Deciding to return to work after having kids is one of the most difficult decisions to make. Or at least it was for me. How could I justify being a stay at home mom while still paying student loans? How could I let my education go to waste? How could I go back to work and leave La Grande (age 5) and La Rubia Peligrosa (age 20 mos) in day care AND hold the house together AND kick ass at my job AND keep my marriage on track? To this very day, I am still at war with myself over this issue.
Choice. I constantly remind myself in this life we all make choices. Hell, that’s what we fought for in the second wave of feminism in the 60s and 70s, isn’t it? It used to be so crystal clear to me when I was 20 and knew everything. Of course, I’d have a killer career, be in a committed, egalitarian relationship, and have perfect kids, and an awesome dog, and we’d all fart rainbows and sunshine. What I didn’t realize then is that all of those choices revolve around money and, in my case as a military spouse, the United States Air Force.
Let’s look at these choices:
1. Stay at home mom
Staying at home has to be the hardest thing I have EVER done in my life. EVER. I mean, I had to call my mother and apologize for all the selfish things I did while under her roof (sorry, Dad, she runs the place, but you already know that) and thank her for all the life skills she taught me whether I wanted to know them or not.
Between the unending, mundane, mind-numbing chores of washing, folding, putting away, inventorying, dusting, vacuuming, shopping, and picking up after three other human beings and a furry child, there are days I could go all Oedipus and poke my eyes out. When you add on doing all of those things with a toddler wrapped around your leg and the only form of communication she has mastered is bloodcurdling screeching, it is all the more pleasant.
Now, let me tell you what. I may be bitching and moaning, but staying at home is a luxury. It is not something that I resent. It is something that I treasure because it is a privilege in our society. Not everyone can afford to stay at home. Many moms return to the workforce after having children because they must.
At the same time, there is a real opportunity cost associated with being a stay at home parent. It can put gaps in your resume that can make it a challenge to return to the workforce even if you have experience prior to your time at home. It isn’t impossible, but it isn’t easy either.
2. Go back to work
I dream about going back to work. I miss having an office. I miss working lunches. I miss physical co-workers. I miss board meetings. I miss colleagues that I can reach out and touch…uh, well not really touch, but, uh, nevermind. My going-back-to-work fantasy always starts out like a great PR piece and then goes to hell in handbasket.
First of all, I have to find a job that is relatively flexible. Hubby is darn near impossible to get in contact with and if either of my children become ill or injured, or pop someone in the eye, I’m going to have to leave my job to take care of the situation. Or, if hubby is out of the picture for mission reasons, that means I have to do this crazy routine alone. I cannot imagine what it is to be a single parent, but I can tell you that it sucks to be a single parent when you are not one. Not to make light of the situation, nobody likes their significant other to be away, but sometimes I’d rather know that hubby is out of the picture, than for him to be at home but totally unavailable.
Next, I have to find child care. From the research I’ve done, it would cost me roughly $800 to put La Rubia Peligrosa in care and another $400 to put La Grande into after school care. So, for me to even consider working outside of the home, I’d have to more than clear $1200 a month, not including the additional cost of gas, clothing, and other work related expenses. I figure that I’d fall off the dinner wagon, and we’d wind up eating out more as well. Chances are, I’d cave and get weekly housekeeping to minimize the arguments that would inevitably crop up due to the state of the house.
I know myself well enough that I can openly admit that I’m a bit of a workaholic. I am not someone who can just go to work and leave it there. I am the late night person. And guess what? I am married to an exact carbon copy. The real reason I won’t go back to work? I don’t think that my family would survive having two full-time working parents.
The mental and monetary cost of going back to work just isn’t worth it to me. And, no. I haven’t made peace with that yet, no matter how true it is.
3. Work at home
Welcome to my compromise. It isn’t perfect. Not by a long shot. There are days where I feel like I am in Beyonce’s Run The World video and there are days where I want to lock myself in my walk-in closet and cry. Honestly, I am the damn luckiest person to have landed jobs that afford me the opportunity to telecommute. I don’t make a lot of money, and to be honest, the money doesn’t matter. Of course, it helps, but it doesn’t matter. I need to be able to feed the part of my soul that is fueled by my professional identity. I wish that I could be totally fulfilled by being “Mommy” or by being a spouse, but the thing that makes me me is my profession. I love to work. I love to be a mom. I love to be a partner to my spouse. I am a better spouse and mom because I work. I am a happier me.
There are some real cons here. I wouldn’t be a very good friend if I didn’t point them out. I am constantly surrounded by all three of my main identities at all times: mom, spouse, worker. If I have a pile of laundry staring at me, I find it insanely hard to concentrate on my work. Likewise, if La Rubia Peligrosa decides to forgo her nap, it throws the entire day into a tailspin. I cannot afford to skip a home chore because the home chore will ultimately impact my momdom and workdom. Also, this work at home deal has made me a bit socially isolated and I don’t interact in person with a lot of moms (shameless plug: chat me up in the comments section) so I can get a bit lonely at times.
Stay at Home? Go back to Work? Work at Home?
Here’s our mantra: “Whatever works best for you.” If you can afford to stay home and you love it, do it. If you want or have to work outside of the home and you can find a job that will pay you enough to more than clear all the work related expenses (child care, gas, etc.) do it. If you want to telecommute, do your homework and make it happen.
What choice did you make? What do you love or hate about the choice you made?
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