The decision of whether or not to go back to work outside the home after maternity/paternity leave is nothing short of a difficult one for many. There are so many factors to consider: Who will go, mum or dad? If both, how many hours should one go back to work? Will going back to work affect the baby adversely? Is it really an option financially for only one parent to work? Since both parents obviously love their baby more than anyone else, oughtn’t they to be the sole caregivers? Will I ever be able to find someone who will take good enough care of my precious pumpkin? Plus, there is the added pressure that some extended family members don’t mind giving whichever way they think it is obvious that every person ought to make. Maybe this is more proliferous in the Christian subculture than in the rest of the world. Anyway, it is definitely a decision that I have struggled with and that has haunted me off and on for my past five years of being a parent.
Just to fill you in on what my experience has been over the past 5 years of parenting:
- I have stayed at home full time (for 2+ years).
- I have worked very part time (~15 hours per week, in two different jobs) for the remaining 3 years. I have not worked full time since I became a mom.
- My husband has always worked [at least] full-time. He has pioneered two businesses since we became parents, and continues to lead a demanding entrepreneurial life, which has caused him especially to rely on me to keep order and human-flourishing at home.
- My mom stayed at home full time while we were little. And while we were in elementary school. And all throughout our high school years. In fact, she never went back to work. My dad has always worked full time.
- My husband’s mom stayed at home full time until a divorce when her kids were in early elementary forced her to go back to work full time. She has worked full time ever since. His dad has always worked full time.
Much of my struggle has come from the narrative in my head that says, “The best moms stay home full time with their children — at least during the pre-school years.” I’m not sure exactly where that came from, but I’m finally admitting where it didn’t come from. Keep reading and you’ll see.
So, I’m still very much in process, but here are 7 things I know so far about this very important decision of whether to stay at home or go back to work — a decision which many of us make in some way, shape, or form over the course of our lives:
- The Bible is pretty much silent about it. Never does it give a direct command either way. Deuteronomy 6:6-7 makes it sound like one “ought” to spend an awful lot of time with one’s children: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” But it doesn’t expressly say how much, and it doesn’t cut the requirement off during the school-age years. Conversely, the mother of Proverbs 31 who gets idealized in many Christian circles seems to do a lot of business and freelance work outside her home.
- For centuries past and still in many parts of the world, new parents have not lived in as isolated, independent, individualized culture as do most Americans. Rather than a 45 minute commute away, dads used to be just down the road at the end of the pasture. They could involve a cranky toddler in the farm chores and give mom a break for an hour. Rather than going back to school to start a busy new career in their 40s, grandmas used to move in with their children’s young families to live in the same home. They could give some childcare while young parents got some time alone. I’m not at all trying to berate our culture; I’m only saying that it is worth considering how our isolated, independent, individualized culture has created a unique situation in your life. Perhaps the purpose one finds in doing out-of-home work one loves, perhaps the respite from a fussy babe that a small day-job brings, perhaps the sense of adult community one finds in a workplace setting have become a mental, communal, psychological necessity for many new moms or dads.
- I have a friend, a mother whose children are a decade or so older than mine, who told me once that she is a recovering home-school addict. I had never heard of that before. I asked her what the heck she meant by that. She said that for a long time, she had convinced herself that she was staying at home and home-schooling for the sake of her children. However, she had realized over time (due in part to her husband’s prodding and in part to her own studies about ‘idols of the heart’), that the staying-at-home and the home-schooling had become far more about her desire to control every aspect of her children’s lives and to fulfill her own needs and identity in that role than it was about what was actually best for her kids. (Of course this is absolutely not true for all home-schooling moms!! Truly, I may home-school my own kids at some point.) This was just an interesting spin on the decision of whether to work or to stay at home that has altered my perspective a bit and has made me think a lot. May I always do what is truly best for everyone in my family and not only for me.
- It takes a village to raise kids. Yes, of course most parents love their kids more and (hopefully) better than anyone else does or will. BUT, the upbringing of the children cannot, should not, must not be the entire responsibility of the two parents! Otherwise, the kids will grow up with the same narrow view of life and the world as the parents have — and don’t we all have too narrow and warped a view of life than we ought? than we think we do? It does kids a lot of good to know and love and receive love and care from other lovely adults just like their parents. Sometimes those lovely adults come in the form of grandparents, aunts and uncles, school teachers, and even childcare workers.
- For some families, money is a factor. For some, it is not. It is my conviction that money ought not be the only factor. If you feel called to stay home full time, but “can’t afford it,” I’d encourage you to take a look at your budget and see if there really is any way that you all can make it work, even if comfort/lifestyle sacrifices must be made. If you feel called to work, but are more than financially supported by your spouse’s job, don’t waste the time feeling guilty. Just work.
- Know that your kids will always need you. In every season. Not just when they’re not in school all day. God just might call you to work while they’re 3 years old, but ask you to quit work for awhile to be more available to them when they’re 13!
- So, here are the questions I keep asking myself:
- What leads to the greatest flourishing for everyone in our family?
- What does my spouse think? (so long as your spouse is not incredibly narcissistic and so long as he/she really wants what is best for you/everyone)
- Is my work/home life leading me to be the best human, the best spouse, the best parent, the best friend, the best Jesus-follower that I can be?
- Is my work/home life leading me to be wholly present with and for my kids during the hours when we are together? Am I really seeing them and listening to them when they want/need me? Do I know what is going on in their world so that I can be praying, asking, acting as only their parent can?
- And then ask these questions all over again next year. 🙂
What other questions have you asked yourself regarding this important decision??
Lastly: Honestly, there have been a few times lately – usually at the end of a not-so-good day at work (we all have those, right?) — that I have emoted to God, grumbling to him that I really feel like quitting. “I mean, God,” I say, “just keeping these kids alive and keeping my marriage together and keeping fresh food in our house keeps my life so full!” He always listens so patiently. And then, over and over again, I have sensed his quiet voice in my heart saying, “I know. I hear you. But please stick with your job [outside the home]. You and your husband agree that working just this little bit makes you a better mom, a better wife, a better person. And I have important work for you to be doing in your job that is making the world a better, more beautiful place to be. Please share your intellectual, creative, spiritual gifts not only with your kids, but with all of the others who are impacted by your work outside your home.”
And, so, I haven’t quit. For now. 🙂