Work at Home Vs. Stay at Home is so 1992 by Bonnie Rothman Morris

 

This is the second entry in “I Don’t Know How She Does It,”  a series of guest posts about the working mom/stay-at-home dilemma.  It’s written by Bonnie Rothman Morris, the owner of Company Ba branding, public relations and social media expert known for her creative approaches to marketing.  Her clients have included Kaplan, Achilles International, Gevalia, Kaplan, Inc. and Shaw Henderson Interior Design .  She has counseled and developed campaigns for some of the world’s leading marketers, including Kraft Foods, eBay, American Express, LeapFrog and Target, and has also helped small companies tell their stories on a big scale.  You can read the rest of her bio here.

Bonnie Rothman Morris

Source: Companyb-ny.com

I am growing weary of the working mom/stay at home mom dilemma. It’s been a part of my reality since graduating from college when I entered the workforce on a pathway opened up to me by the first generation of feminists who insisted that women have an equal seat at the conference room table. We had to act like men, wear suits like them (only with soft, floppy bow-ties), pay for our own dinners on dates, open our own doors and, when it came time to get married and have children, keep on going, find adequate childcare and act like nothing has happened to us in our personal lives.

We were completely deluded of course, but not in the way you might think. The implication was that the conflict we were facing was about personal fulfillment. But I realize now that working in an office vs. staying at home to parent is not really about that. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Working can be about many things from earning a living to changing the world through innovation.  But parenting is about raising good kids. It’s about creating an environment at home to enable our children to be great citizens, leaders, ballet-twirlers, goal-kickers and self-protectors.

A new study on the American family’s “passion points” was just released and the implications for working moms and stay at home moms are exactly the same: no matter what path we’ve chosen, we need to figure out how to make sure we’re raising our kids to be the people that we hope them to be.

The study, conducted by The Family Room, a marketing consultancy in Connecticut, found that the top priorities for families are:

  1. Schools and education (45% of families)
  2. Independence and making good choices (39%)
  3. Time with family (36%)

There were other priorities, such as creativity, preparing a child for success and laughing and having fun.

So the question is, if these are the priorities, and they’re pretty good ones, no? How can this be accomplished?

Staying at home with the kids is certainly one way to make sure that the kids are doing their homework, not falling in with the wrong crowd and spending time with mom because, hey, she’s there. It’s even a pretty good way to bone up on those knock-knock jokes to add a little laughter to the day.  But working moms aren’t denied these, ahem, pleasures just because they’re at the office. A little bit of advance planning – say time to review homework before dinner, scheduling a parent-kid activity on the weekend, and making sure to meet your kids’ friends by friending them on Facebook to monitor some of their activities, are all good strategies. So is an ongoing game of Words With Friends.  Yes, it’s hard to be truly present when you’re across the country in an all-day status meeting with your most important client. (I have so been there). Yes, if you work you will be denied the unique pleasure of seeing your child open your front door after walking home from the bus stop the first time on his own. (Missed that one, too).

If our role as parents is to enable our children to be independent and make good choices, how we demonstrate to our children how we are personally fulfilled is the goal.  We need to explain to them why we work – or don’t. We need to help them understand who makes a good friend, show them how they can always be learning by doing that ourselves and, make family time a priority, even if it’s gotten in snippets. Being present when we are able to is how we’re going to be great role models for our kids.

And whether we work at an office or stay home with the kids or everything in between, helping to make great people is one of the greatest accomplishments of our lives.

 

 

Comments

  1. All great points, Bonnie. And spoken like a real working mom who’s gone through all the emotions and come out on the other side. I think the emotional side is what really makes us different from working fathers. I have yet to meet a working mom who doesn’t struggle with guilt about her choices, whether she has chosen to work full time or she’s left her career to stay home for a while. I can’t understand why men seem to have such an easy time of it. I know lots of working Dads and a substantial handful of stay at home Dads and all of them seem to have found peace with their choice. But I’ve yet to meet a mom, working or otherwise, who truly believes she “has it all”, even if it seems to everyone else that she does. Maybe it has something to do with how we’re built as women. I guess at the end of the day we have to make the best choice we can, be the best parents we can be and trust that our kids will notice.

    • Erin, I completely agree. Men don’t have a hard time choosing work because that’s what they were told they were going to do. Women have been told that we have a choice and with choice comes conflict. Even if you are a working mother who does not have a choice (i.e. you have to work, as so many of us do), we still believe that we could have followed a different path.

  2. Ellen Comisar says:

    When I worked from home, I was a single mom. My infant (then toddler) went to a nearby daycare program, because my income was essential and my job didn’t allow for random interruptions that are a daily part of parenting.

    Now married, I work at an office and have limited travel. My husband and I devote the vast majority of our non-work time to our kids, and they are thriving. Everyone has to find the right approach for his or her own family; perhaps a 3/5ths role is feasible, with one parent coming home in time to meet the bus … or to allow your child to experience the “latchkey” role for only an hour a day. Or perhaps both parent work 4/5ths time, so that each parent is home 2 afternoons a week.

    Ultimately, you have to be able to live within your budget, so don’t discount the extras that full-time work finances. If you work less, you’ll probably have less money for the activities and vacations that are formative and memorable.

    • Ellen,
      if the workplace is amenable to the arrangements you suggest, that is indeed ideal. I’ve worked for a few companies that embraced the 4-day workweek, and others that haven’t. The typical scenario in a scaled back workweek is that the employee (guy or gal) suffers — doesn’t get the raises, promotions, etc. And these privileges are often only afforded to professionals and other service-type businesses.

      Legislation doesn’t seem to be the answer — politicians are reluctant to address these issues today. But if someone looked at the big picture — the benefit to families and thus society for building great environments for kids — maybe they would.

  3. I am a stay at home mom who had a working mom growing up. My decision to stay home was not a reaction to growing up with a working mother because I felt I got just as much attention, discipline, and love from my mom as my friends who’s mothers stayed home, plus I had the added bonus of seeing my mother as a role model for how to excel in the work force and balance work and family. For me, staying home with my kids was a decision I made just as much for me as for them. Although it may not feel it at the time, childhood passes by very quickly, and I, personally, did not want to miss one minute of any of it… the good, the bad and the ugly! My husband and I are fortunate in that we had the luxury of being able to choose this lifestyle and live on one income – not every woman has the choice. And when the time felt right, I was able to go back to work, but do it from home, and during the hours when my children were at school, so I could compartmentalize my different jobs as mom and columnist. So now my kids have had the best of both.. a stay at home mom and a working mom, and see me as a role model for how to balance work and family. The important thing to remember whenever this whole working mom/stay at home mom debate gets dredged up – and I say dredged because for some reason there is always a lot of anger and accusations attached to it – is that what we as moms choose to do is a PERSONAL CHOICE and should not need to be defended or explained to anyone. It is about what works best for us as women and individuals and what works best for our own family.

    • Tracy, you’re right. It is all about choices. You’re lucky you were able to choose your path and then jump back into the workforce and carve out your own hours. That likely entailed some sacrifice on your part on both sides of the equation. It’s always a balance, right?

  4. I didn’t realize, until just recently, that the stay-at-home mom versus working mom “thing” was still on so many mothers’ hearts. The bottom-line for me is precisely what you’re saying above:

    “[N]o matter what path we’ve chosen, we need to figure out how to make sure we’re raising our kids to be the people that we hope them to be….parenting is about raising good kids. It’s about creating an environment at home to enable our children to be great citizens, leaders, ballet-twirlers, goal-kickers and self-protectors.”

    YES!!!!

  5. Firstly, this is such a well-written post! It’s important to stress that mothers – working or not – do not deprive their children of the emotional nurturing they need. Plus, I like the point about providing moments of independance. My DD11 now stays on her own for 45 mins before getting picked up for drama class. Was I nervous? A bit. But did I think she had all the tools to ‘survive?’ Yes. Sometimes working provides those opportunities you wouldn’t necessarily otherwise have.

    • Thanks for the writing props, Elissa.

      When you’re working and your attention is divided you have to come up with solutions that can be character-building. We sent my daughter to drama in a cab this week – she’s 14. My husband spent the entire trip texting her from his office to make sure everything was ok. Of course it was!

  6. I think it is completely possible to raise happy, healthy, well adjusted children whether you work or stay at home. It is important to know your family’s priorities and find ways to ensure that children have everything that they need – love, healthy meals, homework help, enriching activities. The reason this debate – which shouldn’t even be a debate at all, considering there is no right or wrong answer – involves so much emotion is that for many, many families, there is no choice. Some moms stay home because there is no affordable child care available, and working would mean a financial sacrifice. Other parents work full time because the family depends on employer sponsored health benefits, when they would prefer to work part time (which happens to be my case). I wish that we could all move past the bickering and as a society find ways that families have better support so working, not working, working at home, can truly be a choice.

    • Melissa — I know a number of families in your situation. This is an issue that requires legislation, no? Better quality, affordable childcare. Shorter/flexible work weeks, no matter what kind of business you are in.

  7. Bonnie, what a wonderfully written post.

    Although there are some in the media (yes, I’m talking to you Anderson Cooper) who want to trot out the “Mommy Wars” angle every so often, for the most part I think we are all united in the idea that whether you work outside the house, or stay home (many of us work from home as well), we all share the same goal of raising good human beings. Caring, productive, intelligent people who can then make the best decisions for themselves as they grow up.

    Children whose parents work outside the home are none the worse for it and quite possibly develop skills that their counterparts don’t. And children who have a parent home at all times have the benefit of that constant support, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a perfectly smooth road ahead.

    As a tech writer, I will say that there are lots of simple tools out there to help every mom stay connected and organized so that more of the time at home can be spent doing the best part of our job as mothers–the hugging, kissing and laughing.

  8. you are so right….about the importance of our modeling the why and how we make our choices, and most importantly, being present for our family. As a working mom, I have had to find creative ways to make the time to be as involved as possible in my daughter’s school activities. It is not an easy balance on some days, but there are no choices other than to try our best.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective and providing a well needed voice in the era of mom guilt.

  9. Wise (and reality-based) advice. During weekdays, I try to make the most of the hours after I come home and before the kids are asleep. I plan weekend activities ahead of time as much as possible, to make sure we maximize time with the kids–but we also love those total veg-out weekends when all we do is cook, color, watch TV and hang. I aim to be in the moment as much as I can (which means putting my iPhone away)!

    • I try to put my iphone away, too. Getting the kids to stow theirs when it matters is also important! I ask my daughters to stash their phones when we’re in the car together, which I find is a great time to catch up.

  10. It’s all about balance, isn’t it? I find that even though I cannot be at every class event, every concert and play, and every sporting event, I make the ones I do attend count. I make it a point to be present and experience the moment. Family dinner is also a time to turn off the devices and figure out what our place in the world is. Sure, there are times when I hate having to be away, but if I remember to take in the moments when I can be with the family, it’s all ok.

  11. As a SAHM who is still actively mourning her career (after five years!), I’ve felt a strange push and pull both in myself and from other moms. Everyone wants me to validate *her* choices when expressing my opinions about my own. (Aren’t you so much happier at home? or God, aren’t you bored talking baby-talk all day?) And I think that comes from people feeling like they are pushed and pulled based on their choices as well. It’s a bizarre circle of influence, really.

    Just being there isn’t enough, obviously. No matter what a person’s job is, whether in or out of the home, other parts of life are distracting. I think that women who work outside of the home (or are much better than I at compartmentalizing) are better at shutting off distractions than women who are more physically available. And that matters.

    Basically, I believe that a mother needs to make her decisions based on what is best for the entire family, herself included. When children see you happy and taking ownership of your life’s decisions, they learn to respect those decisions. I certainly hope my kids learn to respect the job of a parent being at home more than I respected it in my mother. And that will take a lot of people changing their minds about their own feelings towards that role – not just mine.

  12. This is such an important discussion about an issue that is infiltrated my every decision over the last 8-1/2 years. After I left a job that I loved very much, I sunk into oblivion and the feeling wouldn’t go away. I was lucky to find a part-time job when my kids were 1 and 2, and I’ve been working part-time ever since. Still, working part-time from the office or home brings challenges that full-time working moms don’t have to face and it’s a big juggle, sometimes quite manic. I also don’t feel like I’ve been a steady career path. But at the end of the day, I’ve happier and a better mom for it.

    Sometimes I do wish I had embraced the SAHM period of my life more when I look back, but I prefer going away to work and coming back to be a better mom than I was all those years ago.

    • Making a transition — from a job you love to children you love but aren’t nearly as funny, smart and stimulating as your co-workers can be painful.

      I remember the first day I headed back to the office after my second child was born. When I walked out the front door I had a big smile on my face. Ten minutes later on the train into the city, I was still excited but uneasily wondering if I wasn’t going back to work too soon.

  13. The distinctions between a ‘working mom’, ‘stay at home mom’ and ‘work at home mom’ are all descriptions that are divisive. The only reason to sub-classify women is to force the conversation into one that focuses on who’s right and who’s wrong. The fact is the only people who know what is best for their family are the parents themselves. Whatever the reason, what gives others the right to judge and have a say about what is best for your family?

    That media still gives this discussion importance is lame. This is not a debate that should take place at all. There is a bell curve for mothering. We can find examples of praiseworthy women who are stay at home, work at home or work outside the moms. Equally, though, there are plenty of women who are crappy moms and that has nothing to do with where they work or whether or not they work.

    Frankly, I’m tired of the finger-pointing at moms (especially by other moms) who have made a different parenting choice. A woman’s decision to spend time on paid employment does not make her a bad mom, nor does it make her kids psycho, drug-addicted, criminals. Nor does choosing to stay at home with the kids make a woman a saint and her children angels.

    We need to stop putting all the pressure and responsibility for perfect kids on moms. There’s more to great kids than a mom who is home when a kids walks through the door in the afternoon.

  14. Women can have it all, just not all at the same time. In addition, we’re not all wired the same, so different decisions are right for different people. I know stay at home moms who should have worked and working moms that would have been happier staying home. I think the problem is we teach our daughters and sons that women can and should have it all and do it all. I still remember the perfume commercial from when I was growing up — I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget your romance. We set unrealistic expectations for ourselves, that’s why we feel guilty all the time. We need to re-educate ourselves and others on what the word balance means. It doesn’t mean juggling work, kids, home, husband, friends, social obligations, school, etc. at one time. It means making choices. And those choices may mean you are not the president of the company for the next 10 years, or it may mean that you are not the one to welcome your kid home from school. Both choices are good ones, it just depends on what’s right for you.

  15. I agree wholeheartedly. A happy mother is one of the biggest ingredients for happy children. What defines each mother’s fulfillment is different. I might be a great working mom but I would be a lousy stay-at-home mom. For others, vice versa. But I love my daughter and I plan on leading by example by living out the values I wish to instill.

  16. Well said! I remember reading in “The Motherhood Myth” that the whole idea of this huge chasm between working and SAHM is a fallacy because most of drift in and out of both roles to some degree throughout the course of our lives. Most of us are hybrids to some extent.

  17. I think staying at home or working away from the home are individual choices where judgement needn’t be passed on either sides of the fence. I’m at home, initially by choice and now, partially by necessity but I make it work. And if I had to go out of the home, I’d make it work. That’s the great thing about women, we make it work no matter what.

    Do I feel like I missed out on anything by my mom not being home? Nope. Would I have been a different person? Who’s to say. I think my mom taught me the best way she knew how and gave me a good foundation to build great character. Would I change my childhood experience if given the opportunity? Nope! I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

    I think the objective for any mom should be to be present and accounted for with your children, whether you’re at home with them for 8 hours or for 2.

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