered I am no Stepford (read Pinterest) wife. Sometimes dinner comes in the form of frozen pizza and our house is never perfectly clean. The impossibility of this all is complicated by a  20+ lb toddler attached to my leg or throwing snow angel style tantrums as I try to move forward though my day. Any forward progress that I make as I begin to clean ebbs away as my toddler turns into a cyclone, distributing waste and miscellaneous belongings where ever he travels.

I would be lying if I said being a stay at home mom didn’t have its sweet spots. I wake up every morning whenever my child does and haven’t set an alarm in months (although I swear a beep beep of an alarm clock would be much more pleasant than early morning hysteria). When my boy is sick I don’t have to worry about disappointing my boss or a team. Instead, I carelessly stay in my pajamas and focus on holding my boy tight and making him better. We have grand weekday adventures to the Zoo and the Children’s Museum. I love experiencing the city, just him and I, on the least crowded days of the week. I delight in the spontaneity of our days and having the ability to be able to adjust our schedule to whatever it is that he needs (I also wonder if I am creating a less adaptable child by doing this, but alas that may be another topic). I adore seeing all his newest tricks for the first time with my own eyes. Just today he had his first hug from a little girl at The Palm Tree Playground. He closed his eyes and stretched First Hughis little arms tightly around her back. My heart felt as though it was melting with happiness to be able to see this for myself. I understand that even if I worked everyday of the week I would still be granted these moments. However, I recognize and appreciate my freedom to hoard all of these moments, this time, my days at home, for better oor worse. I file them away in my brain for some day later in life when I will certainly need them to bring me happiness.

Future Plans

The six months that I anticipated to stay home are over. I haven’t found the perfect nanny to sleep at my house two days a week so that I can work. Am I looking for her? The answer to that is: kind of. I am torn between a longing to be with my boy and a need to be myself, use my brain and make money. I imagine many of you reading this may be torn as well. I wish I was writing this post with easy answers for us all. Instead, I leave you with only questions, and confidence in the fact that as Mothers we are all just doing our best.

Please share with me! Do you work or stay home? Or perhaps you work from home? I would love it if you would share your story with me.

27 COMMENTS

  1. I love, love, love this post. I relate to every last word and have also experienced both sides of this. In the end I think we’re all just looking for balance: a balance of who we were before becoming moms and who we are after becoming moms. It’s hard to find your “new” identity after becoming a mom sometimes, as no one “job” (being a mom or nurse or anything else) can or should define us.

    • Thanks Ashley! Your completely right that no one job can define us and it is all about balance. That desire to find and play a role is often difficult because so many of our roles are so dynamic! Another part of Motherhood that I find so difficult is the incredible shift in roles. Its almost as though in Motherhood the second you get the hang of anything it changes. Good at breastfeeding? Ahh its time for solids! Sleeping through the night? Time for a little illness to shake things up. haha. The bottom line is that working or not Motherhood is a huge challenge!

  2. I go back to work Tuesday after an amazing 12 weeks home. I dread going back. It’s not that I mind working, I just wish the hours could match the hours of kids better. Sometimes it feels like you come home from work and all that’s left is dinner and bedtime. And with a toddler, let’s face it, dinner and bedtime can be stressful times, tantrum times. The weekend is laundry and chores and errands and gone! Being home and having time, to just be, has been amazing and I cherish it so much. Nursing on demand (no pumping), being able to go along with the natural ebb and flow of a toddler and newborn’s needs, and the extra time to play and be free are among the many things I’m going to miss badly. It’s one of the reasons I think establishing a career and financial security before having kids sucks, because it’s a lot more to walk away from.

    • I hope you had a great first day back today. I am curious if, after you get settled back into a routine, you will really thrive on being back to work? Would love to hear your thoughts once you have a free moment (which I know is scarce for us all). Have a fabulous week Julie! Crossing my fingers for you that it goes as smoothly as possible.

      • Hi Karen! Thanks for asking. It was okay. I cry everyday. But I’m very blessed and just trying to keep my head in the game. It’s my goal to find a job where I can be off summers with the babies, or invent something profitable, or maybe win the lottery:)

        • Oh no!!!! Crying everyday?! You poor thing! I am certain it will get, if nothing else, easier as you guys adjust. Here’s to holding your chin up high, pressing on, and your dreams of hitting the jackpot big!!!

  3. You have nailed it all right on the head… there are so many pros and cons of both- and you are right- we are to support each other!!!

    When we did the color run, I was so touched at how you told me that you thought it was awesome that I managed to work full time away from home AND be a mom and keep up. It made my day because I certainly feel guilty or like I am failing somewhere all. the. time.

    • I am so glad that you took my compliment to heart Andie! I really do admire Moms that are capable of handling Motherhood and a job as well! The bottom line here is we ALL have Mom guilt and we have to put it aside and do what it is that works best for us and our families!

  4. In addition, I think the idea situation for me would be to work a half-week or something. Where I could work 3 days a week and have two off , or vice versa? that way I could spend quality time with Andrew AND get that time to use my education, brain, etc and be “me” other than mom- if that makes sense.

    I wish the American working culture was more amenable to working mothers… for instance, allowing us to work from home or giving us the option to have longer days in exchange for days off or something…

    • Totally agree here! Other countries are so much more amenable to the needs of the family! The US could definitely do better with supporting all Mothers. Requiring paid time off for maternity leave would be a great start (not from your vacation).

  5. I don’t think this blog could have came at a better time. I am transitioning from a working mom to SAHM and let me tell you it isn’t an easy one. We had a family member watching our son four times a week but she has become unable to watch him any longer.

    I decided to take some time off and spend with him and I love the look on his face when I tell him no I won’t be going to work today. On the same hand, I miss my work family and being able to contribute to our household income.

    I agree and don’t there is a correct answer – it’s always what works best for your family.

    • Amie, I am just reading this article and am in your exact same situation now. Being that this is a few years old, I am wondering how it worked out for you.
      I have been searching and praying for the right answer and have been hoping that an article or God will just tell me what I should do. Leave my career I worked so hard to obtain or stay at hope and cherish these fleeting moments with my daughters? It is so hard, being that I am driven and naturally a “busy” person that I am scared I’ll be envious of my husband and I won’t feel like I will have accomplished anything. Once I leave my career there is no going back so hopefully I will have more clarity soon!

  6. As I sit at my work desk during a pumping break, I was amazed at how much this post spoke to me. Being a working mom is hard, but at this point it is absolutely necessary for me to do so for financial reasons. As much as I would LOVE to be able to stay at home with our two kids especially while they’re young (James-3, Abby- 7 months), it’s just not a feasible option for our family. At the same time, though, I don’t think that NOT working at all could be an option for me either. I enjoy spending time with my coworkers, helping students, and putting my two degrees to use. I just wish there was some sort of happy medium. (I know there are part-time jobs out there, but so far I haven’t found one that will work for me!)

    Anyway, thanks for such a great post!

    PS- I too, am INSANELY jealous every.single.time my husband walks into the bathroom and proceeds to shut (then LOCK) the door. Not fair.

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to comment Meghan! It always amazes me when I write, and people actually read it, bonus points of someone actually connects with it in some way. I commend you for doing what is right for you and your family by working. I also know what it is like to wish for a happy medium and i think so many of us Moms do!

      I always feel like a crazy person when I feel jealous about bathroom privileges but it it such a primitive thing! I want alone time in the bathroom darnit!

  7. Great post, Karen! I’m blessed enough to own my own business, which provides a lot of freedom. It also involves calls late at night or extra work at home at the end of the day. I think no matter what, we will all wonder if we are doing it the ‘right way’. Bottom lime, the only right way is the one the choice you make for yourself. It’s so nice you shared all these thoughts!

    • Thanks for commenting and your sweet words at the egg hunt! Your totally right that their is no “right way” and we all feel guilt no matter what!

  8. Great post Karen! It resonates with me a lot! I’ve been able to do various versions of part time work since Jack was born and am still searching for the perfect fit. But with that said, I realize I’m lucky to be able to experience both worlds. My challenge is feeling at times like I’m trying to be both people (the working mom and the stay at home mom) at the same time. My pipe dream is to work part time AND have my mom be the one to care for my children. I enjoy working but it is hard for me to feel like my children miss/need me. If Grammy were taking care of them, I would probably not worry so much!

  9. what a wonderful post…i’ve never had the chance to experience the side of staying home with my little one but i can only imagine that the mom-guilt doesn’t let up when the 8-5 ends.

  10. What a great post! I’ve been on both sides of this spectrum. My first was born 11/1/05 and I was working until 6/11. I’ve got 2 other children born on 4/16/09 and 5/4/12. I went through the whole pumping at work with my first 2. The transition from work to home was pretty difficult! I was used to the retail rush and everything slowed down. My oldest didn’t know what to do with me home. My middle was loving him some mom time and my babe hasn’t known anything else. I’ve had to embrace not being able to have a clean house, hot meal and hot mama like I had imagined! Once I could wrap my head around that and get my husband on board life has been much easier 🙂 I love when people tell me I’m nuts with my 2 kids in tote at Hobby Lobby. Their jaws drop when I inform them of the big brother away at school. I think that I forgot to mention that we were transplanted here from Ohio in the midst of my last pregnancy so I feel your pain! We love it here but miss our friends and fam. You are doing a great job any route that you choose! Naturalnanniesnola.com has a pretty good thing going on with their services. Best of luck deciding what to do!!!

    • Thanks for sharing Ashley! I love to hear other Mothers stories of what works for them. I recently heard about Natural Nannies via this blog and I think it sounds like a great idea. Breastfeeding certainly isn’t understood by all caretakers and it is a wonderful thing to have a nanny that is ok with that sort of a situation. Have you used them before?

      • I haven’t personally used them for their services. I was checking out joining their network. They have extensive requirements and make sure that you are CPR/ first aid certified. I love that they are supportive of breast feeding, cloth diapering and other “natural” things. I’d defiantly give them a try before anyone else!

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