In the last 50 to 100 years, there has been a constant tension and disagreement about whether mothers should stay at home or go into the work force. I was raised in such a way that led me to believe that working moms were neglecting their duties to their children and their husband, although I didn’t really know any working moms personally. My own mother was a stay-at-home mom for most of my life, though when I began ninth grade she went to work full-time. This definitely put a strain on our family because her role in the home changed a lot, but I also could see that she loved teaching and the relationships she made with the other teachers and students.
In my firsthand experience as a new mom, I worked about 30 hours a week during the first six months of my baby’s life. This was primarily to supplement our income, so when our finances leveled out a bit I began to work less. At this point I still need to work some to bring in financial support, but I also want to work some. I enjoy teaching music and voice to students, and I enjoy getting out of the house and interacting with “big people” from time to time. In a way, it almost helps me do my mom job better if I have a job outside the home to go to a couple hours a week.
In most circles I have always heard “Stay-At-Home-Mom” pitted against “Working Mom”, but I don’t think the division is that clear cut. I think most moms fall into one or more of four categories:
- Mom that has to work to support the family financially
- Mom that wants to work because she has a specific calling/gift outside the home
- Mom that wants to stay at home to be her children’s primary caregiver/teacher
- Mom that needs to stay at home because there is no other suitable childcare/schooling
Just in the last year since my first child was born, I have found myself in all four of these categories at times. So I don’t really fit into just the “Stay-at-Home-Mom” or “Working Mom” box – it’s more complex than that. So, this letter could be addressed to all moms, not just working moms.
Let’s take a look at these four categories, and why moms find themselves stuck in between a rock and a hard place when deciding what is best for their family. All four of these categories contain their own unique joys and difficulties.
1. Mom that has to work to support the family financially
This category is a tricky one, as it is primarily fueled by circumstances, not necessarily by beliefs and values. So before you drop yourself into this box, ask how much money do you really need to live off of? In my humble opinion, I don’t think any family has to live off of two incomes. However, there may be circumstances that arise where the mom does become the primary source of income – husband is sick/injured/handicapped, husband is in masters/doctoral program, single parent household, etc.
Staying at home does not mean you don’t bring in any money, either. Because I am busy at home, I save my family money by finding discounts on car insurance, coupons for groceries, fuel points for gas, credit towards gift cards, and much more (read how you can even make money while breastfeeding here!). Because our little girl is either being watched by her mommy or daddy, we don’t spend any money on childcare (that’s at least a couple thousand dollars a year).
Staying at home on a low income takes courage and faith that God will provide. Likewise, working to support your family when you want to be at home means dying to yourself and requires considerable endurance and perseverance.
2. Mom that wants to work to fulfill a specific calling/gift outside the home
This can cause a good bit of emotional turmoil within a mother – to have a calling inside the home but also feel a calling outside the home. I have this difficulty – I love music and teaching, but every time I leave my baby to go teach my heart hurts a little. But once I’m teaching, I know that’s where I need to be.
It is okay to have this tension, to feel torn between two worlds. If you can, bring the worlds closer together. I plan on always teaching, but I hope one day I can teach within my own home and my kids underfoot. That way my kids and my work can become more integrated.
3. Mom that wants to stay at home to be her children’s primary caregiver/teacher
This is a great desire – to stay at home with your children. However, many mothers can feel guilty about this. Sometimes it feels like we don’t get anything done all day or the grass always looks greener on the other side. We may feel like we’re just “taking it easy”, when in reality keeping little people alive and happy is really hard work!
And although to stay home is our desire, we may feel at times that we have to give up so much in order to do that. Late-night parties, work relationships, extra income – these are just a few examples of what we give up in order to stay home with our kids. The mom that finds herself in this category may struggle with contentment and purpose.
4. Mom that needs to stay at home because there is no other suitable childcare/schooling
I have also found myself in this category in the last year. With the grandparents living in separate states, we don’t get free childcare as many of our working friends do. Day cares in our area are not that great, and it wouldn’t really be worth the money anyway. Many families decide to homeschool their children depending on what the public schools are like where they live and whether the private schools are within their budget.
It can be easy as a mom to become bitter in this stage. When my little one was first born, part of me just wanted to go back to my old job so things would be “normal” again. But I realized that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t – because I just been given a job (motherhood) that I literally couldn’t get out of. Motherhood isn’t really a job you can ever resign from, so there’s always a temptation to feel like you’re being held back from your full potential by your kids.
So, do working moms have it easier than Stay-at-Home-Moms? Nope. Each of these four categories has its own set of worries, struggles, and joys – and many of us will find ourselves in all of these scenarios during our journey through motherhood. We can always be doing more for our children, but though they are a large part of our life they are not the extent of it. So whether you work 40 hours a week or 5, have 7 kids or 1, being a mom is hard. It looks different for each one of us, but don’t make the mistake I did and assume that because it looks different that means it’s easier.