In our LV Moms’ Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money and parenthood. These views are theirs, not ours, but we look forward to opening the floor for discussion.
In the past, we’ve featured writers with ideas on everything from how to earn cash while doing other people’s chores to why being in a lesbian relationship doesn’t make achieving work-life balance any easier.
Today, one mom tells us about her decision to be a stay-at-home mom, and how she second-guesses herself, and her decision, every day.
I always knew I wanted kids–what I hadn’t sorted out were the day-to-day realities of parenting, and how being a mother would impact my career.
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I’d spent years in school earning three degrees and had grand ideas for my future. If you told me a decade ago that I’d end up becoming a stay-at-home mom, I would have enjoyed a good chuckle …
Life Before Baby
In my world, working mothers were the norm. I grew up in Canada, and my mother, who has a Ph.D. in English, kept her career alive by moving gracefully between full-time and consulting positions based on the family needs.
After graduating from high school, I spent the next seven years earning a B.A. and M.A. in political science, as well as a Bachelors of Journalism. While I ideally wanted to pursue a career in journalism, I decided instead to follow my dream of moving to New York City, where I could only get a work visa as a “technical publications writer,” which led me to a position at a Manhattan public relations firm.
After a few jobs, and a few years of living the low-paying-hard-playing twenty-something existence in NYC, I was relocated to Washington, D.C. by my then-employer, a non-profit think tank. My days as Program Director in the public affairs and communications department were filled with interesting and informed people, frequent travel and challenging subject matter, all of which I loved.
Within months of relocating, I met my future husband at a wedding. He was completing his M.B.A. at the University of Chicago, which made for a challenging dating life. Still, we flew back and forth every few weeks, and within ten months were engaged. My soon-to-be-husband found a job three blocks from my office, moved to D.C. and within a year we were married.
My So-Called ‘Ideal’ Life
Our plans for an “ideal family” consisted of two kids, a house and solid jobs–we neglected to hammer out the finer details of when and how we were going to achieve our common goals.
My husband and I married in July, and I decided over our first Christmas as a married couple that I was ready to become a mom. I was 30 and was getting jealous of my friends who were producing cute offspring. My husband, who like me had no idea how challenging parenting would be, was on board.
Within a few months of that Christmas, I was pregnant. Oddly, we had never bothered to discuss what our work lives would look like, specifically, once we had a baby. Growing up in Canada, I was programmed to believe that a year of maternity leave with a good chunk of your salary was standard–I didn’t bother to check the particulars in America.
The harsh reality—or at least harsh based on where I’d come from—was that I was facing an eight-week paid maternity leave.
My husband was supportive of my career, and I never felt an expectation to stay home with our baby. However, the financial reality was that if anyone was going to do it, it was going to be me, since my husband made more than I did. I truthfully had no idea what I would do post-maternity leave, and put off the decision for as long as possible.
Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom
I would never judge a woman who goes back to work after having a child–every family is unique. For my part, I struggled with the decision, and after taking my eight weeks of maternity leave and 12 weeks provided by the Family Medical Leave Act, I knew in my gut I had to leave my job.
My decision was a culmination of things. First, despite the fact that I was battling solitude and exhaustion, I couldn’t face the prospect of letting a stranger raise our daughter. Also, while I was satisfied with my job, it was not high paying, and after digesting the cost of quality full-time care (plus the additional expenses of working outside the home, like gas and dry cleaning), I would be coming home with less than $5,000 a year.
There’s no getting around the fact that Washington, D.C. isn’t a cheap place to raise kids.
Frankly, I also wasn’t sure how I’d be able to do all the “parent” stuff, like doctor’s appointments (our daughter has severe food allergies), school commitments and sick days, while continuing to excel professionally. My husband, with his consulting career, was not in a position to cover these details.
This was even more prominent when our son joined us 24 months after our daughter, and so I decided staying home was our best financial option.
The Questioning Never Ends
At the time, I had no plan as to how long I would stay home, and almost six years later, here I am: a veteran SAHM. That’s not to say I’m happy about it. On the contrary, every day I question whether I made the right decision.
Would I be setting a better example for our daughter if I returned to the paid work force?
Are our kids better off because of the decision I made?
Would I be a more balanced person if I had a paid job?
Will anyone ever hire me again?
Being a SAHM doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s more physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting than any job I’ve ever had. The work never ends, and it’s impossible to take a break if you don’t have cash to splurge on $15 an hour babysitters or a housekeeper.
I want my family and society to thank me for investing in my family and home, and I don’t think I get enough credit. I want to feel like my domestic achievements are something to celebrate. We don’t live near family, and our friends are busy with their own families.
Would I be happier if I lived in the same city as my parents? Undoubtedly. Does my mother think I made the right choice staying home with my kids? While she would never say it, I think it has troubled her to see me struggle with my life as a SAHM.
I try to improve my skills with parenting classes and books, but I’m spinning in circles. Being a SAHM brings out extreme emotions in me, and I wonder whether I should be in mommy therapy, put on a merlot drip or maybe just admit that I wasn’t cut out to do this.
Many days I have to refrain from begging for my old job back. On those days, my husband tells me to do what I want. If I am serious about returning to work, he supports me, but we are both aware of how our lives will change if and when that day comes. I do all the laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning and appointments. If I work outside the home, there will be a lot of responsibilities to fill.
Plus, There’s the Mommy Guilt
Despite my ranting, I understand that I’m lucky–many women would love to be in my shoes. But it’s hard to be grateful when you’re cleaning up yet another stinky diaper, dragging two screaming kids around or slugging through daily domestic drudgery. It can be challenging to think up interesting things to discuss with my husband after a day of mind-numbing activity. I frequently struggle to stomp down the negativity that bubbles to the surface when I finally have an adult to talk to.
I just don’t get paid enough for this.
According to Salary.com, a SAHM’s pay (based on all the tasks she does in the house) in 2012 is about $112,962. That’s a nice number, and a lot more than I used to make. But when it comes time to find a paying job, I can’t list “stay-at-home mom” as my title, or that six-digit figure as my current salary. (Want to figure out your “mom salary”? Use our calculator.)
When I met my husband, I was a financially independent, confident professional–a stark contrast to what I’ve become. I haven’t earned a dime since 2006, and my professional confidence is shot. While I understand that the money my husband earns is “our” money, my name’s not on the checks, and my CV is not getting any fresher. After 15 years of earning my own paychecks, I struggle with asking my husband for money. Sadly, my sense of identity and ego have been altered dramatically. I worry I’ve lost the credibility I spent years establishing.
I’m not yet sure when I’ll go back to work outside the home. My 5-year-old daughter starts kindergarten next month, and my 3-year-old son enters preschool this fall. Instead of jumping back into the office world, I hope to start freelance writing and see if I can blend working from home while the kids are at school with all the other responsibilities of my life as a SAHM. I love the idea of having something for myself again, and know that I’m going to be a better mother because of it.
My daughter recently asked me if I am happy being a SAHM. Before I could speak, she answered the question for me, “Sometimes you are, and sometimes you’re not,” she said.
Observant kid, that one. Honestly, it depends on what time of day you ask me. I like to think there are more times when I’m confident I made the right decision than not. No one can take away the truly awesome moments I’ve shared with my kids. Ultimately, it’s the choice we made, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to make it.
Christine Ryan Jyoti has 5 years as a stay-at-home mom under her belt. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area with her loving husband and two “spirited” kids. When she’s not feeding, entertaining, disciplining, snuggling or chasing after her offspring, she sporadically writes about her chaotic life at 24-7 Mommy.