11 No-Nonsense Questions You Must Answer Before Making The Choice
For one lucky woman named Jennie, the decision to be an at-home mother was a simple one. She had always known it's how she wanted to parent. Her family and friends supported the idea and let her know it. And from the beginning of their marriage, she and her husband had planned the household budget so that they were not dependent on her income. When time for the birth of their first child approached, she simply cleaned out her desk and moved home to begin her new "career." Five years and two children later, she says she's exactly where she wants to be and that she loves her at-home lifestyle.
But for other women (probably the vast majority), the decision is a much more complex and difficult one. They want to spend more time with their children, but a decrease in family income seems insurmountable. They are not exactly thrilled with the quality of their child's daycare, but aren't confident they have the know-how to do much better themselves. What if they leave their jobs and discover that full-time parenting isn't fulfilling at all but simply tedious?
What if they're never able to regain their footing on the career ladder? And after all those years of education and employment, what will people say if they walk away from their jobs? For them, and perhaps for you, the decision to become an at-home mother isn't so simple.
Although you may have a strong desire to be at home with your children, there are several issues you should consider before making your choice. They range from questions about your motivation to plain old practical concerns (like how the heck will your family survive without two paychecks?), to psychological and relationship issues. By answering the following questions you are likely to become more confident that you'll make the best decision for you and your family. The questions will also suggest things you can do to ensure that at-home parenting will be a positive experience.
1. Why do you want to be an at-home mother?
Is it because you genuinely want to be there for your children whenever they need you? Because you believe you are the best person to nurture and guide them? Because you love the time you spend with them and want more of it? These are all wonderful and positive reasons for choosing at-home mothering. If your answer to these is "yes," you are probably on the right track and will be able to structure an at-home lifestyle that works for you and your family.
On the other hand, is full-time parenting looking good simply because you're bored or frustrated with your job? Or because, compared to what you're doing now, being an at-home mother seems like a piece of cake? Or because you're tired of your demanding boss and cranky co-workers, and you just can't get ahead? These aren't necessarily bad reasons, but you're likely to find yourself disappointed in full-time parenting if they're your only reasons. While at-home mothering can be fulfilling, it's certainly not springtime in Paris. You don't know what boredom and frustration are until you've sung nine thousand verses of "Where Is Thumbkin" to the crankiest, most demanding associate of all--your own dear two-year-old. But if your desire to be with your children is what's motivating you, you'll manage to keep going and even find it worthwhile.
2. How much money are you really taking from your outside job?
Have you ever calculated your real take-home pay? That would be the amount that's left after taxes, childcare, commuting costs, work wardrobe, meals out (or expensive convenience foods), gifts for co-workers, and the cost of household help for chores you can't get done when you're gone from the house 40 or 50 hours a week. Most women are pretty surprised how little is left.
3. Is your income absolutely essential to your family's survival?
If the answer is yes, can you negotiate to bring some or all of your work home? Or can you job-share or otherwise work fewer hours to be at home more and actually be better off by saving on some of the previously-mentioned expenses? If you are a valued employee, you may find that your employer would rather negotiate with you than lose you altogether. Or can you start a home-based business that fits around your family's needs rather than the other way around? More and more women are finding this a perfect solution to the wanna-be-home-but-gotta-have-money dilemma. There are abundant resources available to the budding entrepreneur.
4. How much can you "earn" by simplifying your lifestyle?
Can going out to dinner become a treat, rather than a frequent event necessitated because both adults are too exhausted to cook? Can you buy food in bulk and clothing from the sale rack? Can you vacation in the off-season, or sometimes skip the hotel getaway in favor of backpacking? Do you really need a new car, or will a used one get you where you want to go? Will your friends like you as well when you host a backyard potluck rather than footing the bill at a fancy restaurant? These are all ways to "earn" by simply spending less. Think of it as "creative spending"--it's only deprivation if you choose to see it as such.
5. What about financial security for the future?
It's a common worry for at-home mothers that the time will come when they'll need outside employment and they won't be able to find a job. Unfortunately, divorce does happen, or the primary wage-earning job disappears, or an emergency in the family requires that more money must appear now. You can't ever be sure it won't happen to you. You can, however, begin now to contribute to an emergency fund (many financial advisors recommend 3-6 months' expenses). You can also keep your career skills up to date, and in fact make yourself even more marketable than before. As an at-home mother, you decide your priorities and daily schedule. Take a class in computers or management or whatever is appropriate. Learn a foreign language. Keep in touch with your former co-workers and cultivate new contacts, remembering that it's often "who you know" that counts. There are a hundred ways to ensure you're not "stuck" if and when the time comes to re-enter the workforce.
6. What important emotional perks have you been getting from your job?
A sense of achievement? A sense of "being somebody" because you have an occupation to announce? Self-esteem? A feeling of belonging? These are all important to your sense of well-being. Can you find ways to replace them in an at-home career? Can you set goals for yourself and give yourself credit when they are achieved? Can you say, "I'm a full-time mother" and feel proud, knowing that you've chosen this important job? Can you recognize that there are many ways of maintaining healthy self-esteem, and that most of them are do-it-yourself? Can you take the initiative in finding new peers with whom you'll have the at-home mother lifestyle in common?
7. Which personal characteristics will help you succeed as an at-home mother?
Are you able to delay gratification of your immediate wishes? (If you've managed to keep working for 11 ½ months waiting for your annual vacation at work, you can safely answer yes.) Are you internally, rather than externally motivated? In other words, do you do excellent work because it's the right thing to do and it makes you feel good, or only because your boss is watching and judging? One of the challenges of at-home mothering is that there is no structure to the job unless you impose one. It helps immensely if you're generally a self-directed person who enjoys running her own show. Are you assertive enough to say "no"? Once people discover you "don't have a job" you're likely to be inundated with demands and requests. Agreeing to every one will prevent you from achieving your goal of having more time with your children. Are you able to live without the cut-throat competition that may have been a part of your job? Can you enjoy little Katie's lovely smile even if she's the clumsiest kid on the balance beam? You will make your children miserable if they must be perfect little super-achievers in order to make you look good. Do you have warmth, compassion, patience? They are all essential.
8. Do you trust yourself?
In choosing full-time parenting, you may feel like a modern-day pioneer without road maps or role models. You already know that "experts," society, and your friends have expectations about what you "should" do. In the face of this, are you able to trust that you can determine what course is best for you and your family? Do you have a reasonably good sense of your own values system? Do you have confidence that you can create a lifestyle that works for all members of the family, even if this requires periodic readjustments as needs and circumstances change? Parenting, whether full-time or not, is at best a "work in progress." It helps immensely if you trust that you will, over time, find your own way.
9. Who supports your at-home choice?
Is your husband or partner "on board" with your goals and plans? If not, think long and hard before making the change, a decision of this magnitude should be made with the cooperation of all members of the family old enough to have an opinion. Enlisting your partner's support might be a simple matter of sharing your reasons and pointing out the ways he, too, can benefit from having someone on duty in the home. Even if he agrees in principle that at-home mothering is a good thing, he may still be unsure of how the two of you can pull it off. Review your responses to the "Practical Concerns" section with him, and listen, really listen to his as well. It is virtually certain that he'll have concerns you may not have thought about, such as fear that he'll feel "left out" of the family. Perhaps you can offer to make the move gradually, by switching from full-time to part-time employment while you both evaluate how it's working. While your little ones will be delighted to have more time with mom, your older children (especially middle- and high-schoolers) may initially be against it. They fear that you'll be watching every more they make, not a pleasant prospect. And if you've historically tried to make up for your absence by indulging them with material possessions, they also fear they'll never have another pair of the "right" athletic shoes. Be patient--give them a chance to discover that mom is more than a "money machine." Realize that all the relationships in the family will evolve over time and that most of you will find that they become deeper and more satisfying. (Of course you have to be realistic here: don't expect your teenagers to thank you until someday when they have children of their own!)
10. Where will you find the support you need to be happy as an at-home mother?
Most women are so relationally-oriented that they become quite unhappy without an active support network. In fact, it's often one of the things they like best about their jobs: the give-and-take over lunches, having someone "stop by" their desks, and having a shared purpose with friendly co-workers. None of these things are built in perks for the at-home mother unless she seeks them out. If you decide to leave the world of outside employment, your usual support system may practically disappear. Luckily you can, with a little concerted effort, find "replacement parts." Can you remind yourself that, no matter how much you love your family, you still need regular contact with others? Can you bring yourself to make the first move to establish new friends? Are you willing to try new activities for yourself and your children, activities that will bring you into contact with other women who share your new lifestyle? Do you accept that your partner cannot possibly meet all your emotional needs and that it is up to you to fill the gaps? By doing these things, you greatly increase the likelihood that your years as an at-home mother will be fulfilling and fun. Some of the best friends you'll ever have are those with whom you shared your children's growing-up years.
11. Have you established a healthy relationship with your children?
Do you, and they, already enjoy each other's company even if your time together so far has been limited? Do you respect their opinions? Do they respect your parental authority? Do you feel confident of your parenting skills? If not, are you willing to get the information or advice that will help you improve your relationship? Are you willing to honestly face your own issues that may hinder you in successful parenting? Are you willing to admit you don't have all the answers? To read books on parenting and self-esteem? To seek other mothers as role models? And, if things are getting really out of hand, to get counseling?