What’s In A Choice?

Obviously, by now everyone has heard of Occupy Wall Street. The other day, a friend posted a link to this chart, which is a great summary of what OWS is about and why they feel that way.

I’m not going to talk about the movement itself, but I am interested in something my friend said in reference to the data in that chart: “…to say that more women {with children under the age of 18} work today because they have no choice and not because they like having a career in a society where it is acceptable and because discrimination has been drastically reduced is silly.”

And my immediate response was: Well yes. But also no. And definitely. But really not at all. Why do women work? Or more specifically, why do MOTHERS work?  Can there possibly be a more complicated question?

The stickiest part of my friend’s statement is “no choice”, isn’t it? On the one hand, yah for feminism and the opportunity to have careers outside the home that aren’t just placeholders until we can snag a husband! On the other hand, pretending your cashier at Target would rather be making $8 an hour ringing up your face cream and Funions instead of at home with her own kid is bullshit.

I know plenty of moms who love their jobs, love their work, love having adult conversations around the water cooler about The Real Housewives of Wherever but who would quit and stay home with their kids in a HEARTBEAT if they suddenly won the lottery and could never work another day in their life. I also know that if childcare was free and I could have any job I wanted in the whole world I would absolutely leave my kids to be raised by strangers (said in your best judgy voice) a few days a week while I trained dolphins at Sea World (hey, sometimes your dream at 6 years old is STILL YOUR DREAM).

But real life doesn’t give everyone those options. If you’re a single mom? You have no choice. In a lot of cities there is no way to support a family on one income. Sometimes your partner gets laid off. Or maybe their job doesn’t offer health insurance. Or maybe they’re in school pursuing their dream and you’re supporting them – so you have no choice but to work to put food on the table but it is BY choice that you have chosen that choice.

There are days where my choice to stay home doesn’t even feel like a choice. SOMEONE has to watch these kids and we can’t afford a nanny. I mean really, if I had my CHOICE I’d spend one day a week at the spa getting massages and drinking cocktails so I could be the super calm, zen-like mother I aspire to be.

I don’t think “why women work” is something that can be measured or put in a pie chart or even summed up in a sentence. There is no box on a questionnaire that says “all and also none of the above” so using it as part of a your political movement can be tricky. I think the only thing you could get everyone to agree to would be that in an ideal world all women could make the choice they WANTED to make and not the choice they had to make.

So, why do you/do you not work?

Here’s my answer – I always planned to be a stay-at-home-mom eventually. We are able to afford it right now. I became a military spouse right after college and never established a career I would have wanted to go back to post-kids and I haven’t found anything I can do from home (besides blogging, obviously, which doesn’t exactly lead to BUCKETS OF MONEY.) So I think it is about 80% by choice and 20% not by choice although that’s the least scientific percentage ever.

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70 Responses to “What’s In A Choice?”

  1. Robyn says:

    My choice to work came down to falling in love with someone who can’t support a family on his income alone. So i guess i “chose” to work when i “chose” who i fell in love with. I am the one who makes the majority of our household income, in addition to the insurance carrier. My husband just does not make enough to support a family on, even if we cut way back on a lot of things. Yes, at some point it was a choice. it doesn’t feel like one now though. I would LOVE to be home with my child, and actually, it is hurtful to me when people act like i chose to work, as if i had any other valid options. saying i had a choice in the matter is like saying i have a choice to eat everyday. sure, i could choose to not eat, but not for very long. i’m sure there are SAHM mom’s who feel like they didn’t really have much choice in the matter either. i think we all need to stop assuming that we know anything about anyone else’s situation. just because i’m trying to make the best of things by not dwelling on the fact that my kid spends the majority of her days at daycare (which she loves, BTW, and has been very good for her, but that’s a whole other topic) and my heart aches every time i wonder what she’s doing all day without me, doesn’t mean that i actually enjoy working and would rather work than be home with my kid. it’s NOT a nice break to enjoy adult conversation everyday. it’s stressful and exhausting, just as I’m sure staying home everyday would be stressful and exhausting in a whole other way. Sorry for the rant…sensitive subject.

    • bebehblog says:

      No apology needed. I KNOW it’s a sensitive subject, which is why I thought it warranted a discussion.

      I’d also like to note for people who don’t know you that you have what I consider a FANCY JOB for a FANCY COMPANY, one that you had to get at least one degree to do and that you chose. So just because it’s a CAREER doesn’t mean it is something you are choosing over everything else.

      • Robyn says:

        oh yes it really is such a sensitive issue, on all sides. and as always, you present your thoughts so well and kindly. yes i chose the career path, but when i did, i didn’t realize i was sealing my fate as the primary income. i didn’t know my husband at the time and kids weren’t even something i was thinking about. i wish i had made many different choices. like not getting the fancy degree with the thousands and thousands that i’m still paying in student loans. or like not buying the nice house that we could afford easily on two incomes before kids, but not on one after kids. and not taking the relocation for work and forcing myself further into the box I created. i wish my mother hadn’t brainswashed me into thinking i needed the fancy degree and job to support myself, just in case. but hindsight is 20/20, i guess. i just try now to not get too jealous of all my SAHM mom friends. and that’s not cause i think you all have it easier…just very different.

  2. cakeburnette says:

    Like you, I am a (formerly) military-stay-at-home mom (hubby retired recently from AD). I had always planned to stay home while my kids were small, and the military lifestyle wasn’t conducive to building a “career” in my field of choice, so I would say that my “choice” was 95%-5%.

  3. Tara says:

    I’m a SAHM right now, and it is absolutely my first choice. But I agree with you that it usually isn’t a true choice for a lot of people. It’s funny that everyone seems to feel judged by other moms so much, whether they stay at home or work. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me what I actually do all day, which I think is pretty rude to ask to anyone. I even had someone ask me that when my youngest was less than a month old! And you know what? It’s not a waste of my college degree for me to stay home and raise my children. I don’t get why working as a child care provider, and “raising” other peoples children is considered a career, but staying home and raising my own isn’t.

  4. Audrey says:

    Before I ever thought I would get married or have kids (wasn’t in my scope of possibility once upon a time) I planned to work for myself as a freelance designer, and so work from home. When I got married and the probability of children happened I envisioned working from home so I could be with the kids. The reality is that when we decided to start trying to have a baby Chris decided he wanted to buy a house rather than rent an apartment. And I was suffering from PTSD from a mugging and was not capable of fathoming raising our child in Baltimore so he started job hunting in Cleveland – where the schools are better and the housing is 50-75% cheaper. Being pregnant does not make job hunting easy so we decided I’d stay home and we figured out how much we could afford for a house that would allow for us to exist of his one income – which as a librarian isn’t exactly the big bucks. I have always wanted to pursue my freelance dream but trying to balance building a business with watching your children is hard at best. Still, as much as I love every moment I have with my children to watch them grow and learn and explore, and would not trade it to go to work at Target or an office anywhere, I still long to chase my career and build my name and earn money doing what I love doing. Which is why I take small jobs here and there when I can make it work and the opportunity comes along (not often), and why I am currently working on revamping my portfolio so I can work as a photographer, which is also something I love, while still being able to be home with my children the majority of the time.

    No, the choice thing is tricky. I think very few people choose to work in retail or scrubbing floors because they love it. And most people work in jobs they don’t love because they need to. I also think that the gender thing is tricky. Chris would love to be home with the kids if I worked a job that allowed for it. I think that, because women were kept home when they would have liked to have gone to school or work for so long, people forget that we are in an age when men are now the ones who are finally starting to admit when they would rather not be “the great provider” they have been told they have to be for so long.

  5. Denae says:

    How very appropriate. I just posted about this today. I work because I have to 80% and because I want to 20% of the time. I havent figured out a way to support my family with two SAHPs and the job market isn’t falling over its feet to give my husband a great well paying job. I guess you can say I chose this because I wont take my husband up on his frustrated offer of joining the military. I highly respect our military and even more their families. I know that I personally couldnt do it therefore I guess I chose this? You are right. Mothers working is not a simple situation.

  6. Katherine says:

    good post! ever since J and I were dating, I told him it was important for me to stay home with our (eventual, and now actual kids) and it was always something we wanted to happen. We budgeted, planned and definitely struggle some days to keep it possible but thats not to say somedays I want to run so far in the other direction, talk for a whole day in my regular voice and not my mom voice lol, and have a career. All things I plan to do after my kids are in school full time. Does this mean I cant and wont get a part time night job to keep us floating if that were absolutely necessary? No. Not at all. But like you said, if Im ringing up your funions and face cream at 10pm, you better bet Id rather be at home. :)

  7. Awesome post!

    I work partly because I want to and partly because I HAVE to. We have a mortgage to pay in a nice neighborhood and have two nice cars that we owe payments on. Tim’s job alone cannot pay for that. Now, in all fairness, if we downsized, got a smaller house, smaller car (or got rid of one), then I could probably quit and stay at home. But I like having the disposable income my job give us. We can have Friday night dates (with the kiddo, of course), we can splurge on a night in a hotel once in a while, we can order pizza for dinner when neither of us wants to cook.

    Besides, I really do love my job. I love the people I work with. I love what I do (even though I’m going to school now to do something completely different, which is my childhood dream, too!). And as much as I don’t like being away from Aric, I know he loves his friends at daycare and he’s getting awesome socialization experience that I wouldn’t be able to provide to him.

    And honestly, if I won the lottery, sure I’d quit this job, but I think I’d at least get a volunteer job or something very part time. I just cannot stay at home all day every day. I just can’t!! … although with all that money, we could afford to go out and do fun things so maybe I WOULDN’T get a job!! But, that’s never gonna happen! LOL!

  8. molly says:

    Oh Suzanne, I kind of love this post. I don’t want to take up too much space on your blog but there is so much to say. I work full-time. I never had the dream to stay at home with my kids. I have a unique outlook because I have done both. Work full-time and stay home. The truth is, I go back and forth each day. I guess that’s just my thing. Being undecided. I’ve been like that my whole life with pretty much everything.

    Lately, my thoughts are that I want to stay at home but can’t. And when I say can’t, I mean I MUST work right now because by choice, I thought it was cool to have a bunch of credit cards and now we’re stuck in some financial messiness. Soooo, I can’t quit right now. But my ultimate goal would be to work part-time doing something I love (a writing gig would be ideal).

    So yes, I work because I have to. But it was our choices that put me in a job that I don’t really care about. Now we’re climbing our way out (FAST!) so I can spend more time with my kids and pursue my dreams :)

    p.s. dolphin trainer? I could totally see you doing something like that.

  9. kodi says:

    So, I’m in kind of a weird place right now. I never, ever, ever thought I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, until I was pregnant. But, by that point, it was kind of too late? I was in the middle of an MBA program and I had six years of student loans to show for it. Technically right now, I am home with our kids, but only because we have two under two which equates to astronomical daycare costs and my husband is gone for Army training for about a year after which we will be stationed somewhere…so, I’m a temporary SAHM but we really can’t afford it, and it’s hard. I’m trying to enjoy my time at home because I think as soon as we move it will end, but it’s hard to enjoy being a SAHM when you’re totally broke and all you can think about is if you could work you wouldn’t be so stressed about money all of the time. Eek. Sorry for that brain diarrhea. It just had to happen.

  10. Amy says:

    I have to work. My husband is self-employed, so without my job we would pay quite a lot for health insurance. If he found a job with benefits, I would stay home in a second. My mom stayed home when I was growing up, so that is what I am used to. This does not help the guilt I feel about going to work every day. But, the good part is that my daughter is watched by her grandparents. I am glad they are able to have this special time with her. (and free child care is nice)

  11. Kimberly says:

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I am losing sleep lately over the “choice”. I am very fortunate to have been allowed 3 years off from a career that I love to be home with my kids, but I have to go back next Sept. or give up my job.

    I am SO torn between missing my job & my friends there, and not wanting to miss a single thing with the boys, and the feelings of “I worked hard to get that job & I am good at it”, and “I worked hard to get good at this SAHM stuff, and I’m good at this , too”, or “Giving up a great job in this economy is dumb”, and feeling like I will go completely insane because how do working moms do ALL THE THINGS. Hubby won’t be working or traveling any less. And then there is the GUILT about feeling torn. Am I a bad mom for not choosing to stay with my boys without a second thought?

    I actually wish that I had no choice- that I had to go back because we couldn’t afford for me not to, but (luckily?) that isn’t the case. I have honestly thought about having another baby sooner than later so I can put this off another year.

  12. Katherine says:

    I’m a working mom and I love to work. We’re a two income household because we NEED the money to make our bills, but really, that’s a choice. We don’t have to live on twelve acres with a redonkulous mortgage payment. We certainly wouldn’t need 2 incomes if we didn’t. So, guess what, even if it doesn’t seem like I have a choice, it is a choice. However, that being said, if we didn’t have bills to pay, I think I would still work. I love what I do. So, yea…all that blah blah blah to say, I agree with you…answering the question of why women work can’t be summed up by a pie chart of political movement.

    • bebehblog says:

      I took out a whole HUGE middle section on my post where I rambled on and on about who gets to decide if a family “needs” two incomes. Because without a quantifiable number, how can we determine how many mothers are working by “choice”?

  13. Leah says:

    Sigh. Such a well timed post, Suzanne. I was maybe nursing the baby and crying on her last night and trying to explain to her that even though I am not around (ever, it seems) I still love her and would stay home if I could.

    Though I’ll be damned if I wouldn’t want a part time job as Master Brewer/film reviewer if we were living in I Won the Lottery Fantasy world. This is a very well though out and balanced post on the subject.

    • bebehblog says:

      Hugs Leah. And thank you for saying it was balanced – I was really worried writing about working moms as a SAHM was going to come across totally wrong.

    • Robyn says:

      i’ve had that same conversation with my baby while crying. but now that she’s 2.5 and a very happy, well adjusted kid, who still loves her mommy most in the world, i can see that she knows i’ll always be there. she enjoys daycare and is happy to go every morning, but the look on her face when she runs to hug me when i pick her up is proof that we’re doing ok, even though i’m not home with her.

      • Robyn says:

        one more thought Leah, it takes a lot more to be a great mom than just being home all day. i know plenty of SAHM moms that really don’t give their kids the attention they need all day (and lots who are WONDERFUL mothers too!). i think it’s most important to make sure our kids feel our love and know we are always there for them. that’s what being a good mother is really about. they aren’t going to remember how many hours a week you worked. they are going to remember how loved they felt by you. my father worked 70 hours a week when i was a growing up, but he was still at every swim meet i had, and that’s the part i remember when i think back to that time.

        • Leah says:

          Thanks, Robyn. It’s just been one of those weeks (it’s only Tuesday!) where I get home and it’s like “Oh that? She’s been doing that for ages” and I feel like I am missing so much. This is my second kid, you’d think I would be used to it by now.

  14. TMae says:

    I get my dander up at the demographic the statement “more women work today because they have no choice.” (I realize this is taken out of context, to some degree.) I feel like this statement should really read, “More middle class white women work today…” Women – mothers – have ALWAYS worked outside the home. Always. Today, it seems popular to suggest that women who belong to a demographic that had a few generations of financial comfort from a single male-earned wage are being forced to work to make ends meet for their families. (And I really feel this is a continuation of the idealized and romanticized 50’s family that NEVER EXISTED outside Leave it to Beaver) And these women, the women that someone thinks shouldn’t have to work, are being held up by some people as proof of a failed capitalist vision.

    Which is not to say that mothers want to work outside the home, or don’t want to work outside the home – just that holding working mothers up, like you said, as evidence in your political movement pisses me off. It erases the experiences of all the mothers who have worked outside the home, and simultaneously minimizes the inside-the-home work mothers did, which was absolutely necessary to the survival of their families.

    Why do I work? I work because I need to make sure that I maintain my SSI contributions, and credit worthiness independent of my spouse, and have an income should something happen to wind me up one day from homeless. I work because I need to protect myself, and my child financially.

    • TMae says:

      That first sentence should read – “I get my dander up about the demographic that statement…is directed at.”

    • I’m curious about this non-existent Leave It To Beaver family. Not in a critical way, in a genuinely curious way. I’m pretty sure LITB was intended to be upper-middle-class and (obviously) white. Wouldn’t most (white upper middle class) women in the 1950s stay home in that situation? Historically, I mean. It’s exaggerated for television, of course, and very much tinted with rose-colored glasses, but I feel like there is some basis in reality.

      • TMae says:

        You’re probably right – there were some families that had stay-at-home moms, and I didn’t mean that the family never existed (I can employ hyperbole sometimes) – at all – just that LITB was carefully constructed around an idealized vision of the American Family. The American Family was constructed, in large part, from anti-communist propaganda that was popular at the time. The best defense against communism was a strong family, which was possible only if dad worked, and mom stayed home.

    • bebehblog says:

      To be fair, the statistics they quote in the chart are specific: in 1975 47% of women with children under 18 worked outside the home. In 2008 71% did. So for the sake of my question I was only thinking about paid employment today as compared to several decades ago in good old financially stable America. I am also assuming those numbers were taken from a sample that included non-white, non-middle class women.

      The real problem with the data is that they are using “women working outside the home” as a sign of failure. And then the problem with my friend’s statement is….well, everything I said in the post about having a CHOICE.

      • I wish the stats were for younger aged kids. I feel like there is probably a big jump of women entering the workforce when kids are old enough to stay home by themselves after school. I know my mom added a ton more hours once I got old enough. (I know that isn’t the point of the link or your post. I am just pointing it out because I think it is interesting)

      • TMae says:

        I actually went searching for a source of the statistics, because there is SO MUCH that plays into those numbers, but couldn’t find any. I absolutely agree, and think I might have hit it tangentially up there in my original semi off-the cuff response – that women working outside the home is a shit statistic to attach to this movement. Interesting, what I *did* find were statistics indicating that women working outside the home have been increasing since WWII.

  15. Erin..... says:

    I love reading everyone’s comments on this post. Great topic!!! So for me it’s kind of the opposite, I don’t work a full time job because I made the choice to get out of the air force while pregnant. It has seemed more than pointless to get an entry level position and then pay nearly everything I earn to childcare (and gas!) and never see my son. Instead we decided we were just cool with being poor (but happy). But not to go to into all the details, I do work part time and go to school. Why? Because ultimately I would like to be NOT poor. And I think it’s important for us as mothers to have things in our lives to fulfill us as individuals whether they contribute to the family purse or not. And I feel lucky to have that choice.

  16. merin says:

    What a great topic Suzanne. My feelings about being a SAHM fluctuate every day. On days that it really gets me down I try to think about how many working moms (who really don’t have a choice) would be very happy to be in my position. I think, in a lot of aspects, the grass is always greener on the other side. We made the decision for me to stay home for the betterment of our marriage and Matt’s career, and I like to think it’s working out pretty good. But I do miss adult interaction and feeling that pride of having a career that really mattered (especially to me, since I had just left a cushy research job to pursue teaching and only got to do it for a year). I hope to go back to education one day, but, like another commenter wrote, realize that probably won’t happen until our kids go to school.

  17. I think you’ve posed an interesting question, and it’s one I’ve sort of been thinking about lately. After I had Noah and was dealing with PPD and about a million other stresses, I couldn’t WAIT to go back to work. I actually gave my two weeks at my previous job when I came back from maternity leave and started what’s basically my dream job.

    I love my work, but as Noah has gotten past the newborn stage and started interacting more with people and with his surroundings, I find myself desiring to be able to stay at home with him. And I can’t because we can’t afford it. I make almost twice what my husband makes, so if one of us WAS going to stay home, at this point it would have to be him.

    It’s sad in some ways to realize that it’s not an option, but I also think I would probably get tired of it. I love the time I get to spend with him now, and I think I’m able to appreciate him and give him what he needs as a mother because of the time I have away from him. That’s just the way I work (no pun intended).

  18. Jessica says:

    So first let me say I am a part time SAHM, I was a full time SAHM until my daughter was 10 months old. I went back to work partly for the extra money, we bought a new house in June and partly for a little break and some sanity. Saying that I feel like an awful mom, but sometimes you just need some adult conversation and at my job I sit still for more than 2 seconds at a time. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I am also lucky enough that daycare is free. My baby girl stays with her Grammy and gets to hang out on a farm and *work* and loves it.

    I feel like moms are in a lose lose situation. *I* think people look down on you either way, if you tell them you are stay at home mom they look at you like “oh so you don’t do anything.” If you tell them you work they look at you like “oh so you just let some stranger raise your child.”

    My husband and I got pregnant knowing I would be a stay at home mom, at LEAST part time, because *WE* wanted to raise our daughter, not daycare. We saved and worked for it and were lucky enough to be financially able. We found a balance that works for us with me working Mon, Wed, Fri for 6 hours each day.

    Great post! Love the discussion!

  19. Joni says:

    Ok A. I LOVE the redesign. I I haven’t commented in a while because the fetus baby is sucking the life out of me while the ACTUAL baby is molar cutting and trying to kill me from the hours of 12 – 3 am. B. I never comment on anything anymore because of A. but here I am.

    I’ve been mothering for 19 years and I’ve been ALLLL AROUND this stay at home vs work vs stay at home and work thing. I’ve done all variety. When I was a new momma I was DYING to stay at home. My husband then (now ex) made like the most measly salary ever I had no choice but to work. And I cried EVERY DAY for a year driving my baby girl to the sitter. I hated it. And I hated work. And mostly I hated HIM. Because DAMMIT he could have been making more if he had any drive AT ALL and in the meantime my “nanny” (who was a good friend) was getting high while she watched my child. By the time our 2nd child was conceived it wasn’t practical for me to work outside AND pay for daycare so I stayed home. And then we had a third child. I did what I could to make money at home. Some miserable things frankly.

    And we were pretty poor. But you know what? Now looking back I don’t remember being poor I just remember being with my kids (and sometimes feeling kind of pretty damn insane).

    Then I went to nursing school and back to work once the kids were in school. And wow was it nice to have that income. And talk to adults. And feel productive. WOW.

    Then I got divorced and remarried and pregnant. Here I am again. Home. This time I walked away from a very good salary (35% of our total income) to stay at home. I love my work as a hospice nurse but I love my kids MORE. We can’t take a vacation. I shop for my clothes at target (if I buy any at all). I’m on a tight budget (no spa days, no lady dates for margaritas, nope). We don’t save much, if anything. And we burned through our savings and stock so I could be here. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I still feel like I can do a better job at raising my kids than someone else can. Because of that, I am home. I could say I have no ‘choice’ because in reality what is choice? What is each person willing to sacrifice? I know plenty of women who aren’t about to give up their spa days and shopping, even if that means leaving their kids so they can work. That’s their choice. I suppose I could say I HAVE to work because we are essentially going into debt for me to be home but the cost benefit analysis still says to ME my kids are better off with me home now than if I was working 40 hours a week and we could go to Hawaii. My 16 year old would love to have jeans from Hollister but instead she gets me making lasagna and pestering her about who she talks to at school. My 13 year old would love to have a brand new electric guitar but instead he gets me sitting in the audience watching him at EVERY jazz festival he’s in, playing his old guitar. My 11 year old would LOVE a new PSP but instead he gets me, helping him with math and going to all his football games. That’s not for everyone but it is for us. Hawaii will still be floating in 5 years.

    • bebehblog says:

      I think it is unkind and untrue to simply say that if other women sacrificed more (and to use spa days as the example) they would be able to stay home. That’s not always the case, for a myriad of reasons mentioned in my post and in my comments. Also, just because a women works doesn’t mean she is missing most (or any) of her kids’ lives. My mother worked when we were school age, but never missed a single important event for any of her 3 children. I know a Navy wife who worked 3rd shift at Walmart while her kids slept so they could afford things like vacations and cell phones and fancy private dance lessons for her daughter. I also know plenty of SAHMs whose kids go to preschool or mom’s day off programs to get the same kind of social skills kids in daycare are getting. Are those moms letting someone else raise their kid?

      As someone who has worked outside the home, don’t you think what REALLY matters is how present you are during the times you are with your kids?

      Ooooh and here’s a NEW thought: One of the things my family often sacrifices so I can stay home is my husband – the military takes him away from us fairly often. Isn’t his presence as a loving father JUST AS IMPORTANT as mine? So how come no one is asking him to sacrifice more in order to be home?

      • Joni says:

        Wow I’m surprised at your reaction. Because I thought I made it clear that everyone makes their own choices. And they’re all OK. Because I personally have made ALL those. I’ve worked to have more money for fun things (like spa days and vacation). I’ve worked because we needed food. I’ve stayed home and had less financial freedom in order to do it. It’s about what is right for you and your family at that time. I worked night shift a year a walmart too so I could pay the bills. And I worked night shift and didn’t sleep for five years as a nurse so I could basically to see my kids off to school and pick them up. I’ve been all around the cost/benefit discussion. On literally every side. What I thought I was saying was the I GAVE UP things to be home. That is what works for us right now. My husband is gone half (3-4 days) of every week for work which is certainly not the military but he does miss a lot so that I can be home. I hate it and I can’t imagine having to do that 7 months at a time. It’s hard to be alone with four kids. And yes I do absolutely know moms who will not give up freedoms to be home (financial or otherwise) because they don’t want to and that’s fine too. Because it’s about what works for whoever. Not the implication that any mom is sacrificing more or less but that they are making a choice that suits them and their family. <3

        • bebehblog says:

          Thanks for clarifying. I think I was just feeling a little defensive on behalf of my working mom friends who might have felt some judgement from your original comment. I think just BEING A MOTHER means you end up making sacrifices and deciding which ones are the easiest to live with.

          • barbra says:

            Ditto on the thanks for clarifying. The tone of your original post made my hackles raise as I don’t work so I can have spa days and “let someone else raise my kid”.

          • Robyn says:

            Wow Joni the hackles certainly went up for me with your original comments. i guess you just didn’t make your point clearly the first time. i refrained from commenting because i didn’t to get into a “i sacrifice this too” kind of argument. it all depends on your own situation, and no one should judge anyone else for their decisions. most mothers are trying the best they can. and for the record, the VAST majority of my fellow working mom friend do NOT work so that they can have the little luxuries in life like vacations and spa days. Many people in this economy simply do not have the option of one income, whatever their financial hardship maybe. and i also agree with Suzanne’s comment about her husbands time with the kids being just as important as hers. maybe we could afford for me to stay home if we foreclosed on our house so we could rent something cheaper, downsized to one car, didn’t pay our credit card bills or my student loans, and my husband worked 2-3 jobs. but at what cost? i know my daughter needs her daddy too. and i’m not comfortable teaching her that gnot paying your debts (or getting further in debt when you already are) or walking away from a mortgage is ok. but i guarantee, we will both be at every important event in her life, just as we always have. there will not be a sporting or other event that i will not be present at. i take great offense to you making it sound like working moms can’t still be there for their kids. i work to support my kid, not because i want little luxuries in life.

          • molly says:

            True dat, Suzanne! I work outside the home and we most certainly cannot afford family vacations to Hawaii. I also haven’t had a pedicure in 3 months. My husband works 50+ hours a week and I work 40+ just so we can reach our goals and pursue our dreams. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

            At this point, if I quit my job we would lose our house and the chance to pay off debt so that our sons can have a better life when they’re grown.

            While I don’t feel good about missing days with my sons I do feel good about my choice to work so that we can get to a better place in a couple years :)

    • Holly says:

      Wow…My husband and I both work because we need the income to pay our mortgage. We don’t even have cable. We wanted a home to raise our kids in, instead of renting, and in our area, home prices are astronomical. We bought a house we could afford, but can afford with two incomes. So did I CHOOSE to be a working mom? Yes, I guess I did, since we wanted our child to have a home and a yard to grow up in. Things that families used to be able to pay for on one income now take two to pay for.

      We don’t go to Hawaii. I don’t ever get pedicures or massages. I don’t buy clothes or jewelry. I have a car because it would take me 2 hours each way to commute by bus. My husband has one because his job requires it. We don’t eat out at restaurants or even fast food, because it’s cheaper to eat at home. I work because I HAVE to, to provide my daughter a home, food, and basic necessities.

  20. Laura says:

    I LOVE this post and all the comments! It’s such a good reminder of how different we all are and how different our needs and resulting choices are. I work 50% because I have to and 50% because I want to, scientifically split of course! (haha) We could technically afford for me to stay home as long as DH keeps his job (which he doesn’t love); I did stay home with DD for the most part until she was 10 months old. And like others have written, if we downsized, etc. etc. we could definitely more easily afford it, but I enjoy our lifestyle and my working helps make it possible. I also actually enjoy working. I have a professional career — one I switched paths into right before DD was born. I earned my master’s and I enjoy using it. DH would love to be the one to stay at home, so it’s important for me to continue to build my experience so that maybe one day he can do that. Of course, this all represents our choice today…circumstances may be different in a year or five. Just because families make a choice today doesn’t mean they’re locked into it.

    • bebehblog says:

      Fathers as the stay-at-home parent could be an even LONGER blog post! I love that it’s not an unheard of option any more and I love that your husband wants to someday. Obviously the statistics in that chart didn’t take into account two parent families where dad stays home, but it would be a super interesting number to know – I bet it’s grown a LOT since 1975.

  21. Sara says:

    I am French and in France we had daycare from 6 months onwards, pretty much for free. So most mothers aren’t stay at home because it’s very easy to afford care for your children. To me, as a French woman living in a very macho society, I could not imagine not having a source of income to LEAVE the marriage…I know this sounds depressing but what if your husband leaves you and has a new family? What do you do then? What if you want to leave? These are questions I have been brought up with.

    I know things are very different in America and I apologise if I am threadjacking, but in France staying at home is a huge risk for the woman.

    • bebehblog says:

      Thank you so much for your comment and your perspective – you are not threadjacking at all. There IS a risk in choosing to leave the work force – which is what TMae said in her comment about why she chooses to work. It’s putting all your eggs in your husband’s basket, so to speak, and hoping for the best. Technically there are alimony and child support laws that should protect women but the reality is you’d be forced to return to work on sudden, less-than-ideal terms.

      I used to think that having a college degree to “fall back on” was my safety net, but in this economy it’s probably barely worth the paper it’s printed on.

      • Sara says:

        thank you for your kindness. The other thing in France is that it is seen as very codependant and bad to breastfeed too long, to sleep with your kid, to stay at home with the children in general. Most people would judge you for that; our identity is linked to our profession.
        I think it is strange to systematically plan for the worst (after all we could all blow up at any time) but I have a question I hope won’t offend anyone: how do SAHMs do for money for personal expenditure? Does your partner give you an allowance?

        • bebehblog says:

          I think a lot of families have their own methods but our is extremely simple – it is all OUR money. We have one joint bank account. I do the majority of the purchasing for the family (groceries, toiletries, essentials, clothing, gifts for holidays) which means I technically spend much more than my husband does, but since most of it is for “us” it isn’t up for discussion. We both make small incidental purchases without asking the other person (mine are mostly craft supplies, his are mostly food) but if we’re buying something large like a TV or a car or a new washing machine we discuss it as if it is being paid for equally by both of us. There isn’t an allowance because there isn’t any X amount I am allowed to spend, although if I were to buy myself an entire new wardrobe without asking I would be violating the (mostly unspoken) terms of our marriage. Honestly, we don’t discuss money very often except “man I wish we had more” or “hey we have a few extra bucks this week, want to go out to dinner?”.

          I have no idea if that is typical for most SAHMs. Anyone else want to chime in?

          • barbra says:

            I am a full-time work outside the home mother and this is how we handle our money. Both paychecks get deposited into the same joint account, neither of us has a set amount for spending (even though he makes much more than me), we only discuss money if something big needs to happen. It has never been, “I make this much so this is my money” and vice versa. It’s shared 100% equally. And it works for us.

          • Sara says:

            It sounds like you have a great partnership in your marriage. I really admire that.

          • Robyn says:

            we both work and we pretty much do what Suzanne said. it’s all OUR money, even though i make much more than my husband. to us, it’s part of the whole “teamwork” mentality we have. we pretty much split housework and childcare too, although the majority of childcare still defaults to me by our daughter’s choice. but when i’m putting her to bed, he’s making lunches, doing dishes, cleaning up toys, etc.

            and i also totally understand the mentality you have in France regarding needing to protect yourself. My mother felt trapped in her marriage for many years (all is well now though, so i guess it’s good she didn’t leave) and that is why she stressed to my sister and i that we needed to go to college and get good jobs. now we are both the primary incomes in our households and wish we could afford to stay home, so go figure. but, i do like knowing that i am married because i want to be, and not because i have to be.

  22. I was a single mother of my little boy from age 1 to age 3. I felt a pull to be home with him, but of course, I could not afford that. I cried every day after dropping him off at daycare and often felt as if the daycare was raising him, not me.

    Then I met my now- husband. Who had strong beliefs about women staying home with the children. I agreed and we could afford it. It was as simple as that. I stayed home with my oldest since he was 3 and have since the beginning with my younger two. We live frugally and drive older cars with no payments, but we make these sacrifices so I can stay home. I did work on-call for a while but it always seemed I was choosing work or choosing my kids. I didn’t want to have to make that choice anymore. I think there are women who balance it way better than I did/could but for me, I felt that doing one was always taking away from the other.

    I raise my kids and go to school, so that one day when they are all in elementary school, I can pursue the career of my dreams (nursing). For now, my place is here. However, there are days I wish I could go to work. There are days I crave talking to another adult so much it hurts. I think having a good support system of other moms is key, whether you are a stay at home mom or working mom.

    All that to say, I fully agree with you. :)

  23. LB says:

    I’m almost 10 weeks pregnant with my first, and my husband and I have been married 2 years. We’ve been making very deliberate choices so that I can hopefully be a SAHM. We drive paid-in-full 10-year-old cars, we don’t have cable or smartphones, we go out to eat only rarely and we’ve furnished our apartment with Craigslist furniture. We close on our first house in a couple of weeks with a 30+% downpayment and we’re buying a much smaller and less expensive house than the mathematical models would say we can afford so that we can actually afford the house on one income. Sadly, I’m not even sure that I COULD afford to continue working… I got laid off from a decent job (funded by stimulus money) in March and since July I’ve been working for $10 an hour (at a job I really love in the field I got my masters in, but with a lot less responsibility and prestige than I would prefer). After daycare, $10 an hour would leave maybe $3 an hour in takehome pay. Not worth it. I’m actually thinking of babysitting/ running an in-home daycare once our child is 6 months old to help make ends meet.

  24. hanna says:

    Being a SAHM has always been my number 1 dreamiest of dream jobs. Owning a home in the near future or marrying Mr. Money-Bags has never been my dream, so we’re happy to be on one income that supports our needs and most of our wants, as long as they aren’t super fancy (like flying to Paris for cocktails!). I’m a hairdresser so when our baby is a little older I may start working from home but at the moment, spending every minute of every day with her is like reaching the finish line and getting a medal, for me. I know we don’t have a mortgage or massive credit card debts to worry about, so our needs as far as budgeting leave all of our one income as pretty much disposable (excluding rent/bills) which gives me the luxury of choice. If I choose to live the way we choose to live. I also live in a country that gives support to single income families in the form of cash top-ups for each baby (big $) and fortnightly supplements (very good, excess of $200 per fortnight). We also have the benefits of an excellent public health system who give 50% rebates for doctors bills, to state the least of it. We are very lucky and my choice is 100% choice.

  25. barbra says:

    Someone above said that, for them, working is a choice the same that eating is a choice. This is true for many people. For years, I thought I would never have children so I invested in a career and am still paying off those student loans. So yes, my choice is to work in that I did things and made decisions in my early twenties that sealed my current fate. So when is the choice being made? Certainly not now – I would prefer to be home with my son. People say “if you really wanted to stay home you could make it happen”. Well, if I had known at age 19 what I know now, then yes, I would have chosen to do things differently (like not getting an advanced degree) and I could stay at home. But that didn’t happen. So I’m taking responsibiltity for those younger decisions and working now. Because I have to. I don’t feel like I have a choice, unless if you think defaulting on my loans and become homeless is a choice. Yes, it’s very hard on me and on my very sensitive little boy who isn’t thriving at daycare. And to all of those who say someone else is raising my son, it simply isn’t true. Yes, someone else watches, cares for and meets his needs from 8-5. But, my husband and I are the ones providing for and raising our son. It isn’t just semantics – there truly is a difference. Oh, there is so much more to say. But, I’ll leave it with – can’t we just stop judging one another? None of us really knows the personal situations of anyone else and has no right to say one way or another what is best for anyone but themselves.

    • barbra says:

      I should also add that I’ve done both – so the grass is greener argument does not apply to me. I was able to stay at home for four months after a long distance move that rendered me unemployed in a smaller market. That was not my choice, and we are still paying dearly for that – our loans were put into forebearance and we are still playing catch up. However, I loved every second of it and our entire family was happier and less stressed. We are chipping away at our bills so that someday I may be able to stay home. But please don’t judge me. SAHM (even a good friend) have said things like, “oh, I could never leave little Susie, I just love her too much!”

      • bebehblog says:

        I’m a little disappointed some of the comments seem to be written in a “letting someone else raise your kids” tone of voice, because that is NOT AT ALL how I feel. I hope you know that.

      • Robyn says:

        I completely agree with everything you said Barbra. and i hope your little boy grows to like daycare better. My daughter loves hers, but it was a lot of stress for me in the beginning. i cant’ imagine how much harder it would be if she didn’t love it there and get excited everyday about seeing her friends.

    • bebehblog says:

      THIS is exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote the post. By society’s standard of success, you’ve done a great job – but what you’d really like to do is opt out and stay home. I wish there was an easy solution for you.

      • ryan says:

        that’s EXACTLY what’s being missed in this discussion. there shouldn’t only be one choice – to work or to stay home. there should be a variety of ways for men and women to piece together meaningful, financially secure employment while enjoying time at home with their children. we need state and/or federally mandated and subsidized maternity and paternity leave. businesses that offer job sharing, telecommuting and flex-time opportunities should get tax incentives/breaks. while we’re at it, how about nationalized health care, student loan forgiveness and free drop-in daycare for kids under 5? i know, all pipe dreams but THAT is what we should all be fighting for. the whole working mom vs. SAHM mompetition bullshit is just a distraction from the real issue – that Family is not valued in our society and it’s time that we worked together to change that.

        • hanna says:

          you know, I never really understood the ‘mommy wars’ (i’ve heard it called that!) in America, until just now. Because in Australia we get paid federally funded maternity leave (for 4 months. I received $10,000 in total, over 4 months), we get massive tax breaks for one of the partners in a relationship where there are children, our student loans are structured so that you don’t have to start paying them until you reach a certain threshhold, 1 year unpaid maternity leave from your job (fed mandate) during which time you cannot be fired, we have national free and subsedised health care (you only have to have health insurance if you earn over $80,000 a year), i don’t know how many businesses offer job share but my parent’s did job share until I was 10 and on top of that the federal government also pays cash top ups fortnightly, two payments- one is a payment of $150 per child (depending on your own income, of course, this is just what we receive for our single income) and the other is a similar payment (we haven’t started receiving it yet as it only comes after paid maternity leave is completed). I knew America had a really bad reputation for looking after it’s people but just comparing what we have against that list has horrified me. I can’t even imagine contending with the lack of all those things AS WELL as everything else about having a new (ish) baby!! My heart goes out to you America, you should make stuff happen and get a better deal (easier said than done).

  26. Nicole says:

    Right now? Because I have to. I was considering giving up my second part-time job when my husband was laid off. Now I keep it because I have to. I took it because it was a small commitment and I wanted to transition to a new career field eventually, when my kids are older and I can work more without sacrificing so much at home.

    At first, though, I went back to work because I stayed at home for the first year, when my older son was a baby, and I couldn’t stand it. I thought I’d like it, but I didn’t. I don’t think I’d want to work full-time all the time, but being a full-time SAHM is not for me. I love my children just fine, and my work, but I function better when I have a better work-life balance. I might not always have that kind of freedom; in fact, right now, I don’t. My husband’s been out for three months and may be out for a long time after this. I’m going on the job market as soon as I have my degree in hand. If I can get something, I feel I ought to take it for my family’s sake. There’s no law that the staying-home person has to be me.

  27. eversmommy says:

    Its a little late to comment, but I will anyway! I really enjoyed this post and was relieved to read that I am not the only one that feels like I do. I work full time, and that is the choice I made looong ago when I built up debt going to school, when children were not on the radar, and I became the one with the big salary in our house. Would I love to stay home? You bet. Well, I think I would…to be honest, I don’t KNOW that I would. I love feeling powerful and professional in my job. And I also love the feeling of having worked hard, and then being totally engaged in whatever my son is doing when I am with him. Sure, its hard thinking about not being with him (I am currently in North Carolina for work this week, and live in Iowa, so that is a long way from my 1.5 yo), BUT, when I get home, its all about him and I just love that. And, it warmed my heart last week when I took him to daycare and the other little kids yelled “Everett!” when we came in the door and he got a huge grin on his face–he has friends outside of me. And I like that.

    Believe me, I get it. I get both sides. And I also think I am guilty of always wanting what I don’t have. So I do my best to try to see the good that comes from the choices I made. The bottom line is that at the end of the day, I have a happy son that my husband and I can’t get enough of, so what we are doing works for us. Thanks for posting this Suzanne, for some reason it has given me some comfort and perspective on choices I have made for my family.

  28. dianthe says:

    you hit the nail on the head! there is no perfect answer

    when my daughter was born, i had what was at the time the perfect solution for me – i worked a full time job at a morning radio show from 5am-1pm – we had a nanny that kept her while i was at work – i was able to work full time (and talk to adults!) and still spend what i felt was quality time with my daughter – fast forward 3 years – i got laid off from my awesome job and now i have 2 kids – i work from home part-time running my own business and doing some contract work but i don’t make enough to pay a nanny – so while i get to spend tons of time with my kids, everything else suffers because i’m constantly juggling children while still trying to work

    in a perfect world, i would be independently wealthy and could work part-time, stay at home part-time and enjoy a part-time life as a lady of leisure!

    i’ve done it every way – worked full-time, mommy full-time, worked outside the home, worked from home – at the end of the day, it was still hard and i still loved my kids – it doesn’t matter how or why we do what we do – we’re all different and we all have different wants and needs – one day we’ll figure that out and support each other’s choices instead of judging them!

  29. I think you nailed it on the head. There’s no quantifiable way to decide ANY of this. I always wanted to be a SAHM. I talked to my husband about it for years. By the time we found out we were pregnant there was no possible way we could afford for me to do that. I was the primary breadwinner.

    Then I lost my job.

    After a particularly rough 18 months, we were able to finally get on our feet. Yes, I’m able to stay at home, but we are *squeaking* by and my job is to make that happen. Personally, it would have never happened for us if we wouldn’t have been forced to pare down. We joke all the time about my “really expensive piece of paper” and we moan about our student debt. Still, we are making it work.

    My dearest friends have the same struggles we are — balancing work and home, trying to make enough money to survive — and they literally bring in 2.5 times more than we do. I dream about what I would do if I just had a fraction of what they have.

    We live within our means, regardless of what those means entail.

    We are all fighting our battles. We love our children and we want the best for them. Who am I to judge whether a person is “doing enough” or not? Why do we get so up-in-arms about it? Do you think it’s because no matter what we are doing, we have “mommy guilt” over it? Maybe that’s why we’re so sensitive about it, because no matter what we are doing, we are always wanting to do MORE.

    • Robyn says:

      I agree with you. we are all sensitive because we all have mommy guilt. i almost think it was easier back when women weren’t expected or allowed to work outside the home (unless absolutely necessary, like during the wars). there was no debate about working or staying home. you stayed home, end of discussion. Now it’s a valid choice either way, which makes us all twitchy and unsure of our decisions. i think we get our feathers ruffled because we are trying our best, but that doesn’t feel good enough.

  30. Well said. And this is coming from a working momma to boot ;)

  31. Ginger says:

    I work because I have to. Period. I mean, yes, I like my career in publishing and I worked to get here, but if I could have stayed home with my son when he was a baby, I would have dropped this office gig in a heartbeat. I also would have tried to come back as soon as he went to school, because having a career is good for ME, personally.

    My husband is a work-at-home-dad. He’s an artist and has been a freelancer for longer than we had a kid. So when I got pregnant, it made MORE sense for me to keep my job and go back to work than for him to go out and try and FIND a job after 2 years of working for himself. I always knew this was his path, way back when I met him in college. So this isn’t a surprise. I am the primary breadwinner, bringing in 90% of our income. My husband brings in the rest and takes care of our son. So in the dynamic of our family, I have to work if we want to have a roof over our head, food in our bellies, and clothes (however out of style) on our backs.

    The words of judgement sting: “why have kids if you’re not going to raise them?” (um, I am raising them. So is my husband.) “Oh, I just love my kid more than any job” (thanks for the implication that I like sitting in a cubicle more than my offspring) “oh I could NEVER leave him. I love him too much” (yeah…I don’t even know what to say to that one). But I just try to keep in mind that my choices don’t make me a bad parent. I’m providing for my family, giving my son what he needs to survive, AND giving him all my love. Anyone who judges me for that is not someone I need to give power to by letting it make me feel bad.

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