Studies and the stay-at-home vs working mum debate

Photo by David Bleasdale on flickr.com

Another day, another study professing to have the ‘answer’ to whether the fact a mum works or not will have a detrimental affect on the lives of their child.

Today, news reports have picked up on a US study that has found that mothers returning to work before their child turns one does not have a negative effect on their babies’ development.

I always read the comments following the online reports of such stories, even though I know where they are going to go.

First there will be the those in the stay at home camp, who in this case will lambast the study as the biased work of a working mum who went to the trouble to conduct the study to make herself feel better. In this camp are stay at home mums themselves and older seemingly male readers who believe all women should be at home and if you can’t afford it, or (gasp) should you be female and want to work, then you should not bother having children.

Then there will be the those in the stridently working mum camp who will applaud the study as the ultimate truth and the long-awaited salve to working mother guilt. In this camp are working mothers and fathers who lament that they wish they could have the ‘luxury’ of staying at home but there are bills to pay and a roof to keep over their heads. Some wish they were ‘lazy enough to accept handouts like stay-at-home mothers do’ but others feel working is worth having additional luxuries for their child so they won’t go without.

When I start reading the to-ing and fro-ing between these debates, my heart starts to sink. There seems to be no accepting of other people’s circumstance or an openness to anything other than their own point of view.

But then every now and then, a ray of hope. Those that say study or no study they believe their choice (whether its to stay at home or go back to work) is the best for their family and believe that all families make a choice that best suits their individual circumstance.  “Hurrah!!” says my inner voice, who has been busy asking questions of the posters willing them to consider the other side of the story, and suddenly I wish there was a ‘like’ button on each comment.

I think that there is never a black and white answer to how to best combine family and work, but it’s a choice that each family makes considering their own circumstances at the time.

My choice is to go back to work part-time two 10 hour days a week when J is 11 months old. It took me a long time to work through the potential impacts on our financial situation and my career prospects between full and part-time work, and this wasn’t my first choice as I was hoping to return full-time with some of my work completed at home, which my employer did not go for.

My final decision came down to the fact that my primary concern is my role as a mother and the quality of time I’d get to spend with J. The cost of childcare has an impact on the number of days I could reasonably work from the office.

Every choice comes with a sacrifice of some sort – whether it’s money or time – and only you know what your personal tipping point is. I chose a bit more time over a bit more money.

I know there are going to be people who ask pointed questions about my decision, and it’s hard not to be drawn into feeling a need to justify my choice at that moment. But the best I can do is be happy with my choice, to remember that its the best for our family at this time, that it’s one we can always work at changing if its not working and that our child will thrive with our love, child care or no child care.

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7 thoughts on “Studies and the stay-at-home vs working mum debate

  1. Well, I have heard it argued either way. In my opinion, it’s what you put into it. No matter if you work or stay at home as long as your child feels all the love in the world, whether you are there or not, it doesn’t matter. Parents have to make a choice and put forth effort. The parent chooses their own involvement in their child’s life. If you choose to drop your child off at daycare every day you work and then with a babysitter when your not working so you have some “me time” then that is your choice. If you spend every available moment with your child when your not working then that is your choice! I for one can’t wait to spend every moment I can with my child. I want to be at every game and every milestone in my child’s life. I CHOOSE to have time with my child. The choice is up to you…

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  2. It’s funny this study is all over the news and you’ve posted this entry, because I have my first day at work in an hour!

    I don’t think it is a matter of choice for the majority of families. Many cannot afford to choose to stay at home and have to go to work just so they can pay the bills. I think this is a middle-class debate.

    I have to work because my husband is studying for his degree. He will stay at home and look after our son, and when he has lectures, our son will go to nursery. The ‘stay-at-home dad’, another controversial subject perhaps. I agree with you when you say it is for each family to judge their own personal circumstance. I think the governement (I’m from the UK) provide a lot of aid to lower income families so they can afford childcare, thus improving their situation.

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    • Hi Kathleen, I hope the return to work went well! I agree with your comments that returning to work is not a choice for alot of families.

      My husband is an apprentice electrician and I have only been able to take as much time off after having J as I have as we are renting and our rent is very cheap. If we had already bought, it would have been a whole different scenario! Even with the cheap rent and no debt, returning to work is a must for me in our current situation.

      Thanks for sharing how you are balancing work and family. I think to many that comment on these sort of stories in mainstream media, the concept of a ‘stay-at-home dad’ doesn’t even enter their mind – it’s almost always assumed that the mother is the primary carer. So much for equality, eh?

      All the best, I hope it all works out well. I’ll be waiting for your post on ‘stay-at-home dads’! 😉

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  3. I can understand why there is so much ‘claws out’ defensiveness amongst the stay at home and working mums.

    Being a stay at home mum is such an undervalued, thankless unpaid job in today’s cool ‘sex in the city’ metro-feminist driven western culture – I can really get how annoying it must be to have working mum’s look down their noses at them making them feel even more under valued.

    And vice versa for working mums who are so stressed out and feeling guilty all the time – the last thing they need is stay at home mums making them feel guilty and giving them more stress!

    In the last ten years I’ve done it all, I’ve been at home, I’ve worked full time and part time and been at college part time and full time…..After a lot of trial and error the biggest decision making factor in it all wasn’t money, but my sanity.

    Working part time gives me enough of a break from the children without losing too much quality of life (and only just! working part time is still stressful) but I’d rather be poorer and happier, than richer but going crazy with anxiety trying to juggle it all. And that’s just me, my life and how much stress I’m personally able to deal with. I agree that it’s a personal matter depending on what you can manage and afford.

    Sometimes I think we forget that all the time our children are watching us and always learning from the example we are giving them – ‘Monkey see, monkey do’. Whether we work or stay at home it’s HOW we do it that matters.

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  4. Pingback: Easy, breezy, better? «

  5. I’m Mum to two boys – 2 years old, and 3 months old. I read with interest, but also a lot of skepticism, any parent-related article as well as the onslaught of comments that follow. I’m a breastfeeding advocate and find it is the articles relating to this topic that always draw out nasty comments from both the breastfeeding and the bottle-feeding camps. I personally feel that when it comes to parenting (be it whether you breastfed or not; have returned to work or stay at home; use a dummy; choose to take your kids to a cafe with you… the list is endless!!) we have so much internal guilt and self-doubt about the choices we have made that we project that onto anyone that does differently to us. Like you say, it’s hard not to be drawn into defending your choices, but so long as you are happy with your choices and you allow yourself to feel proud of the fact that you’re doing the best that you can do for your kids then there’s no need to berate anyone else or their parenting choices. Love and trust yourself, and your kids will learn to love and trust themselves.

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