We know the secret to happiness.
Are you ready?
Here it is: Do what you want to do.
Seems simple, right? But when it comes to deciding between staying home with the kids and going back to work, a new study found that 71% of moms don’t do what they really want. 71%!
The study also found that new mothers who did the opposite of what they really wanted—whether that meant staying home or returning to work—had much higher rates of depression.
“The time right after a baby is born is critical,” says Erin Kramer Holmes, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University and co-author of the study. “That’s the main time when women are making decisions about what they see for their future employment.”
It’s easy to say everyone should just follow their hearts, but we understand that many moms don’t have any financial option other than heading back to work, even if they’d rather not. And others might have extenuating family or health circumstances that require them to stay home.
What’s Your Secret to Happiness?
Sometimes moms have to make decisions that are good for the family, whether they’re what would make them happiest, or not. When your family situation calls for you to make a decision that isn’t your first choice, how do you find a way to be happy about it?
So, when it comes to making family choices, following your true north can be difficult. But since LearnVest is about helping you live your richest life–when it comes to quality, not just straight-up income–we’re here to help you figure out how to do just that.
We spoke to Dr. Holmes and Stacy DeBroff, founder and CEO of Mom Central Consulting, for some ideas.
1. Ignore the Noise
The jury’s out on whether or not a mother’s employment negatively impacts her kids, says Dr. Holmes. “Some evidence shows that women feel better when they’re working, so their babies do better. On the other hand, other research says maternal employment only exacerbates a mother’s stress level.” The takeaway: First of all, it’s different for every mom. If you’re a working mom, don’t let others convince you your child will suffer.
Block out your internal “mompetition” telling you to compete with other moms, and instead focus on enjoying the time you do spend with your child. (Here are some ways to curb mompetition.) “Regardless of the choice you make—whether to stay home or to return to work outside of the home—don’t feel the need to justify it to others,” says Debroff. “Brace yourself, though, as you may have to contend with disapproval or feedback, but just resolve not to let it get to you, and remind yourself of the compelling reasons behind your decision.”
2. Build a Support Group
Social support is incredibly important for dealing with stress, whether you’re working or not. “We asked our participants a set of questions about support, and it’s clear that having people who care about you and people you can rely on for good information is an important thing for moms,” says Dr. Holmes.
It’s not always easy to make good friends when you’re busy being a mom, though. Here are even more reasons why mom friends are so important—and how to find them. Another avenue for emotional and financial camaraderie is putting together a money club, where you meet with your friends to discuss financial dreams and goals. Here’s how to start a money club of your own.
3. Do Something Meaningful
If your situation calls for you to stay at home with the kids when maybe you’d rather work, try picking up an outside hobby or joining a club that requires you to use the skills you would ordinarily be using at your job. For example, if you worked as a journalist, you might try joining a writer’s workshop or doing freelance work on the side. If you were a teacher, you might consider volunteer tutoring or one-on-one (paid) tutoring to prep children for standardized tests.
Online resources like MOMS Club is another great outlet for finding similarly minded stay-at-home moms in your area. If you don’t know of any local groups you’d be interested in joining, why not sign up for MOMS club and create your own?
4. Leave Room for Change
What you want now might not be what you want in the future, and that’s okay. “Just because a mom felt one way about working when her baby was one month old didn’t mean she felt the same way every time we checked in,” said Dr. Holmes. “I think some of that has to do with the way having a baby changes the way you think about how work should fit into what you want to accomplish with your life.”
There is no definitive or static answer for what’s best for you and your family all the time. Set aside a yearly check-in where you take a good look at how things are going for your family. Make it the same time every year, separate from New Year’s resolution time where your mind will most likely be preoccupied with other things. Ask yourself a few important questions, including: Is your work situation making you happy? Do you feel you’re spending enough time with your family? What is the area in your life where you are most happy, and the one you feel needs the most work? “It’s okay to revise and revisit your agenda as you go,” Dr. Holmes says.
5. Consider a Compromise
If your idea of being an involved mom means setting aside the intense nature of your own career ambitions for a while, explore options for a flex-time or part-time schedule before outright leaving your job. “A job share or working from home may allow you the extra time you’re hoping to spend with your child while not taking your foot completely out of the work world,” says Debroff. “It could afford you more of the hands-on mothering you want, and enable you to emerge on the other side excited about investing more energy into your career.” It’s also a good middle ground, since getting back into the workforce full time will be easier if you never completely left.
Luckily, more and more companies are listening to the demand for flexible scheduling. Find out more about that, and which agencies can help you find the perfect flex job, here.
Tell us—did you decide to head back to work or stay home after having a baby?
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